In the case of Richard Donner, it is more likely that you will recognise his work before his name. A name far from contemporary in Hollywood and mainstream fandom, Richard Donner is the director of three classics: Superman, The Goonies and Lethal Weapon. But what if this director of such classics preceded those releases with a legitimately frightening British-American horror film? Look no further than 1976’s The Omen.
As one would expect with its title, The Omen is rather creepy and demonic. In Rome, Gregory Peck’s Robert Thorn is in a hospital with Lee Remick’s Katherine Thorn, as they are close to welcoming their newborn child. Of course, tragedy strikes, and Robert is informed that their child has died, though waiting in the wing is a suitable replacement, offered as some sort of miracle established by God. Being the proud American diplomat that he is, Robert accepts the child as his own, but hides the truth from Katherine. Years later… Robert is now the US Ambassador to the UK, and living in London with his wife and a young Damien Thorn, their child.
When a scarily tragic event occurs during Damien’s extravagant outdoor birthday party, The Omen transcends into mystery, and in presenting the supernatural horror and occurrences surrounding the young Damien Thorn, The Omen additionally establishes a quest for the dark truth.
As a horror film, The Omen’s scare tactics are much more credible than the generic jumpscare. Some of the imagery presented is as truly horrifying as the intentions of characters in opposition to Damien Thorn. Robert Thorn says it himself: “Kill a child?!” A series of interesting, but all very different characters persuading Robert to murder a child is far from a moral or easy watch, something of which suggests that The Omen would probably not be under production or distribution by one of the major studios. This was the mid-1970s remember, around the time of New Hollywood, where edgy and dangerous was present in all of your favourite classics from Easy Rider to Taxi Driver.
READ MORE: Don’t Look Now (1973) – Spooktober
Musically, Jerry Goldsmith’s score throughout The Omen is of a truly horrific nature and successfully goes hand in hand with the unsatisfying imagery on screen, adding to the sensation of unease for its viewer. A film’s score elevating the scariness within said film is the sign of an unbelievably talented musical manipulator.
In terms of success, The Omen was the genesis of Richard Donner’s directorial career, but as a film in itself, spawning three sequels – one quite good, one starring Sam Neill, and a poor TV-movie – The Omen clearly established enough interest to warrant a sequel and further the Damien Thorn mythology, be the sequels good or bad.
In 2006, 30 years after the release of Richard Donner’s original, The Omen was remade in a very similar fashion to the original (like the 1998 Psycho), with Liev Schreiber as Robert Thorn. Released specifically on 6th June 2006 (06/06/06), the marketing for the Omen remake was obvious, but fun. However, like several horror remakes in the 21st century, the remake of The Omen was about as unwanted as having the spawn of Satan as your child.
More than 40 years-old, and existing within a franchise, The Omen is lacking in the department of being a horror fan’s horror film. There is a sense that The Omen does not belong anywhere near the likes of Halloween, Friday the 13th and so on, but is this because… The Omen is better? On one hand, The Omen is definitively better than Halloween etc., but on the other hand, because The Omen is heavily religion-orientated, and not ‘serial killer slasher’, this is why The Omen does not belong.
READ MORE: Suspiria (1977) – Spooktober