Director Richard Donner’s “The Omen” is the fall out of the success of “The Exorcist.” And while it does subscribe to the evil child formula that became prominent after the success of the William Friedkin movie, it doesn’t try to top the former in terror. “The Omen” reaches for heights of slow boil horror followed by immediate shocks, and even for a film once considered a wannabe of “The Exorcist” it stands alone as a wonderful horror thriller.
Richard Donner drops the satanic element right down in to the middle of upper class America much in the way Friedkin did, except dealing now with the anti-Christ. Damien’s rise to power and his inevitable positioning to consume man kind is slow and calculated with the visions and omens of his horrific misdeeds only serving as a minor defense against his powers. Damien is a conscious and willing pawn in the downfall of mankind, who is at first the young son of American Ambassador Robert Thorn and his wife Katherine. Immediately following his blossoming in to a young boy, the Thorns experience a string of shocking events that seem utterly random upon first glance. A photographer, as played by David Warner, is able to coincidentally figure out whom among Damien’s family’s inner circle is doomed to die and how.
After Damien’s nanny commits suicide during his birthday party, the pieces come to place for Damien to not only eliminate the obstacles in his life, but to claim a victory that is only step one in his wicked mission. Gregory Peck is fantastic as Damien’s father Robert, who is conflicted about the intentions of his son, which feel accidental at first, and then suddenly build an aura of ill intent. When confronted with the photographer and many others that warn about Damien, Robert has to experience a battle against evil to seek the truth about the son he thought he knew, and how to end this mounting threat. From wild dogs in a cemetery to learning about the mark on his head that signifies his inherent evil, Peck plays Robert with immense complexity.
At first he’s very sure about the life he’s built, and then has to watch it all crumble away from Damien, who slowly becomes the snake in the grass. Director Donner’s film is still very disturbing in its violence and ferocity, as those that dare to attempt to stop Damien and his caretaker Mrs. Blaylock, (Billie Whitelaw provides a terrifying turn) are murdered in truly grotesque manners. All the while, Robert Thorn’s own ignorance toward Damien’s existence is gripping and gut wrenching. Especially when he discovers the only way to end Damien’s terror is by stabbing him to death in a church. Richard Donner’s explosion in to the occult is a welcome addition to the ilk of films like “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” It’s the first leg in a very unique series, and one that exists in its own realm as the beginning of the battle between good and evil, and how evil can often win in the face of deception and misdirection.