Friday, December 1, 2006

Now Playing: The Omen (Original)

The Omen is one of those films you grow up hearing about almost involuntarily. It's one of those '70's horror films like The Exorcist whose reputation far exceeds any actual thrill factor the film possesses, so to speak. When you wind up seeing it, the end result tends to lean more towards boredom than entertainment because what thrilled people as recently as 30 years ago lacks the punch of today's "horror" flicks. That's actually quite a sad state of affairs considering schlock like Saw and Hostel are considered part of a new-wave of horror instead of being called out as the amateurish crap they are.

Even the remake of The Omen went so far overboard with its evil spawn of the devil, and specifically the color red, that it completely muted the sense of creeping dread the original managed so well. When the original The Omen starts, we find ourselves in a hospital in Rome with Gregory Peck and his wife Lee Remick, who's just given birth to a child revealed to be still-born. A priest comforts him though by saying he's just come into possession of an abandoned child born at the exact moment and who was left on his doorstep. Once he gets past his grief, Peck accepts the child as his own.

Only later when the child starts growing up is there any hint that something is very, very wrong with him.

Richard Donner's direction falls right in line with other films made during the period and whether you love or hate the specific style of 1970's cinema will make a big difference in whether you like or dislike this film. I personally am rapid for films made during that period, but I know not everyone else is. The story unfolds gradually even though we all know right from the start that the kid ain't normal. As if we needed any more clear evidence, Donner shows us a dog right from the start that's meant to protect the kid, now named Damian. When the dog shows up the score screams at us, "EVIL!!!"

No, I'm not kidding either. It's not as abrassive as Kubrick's score during The Shining but it achieves the same effect of assaulting the audience with a symphony.

One thing I'll give Donner credit for was casting a kid that looks like the sweetest child on earth. That he could even remotely be pure evil just doesn't enter into people's minds, and little wonder once you actually see him. He's just so... pure. Which is the sort of casting brilliance needed for a story like this. As for the rest of the cast, Peck is his usually stoic self while Remick is fairly annoying as his increasingly frustrated and disturbed wife. I think David Warner as a photojournalist who helps Peck discover the truth, and Billie Whitelaw as the nanny determined to protect Damian at all costs, come off as the strongest characters.

Overall this isn't a scary movie, but it is a very atmospheric one. The undercurrent of dread running through the film right from the start keeps you on your toes. Plus, the decapitation sequence is legendary and once you see it you'll understand why. After seeing The Omen I checked out the other two in the series. The second one sounds like an exact remake of this one only with a teenage Damian. The third one, on the other hand, has Sam Neill as a grown-up Damian who tries to take over the world and that sounds brilliant.

But the first one remains a solid thriller that is very entertaining, and a reminder of the slower, more deliberate pace films once took. Maybe I'm just getting older but sometimes I think it'd be nice if films concentrated more on telling the story than assaulting the audience with camera tricks. On the other hand, it could just be that most directors coming out of MTV lack any sort of true talent or skill and overcompensate with tons of flash.

Yeah, I'm going with the second theory.

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