The Omen is a 1976 American suspense horror film directed by Richard Donner. The film stars Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Spencer Stephens, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson and Leo McKern. Written by David Seltzer, it is the first in a series of films.
Rome, Italy, June 6, 6:00 AM. Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is an American diplomat who hurries to a local hospital where his pregnant wife Katherine (Lee Remick) is going into labor. When he gets to the hospital, he is informed that his child was a stillbirth. A priest named Father Spiletto (Martin Benson) then offers him the choice to adopt a baby boy born at the same time who has no parents. Robert is reluctant to do so, but knowing his wife will be devastated by the news of her real child's death, he agrees to the adoption.
The boy is named Damien and moves to England with his new mother and father when Robert is appointed US ambassador to England. When Damien (Harvey Stephens) is celebrating his fifth birthday party, a large, black dog appears and causes the family's nanny (Holly Palance) to hang herself in front of everyone. Among those present is a news photographer named Keith Jennings (David Warner), who is taking pictures.
The next day, in his office, Robert is visited by a priest, named Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton), who claims to have been present during Damien's birth in Rome five years ago. He begs Thorn to accept Christ, because only then can he fight the son of the Devil. The priest is escorted out by security and Jennings takes note of the visitor, snapping pictures. While developing the pictures of the day, Jennings notices the priest has a dark, javelin-like object over his head in all of the pictures he appears in; but the anomaly doesn't appear anywhere else on the film.
A new nanny, named Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), is sent to replace the previous nanny, but it is clear that she is not as she seems. Mrs. Baylock immediately challenges Kathy Thorn's authority when she is instructed to dress and ready Damien to attend a church wedding with them, but she does as she is told.
The Thorns travel to the church, and Damien becomes more fearful as their car approaches the church. He has a violent reaction in which he injures his mother trying to get away. The car pulls away hurriedly and while the Thorns discuss Damien's reaction and whether he should be examined by a doctor, then realize he has never been sick at all a day in his life.
Kathy takes Damien to a safari park, and various animals react with fear or violence towards Damien. It climaxes with a group of baboons attacking the car that Kathy is driving, forcing her to speed away. Meanwhile, Robert is followed by Brennan and is pulled aside at a public event; Brennan tells him that his wife is in danger and he needs to talk to him. Jennings is also at the event, taking pictures. The pictures again show the dark anomaly above Brennan.
The next day, when Robert meets with Brennan again, the priest tells him that Damien is the son of the Devil, and will kill everyone around him, including Kathy's unborn child as well as Kathy herself. Brennan instructs Robert to go to the city of Tel Megiddo in Israel, to find a man named Carl Bugenhagen who can tell him how to kill Damien. However, Robert simply thinks that Brennan is insane and warns him to never to bother him again. As Brennan leaves the park, a sudden rainstorm comes up and he is impaled by a church spire in a freak accident while trying to take shelter in a nearby church.
Robert goes home, and the next day Kathy tells him she is pregnant. Robert then also discovers the newspaper's cover story about Brennan's bizarre death, further startling him. Kathy has been agitated by Damien as of late, causing her to visit a therapist, and she tells Robert she wants to terminate the pregnancy. Robert decides to go to the therapist to discuss Kathy's concerns. While Robert is out, Kathy falls over a banister after being knocked over by Damien, injuring her and killing her unborn child. Robert visits the injured Kathy in hospital, and she begs him not to "let him kill me."
Jennings calls for Robert Thorn to meet him, and he shows him the photographic anomalies with Father Brennan and Damien's original nanny. Jennings then takes Robert to Brennan's residence, which he has access to due to the police investigation into his death, and they find an odd collection of crosses and Bible pages everywhere. Robert tells Jennings about Brennan's warnings and how Damien was adopted. He then decides to find Damien's biological parents, and Jennings decides to help because of an anomaly on a picture of himself which indicates he will be decapitated.
Robert and Jennings travel to Italy together to find Father Spiletto. They quickly learn that the hospital where Damien was born burned down in a mysterious fire five years ago, along with all the birth records. They set off to find Spiletto, and during the journey, Jennings discovers that at the time when Damien was born, several events occurred which the Bible predicted would signal the birth of the Antichrist. Jennings and Robert eventually find Spiletto living in the Monastery of San Benedetto in Subiaco, but discover him severely burned and with movement only in his left hand. Robert demands to know where Damien's true mother is, and Spiletto writes down that she is buried in the cemetery of Cerveteri.
Robert and Jennings travel to Cerveteri, where they find the gravesites of both Damien's mother and Robert and Kathy's biological baby. The grave of Damien's mother contains a jackal's remains, and the other grave contains a baby whose skull was crushed. Robert realizes his baby was murdered at birth in order to get Damien adopted by the Thorns. They are then attacked by a pack of black dogs, but manage to escape.
Robert calls Kathy in hospital and tells her to come to Italy. However, she is thrown out of the hospital window by Mrs. Baylock as she gets up out of her bed. Back at the hotel, Robert receives a phone call and is informed of Kathy's death. In his grief, he tells Jennings that he wants to go to Megiddo and that he wants Damien to die.
Robert and Jennings travel to Megiddo and find that it is an archaelogic dig, almost completely underground. A man appears and takes them to Bugenhagen (Leo McKern), an elderly English archeologist who tells Robert that he has been expecting him. He insists on talking to Robert alone as Jennings is forced to wait outside the dig site. Bugenhagen gives Robert seven sacred daggers, explaining their significance and how to kill Damien with them. He also tells Robert that Damien will have the Mark of the Beast, three sixes, somewhere on his body if he really is the Antichrist.
Robert and Jennings leave, and Robert, believing Damien to be an innocent child, throws the sacred knives away. Jennings goes after the daggers, vowing to kill Damien himself if Robert won't, and is suddenly killed in a freak accident when a sheet of glass slides off a runaway truck and decapitates Jennings.
Robert flies back to London alone, with the seven daggers, determined to kill Damien. When he returns to his house that night, he finds Mrs. Baylock's watchdog waiting for him, but he succeeds in trapping it in the basement. Robert then searches the sleeping Damien's scalp for the 666-shaped birthmark. He discovers the birthmark hidden under Damien's hair, confirming that Damien truly is the Antichrist. Mrs. Baylock then attacks Robert, but Robert is able to overpower her and kidnaps Damien. Mrs. Baylock recovers and she and Robert fight briefly, before Robert stabs Baylock with a carving fork. He then drags Damien into his car and speeds off to the local church.
A police officer sees Robert speeding and pursues him. Robert arrives at the church with several police cars in pursuit. He goes inside with a kicking and screaming Damien, and takes him to the altar to kill him with the daggers. Just as Robert is about to stab Damien, the police arrive and an officer shoots Robert.
The film ends with Robert and Kathy's funeral in Arlington National Cemetery. At first it cannot be told whether or not Robert managed to stab Damien before he was shot. However, Damien is then shown at the funeral with the President of the United States. Damien turns around and smiles sinisterly at the camera as the prophecy of the Antichrist's rise to power is being fulfilled.
- Gregory Peck as Robert Thorn
- Lee Remick as Katherine Thorn
- David Warner as Keith Jennings
- Billie Whitelaw as Mrs. Baylock
- Harvey Spencer Stephens as Damien Thorn
- Patrick Troughton as Father Brennan
- Martin Benson as Father Spiletto
- Leo McKern as Carl Bugenhagen
- Robert Rietti as Monk
- Tommy Duggan as Priest
- John Stride as The Psychiatrist
- Anthony Nicholls as Dr. Becker
- Holly Palance as Holly
- Roy Boyd as Reporter
- Freda Dowie as Nun
- Sheila Raynor as Mrs. Horton
- Robert MacLeod as Horton
- Bruce Boa as Tom, Thorn's Aide
In the original ending, there was a child's casket with Robert and Kathy's at the funeral; indicating that Robert managed to stab Damien before he was shot. But studio head Alan Ladd Jr. said that this was a mistake, because the Devil cannot be killed. Ladd gave Donner additional funds to film another ending in which Damien survived.
Similar to many other horror movies of the era, there are many rumors of a curse surrounding the making of The Omen.
Separate flights for both actor Gregory Peck and executive producer Mace Neufeld were struck by lightning when flying between the USA and England, and producer Harvey Bernhard was barely missed by a lightning bolt in Rome. A restaurant that Neufeld and Peck were to eat at in England was bombed by the IRA.
A plane hired by the studio to take aerial shots in Israel was switched at the last moment by the airline, and the clients who took the original plane were all killed when it crashed on takeoff. Some time later, a zookeeper who was helping the studio with handling animals was attacked and eaten alive by lions. After working on The Omen, stuntman Alf Joint went on to work on A Bridge Too Far where he felt like he was pushed off a building during a stunt gone wrong.
On Friday, August 13, 1976, special effects artist John Richardson got into an accident in Holland while working on A Bridge Too Far, also right after work on The Omen was done. Less than a year after designing the deaths for The Omen, Richardson's car was involved in a major accident which killed and decapitated his female companion, in a similar way to the decapitation scene in The Omen which Richardson originally came up with. It is rumored that upon stumbling out of his car he saw a road sign that said he was 66.6 kilometers from the town of Ommen.
An original score for the film, including the movie's theme song "Ave Satani," was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, for which he received the only Oscar of his long career. The score features a strong choral segment, with a foreboding Latin chant. The refrain to the chant is, "Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani" (ungrammatical Latin for, "We drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan"; note that the correct Latin would be, "Sanguinem bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani"), interspersed with cries of "Ave Satani!" and "Ave Versus Christus" (Latin, "Hail, Satan!" and "Hail, Antichrist!"). Aside from the choral work, the score includes lyrical themes portraying the pleasant home life of the Thorn family, which are contrasted with the more disturbing scenes of the family's confrontation with evil.
Box office performance
The Omen was released following a successful $2.8 million marketing campaign inspired by the one from Jaws one year prior, with two weeks of sneak previews, a novelization by screenwriter David Seltzer, and the logo with "666" inside the film's title as the centerpiece of the advertisement. The film was a massive commercial success in the United States. It grossed $4,273,886 in its opening weekend and $60,922,980 domestically on a tight budget of $2.8 million. The film was the fifth highest grossing movie of 1976.
The Omen received mostly positive reviews from critics and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1976, as well as one of the best horror films ever made. The film holds an 82% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. The movie boasted a particularly disturbing scene, in which a character willingly and joyfully hangs herself at a birthday party attended by young children. It also features a violent decapitation scene (caused by a horizontal sheet of plate glass), one of mainstream Hollywood's first: "If there were a special Madame Defarge Humanitarian Award for best decapitation," wrote Kim Newman in Nightmare Movies (1988), "this lingering, slow-motion sequence would get my vote."
On the flip side, The Omen appeared in the 1978 book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time by Harry Medved (co-author of the Golden Turkey Awards) and Randy Dreyfuss. The Omen received recognition from the American Film Institute. It was ranked number 81 on 100 Years... 100 Thrills, a list of America's most heart-pounding films and the score by Jerry Goldsmith was nominated for AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. The film was ranked #16 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics' Association named it the 31st scariest film ever made.
Awards and nominations
The film received numerous accolades for its acting, writing, music and technical achievements. Jerry Goldsmith won the Academy Award for Best Original Score and received an additional nomination for Best Original Song for "Ave Satani". Goldsmith's score was also nominated for a Grammy award for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture. Billie Whitelaw was nominated for a BAFTA film award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. She was also awarded the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress. The film also received recognition by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Harvey Stephens was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut – Male. David Seltzer's original screenplay was nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen and for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture. The film was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film. Gilbert Taylor won the Best Cinematography Award from the British Society of Cinematographers.
- David Seltzer, The Omen (Futura, 1976)
- Joseph Howard, Damien: Omen II (Futura, 1978)
- Gordon McGill, Omen III: The Final Conflict (Futura, 1980)
- Gordon McGill, Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 (Futura, 1983)
- Gordon McGill, Omen V: The Abomination (Futura, 1985)
Both the movie and the novelization were written by David Seltzer (the book preceded the movie by two weeks as an effective marketing gimmick). For the book, Seltzer took liberties with his own material, augmenting plot points and character backgrounds and changing details (such as character names — Holly becomes Chessa Whyte, Keith Jennings becomes Huber Jennings, Father Brennan becomes Father Edgardo Emilio Tassone, et cetera). The second and third novels were novelized forms of their respective movies and more-or-less reflected movie continuity. Interestingly, Gordon McGill retroactively changed the time period of The Omen to the 1950s, in order to make The Final Conflict (featuring an adult Damien) take place explicitly in the 1980s. Although neither the first Omen movie nor its novelisation mention what year the story takes place, it can be assumed that its setting was intended to be the year the movie was released (i.e. 1976).
The fourth novel, Omen IV: Armageddon 2000, was entirely unrelated to the fourth movie, but continued the story of Omen III. Its premise is based on the one-night stand between Damien Thorn and Kate Reynolds in Omen III. This affair included an act of sodomy and thence Kate gave the (rectal) "birth" of another diabolical entity called "the abomination" (presumably after the "abomination of desolation" from the Book of Daniel) in Omen IV. This novel attempted to patch one of the Omen series' more glaring plotholes, namely the question of whether the Antichrist could be slain by a single one of the "Seven Sacred Daggers of Megiddo" (which occurred in Omen III) or only by all of them (as stated in the first book and movie). The solution reached was that one dagger could kill Damien's form, but not his soul. This explanation was also explicitly stated in the first movie. Damien's acolyte Paul Buher (played by Robert Foxworth in the second movie and mentioned, though not seen, in the third) is a major character in the fourth book and achieves redemption in its climax.
This story was concluded in the fifth novel, Omen V: The Abomination. The novel begins with a "memorium" listing all of the characters who had been killed throughout the saga up to that point, and which states Damien's life as having taken place in the period of 1950–1982. The story ends with the death of Damien's son, and the character Jack Mason deciding to chronicle Damien's story in book-form. The opening lines he writes are exactly the same words which begin David Seltzer's novelization of the first film, bringing the series full-circle.
- At the start of the film, when Robert is being driven through Rome, it is still dark outside. However, this scene takes place at 6 AM in June, and the sun rises at 5:30 in Rome at that time of year.
- In the three consecutive shots of a window breaking after Holly hangs herself, the window breaks differently in each shot.
- The guide wire can be seen on the lightning rod that falls from the church and kills Father Brennan.
- In the photograph of his reflection in Brennan's mirror, Jennings does not appear to be pointing the camera at himself in the mirror.
- When the Italian taxi driver who drives Robert and Jennings to the Catholic hospital first exits the cab, his finger is bandaged. In the next shot in which his finger is visible, it has no bandage.
- When Robert and Jennings are being chased through the graveyard by the Rottweilers, one can make out the dog handlers for a brief second behind the bushes.
- As Kathy falls from the hospital window, she waves both arms on the way down even though her right arm and shoulder are solidly immobilized in a cast.
- Jennings said that Megiddo's name is derived from the word Armageddon. In actuality, it is the other way around - "Armageddon" is a bastardization of "Har Megiddo", which, in Hebrew, means simply "mountain of Megiddo". According to Revelation 16:16, this would be the site of the last battle in history.
- Keith Jennings stated that Megiddo is 60 miles south of Jerusalem. But in real life, it is north of Jerusalem, 22 miles north of Shechem and 15 miles south of Haifa.
- When Jennings is decapitated, the conveyor belt that slides the sheet of glass off the back of the runaway truck is visible.
- When Robert enters Damien's room to find his 666 birthmark, Damien's eyes blink.
- When Robert and Mrs. Baylock wrestle on the kitchen floor, the blood stains on the fridge change.
- After Robert stabs and kills Mrs. Baylock, when the watchdog howls in the basement at Baylock's death, its jaw is making barking motions.