The unholy trinity of supernatural horror films, which spanned Polanski’s Rosemary’s Child (1968) and Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), could also include The Omen (1976) directed by Richard Donner. And it may be the weakest of the three, although the diversity of the roots of evil shown, and how to confront them, distinguishes each film. It is more similar to Nicholas Roeg’s movie Don’t Look Now (1973), but the central mystery Robert Thorn, American diplomat and film protagonist (Gregory Peck), tries to decipher doesn’t rise to the lofty stratum of Roeg’s recursive premonitions. The film follows the infertility “woes” befalling the wife (Lee Remick) of the American ambassador. Not knowing any better, Kathy delivers a stillborn baby and is given an orphaned replacement. When he reaches five, mysterious deaths occur whenever the boy’s past is brought up.
The horror in Polanski and Donner’s films lies in the active role of one spouse inviting evil home. Whatever the reason (complicity or negligence) the result is still the same—the disruption caused to domestic stability. Out of the two, Donner resorts to the more gruesome fate for the family. The passages preceding the climax portray the beginning of that harrowing end to a degree that salvages the film from a distracting lull, a prolonged clue hunt, and the unlikeliest of allies. The film abounds with flaws that sacrifice realism for a plunge into a labyrinthine conspiracy. How can an ambassador go AWOL, ditch his security detail and expose himself and household to peril without the collateral damage to a few bodyguards? Quite simply, he stopped being ambassador and thus no security was shown to hamper his movement while on his quest for the truth. The film makes a full recovery by the end when it poses a question to the audience. Can you kill a child after learning who (or what) it is; the Devil’s son?
For me personally, a first watch can, at times, be plagued by distractions and, perhaps, become interspersed with misinterpretation. And I do not wish for this last bit to detract from the film’s high water moments elsewhere. The film has multiple themes and can seen as a reading of several issues (conception, progeny and abortion) or of the same topic from several angles (ruin by way of tragedy and termination via abortion). There is a great mastery in that Damien, with nary a spoken word of dialog, is stripped of ill intentions and complicity. He is a child after all and his innocence is maintained accordingly. But the aura around him is what frightens. It protects and preserves him for his predestined role. Almost as if still in gestation—in utero, as he walks among those soon to be laid to waste in his wake. All this makes the last confrontation disturbing, conflicting and, dare one say, relieving, at once.
Sometimes rowdy, sometimes pouty.