HOLLYWOOD—Halloween is near people, and for the past few years we have tackled the best horror films to watch for scares, the best sequels, the best remakes, but this year, I decided to dig a bit deeper to take a slice of some of the best flicks within the sub-categories in the genre that are a must-see if you are looking for a great scare. Those genres include science-fiction, slasher, psychological thriller and whodunit. This week the focus is on the science fiction/thriller era. The debate on exactly what category this flick falls into is up in the air, but I would argue is definitely of another realm.
Why? We’re talking about the 1976 classic “The Omen” starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick and directed by Richard Donner. What is it about this gem that rarely gets the love that it deserves that makes it such a classic? Having a child as the focal point of the chaos helps elevate the level fear, but it’s not so much that the child is in danger, but the child is the antagonist causing all the madness.
Peck and Remick star as Robert and Katherine Thorn who lose their son right after he is born. Robert unable to break the news to his wife decides to secretly adopt another little boy whose mother has died at the same time as his son. Robert keeps the news from his wife that the child is not theirs, but Katherine has inklings that something is off about Damien. The child appears innocent, but is portrayed with such devilish traits by Harvey Specter Stephens.
Of course, the great thing about “The Omen” is the audience is well aware of what is going on before the characters ever catch a clue that Damien is actually the Antichrist. Oh, he’s evil and wicked to the core. That scene with him on that tri-cycle where he knocks Katherine off the banister of the stairs is eerie and strikes one at the core. The thought of inflicting any such violence on a child is the biggest theme of the movie, but it raises the question for a viewer: what one would do if placed in such a situation? If its life or death and its either you or a child that is pure evil what do you do?
Director Richard Donner with elegance crafts the scares and builds up the suspense to a level of tension that is so palpable. Yes, it’s suspense on top of suspense and done so well as a viewer you are so engulfed in the narrative that you cannot take your eyes away from the screen. For a horror flick in the late 70s, it was quite violent, but not excessive compared to the mayhem that exploded for the genre in the 80s. Another rare gem for the horror classic is the talent and acting capabilities. Many in horror deliver performances that are not believable, but with Remick, Peck and Stephens the acting is top-notch caliber.
However, “The Omen” is rare in the genre because it has an ending that doesn’t give the audience what it wants: a happily ever-after. Sometimes this is something that is needed to shock the audience that just because we want things to end well, does not always mean it will happen. At first glance, you may suspect “The Omen” not to live up to the thrills one expects when it comes to horror, but this is a movie that proves yet again subtly and simplicity is the key to scaring audiences over and over again.
Next week we’ll take a look at a flick that many credit to giving birth not only to the slasher genre, but the horror genre itself.