FEATURE: Shocktober - The Omen (1976)

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here. Minor spoilers ahead!

The Omen is one of those films that I was always determined I'd seen, it was so ingrained on my consciousness that I could tell you the entire plot and not blink. It took someone talking about a particular scene in the film to make me realise that no, I hadn't actually seen it, I'd just pieced it together in my head from 'Best Horror' clip-shows and pop culture references. It's a film that has seemingly been spoofed and alluded to just about everywhere and yet, the actual experience of watching The Omen still holds up. Because let's face it; Damien is as creepy as fuck.

Creepy children, when utilised effectively, are some of the scariest things that cinema can produce. For a person who isn't really all that comfortable with children (i.e. me), the effect can quickly be doubled. Harvey Spencer Stephens' Damien isn't just a little bit scary, he's actually terrifying. Mostly silent, unless he's screaming, usually blank-faced, unless he's grinning post-fatalities, he's the ultimate creepy horror child, the poster-boy for devil children and all who follow them. 

It's Damien's followers who get to do the back-up scary roles and they do so very well, from Holly Palance (daughter of Jack) as Damien's cheerily ill-fated first nanny to Billie Whitelaw's Mrs Baylock, the supporting cast is full of people acting ominously whilst grinning like a maniac. They're well-matched by the people on the side of good too; Gregory Peck is ever-reliable and possessed of a suitable gravitas for Robert Thorn whilst Lee Remick is effective in what is essentially a role confined to either smiling serenely at her husband or screaming in terror as she falls off of stuff. 

However, none of this would be the same without the consistently building atmosphere of unease that permeates the film. There are sudden shocks aplenty to capitalise on this tension and shake you out of your admittedly suspenseful comfort zone, but they are far more effective than they could have been without that build-up. Information is fed to the audience in dribs and drabs, allowing them to put the pieces together slightly ahead of the characters. We know something is up with Damien from the moment of his adoption, confirmed during his fifth birthday party when the nanny takes the phrase 'hanging out' a little too literally. It's a brilliantly shocking moment and one that clues the audience in to the idea that everyone in this film is expendable.

It would also be remiss to talk about how unsettling and effective The Omen is without mentioning the Oscar-winning score from Jerry Goldsmith. Back at the beginning, I talked briefly about how ingrained The Omen is in my consciousness; it's largely because of this very score, one of the first I ever had in my possession. It's simply brilliant. The opening track, Ave Satani, is one of the best horror score cues ever written, a deliriously macabre Latin chant (grammatically incorrect as a friend once gleefully pointed out to me) that sets the religious terror at the right tone for the rest of the film. 

Having now seen the film itself, it's much better than The Omen puzzle edition that I'd put together in my head. I can easily understand why it ranks so highly still after all these years, but it still feels impressively fresh. Even the effects (the beheading!) don't feel all that dated for the most part, even though one fall rivals Abergast's tumble in Psycho for the 'Clearly Not Actually Falling' Award. Ending on one of the finest fourth-wall breaking evil grins ever, The Omen may just be my favourite film so far this month.

- Becky

You can check out the full list of Shocktober reviews so far here.

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