Friday, December 23, 2011

Remembering "The Omen"

My book, Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films, is cited in Wikipedia in the "Analysis" section of their Damien Thorn entry. Specifically, they cite my examination of how the star power of Gregory Peck--who, in The Omen (1976), played the adoptive father of the son of Satan, Damien Thorn--contributed to the characterization of Damien as a potent deformed destructive being (DDB). Peck was associated with heroic roles, so when even he could not defeat Damien, and died trying, it was as if all his star power was transferred to Damien.

I was pleased to see my book linked with The Omen, because The Omen is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. I first saw it in the summer of its release in a movie theater in Queens that had the air conditioning turned way up, and I shivered throughout the film, uncertain whether the cause of the shivering was the movie or the air conditioning. I loved the elaborate Satanic murders, the vicious dogs, and especially the last shot of little Harvey Stephens as Damien turning toward the camera and smiling.

So enamored was I of The Omen at that time that I planned to write an essay, "The Exorcist vs. The Omen," in which I would prove that The Omen had outdone The Exorcist (released three years earlier) for the title of best horror movie ever made. I never wrote the essay, and now I don't think either of them is the best horror movie ever made (The Exorcist, by my reckoning, is No. 3 and The Omen is No. 24). I did film a silent Super-8 parody, The Omen: A Cheap Imitation, which was a companion to my earlier The Exorcist: A Cheap Imitation. This Omen parody was chiefly notable for my attempt to pick up a girl in the park who was walking her dog by means of the line, "I'm making a parody of The Omen, can I use your dog?"

The Omen has fallen somewhat in my estimation since then. Lee Remick as Damien's adoptive mother looks kind of lost, especially when she and Damien are surrounded by angry baboons at a drive-through zoo. (Animals generally don't like demons, vampires, or other DDBs.) The film seems derivative of The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, and its big-budget studio gloss keeps it from being as scary as it might be.

But then there are those murders. Every time Satan (always offscreen) decides that his little boy is in peril, he stages some kind of freak accident that kills the person who poses the threat. My favorite of these is when David Warner as the photographer Jennings gets beheaded by a sheet of glass. This sequence is beautifully edited. I analyzed it in Deformed and Destructive Beings, and it turned out there are no fewer than thirty shots in a single minute of screen time--two shots per second--to create the illusion of the sheet of glass spilling off a truck and slicing off Jennings's head. Wherever The Omen may land in my estimation, this remains my favorite screen beheading.

George Ochoa

No comments: