The Omen is a 1976 British/American supernatural horror drama film directed by Richard Donner. The film stars Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Spencer Stephens, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson and Leo McKern. It is the first film in The Omen series and was scripted by David Seltzer.
Plot[edit | edit source]
In Rome, American diplomat Robert Thorn's (Gregory Peck) wife Katherine (Lee Remick) gives birth to a boy, who he is told dies moments after being born. Robert is convinced by the hospital chaplain, Father Spiletto (Martin Benson), to secretly adopt an orphan whose mother died at the same time. Robert agrees, but does not reveal to her that the child is not theirs. They name the child Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens).
Soon after, Robert is appointed U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. Mysterious events plague the Thorns; animals, with the exception of large dogs congregating near the Thorn home, are terrified of the child, Damien violently resists entering a church, and Damien's nanny publicly hangs herself. A new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), arrives unnanounced to replace her. Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton), a Catholic priest, tries repeatedly to warn the Ambassador about Damien's mysterious origins, hinting that Damien may not be human. The priest later tells Robert that Katherine is pregnant, and that Damien will prevent her from having the child. Afterward, Brennan is impaled by a lightning rod thrown from the roof of his church during a sudden storm. Upon returning home, Katherine tells Robert that she is pregnant, and wants an abortion.
Learning of Father Brennan's death, photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) begins investigating Damien. He notices shadows in photographs of the nanny and of Father Brennan that seem to presage their bizarre deaths. Photos of Keith also show these shadows. Keith shows Robert the photos and tells him he also believes that Damien is a threat and that he wants to help Robert. While Robert is away, Damien knocks Katherine over an upstairs railing to the floor below, causing her to miscarry.
Keith and Robert travel to Rome to investigate Damien's birth. A fire has destroyed the hospital records and the maternity and nursery wards; most of the staff on duty died in the fire. Robert and Keith trace Father Spiletto to St. Benedict's Abbey in Subiaco, where he is recuperating from his injuries. Stricken mute, Spiletto writes the name of an ancient Etruscan cemetery in Cerveteri, where Damien's biological mother is buried. Robert and Keith find a jackal carcass in the grave, and a child's skeleton with a shattered skull: Damien's unnatural "mother" and the remains of the Thorns' own child, murdered at birth so that Damien could take his place. Keith reiterates Father Brennan's belief that Damien is the Antichrist, whose coming is being supported by a conspiracy of Satanists. A pack of wild dogs, similar to ones seen near the Thorn's mansion, drive Robert and Keith out of the cemetery.
Robert and Keith travel to Israel to find Karl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern), an archaeologist and expert on the Antichrist. Bugenhagen explains that if Damien is the Antichrist, he will possess a birthmark in the shape of three sixes. Robert learns that the only way to kill the Antichrist is with seven mystical daggers from Megiddo. Appalled by the idea of murdering a child, Robert discards the daggers. When Keith tries to retrieve them, he is decapitated by a sheet of window glass sliding off a truck.
Back in London, Mrs. Baylock murders Katherine by pushing her out of her hospital window. Returning home, Robert examines Damien for the birthmark, finding it on the child's scalp. Mrs. Baylock attacks him and, in the ensuing struggle, Robert kills her. He loads Damien and the daggers into a car and drives to the nearest church. Due to his erratic driving, he is followed by the police, who arrive as he is dragging the screaming child to the altar. An officer orders him to raise his hands and stand away. Robert raises the first dagger, and the officer fires his gun.
Damien attends the funeral of Katherine and Robert in the custody of the U.S. President. The final shot focuses on Damien, who smiles.
Cast[edit | edit source]
- Gregory Peck as Robert Thorn
- David Warner as Keith Jennings
- Lee Remick as Katherine Thorn
- Billie Whitelaw as Mrs Baylock
- Harvey Spencer Stephens as Damien Thorn
- Patrick Troughton as Father Brennan
- Martin Benson as Father Spiletto
- Leo McKern as Carl Bugenhagen
- Robert Rietti as Monk
- Tommy Duggan as Priest
- John Stride as The Psychiatrist
- Anthony Nicholls as Dr. Becker
- Holly Palance as Nanny
- Roy Boyd as Reporter
- Freda Dowie as Nun
- Sheila Raynor as Mrs Horton
- Robert MacLeod as Horton
- Bruce Boa as Thorn's Aide 1
- Don Fellows as Thorn's Aide 2
Reception[edit | edit source]
Box office performance[edit | edit source]
The Omen was released following a successful $2.8 million marketing campaign inspired by the one from Jaws one year prior, with two weeks of sneak previews, a novelization by screenwriter David Seltzer, and the logo with "666" inside the film's title as the centerpiece of the advertisement. The film was a massive commercial success in the United States. It grossed $4,273,886 in its opening weekend and $60,922,980 domestically on a tight budget of $2.8 million. The film was the fifth highest grossing movie of 1976.
Critical reception[edit | edit source]
The Omen received mostly positive reviews from critics and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1976, as well as one of the best horror films ever made. The film holds an 86% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. The movie boasted a particularly disturbing scene, in which a character willingly and joyfully hangs herself at a birthday party attended by young children. It also features a violent decapitation scene (caused by a horizontal sheet of plate glass), one of mainstream Hollywood's first: "If there were a special Madame Defarge Humanitarian Award for best decapitation," wrote Kim Newman in Nightmare Movies (1988), "this lingering, slow-motion sequence would get my vote."
Conversely, The Omen appeared in the 1978 book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time by Michael Medved (co-author of the Golden Turkey Awards) and Randy Dreyfuss. The Omen was ranked number 81 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Thrills, and the score by Jerry Goldsmith was nominated for AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. The film was ranked #16 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics' Association named it the 31st scariest film ever made.
Awards and nominations[edit | edit source]
The film received numerous accolades for its acting, writing, music and technical achievements. Jerry Goldsmith won the Academy Award for Best Original Score and received an additional nomination for Best Original Song for "Ave Satani". Goldsmith's score was also nominated for a Grammy award for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture. Billie Whitelaw was nominated for a BAFTA film award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. She was also awarded the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress. The film also received recognition by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Harvey Stephens was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut – Male. David Seltzer's original screenplay was nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen and for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture. The film was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and Gregory Peck received the Saturn Award for Best Actor in a Horror Film. Gilbert Taylor won the Best Cinematography Award from the British Society of Cinematographers.