Building upon an interest in all things Satanic set in motion by films such as ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST, and drawing upon the biblical book of Revelations for inspiration, THE OMEN is a chronicle of the birth and early childhood of Damien Thorn.
He’s a chubby-cheeked tot, the doted-upon son of highly born parents, American Ambassador to the UK Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) and his wife, Katherine (Lee Remick). This child of privilege also happens to be the Anti-Christ.
Directed by Richard Donner, THE OMEN is slick, handsomely made, well-appointed with A-list stars and opulent sets. It’s most memorable for the shocking deaths that seem to be supernaturally visited upon anyone in the film who becomes too nosey about who Damien really is.
The story’s set in motion when Robert, wishing to spare Katherine sorrow because her pregnancy has resulted in a miscarriage, agrees to a deception suggested by a mysterious priest. A motherless baby will be substituted for the Thorns’ dead child, and Katherine will never be the wiser.
As the baby, Damien, grows into a seemingly happy and healthy child, bizarre deaths happen around him. Damien’s young nanny hangs herself during his fifth birthday party. A new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), mysteriously appears to take her place.
An acolyte of Satan, she’s there to protect Damien so he can grow up and fulfill his destiny, which is outlined neatly in this poem:
When the Jews return to Zion
And a comet rips the sky
And the Holy Roman Empire rises
Then You and I must die.
From the eternal sea he rises,
Creating armies on either shore
Turning man against his brother
‘Til man exists no more.
This poem is recited to Robert by another priest, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton), who was in on the conspiracy of Damien’s birth. He has repented and wishes to warn Robert. Pretty soon, during a freak storm, a bolt of lightning causes a church spire to fall, impaling Brennan.
Photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) also tries to warn Robert, and travels with him to Italy to ferret out the truth about Damien’s unnatural birth. (Hint: a jackal was involved.)
Jennings succeeds in convincing Robert that Damien is the Antichrist and must be destroyed, but Jennings’ reward is to suffer a horrific death involving a sheet of plate glass that decapitates him.
Even Damien’s mom, frightened of Damien and unable to love him as her own, comes under attack by the unseen forces that protect the boy, especially when she becomes pregnant with an actual child of Robert and Katherine.
Robert comes into possession of the seven sacred daggers of Meggido, the only weapons that can extinguish the life of the Antichrist. Will he have the nerve to use them? Or will Damien kill him first?
THE OMEN is intriguingly structured as a mystery, as Robert works to discover the truth about his adopted son. The mystery element is lost in the subsequent films, each of which stands as a tableau of unfolding elaborately staged deaths.
For this reason as well as for others, the original installment of THE OMEN remains the best, and well worth discovering.
“I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. “