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1001 Overlooked Movies - The Omen (1976)

A couple discover that their son may, or may not, have issues deeper than the usual toddler troubles.

Directed by: Richard Donner
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens, Patrick Troughton

The seventies saw a major shift in mainstream horror movies, with 'The Exorcist' and 'Halloween' being the two that everyone remembers most (and feature on the official "1001 Movies to See Before You Die" list), but where is the love for 'The Omen' (or Richard Donner for that matter, but that's another post, for another day). While we had the creepy child in 'The Exorcist', she had an excuse. She was possessed. Damien, on the other hand, was born this way. 
The story, without giving too much away in case you're one of the lost souls that haven't seen it, is simple. Robert Thorn (Peck, returning from a self imposed exile) discovers that the baby his wife just delivered has died, but she doesn't know it yet. To save her the heartache, he takes another child whose Mother died during childbirth and has no family. It's only after a few years that strange things start to happen and Damien begins to change. A clever angle to the script is whether or not Thorn is imagining these things or whether there's more to them than just coincidence.
 While this may sound cliched, you have to remember that this was way before the "scary kid" cliche became a Hollywood horror movie staple. This is one of the films that started it all, and one of the best cast kids in movie history. The black curls and evil smile linger long in the mind. In fact, the casting of the whole piece turns what could have been a trashy horror into something more tangible. The presence of Gregory Peck helps no end, and Lee Remick brings a lot to a somewhat underwritten role. The support is excellent too, with the always on form David Warner (yes, always on form. Even in 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II'), and the marvelous Billie Whitelaw.
Rather than go for easy jump scares, Donner instead goes for nail biting tension and, atypically for horror films, stages most of the creepy set pieces during the day. Not to say this movie isn't scary; From the fate of the first nanny to the attack of the dogs at the graveyard, parts of this movie will stay with you.   
But the real star of the show? Jerry Goldsmith's score. The choral segments, featuring the well known 'Ave Satani' contributed to Goldsmith's only Oscar win, ratchet up the tension ten fold, and it's fair to say that like 'Psycho' before it, 'The Omen' wouldn't be half the film it is without its distinctive music. 
'The Omen' is as important a part of modern cinema as 'The Exorcist' before it and 'The Shining' after. The measure of a film is its ability to still shock its audience, and I feel that 'The Omen' still retains that power, especially in its ending and its final shot. If you've seen it, you'll know the one I mean. Sleep well with that image in your head.

The official '1001 Movies' list includes the following movies from 1976 - The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Carrie, The Outlaw Josey Wales, All the President's Men, Rocky, Taxi Driver, Network, Ascent, In the Realm of the Senses, 1900, The Man Who Fell to Earth

Kevin Dillon
For more from Kevin, check out his site 'Small Screen Saver'.