Saturday, November 29, 2014

OMEN, THE (1976)

(June 1976, U.S.)

Tell me something? Is it just a wild coincidence that on the day I choose to write my post for Richard Donner's THE OMEN, I also start my day off by watching Johnny Carson's interview with Gregory Peck in July 1976 following THE OMEN's original theatrical release on Turner Classic Movies? Or is it something else...???

(Nah! Just a silly coincidence!)

Those of us who know our history of 1970's films, know that it was JAWS in the Summer of 1975 that officially kicked off that season as the blockbuster period of every year, though non-summer films like THE GODFATHER (1972), THE EXORCIST (1973) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) had accomplished the same sort of box office business prior to the great shark fin breaking though the water. But what, other than THE OMEN, did the Summer of 1976 really offer us? Not very much, in my opinion. THE BAD NEWS BEARS was still doing very respectable business, but that had been in release since the previous April. In other words, it would seem that in between JAWS (1975) and STAR WARS (1976), summer didn't offer too much except the Devil's child himself! But if you do your research, you'll find that following the success of THE EXORCIST, Devil-oriented suspense and horror films were all the rage up until John Carpenter's changed things by launching the teenage slasher film with HALLOWEEN in 1978.

THE OMEN begins with the tragedy of the death of a new born, which in of itself, is an unsettling way (though necessary) way to start this film. Distraught father and American diplomat Robert Thorn (played by the great Gregory Peck), chooses to adopt an alternate baby boy that was born at the same moment his own child died and in the process, also chooses not to tell his wife Kathy (played by Lee Remick). It would seem that on this night, as the hospital's Catholic priest puts it, "God has blessed you with a son." We know different, of course. Still, it would appear that the first five years of little Damien Thorn's life are truly joyous ones with his loving mother and father. It's on the child's fifth birthday that things change when his lovely nanny hangs herself in front of the entire birthday party crowd. This is what will now launch the mystery of who Damien really is and what his ultimate purpose will inevitably be. The mystery, however, lies in Robert's Thorn's ability to make the crucial discoveries. Again, we as the audience know what's going on and who Damien Thorn is. Still, any mystery can be entertaining even when all we can do is sit back and take a journey with the film's protagonist and follow the trails to its final conclusion and destiny. Through a very creepy priest called Father Brennan and a committed photo journalist named Keith Jennings (played by David Warner), Robert will inevitably realize that he's raising the Antichrist and that all the so-called "accidents" surrounding his life and those he loves are no accidents at all. These accidents are the true shocker of the film that we're meant to take in with all our attention and our fears. Watch the animals at the drive-through safari break into a fit of insanity in the presence of Damien and tell me if you'll ever want to drive though one of those things in real life ever again? Watch Damien ride his tricycle straight into the table that his mom is standing on at the top of the stairs just before she falls to the floor below (resulting in a full body cast) and tell me if you won't cringe just a little the next time your small child stares at you with a real angry look? Finally, watch the decapitation of Jenning's head by a sheet of window plate glass in the city of Megiddo and then wonder if you only believe in mere "accidents"? Yes, of course we do! THE OMEN is pure devilish entertainment only, unless you actually believe in any of this Antichrist crap! By the end of the film, our hero now believe in all of what the dark side of life has shown him and vows to terminate young Damien through the use of rather special daggers he's received from Bugenhagen (played by Leo McKern), an archaeologist and exorcist who's instructed Robert on just how the child must be killed. One can't help but continuously hear his stern warning of, "This is not a human child" repeat itself in our heads. Still, Devil's child or not, it would seem that Hollywood is not about to have us witness a father stabbing his own child (sort of) to death inside the walls of holy ground (a church). Damien survives, smiles at us in front of his father's grave, and thus, a franchise and a future remake (2006) is born, like it or not (NOT!!!)...

Now returning to the subject of the Summer of 1976 for just a moment, I have to say that particular one somehow managed to pass me by in terms of movies. I was nine years-old and was spending most of my time in Manhattan and on the beach with my father. I believe I went to only one movie that summer and it was a re-release of Disney's PETER PAN (yeah, I know - real lame!). As a matter of fact, that summer, the only movie I could really think about was the color remake of KING KONG on its way for the upcoming holiday season. My father wouldn't take me to see THE BAD NEWS BEARS because of its foul language and I'd never even heard of THE OMEN. It wasn't until two years later, the Summer of 1978, that I saw newspaper movie ads for DAMIEN: OMEN II and that some level of familiarity began to creep in. Still, I kept wondering with a title like OMEN II, what was the first OMEN film called? These are the questions a nine year-old film fan asks himself decades before the convenient research of the internet is invented. I wouldn't finally see the original film until my college years, and even then, it was an edited version on late night television (I was still a few years away from an extensive movie collection of my own, even on VHS). Needless to say, it's the original film of THE OMEN that not only exceeds all of its sequels and the remake, but also launched the career of the man who would one day give us SUPERMAN-THE MOVE (1978) and the LETHAL WEAPON films (the first two being the only good ones, in my opinion!).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Keith Jennings: "But the really important items are here if we're to get to the bottom of this, we've got to start here. This first clipping is from the Astrologer's Monthly...reports an unusual phenomenon. Comet changes shape into a glowing star like the Star of Bethlehem two thousand years ago, only this one was on the other side of the world, the European continent five years ago...the sixth of June, to be exact. Does that date mean anything to you?"
Robert Thorn: "Yes."
Jennings: "Then you'll recollect this other's a birth announcement from a Roman newspaper, also dated the sixth of June, five years ago, the day your son was born. Sixth month, sixth day. Was your son born at six am? Yes, I'm sorry, I'm just trying to work out this birthmark with the three sixes."
Robert: "My son is dead. I don't know whose son I'm raising."
Jennings: "If you wouldn't mind, Mr. Thorn, I'd like to help you try and find out."
Robert: "It's my problem."
Jennings: "No, sir, you're wrong. It's my problem, too..."

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I'm not sure I'd have taken a nine year old to see this either. Yeah, I know my credibility is shot with my Jaws story, but kids do need a little time to grow up without the devil in their lives. This was in the original project I started with, I was in college when it came out and it was a huge hit. That smiling shot you have at the end of the movie actually elicited screams from the audience. I skipped the remake although I did see all the sequels. The cameo by Christ at the end of the Third movie was the biggest WTF moment in the series. The original is the only one I bother watching when it is on.