Omen, The (1976): Richard Donner’s Horror Film, Starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick

Written by David Seltzer and directed by Richard Donner, this effectively entertaining horror film takes William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” one step further by concentrating not on a girl possessed by the Devil, but on a boy who’s evil incarnate, the antichrist.

Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is a highly respected American ambassador to England whose wife Katherine (Lee Remick) gives birth to a stillborn child. Thorn is then encouraged by a priest to switch his dead child with the living baby of a mother who had died during childbirth.

Five years later, strange things begin happening in the Thorn household, all of which can be traced to their boy, Damien (Harvey Stevens), who unbeknownst to his surrogate parents, is the antichrist. The story’s premise is questionable and even silly, but the film is well-executed, and it abounds with unintentionally funny dialogue.

A fairly entertaining horror flick, “The Omen” made a lot of money and thus spawned two sequels: “Damien: Omen II” (1978) and “The Final Conflict: Omen III” (1981), neither of which was any good.

The films were originally conceived as four parts, tracing Damien’s rise to power from his childhood through adulthood and eventually to Armageddon. However, audience interest slacked off considerably after the second film, forcing the producers to cut the saga short at three. In 1991, there was a TV movie, “Omen IV: The Awakening,” also bad.

The 1976 film won the Best Original Score Oscar for Jerry Goldsmith, against tough competition from Bernard Herrmann, who received two posthumous nominations, for Brian De Palma’s “Obsession” and for “Taxi Driver,” his very last score. Herrmann died a day after he finished recording Scorsese’s film, which might explain why Goldsmith won.

“The Omen” was also Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song, “Ave Satani,” with music and lyrics by Jerry Goldsmith. The winner, however, was “Evergreen,” by Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams, the love theme from “A Star Is Born.”

The film’s supporting cast is excellent: David Warner as Jenings; stage actress Billie Whitelaw as the Nanny Mrs. Baylock, Leo McKern as Bugenhagen, Harvey Stevens as Damien, Patrick Troughton as Father Brennan, and Holly Palance as the young nanny.

Reel Impact

In 1981, a 13-year-old girl killed her 11-year-old sister under “Satan’s orders.” She claimed she had been worshipping the devil ever since she saw this film in 1976.