15 April 2010

Fin's Review: The Omen

The Omen is the kind of film that could never be made now. It is a big studio, big budget horror movie that has all the right mix of intelligent story, strong acting performances from big name stars and serious scares, not to mention one of the best soundtracks ever recorded. The Omen is an unapologetically slick, polished and skilfully-made film using all of the resources available to Twentieth Century Fox. However, unlike much modern Hollywood fare, this does not simply mask a shallow and pointless story but instead supports a truly interesting and chilling story. 

The Omen was released in 1976, three years after the stupendous success of The Exorcist, and as a result has always been in the shadow of Fredkin's movie. Some people have even criticised this film as a cynical commercial exercise to cash in on the earlier chiller. While The Omen never reaches the heights of The Exorcist - what film does? - it is still a classy horror flick that packs a punch and at times is downright terrifying.

The Omen stands up really well despite the years that have passed since its release in 1976 and this is a film that Richard Donner never came close to emulating. The success of the film is built on a number of factors but fundamentally it is because Donner relies on story and narrative to drive it and as a result the viewer is drawn into the compelling action unfolding on screen. The story is fascinating and the slow uncovering of the mystery by Peck is gripping to watch. The fact that the acting is universally great also helps - Gregory Peck is on great form and his rationality and calmness add an extra dimension of believability to the film. He is ably supported by the rest of the cast. 

Because of the film's big studio credentials and the big name stars involved, it is sometimes forgotten that The Omen contains some of the most creepy images and scenes in horror history. The first balls-out scene of horror is truly disturbing on first viewing. When Damien's nanny joyfully hangs herself at his birthday party to show her devotion to the young anti-Christ, you know anything is possible. From this moment on  the story never slows and we are witness to one creepy scene after the other. From the introduction of the scariest nanny in cinema history through rottweilers chanting satanic verse, Donner knows how to make a scary film.

It would not be possible to write a review of The Omen without reference to the soundtrack. If you want to know how important music and sound are to horror films try watching the scariest film you can think of with the sound off - it doesn't work. The sound is in many ways more important than the pictures. Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack for this film is the classic example of this and fully deserved its Oscar. Much of the score's power is in the choral singing that dominates the soundtrack. Goldsmith included a black mass as the central theme for the film and it is chillingly effective. I would argue that you cannot call yourself a film fan, let alone a horror fan, if you have not seen this film. You would have to be the son of a jackal to miss it.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoy The Omen too but I'm afraid its not Donner's best film. That honour goes to The Goonies.


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