The Omen (1976)

(On DVD, April 2017) Many horror movies from the seventies have not aged very well, and The Omen hovers in that strange zone between ridiculousness and effectiveness. What generally works is the atmosphere of dread, the middle section, the period detail and the refreshingly older protagonist (Gregory Peck, sixty years old at the time of the film’s release) anchoring the film. Those help The Omen maintain freshness even in light of everything that now look stupid about the film: The predictable nature of the bad-seed plot, slow pacing, familiar rehash of Catholic mythology, badly-staged horror sequences… It’s difficult, even psychopathic to think that you’d laugh at a plate-glass decapitation … until it happens and you think “gee, couldn’t this have been more convincing?” If nothing else, this sequence is a lesson in less-is-more—a tastefully restrained approach of not attempting to show the actual decapitations would have been far more effective. The Omen may have codified its share of horror clichés, but they are now clichés and the film suffers from their overuse. Still, there is some decent mainstream ambition from director Richard Donner in making this horror story a decent film for large audiences (rather than going the genre route) and it’s one of the reasons why, even if it does feel faintly silly, The Omen still reverberates today. [May 2017: Ah-ha! I finally remembered that I had read about The Omen’s decapitation scene in Harlan Ellison’s An Edge in my Voice … and that after seeing the actual result, it’s obvious that Ellison’s completely tone-deaf in describing his appalled reaction at audience laughter during the scene. The scene is over-the-top and almost designed, as is, to provoke laughter. Sorry Harlan—you’re not always right!]

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