At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Omen “76”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Omen “76”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Spencer Stephens, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson, Leo McKern, Robert Rietti, John Stride, Anthony Nicholls/ Runtime: 111 minutes

I feel that it must be said that following the theatrical release of that timeless horror film masterpiece that we all know as The Exorcist in that seemingly long, long ago year that is 1973 as well as that movie’s subsequent success from both a critical and commercial perspective, it wasn’t that much of a surprise for movie-going audiences to discover that movies that featured either impending disasters of an end-of-the-world nature, children that were either evil to begin with or found themselves being taken over by evil and required saving, or both had very quickly become profitable box-office options for a lot of the studios to really start looking at putting into production in order to milk the proverbial cash cow before it ran dry. It was in this time then that 20th Century Fox would put a film into production that covered both of these topics in a way that film hadn’t really thought to before and even came saddled with a screen icon in none other than Gregory Peck and as leading man at that. This film was named The Omen, and despite many of the films in the aftermath of The Exorcist being nothing more than rip-offs of what that film had covered so successfully, this one was different. Indeed this was a film which actually had a scary story of its own to tell, and it’s one that has haunted certain groups of people for millennia. Even if you’re not part of one of those groups however, I still feel that The Omen will most certainly be up your alley. This is because The Omen truly is a brilliantly written, gorgeously shot, and remarkably acted trip headfirst into a nightmare that you will never truly forget.

The plot is as follows: The Omen starts its nightmare on June the 6th in the city of Rome. Here we are introduced to a man named Robert Thorn who, despite his lofty career position of Ambassador, has just been dealt a personal blow. A blow that takes the form of his beloved wife Katherine having given birth to a son who was tragically a stillborn. Yet rather than destroy his wife emotionally with the news Robert devises another plan altogether. A plan which involves the help of the hospital chaplain and deals with Robert acquiring another baby boy born at the same time, and in the same ward, but whose mother died delivering him. The only caveat of course being that the action will have to remain an unbreakable secret between Robert and the chaplain forever, but that doesn’t prove too hard for Robert to do. Jumping ahead six years later however, and strange yet horrific events from a woman hanging herself to a regret-filled yet serious priest telling Robert that “he knows who the boy’s mother really is”, and a press photographer named Jennings has started to find startling yet also fatal premonition-esque items in the photos that he takes have begun happening and, eerie as it may be, the only thread connecting them all seems to be the Thorns’ son Damien. However when Katherine is the victim of an unfortunate yet creepy miscarriage, Robert decides to team up with Jennings to head back to Rome to get some answers. Suffice it to say that what he finds will be enough to chill him to his very core, and introduce him to a horror that, to some, has truly been a long, long time a’coming…..

Now even though this film is a lot less graphic when compared to a lot of modern day horror films for example, it is still nevertheless quite shocking and quite impactful. Indeed, just like The Exorcist, this is a film which will scare a viewer first and foremost in regards to their psyche. Unlike The Exorcist, this one also chooses to operate by making it clear to the audience that there are specific things that will happen during the film, but then deliberately leaves out just when they will thus leaving the viewer forever on edge in a delightful mix of both fear and anticipation for these specific things. It is also worth pointing out that even though there is some gore to be found in this film it is not by any means gratuitous. Rather it actually works well within the film and even helps to tell the story being told. Indeed this is also a film which is not even remotely terrified to destroy the rulebook that exists when it comes to “Surviving a Horror Film” thus resulting in the fear going even higher because you literally, unless you’ve seen it before, will have no way to know just how exactly this nightmare plans to conclude. Speaking of the conclusion…. I definitely think it must be said the conclusion to this film is, alongside the original Halloween, one of the most spellbinding and enthralling conclusions to a horror film as this movie’s last dozen minutes or so manages to showcase not only one of the finest turns in a horror film, but also a terrific sense to just let the scenes go where most would never take them thus leaving the audience relieved the nightmare is over yet chilled by the final image the film chooses to present them with.

Indeed it is weird to say about a movie, especially a horror film, but it just really truly feels like every single aspect of this film just has a tenacity for managing to function just the way that it should with everything from a cold and creep-filled sense of slowly approaching doom impending, a chilling yet dark atmosphere throughout the entirety of the film from beginning to end, and all the way to the film’s nightmarish premise. Yet, and to give the naysayers the benefit of the doubt, I most certainly will not claim to the contrary that this film can to some audiences definitely appear silly enough when you pay close attention to it all. Yet to this film’s credit, it manages to possess enough conviction and confidence in both the acting and directing departments that these positives ensure that the film never once manages to fall completely off the boat, and turn the film into the worst kind of schlocky daffiness imaginable. With that being said I also think another flash of genius that this film provides its audience with would most certainly consist of the haunting, tension-inducing score with eerie chanting spread throughout. Also this film was given some truly well-done work in both the set and cinematography departments due to the skill levels involved with both, but it is all handled with amazing talent by Richard Donner at the helm (and yes this is the Richard Donner who gave us the first ever Superman movie and the Lethal Weapon movies). Indeed even when there is not a whole lot occurring on screen, Donner manages to keep things intriguing yet taut with a phenomenal sense of pacing and a terrific eye for imagery. Yet when it comes to delivering moments that will thrill or chill the audience, Donner manages to deliver both in a way that is both stylish and gripping in equal measure.

Now the performances in this film really are of the finest quality possible although that is also possible due to the fact that this film contains a truly stellar and phenomenal cast. This of course starts with screen icon Gregory Peck and Lee Remick who are purely and simply excellent as Mr and Mrs. Thorn although, to be fair, Peck does deserve just a little bit more credit due to his character being more complex and Peck really pulling off the gauntlet of emotions from love to pain and terror when he realizes just who his son is and what it is that he has to do quite well. Also worthy of mention however is David Warner who in his role as Keith Jennings Is by equal measure portrays both tenacity yet obsessed in terrific measure, Billie Whitelaw who as Damien’s replacement nanny Mrs. Baylock is very much the stuff that nightmares are made of, and Patrick Troughton who is absolutely incredible as the regretful yet solemn to a t Father Brennan. Yet out of all the cast, a significant amount of praise absolutely has to go Harvey Stephens as the little boy Damien. Indeed this is a performance that is not so much dialogue heavy as it is about being able to showcase a child who, to some, may appear like an adorable little boy, but by the end must be seen in a different light altogether, and the more the characters, and through them, you in the audience find out about Damien, the more chilling this incredible performance truly becomes.

All in all The Omen “76” is a truly pitch-black as well as nightmarish beyond all imagining horror film that, in the time since its release, has become truly, and rightfully, regarded to both critics and audiences as one of the best horror films to ever come into existence, and has even managed to conjure up a pair of sequels, a remake in 2006, and quite a few copycat films of its own inspired by its central premise. Yet make no mistake: The Omen is a truly horror epic that has done an astounding job of just positively terrifying the ever loving hell, no pun intended, out of audiences since its release, and I predict that it will continue to do so for years to come. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Omen “76” a solid 4 out of 5.