It's time for a delve into some classic old-school horror, with Richard Donner's 1976 suspense horror The Omen. Gregory Peck plays Robert Thorn, US Ambassador to Great Britain, and his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) gives birth to a son who dies shortly after birth. Not wishing to upset his wife, Robert agrees to take on an orphaned baby boy to 'replace' their dead child, and the couple name the boy Damien. However, Damien begins to demonstrate signs that he is no ordinary little boy. After a warning from Father Brennan, who dies shortly after, and events intensifying, Robert joins photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner, sporting possibly the best seventies hairdo in film...), who also senses trouble after seeing marks on his photographs pre-empting Father Brennan's death. The pair seek to uncover the truth - that Damien is in fact the Antichrist - the devil's child.
Kids in horror films are creepy, period. And young actor Harvey Stephens surpasses any other creepy young'un in the role of Damien Thorn. Just four years old when picked for the part, he demonstrates poise and incredible acting talent for his age - either that, or he was naturally a very, very creepy kid. His chilling stares and sense of underlying menace are what drives the film. This is further amplified by the contrast when he seems playful, trundling about on his tricycle - the ability to switch between childlike innocence and demonic knowing is spot-on.
The Omen demonstrates the traditional old school values of horror. Very little blood and gore is needed, as the focus is on menace, terror and suspense. Even when Katherine falls from the upstairs landing, it's the build up to her fall that makes it horrifying, with editing betwen her fixing the plants, Damien cycling and an eerie close-up of ominous nanny Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw)'s eyes - and then the dead silence and her twisted body after the fall. Although vaguely unsophisticated at times, the camerawork is perfect, with jilted angles and a hand-held feel at moments of intensity where the music builds to a jarring climax perfectly mixed with static long-takes and silence to build tension between these. The music itself is intrusive and disjointed with Latin (I believe...) phrase and religious-type singing/chanting over haphazard instrumental noise.
The film deals interestingly with issues of religion - dealing with prophecy about the rising of the Antichrist. Religious figures are often presented as vaguely fanatical - Father Brennan's desperation to warn Robert about his child's true identity results in a crazed, maniacal persona. Churches and places of religious importance are given an intimidating, ominous feel, large and bleak-looking. The Omen is a true classic, with all the elements of classic horror that make it just that - classic. I've yet to see the remake, but I may well check it out for a comparison (if you've seen it - let me know!). For a chilling, original horror, you can't do much better than this. It may be all about the unholy, but it's certainly a 'wholly' (sorry...) engaging watch.