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A baby born in Rome at 6am on the 6th of June is swapped for the stillborn child of U.S. Ambassador Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck). After relocating in London without telling his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) about the switcheroo, Thorn gradually comes to accept the horrible truth that little Damien (Harvey Stevens) is none other than the antichrist himself.

The Omen was a massive box-office hit and won an Academy Award for Jerry Goldsmith's score. It also showed up in the dishonour roll in the Medved Brothers' seminal book The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time. Sure it's trashy but what entertaining trash it is. Released three years after the similarly-themed The Exorcist, The Omen arrived at a time when the Bermuda Triangle was busy making ships disappear, Nostradamus' doomsday prophecies looked likely to be fulfilled at any moment and pet rocks were all the rage.

Ideal conditions for audiences to accept the story. We know that too because his nanny hangs herself spectacularly at his birthday party, baboons in a nature park break into a frenzy when Damien drives through with mum and his new nanny Mrs Baylock (Billie Whitelaw) greets him with the line "fear not little one, I am here to protect thee". No matter how silly the premise might seem The Omen works remarkably well as a horror thriller because of the conviction with which it is executed.

Rapid plot deployment and a classy cast treating the subject with utmost seriousness add immeasurably to our acceptance of the fanciful notion. Peck (whose left eyebrow works overtime throughout) and Remick are convincing as the blue bloods with a bad seed - even when Remick offers her immortal line "what could be wrong with our child, we're beautiful people aren't we?". Elsewhere there are robust performances from Billie Whitelaw as the nanny literally from hell, David Warner as a photographer who figures out the mystery and Patrick Troughton (the second Dr Who) as a priest with every reason to be paranoid. The Omen may not really be very good if you look at it too closely but it entertains because it believes in itself without question. It also offers one of the best decapitation scenes of the era.

None of the three sequels worked half as well as Richard Donner's original, which in this edition comes with some interesting bonus material. Donner's commentary track, a forty-five minute documentary on the making of the film (annoyingly none of the participants are identified) and a brief catalogue of the spooky coincidences during filming all add to the enjoyment. It's also a treat to hear Jerry Goldsmith talking about the 17 Oscar nominations he's had and the single statuette he won for this film. Anti-divine intervention, perhaps?
Richard Kuipers

Published July 5, 2001

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OMEN, THE (1976) (MA15+)

CAST: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Patrick Troughton, Billie Whitelaw, Leo McKern.
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: May 30, 2001

SPECIAL FEATURES: Widescreen 2.35:1; Audio Commentary with Richard Donner;
Documentary "666: The Omen Revealed"; Featurette "Curse or Coincidence?"; Interview Clips with Composer Jerry Goldsmith; Trailer; Language: English; Subtitles: English (H.O.H) Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish

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