I’ve had this mental block against The Omen for, oh, almost a month now. It’s just been sitting there against my DVD player, waiting for me to buck up and watch it. I’m thankful that I finally did. Not just because it’s a good movie (although it is), but also because it’s reaffirmed my belief that the people you need to watch out for are not just the awkward kid you played pranks on in the past or the guy you thought you accidentally ran over once or even the freaky hillbilly with no teeth and/or a penchant for wearing human skin. No, the ones you gotta watch out for, the truly creepy motherfuckers?
Kids, nannies, and Catholic priests.
***First, usual disclaimer. The only spoilers for The Omen will be at the end of this review, after the spoiler line. If you do not wish to be spoiled for the film, just stop reading there. Otherwise, continue on to read me rant about Gregory Peck’s character. A lot. I mean, even more than I do in the first part of the review.***
So, The Omen. Basic plot: While in Rome, Kathy (Lee Remick) gives birth to a stillborn child. Her husband, Robert (Gregory Peck), decides to follow the friendly priest’s advice and adopt this oh-so-convenient newborn baby that just happens to be hanging around. He also decides to tell Kathy that this baby is her own child, because he’s an assclown that deserves to be slapped across the face. (Yes, he’s worried that the grief will kill her, which is understandable to an extent, but . . . seriously? “A blessing to her and to the child?” Assclowns.)
Anyway, the two go back to London, where Robert is stationed as an American ambassador, and things seem dandy for five years or so until a bunch of strange and unexplained events start happening around Damien, including but not limited to: death omens, animal attacks, ominous warnings, and the worst fifth birthday celebration, ever. Slowly, Kathy and Robert both begin to suspect that there might be something wrong with their son . . . like, they may have adopted the Antichrist. Tough luck, kids.
There are a lot of very cool things about The Omen, namely that it’s creepy and interesting and very suddenly violent. This isn’t the kind of film that has long, drawn out chase scenes with our bad guy explicitly mutilating his helpless victims. Instead, each and every death in The Omen is brutally quick: one second you’re alive, and the next, you’re just not. One of the creepiest themes in the whole movie, actually, is this whole idea of being marked for death (which I will talk more about under the spoiler line.) Fate, I think, always plays well in horror films. Can you change your destiny? Or is the end bloody and nigh?
There really isn’t a whole lot that I don’t like about the movie. The acting is pretty good overall: if I have one “fault,” it’s that most of the characters piss me off at one time or another. I never really forgive Robert for letting his wife believe that this child was her own, nor can I, in good conscience, call these people good parents. In one scene, a creepy stranger introduces herself as Mrs. Baylock, the new nanny, and “asks” if she can get acquainted with Damien sans parental observation. Kathy has a few qualms about this, but Robert’s like, “Sure, that’s a-okay. It’s not like it’s my kid anyway. Go do whatever you want. I’m sure you won’t produce an ice pick from your bag and stab him in the chest or something, because I allow everyone I’ve ever met and spoken to for precisely 3.5 seconds to be left alone with my children!” Fucking Robert. But while Kathy’s not exactly into the idea, she goes along with it anyway, and when she realizes that this nanny appeared out of nowhere like some demonic Nanny McPhee, she says that she’ll call the agency to confirm this woman’s identity . . . but never does. Awesome parenting, lady.
But, here’s the thing: while I want to shake all the heroes in the film at one time or another, that doesn’t end up ruining the movie for me. There are some stories that feature characters so unlikeable that you don’t give a shit what happens to any of them by the end. That’s not the case here. While I want to beat Robert Thorne senseless, I can, at many points, empathize with him in the film. I can only assume that this is due to the late Gregory Peck, who, with the exception of a few lines that I’m not entirely sure anybody can pull, is great. He is, without a doubt, the lead of the film, and he carries the movie effortlessly. I haven’t seen the remake of The Omen so I have no idea if Liev Schreiber is able to do as well.
As for the rest of the acting: Lee Remick and David Warner (who plays photographer Keith Jennings) are both pretty good. Damien (Harvey Stephens) is decently creepy as the Antichrist, considering he’s probably got four audible lines in the whole film. The kid does malevolent smile well; I’ll give him that. I do think, however, that the real person to fear in the middle of the night is not, in fact, the son of the Devil but his nanny, Mrs. Baylock. Mrs. Baylock is just downright unnerving. You do not want to face Mrs. Baylock alone in the middle of some dark alley. She will eat you alive.
There are a lot of interesting things in this movie that I’d like to chat about, but those, unfortunately, will have to go below the spoiler line. Therefore, let me leave you with ten random notes/thoughts that I jotted down while watching The Omen:
1.The music. The music is awesome. Well, most of the music is awesome. The “good times” music, the stuff that plays when days were happy and your child wasn’t the Antichrist? That stuff is awful. That stuff makes me want to stick forks in my ears and possibly swallow my own tongue for good measure. However, the “not-so-good times” music is incredible. Never has chanting been quite so ominous, I swear. Sometimes, music does everything it possibly can to try and kill a movie (yes, I’m talking to you Ladyhawke) but the score here does serious things for this film’s atmosphere. I looked it up because I was curious, and I wasn’t surprised at all to see the score won for an Academy Award.
2. Hey, speaking of Ladyhawke: drunken monk Father Imperius is here! Hi Father Imperius!
3. The birthday party scene. I won’t say what happens for the five people who’ve never actually seen it, but I swear, if I hadn’t known beforehand what was going to happen, I think I would have jumped while watching it. It’s not that it’s scary, just . . . sudden. Things happen fast in this movie.
4. In the film, one British dude pronounces “suicide” like suey-cide (and not su-uh-cide, the way I do.) Is that how all Brits say the word? I’m just curious.
5. Before I knew exactly how Keith Jennings fit in to the story, I found him kind of creepy. Anyone else? Maybe it’s just because he’s a photographer, and voyeurism makes me edgy? My friend Norah doesn’t creep me out, and she’s a photographer (unless she’s biting, of course. She’s definitely a biter. Hi Norah! : ) Anyway, maybe I just interpret everything as weird and potentially dangerous in horror films. In an early scene, the “happy” family is pulling around a fake dog on wheels, and I thought, “Is that supposed to be wholesome? Cause that doesn’t strike me as wholesome. That strikes me as CREEPY.”
6. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on religious accuracy here, because it’s a freaking story, and if anything’s open to interpretation, it’s The Bible. Still. It’s the Book of Revelation, dammit. Not Revelations. Revelation. No s.
7. As much as I liked this one, there is some dialogue in the script that I would pay to get rid of. Not even Gregory Peck can pull off something like, “But why here, in this terrible place?” It’s just inherently overdramatic. Another part that cracks me up: there’s a point in the film where Father Brennan is telling Robert what he needs to do, and it’s just like something out of a fantasy epic, you know, go to the lost city of wherever and meet the old man in the center of a bridge; he will have a gold coin and he will know the way. It’s just impossible to take seriously.
8. Today, everyone knows Damien is the Antichrist. I mean, even people who haven’t seen the movie . . . the name’s pretty much synonymous with evil now, thanks to this film. (I imagine there were some Damiens in 1976 going, “Thanks a fucking lot, Richard Donner.”) But back when the movie first came out, I’d have to assume that you didn’t know exactly what was going on at first, or even if the Antichrist was really a big deal before the 70’s, at least, not in mainstream circles. In fact, no one even drops the word ‘Antichrist’ in the first hour of the film. You know Damien is bad but not how bad . . . and I think that’s kind of neat.
9. Also, I’m assuming that before this movie, 666 wasn’t a big deal. I mean, I know it’s in Revelation and all as the mark of the beast, but in the film, the characters don’t seem very aware of it’s significance. There’s a scene where it’s revealed that one character had 666 written in his very flesh, and Robert’s first instinct is not evil! evil! ohmygod he’s evil! but that it’s a Holocaust tattoo. Which is not the reaction you’d get today. When I was working at Quiznos, I’d get customers who would buy extra things to keep their total from being $6.66. Always amused me.
10. I don’t care what’s happening. Any visits to graveyards can wait until daytime. Daytime, people. Seriously.
All right. That’s it, folks. For the rest of this review/chatty nonsense, look beyond the spoiler line. These are serious spoilers, by the way. I will tell you the end of the film. Be prepared.
Okay, so the moral of this story might end up being, “Fuck you, Gregory Peck.”
Okay, not really. I seriously think Gregory Peck made the character watchable, and that’s quite a feat. Still. The moral might become, “Fuck you, Robert Thorn,” because I think there’s a solid argument in blaming the entire apocalypse on him. At the very least, he deserved to be attacked by angry clowns. And I don’t sic angry clowns on just anyone.
So, here we go. Robert Thorn’s List of Sins:
1. He allows the priest to talk him into secretly adopting a child. He tells his wife that the child is theirs. Even when Kathy is afraid of the child and fears that he is not hers, Robert never tells her otherwise. It’s clear that he is trying to protect her by not telling her anything that will upset or frighten her. But, here’s the thing, kids: sometimes, it’s important to be frightened. Fear can be good. Fear can keep you alive . . . although, it does help if you know who or what you should be afraid of.
Forget the whole adoption fiasco—not that it isn’t just awful, but ignore it for a moment to focus on this: Robert, fearing that his child is not so sweet and innocent, goes off to Rome to discover the truth about his son. He clearly suspects something is wrong with both Damien and Damien’s Psycho Nanny, Mrs. Baylock, yet when he talks to Kathy on the phone, he never warns her on who they could be or what kind of danger they could represent. He never gets a friend to watch after Kathy while she’s in the hospital. He never tells the hospital staff not to let Mrs. Baylock visit. Robert does tell Kathy to leave England once he’s gotten, like, final, final confirmation, but he does very little to protect her, and guess what? She dies. She dies never knowing who or what Damien is. That sucks.
I will say, though, that Kathy’s death is especially brutal. She survives getting pushed over a ledge, only to get pushed out of a hospital window and into the back of an ambulance. That was cold . . . but awesome.
2. Robert won’t let Kathy get an abortion. Now, before we go any further, let me point out that this is not your typical pro choice versus pro life debate. Kathy gets preggers but doesn’t want to keep it, because she’s a little concerned that she’s harboring delusions about her son being evil and not her son and not human and all that. Her shrink thinks that it would be devastating to her psyche to have a baby at this time. But Robert says absolutely not, and when the shrink asks why, Robert says that this baby’s death has been foretold.
Now, let’s look at Robert’s motivations, shall we? At this point in the film, Robert has been told that Damien is evil, and that he will kill Kathy’s unborn child, then Kathy, then Robert. Clearly, Robert doesn’t want to believe this is true, but is at least a little afraid that it is. Let’s pretend, for the moment, that Damien isn’t evil. Robert will certainly be able to tell Father Brennan, “I told you so!” He’s also saying that he thinks it’s totally an a-okay idea for his wife, who’s currently having psychotic delusions about their child being evil, to have another child. Being in politics, I’m sure he’ll have tons of time to make sure Kathy doesn’t do anything crazy, like drown her children in a tub or something. That sounds like a swell plan. On the other hand, let’s assume that Damien is evil, since he is. Now, Robert’s plan goes something like this: my adopted son is a hellthing, but I’m just going to pretend he’s not, and if I pretend hard enough, I can will him not to be, and am therefore not endangering myself, my wife, my unborn child, and the entire freaking world. Good plan, Robert. Good plan.
3. He speeds at inopportune moments. I know what you’re thinking. Speeding, really? That’s what you’re putting on the table? And the answer is, yes. I am. Because the only way to kill the Antichrist is to stab him with these magical knives somewhere on hallowed ground, which means he needs to drag Damien kicking and screaming to a church so he can kill him. Admittedly, sooner is better than later. On the other hand, speeding like a bat out of hell after you murdered a woman in your own house is, perhaps, not the best plan if you don’t want an audience of police officers when you attempt to kill your five year old son. If you had driven more calmly, the police might not have followed you. If they hadn’t followed you, you might have been able to kill your son. If you had killed your son, you would still probably be alive, and the President of the freaking United States would not have adopted the Antichrist.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Evil wins.
And I blame Robert Thorn.
Of course, there are sequels to this film, so maybe evil doesn’t really win after all, but I haven’t heard anything really good about those movies and am choosing to pretend that they don’t exist, because I love the end of The Omen. It amuses me to no end that Damien gets closer to the White House than Robert Thorn ever did. (Because I stand by what I said: I do feel empathy for Robert in the movie, but only to a certain extent. He did bring a lot on himself, after all. I feel more sorry for Keith Jennings than anyone. Boy, did he get a raw deal.)
Speaking of Keith. For the first forty minutes of the film, Keith mostly stands around taking pictures and frowning after people. Only when he contacts Robert do we understand why he’s important: Keith has been capturing pictures of people, and when he develops them, strange lines appear that weren’t there before. For instance, every picture of Father Brennan has this odd looking pole thing behind him everywhere he goes. When Father Brennan later gets impaled on a pole, it all finally makes sense: these pictures are showing how the people in them are going to die.
Now, I really liked this development for a couple of reasons. First, it was a nice a-ha moment—perhaps I was just being slow, but I really didn’t understand why we kept going back to this weird photographer in his dark room until they revealed what the lines actually meant. I was super into it when Keith shows his own photo . . . nothing creepier than knowing you’re destined to die and racing against time to prevent that death. I think that’s why Final Destination creeped me out so much the first time I watched it, at least, the first one. It was like death is all around you, all the time. Any moment, you could step on a rock and slip backwards and fall down a hill and into a river and then escape from the river only to have a tree pin you to the ground and a rabid deer come along and eat your eyeballs or something. Actually, the priest’s death struck as me extremely Final Destination-esque too—I mean, lightning strikes the top of a church and the pole just happens to impale Father Brennan where he’s standing? If that isn’t Fate laughing at you, I don’t know what is. (Although, I must say: if you have enough time to throw your arms up and scream at the falling rod for seven seconds, you have enough time to move backwards and avoid the falling rod. But, hey. Quick thinking’s not everyone’s strong suit.)
But here’s something to think about: Father Brennan, Keith Jennings, and the first nanny are all killed in the manner shown by their photographs, but who, exactly, killed them? Damien? The Devil? Father Brennan supposedly was trying to ward off something demonic, which would seem to imply that the forces of Hell were out to get him for trying to warn Robert. But the manner of his death . . . the locked church, allowing him no salvation, and the lightning strike . . . those strike me as messages from an angry god, not the Devil. The sky is almost always the gods’ domain. But while God could be punishing Father Brennan for his sins in the past, he would have no cause to kill Keith or the nanny. I guess it must be the Devil. He killed the nanny to get Mrs. Baylock into the house, and he killed Keith and Father Brennan for helping Robert. That makes sense, I guess . . . but again, this whole freak accident death thing seems odd for the legions of Hell. I get Mrs. Baylock pushing Kathy out the window, but Keith is freaking decapitated by a pane of glass that shoots out from the back of a truck. That kind of death smacks of Fate, doesn’t it, like a pissed off Death character, ala Final Destination? I’m just saying, if God works in mysterious ways, the Devil apparently works in random, ironic, and totally nonsensical ways.
Still. Poor Keith, man. I was expecting him to die when he went after the knives, but I was not expecting the decapitation. Nicely played, Donner. Nicely played.
Of course, Keith wouldn’t have gone after those knives at all if Robert Thorne hadn’t thrown them away in a hissy fit because Drunken Monk Father Imperius told him he’d have to use them to kill Damien. Yes, yes, it’d be impossibly hard to actually accept that your five year old son was the Antichrist, and that you had to murder said child to avert the Apocalypse. On the other hand, didn’t Robert say not ten minutes before this that he wanted Damien dead just like Kathy was dead? His little Hamlet moment of indecision cost Keith his head.
So . . . moral of the story? Yes, yes. I think there’s really only one thing it can be.
Fuck you, Robert Thorn. Fuck you.
Also: Use an adoption agency like everyone else, cause priests are creepy.
Grade for The Omen: A/A-.