Viddy Well Recommends: The Omen
Article by Aaron Haughton
The Omen is Richard Donner’s 1976 breakthrough film, and it's easily one of the most chilling films ever made. The film's success made Donner a household name and paved the way for him to direct huge Hollywood blockbusters, like Superman, Lethal Weapon and Goonies. The film centers around American ambassador Robert Thorn (played by Gregory Peck), and his wife, Katherine (played by Lee Remick), who want nothing more than to have a child. At the film’s opening, we learn that Thorn’s wife has had a stillbirth, which only Robert knows of, since Katherine passed out during labor. Torn by the news, Thorn encounters a priest in the hospital who tells him of a healthy newborn whose mother died during childbirth and has no living relatives, suggesting that Robert take the child and raise it as his own. Thorn agrees to take the child and never mentions anything about their son’s origins to his wife. Five years later, when mysterious deaths surround the family, Thorn begins to wonder if the child he and his wife are raising could be the son of the Devil, the Antichrist. But could it be real, or all in his head?
To set The Omen apart from the other supernatural films that came before it, like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973), Donner instructed screenwriter David Seltzer to only include events in the screenplay that could actually happen in real life. In doing so, it allows the viewer to question whether Thorn is off his rocker or if his son truly is the Antichrist; however, there is no true mystery surrounding Damien, mostly due to his conspicuously creepy nanny (played by Billie Whitelaw). Heavy-handed foreshadowing aside, the story is still a fantastic ride, and in a lot of ways, it’s a supernatural film noir of sorts that builds great tension as it hurdles toward its fatalistic climax.
Probably the creepiest thing about the film isn’t the film itself, but the countless coincidental incidents surrounding the cast, crew and production. Many incidents either involve lightning strikes or car crashes, but the most chilling of which surrounds special effects consultant John Richardson, who was responsible for creating the iconic death scenes for the film. Shortly after the film’s release, Richardson was doing special effects work for A Bridge Too Far in Holland when he and his assistant were involved in a deadly car crash on Sunday the 13th of June in 1976. In the head-on collision Richardson’s assistant was cut in half by the other vehicle’s wheel (an event that eerily mirrors a death scene in the film), and Richardson was thrown from the vehicle and knocked unconscious. When he came to and opened his eyes, he was confronted with a kilometer marker that read: Ommen 6,66. How fucking crazy is that?
Here’s a list of other strange events:
- David Seltzer and Gregory Peck each took separate planes to film on location in the UK, yet both planes were struck by lightning; the engine of Peck’s plane was taken out of commission by a bolt of lightning, followed by Seltzer’s plane a mere eight hours later while it was flying across the Atlantic. Luckily neither resulted in tragedy.
- While on a location surveying trip in Rome, a vicious storm swept the city and a bolt of lightning struck Hadrian’s Gate, which was near where the crew was staying.
- Producer Harvey Bernhard was in Rome and was nearly struck directly by a bolt of lightning, which just missed him.
- Richard Donner’s hotel during production was bombed by the IRA, and later he was involved in a non-fatal car crash.
- After shooting on location in Israel, a private jet was hired to return Peck to American. For reasons unknown, Peck cancelled at the last minute, deciding to take another plane. The flight he would’ve chartered later crashed, killing everyone on board.
- The zookeeper at the Longleat Safari Park was killed by a lion a day after the scene at the zoo was film. This supposedly fuels the rumors of the production being cursed.
- On the first day of shooting, several members of the crew survived a head-on collision.
- Harvey Bernhard was also hit by a driver going the wrong way out of a side street, which tore the front door of the car off, but left Bernhard intact.
- The rottweilers hired for the film attacked their trainers.
Now, I’m not overly superstitious or one to believe in curses, but that sure is a cosmic fuckton of coincidences. Who knows though, maybe some of it is fabrication to build publicity and marketing for the film. Roughly 5 million dollars was dumped into the advertising and promotional aspect for the film, whose efforts went so far as to ham up the 666 number of the beast aspect with a special made poster for a early screening on June 6, 1976, which marveled: “Today is the SIXTH day of the SIXTH month of Nineteen-Seventy-SIX!” Pretty corny, sure, but it did scare the living shit out of those people leaving the theater.
The film's marketing isn't the only unorthodox thing about the film either. Donner actually conducted casting for the role of Damien by having the auditioning children attack him, like Damien does to Lee Remick in the film. The director instantly cast Harvey Stephens for the part after he went above and beyond any other auditioner, clawing Donner’s face and kicking him in the nuts. Now that’s how you get a fucking job!
There’s no denying that the film is peppered with truly memorable iconology, like the first nanny’s suicide, the ominous foreshadowing images of the priest, the incarnation of the devil in the form of menacing rottweilers, the 666 birthmarks, and even Damien himself, which still cement it as a classic work of American horror cinema. There's also no denying the film has aged quite a bit, which I think adds to its haunting allure, but may be a turn off point for others.
The Omen is currently available on Netflix, and well worth a watch if you've got 2 hours to spare. In my opinion, it’s a little easier viewing experience than The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby because the pacing is much faster and the death scenes are brutal and gratifying. In short, it won’t bore you as much and knows how to give you the aspects of a horror film you came to see.
Rating: 4.5 impaled priests out of 5.
What do you think? Did The Omen make you mess your drawers, or is too dated to scare you? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!