It was Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist that proved moviegoers were itching to have the wits scared out of them by Old Scratch hisself -- the original bogeyman who has pervaded our collective fear for all of time. And Hollywood didn't have to look any further than The Bible itself for truly horrific inspiration, as the pages of Revelation are chock full of garish descriptions of Earth's end times, about the rise of the Anti-Christ and all the really nasty stuff he's gonna do. So, what if the apocalyptic prophecies are true? What if Satan's child WILL rise to rule the world? And what if your rosy-cheeked, newborn son WERE the Anti-Christ? That's exactly what The Omen (1976, 111 minutes) pondered and would laboriously explore through THREE sequels -- Damien: Omen II, Omen III: The Final Conflict and Omen IV: The Awakening. All are presented in a groovy new box set from Fox called The Omen Collection, with the fourth feature currently only available in the set.
The movie: Mr. Bushy Eyebrows, Gregory Peck, stars as Robert Thorn, a wealthy, political go-getter who has just been told his newborn son is dead. In his grief, he's offered a chance to spare his wife the news by adopting an orphan boy born that same night. Thorn reluctantly agrees. Soon, he's appointed ambassador to Great Britain, and he and his young wife (Lee Remick) and son move to the land of rotten molars, where all is seemingly well. That is until young Damien's fifth birthday when his nanny crashes the party by committing suicide, yelping, "It's all for you!," before snapping her neck at the end of a rope. Also wandering in on the soiree is a fierce-looking Rottweiler that Damien decides he can't part with. Not long after the nanny's death, another arrives, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), who is apparently the Mary Poppins of the fiery netherworld. She tells Damien she'll protect him from now on. Then even more weirdness happens. A crazed priest starts harassing Captain Ahab, claiming the devil is at work and that young Damien is the Anti-Christ. Thorn doesn't believe him at first, but his wife isn't so sure: "Robert, I think Damien might be evil." "Don't be ridiculous, Katherine." "No really, I'm pretty sure he's EVIL!" "Hmmm. He looks healthy enough. Are you SURE he's evil?" And the two go on like that for most of the flick. It's only after Kathy "accidently" takes a header off a balcony and the whack-job priest winds up as a Catholic shish kabob, that Thorn decides to investigate the true origin of his adopted son. The news isn't good, as it turns out that not only is he Satan's boy, the only way to rid the world of the kindergartener from hell, is to ventilate him with a set of imitation Ginsu steak knives. And the fella downstairs SURE ain't gonna like that.
Notables: No breasts. Seven corpses. THE Beast. Hair-pulling fit. Baboon attack. Grave robbing. Demonic weather disaster. Dead goldfish. Biting. Gratuitous slow-mo bullet. Head tumbles.
Quotables: Ambassador Thorn's reaction to his wife's subtle suggestion they indulge in a little floor-rollin' nookie, "You know, you could be too sexy for the White House."
Time codes: Cheesy photo montage depicting Damien's early childhood (10:36). His nanny proves her devotion? (13:00). One of the more beautifully executed scenes in the flick (49:35). Worst case of acne in recorded history (1:10:08). Slow-mo decapitation, with backspin (1:33:20). Time for Damien's haircut (1:39:40).
Audio/Video: The flick's often masterful cinematography shines in this crisp widescreen (2.35:1) print, with only marginally muted black levels in some scenes. Jerry Goldsmith's chilling, Oscar-winning soundtrack marches solidly in the new Dolby Digital Surround track, along with its original English and French mono tracks. It's also been enhanced for widescreen TVs.
Extras: Slick-looking animated menus featuring Satanic imagery and the Omen chant. Commentary by director Richard Donner and editor Stuart Baird -- the two keep the discussion jovial and don't dwell on frame-by-frame technical details. Original documentary "666: The Omen Revealed" runs 46 minutes and covers the film's development and production, with emphasis on key scenes and players. Also included are two shorter segments: A six-minute look at all the strange happenings that occurred while making the picture, plus a 18-minute visit with composer Jerry Goldsmith. A fullframe theatrical trailer.
Final thought: The film joins Jaws as a prime example of how music can be a powerful psychological force in filmmaking. More artistic than thrilling, the story may seem slow and plodding to some. Highly Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.