“THE OMEN” is certainly one of the more well known horror movies and rightfully so. It had a lot going for it. The premise at the time was fresh, the casting was excellent, and the musical score by Jerry Goldsmith was phenomenal. Richard Donner, classed as a top-tier director to many today, was mostly directing in the world of small screen projects at the time and this film was one that helped launch his career along with the help of another film called “Superman” that he worked on after this project.
Horror movies today are usually filled with cliches and gimmicks and the majority of them do not truly feel like serious films. That was not the case with “The Omen” however. The story-line had a deeper structure, with more development to the characters that prevented them from feeling like the disposable items they often do in the genre films of today. The writing created a story that could build suspense and tension on its own and this enabled the other film elements to bolster the already established tone instead of having to build it.
The musical score from Jerry Goldsmith was deserving of the Academy Award. The symphony of sounds felt climatic when needed, they felt imposing and ominous when the script called on it, and throughout the film the musical score was able to perfectly amplify whatever situation they played over. It has been so many years since I have watched this movie and the score was what immediately stuck out to me as a positive aspect to the movie as it felt perfectly tailored to the subject matter. It reminds me of some of the choices James Wan uses in his films and its clear to see where he draws some inspiration from.
Richard Donner’s direction was also excellently crafted. He used a lot of slow panning shots that usually opened the scene with a wide frame. Donner captured the locations and backdrops very effectively and the overall tone of his camerawork created a methodical feel to an already foreboding script. The various shots come off as simplistic but you can see some intention in it which was something that gave the film a subtle but effective visual appeal.
There were also some excellent practical effects that help lock the film in its era. There were some great use of weather effects to build tension. And in particular, the scene at the wild animal park where a large group of live animals were all coordinated perfectly and shot with just the right angles to build a creepy scene that delivers the full impact the story needed. Now days this scene would have been completed with CGI and to me the practical effects naturally give this, and many moments in this movie, a much more grounded, tangible feel.
The performances were fantastic. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick were both solid leads and they pull off the dynamics of their characters, and their social status with realism. They were affluent people but with a more natural personality you could connect with them as regular people dealing with a traumatic ordeal. Billie Whitelaw was amazing as the sinister Mrs. Baylock. There wasn’t a great deal of depth to her character but with her delivery she created the uneasy, dark persona the film needed.
The casting of Damien was also perfect. Young Harvey Stevens delivers a solid performance. You could say he didn’t have a lot do really do as far as dialogue. But as far as mannerisms, expressions, and gestures he certainly sells the material to make him believable as a possible Antichrist.
The story was an interesting one. However it was also a little drawn out. Films like these were naturally slower paced back in the day and for the most part it works. But it does drag at times and could have benefited from a swifter pace through the acts. It doesn’t hinder the overall entertainment this film delivers and the case could me made that it helps build more suspense. Yet, despite the artistic direction and visually appealing international locations, the story could have been trimmed a little in certain segments.
Regardless is it still one of the great religious themed horror films out there. It conveys its plot without overloading the film with religious hyperbole. The focus remains on the main characters and the family at the center of the film without venturing off into the land of subplots which enables you to invest in them and care what happens to them by the time the end credits roll. If you have not seen this film I do recommend it. It is not perfect and does have its pacing issues but it is a well-crafted film all around and despite the advances of films today, this one still holds up all these years later.