Fox // 1976 // 111 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // September 25th, 2000
When the Jews return to Zion / And a comet fills 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.
One of the most influential horror films of the past 30 years, The Omen finally comes to DVD in fine style courtesy of Fox. Who would have thought that this studio (until a few short months ago one of the most reviled of anyone out there in the DVD world) would be doing top-notch special editions at the drop of a hat? That said, Fox works their magic once more, delivering another loaded disc. In the process, they offer up the definitive home video version of this horror classic.
Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is a man who would appear to have all life has to offer -- friend to the President of the United States, newly appointed Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, husband to the lovely Katherine (Lee Remick), and father to young Damien (Harvey Stephens). If there is any problem, it's that Katherine actually lost her first child in childbirth, but Robert, being the loving husband that he is, quickly found another newborn to replace his deceased son.
All is well and good until strange circumstances begin to swirl around the Thorn family, especially their son. People start dying, sinister nannies (both human and canine) appear, circumstances are foretold, and Robert begins to find people who bear the mark of the Beast: 666. Investigating further, Thorn continues to find more and more about his son Damien -- information that pits a father against the forces of Hell itself and forces him to make a fateful choice. On the one hand there is the life of a child who may well be the harbinger of doom, and on the other his very sanity, if not his immortal soul.
Serving as a cultural bookend of sorts to 1973's The Exorcist, The Omen once more unleashed upon unsuspecting audiences great evil in the form of what we normally perceive as an innocent: the young child.
While William Friedkin would make a kinetic, over-the-top kind of horror movie in The Exorcist, with The Omen, Richard Donner (Superman, Scrooged) went a different, more subdued route. In the disc's excellent documentary, Donner speaks of how he wanted to make more of a mystery/thriller rather than the usual blood and guts horrorfest. To his credit, the strength of the film comes from that stylistic choice. The movie is quiet and almost dispassionate in the way it unfolds. Donner's approach is clean and clinical, with nothing being overly exploitative. Relationships are established that lend weight to the terror that will follow, and everything that happens dances within the realm of possibility and coincidence, again highlighting the terror that is yet to materialize. The Oscar winning score of Jerry Goldsmith (The Mummy, Patton), and the marvelous lighting and camera work of cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (Star Wars, Repulsion) help Donner create the desired mood. Additionally, The Omen is cut with great skill and precision by editor Stuart Baird (Die Hard 2, Outland). Everyone involved turns in outstanding work, although special mention should be made of Goldsmith's contribution. The dissonant musical stylings as well as the Gregorian-style Black Mass he created are among the movie's most memorable and chilling components. Long one of the greatest of film composers, this is the score that finally won him his first Academy Award and it's an award he richly deserved.
One of the major reasons for the film's effectiveness must be given to Donner's casting choices. As Robert Thorn, Gregory Peck (Gentleman's Agreement, On The Beach) brought a level of respectability almost unheard of to the horror film genre at the time. His work is carefully controlled and modulated, fitting in quite well with Donner's approach to the project. There is a level of decency that Peck brought to each role and that quality is on ample display here. As the Ambassador, Peck is commanding and used to getting his own way, yet also vulnerable. One of the highlights of the film is the way it documents Thorn's spiral into madness, making it seem both eerie and believable.
As Thorn's wife Katherine is the lovely Lee Remick (Anatomy Of A Murder, The Days Of Wine And Roses). The way Donner presents the relationship and romance between husband and wife serves to highlight the film's horrific elements. Goldsmith's beautiful love theme for the two characters acts as a stirring counterpoint to the jarring music of the rest of the film. Remick turns in her usual quality work level here. Suspecting the truth long before her husband, her flight into insanity comes much earlier and is a painful thing to watch. She truly captures the tragedy and fear of a woman who sees everything unraveling around her. In spite of everything, she still manages to convey the sense of love she feels for (what she believes to be) her son. Remick was a talented performer who was taken from us all to soon.
In supporting roles there are great performances to be found as well. Billie Whitelaw is probably the scariest thing in the film as Damien's nanny, the insane and driven Mrs. Baylock. Whitelaw brings an icy stare and sense of blind devotion to her duties as Damien's caretaker that include the elimination of anyone or anything, born or unborn, that might stand in her charge's ascendancy to power.
Fighting on the side of the angels is David Warner (Titanic, Time Bandits) as the photographer known as Jennings. Warner brings a level of intelligence and common sense rarely seen to the horror genre. He is especially moving once his character discovers that he is to die in his struggle against the Antichrist. On top of that, it is quite obvious that Warner and Peck had a great working relationship, with the scenes between them filled with a kind of relaxed tension.
As the source of all the fuss is Harvey Stephens as Damien. The kid was cute but also had a dark edge to him that the director captured perfectly. Following in the cinematic footsteps of angels who are evil a la' Village Of The Damned and The Exorcist, Stephens looks and acts like the child next door. The expression on his face at the end of the film is priceless and gives one last chill to send everyone on their way.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen at the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, Fox delivers a solid but flawed transfer. Colors levels seem to be inconsistent, with scenes that look overly bright at times and others where the colors appear dull and flat. Flesh tones also offer problems, as there are points where they seem to be oversaturated having a reddish appearance. Blacks are solid, showing no signs of shimmer or pixel breakup, but the downside is there seems to be diminished detail in the shadows. Flaws are evident in the source material, as there are numerous instances of nicks and scratches in the print. Taken as a whole, the image is slightly disappointing; although I'm pretty certain this is the best the movie has looked in forever. It just seems to me that a little more work could have and should been done.
Sound for the disc is a newly mastered Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix and it's reasonably effective. There is very little background hiss to be heard and dialogue is well mixed, being easy to understand. If this new soundtrack has a problem, it is with limited fidelity. There could be more range, with a great deal of the film sounding slightly thin. The one great wish I had watching this, and I'm sure there was a reason somewhere for its absence, was for a 5.1 mix so I could really enjoy Goldsmith's magnificent score. At the very least an isolated track for Goldsmith's music would have really put this disc over the top with me. For the purists out there, Fox has also included the film's original mono track as well as a French mono option.
As for the goodies. Well, as I have said before, Fox has come a long way. The highlight of the extras is an excellent documentary that runs around 45 minutes called "666: The Omen Revealed." Pretty much all the principals behind the camera are present and it is a lively and informative 45 minutes. The movie is talked about with great affection from all involved. In a pleasant change of pace with these things, I actually learned something about the making of this motion picture.
The DVD has a commentary track that features director Richard Donner and editor Stuart Baird. I have mixed feelings about this track. The documentary offers more information, but the commentary is so fun and so breezy that it is tough to dismiss. Donner really comes off like a funny guy, and it's an energy that is infectious. Donner and Baird obviously have a deep affection for one another and it shows. If you are looking for the secrets of The Omen, don't go looking to the commentary track for the answers; instead, you will find two friends talking fondly about times past.
The features also have a discussion with composer Jerry Goldsmith on his favorite themes in the movie and what went into them. Since I could not have my isolated music track, this feature almost makes up for it. Goldsmith is witty and knowledgeable, making him an engaging person for this kind of discussion. Music plays such a huge role in most movies, but is often overlooked. Hopefully features such as this will change people's awareness of what goes into great film composition.
The disc also has a creepy little feature about the strange coincidences that occurred during its production. If all these stories are true, well, maybe there is something to superstition.
Extras are closed out by the movie's original theatrical trailer. I must compliment Fox on another wonderful set of navigation menus. From The Abyss to Edward Scissorhands, Fox is producing some of the most inventive and eye pleasing jobs out there. Here is a virtual tip of the hat to Fox's team of graphic designers.
Taking into account the problems I had with the video and audio end of things, I don't have much else to dump on. This is a well-made film that holds up today and a solid disc that holds its own in today's competitive market.
If you are looking for a bloody gorefest, then this is not the movie for you. Outside of a brilliantly executed decapitation, there are very few visuals here to shock, with the movie being much more content to take its time and scare by getting under the viewer's skin. Great suspense with lots of chills abounds, but no one would confuse The Omen with today's cutting edge scarefests. Still, I can't think of many movies that scare on a deeper level than does The Omen.
The movie has a lasting power that is tough to ignore. So many horror movies that would follow seemed like big trips to the graveyard, while The Omen scares with its intelligence and its sense of it being all so plausible. Performances and direction are top-notch. The disc is loaded with goodies and the only let down is a less than perfect video and audio. Still, Fox has given the world a DVD version of The Omen that must be considered definitive. Taking all that into account, The Omen is a great purchase. It is classic suspense and it is a movie that demands to be watched with the lights on.
All appearing in front of this bench connected with The Omen are acquitted. One of the most chilling of all suspense/horror movies is still as effective today as it was 25 years ago. The only request from the bench is that Fox takes a little more time with their classic, catalogue titles, giving the video end of things the treatment they deserve. If there is nothing else, case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2000 Harold Gervais; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Scene Specific Commentary with Director Richard Donner and Film Editor Stuart Baird
* Documentary entitled: "666: The Omen Revealed"
* Composer Jerry Goldsmith On Four Of His Favorite Themes
* "Curse Or Coincidence"
* Original Theatrical Trailer