Film Notes

Film Notes #6: The Omen (1976)

* SPOILER WARNING: Plot details will be revealed *

Richard Donner’s horror film about a biblical prophecy forms the sixth film in my 30 day film watching experiment.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. It must be a film Iโ€™ve already seen.
  2. I must make notes whilst Iโ€™m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It canโ€™t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on The Omen (1976) which I watched on watched on a PVR on Monday 12th March.

  • This was green lit on the back of the enormous success of The Exorcist (1973)
  • Nice font on the credits – big blocky and elegant – and the creepy image of a Damien’s shadow forming an inverted cross.
  • The film starts straight off with a movie taboo – the death of a child – and the pacing is very good. No dicking around, straight into the story.
  • In a way, Ambassador Thorn (Gregory Peck) reasons for adopting the baby and lying to his wife are understandable.
  • There’s a lot going on in the shot of Peck, the baby, the nun and the priest – interesting composition that fills the screen and reflected .
  • What was exactly going on with the hospital in Rome? Didn’t anyone notice a Jackal giving birth? ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Donner a very underrated director, his background in television gave him a solid grounding in storytelling.
  • Like so many films of the 1970s that I first saw on TV in the 1980s, it is interesting to see it in proper aspect ratio (2:35).
  • Widescreen lensing and compositions are more interesting than many modern horrors.
  • Richard Donner is actually a visually interesting director who just happens to work in mainstream cinema.
  • Gregory Peck and Lee Remick make a nice couple – Peck is actually looks like a US ambassador
  • “You know, you could be too sexy for the White House” – Peck’s character is not wrong when he says this to Remick.
  • Good use of fades to denote scene changes and strange – but very efficient – photo montage to take us up to the birthday party scene.
  • When you stop to think about it, the scene where the babysitter hangs herself in front of a party of schoolchildren is seriously messed up (talk about a party pooper).
  • The sound effect with the satanic dog is unnecessary.
  • US embassy in the 1970s very different to the fortress it now resembles post 9/11. Peck’s office is a convincing location – would probably be some crappy green screen work now.
  • Patrick Troughton is perfectly cast – he looks like the definition of a haunted man.
  • The ambassadorial country house is the old Guinness estate near Woking.
  • Billie Whitelaw is effectively creepy as the nanny. Shrewd to cast one of Samuel Beckett’s favourite actors in a supporting role.
  • Damien’s freakout is at Guildford Cathedral. Effective scenes that shows that a horror set-piece doesn’t have to involve a death.
  • Good build up in the Windsor Safari Park sequence – first the giraffes and then the baboons! Reminds me of the animal freakouts in the US version of THE RING (2002) and its sequel THE RING 2 (2005).
  • Jerry Goldsmith’s score – in particular the piece ‘Ave Satani’ – is frequently mistaken for Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’.
  • The film cleverly plays on post-natal fears – there is a lot of focus on Lee Remick’s doubting herself as a mother.
  • Widescreen compositions of Troughton’s face in the Putney Bridge meeting are ace – DP Gilbert Taylor also shot REPULSION (1965) and STAR WARS (1977).
  • The biblical rhyme is pretty creepy.
  • Note the outside lighting changes for the satanic storm that immediately whips up after Peck leaves and features some old school practical effects.
  • The move Peck plays with Damien by holding his hands is rather funky.
  • Was that sequence where Cathy falls an influence on THE SHINING (1980)? E.g. kid on bike
  • The fact that Damien lets his (adopted) mother fall and subsequent bit where Cathy says to Robert “don’t let him kill me” is kind of chilling.
  • Empty spaces of the manison are depicted well.
  • Editing style is a reminder that you can maintain pace and tension without the need of quick cutting on an Avid.
  • Script by David Seltzer is very tight and well paced – events click into place and there are several memorable moments e.g. David Warner showing Peck the ‘marked’ photograph
  • The biblical hokum could be ridiculous but the way Donner handles all the elements really sells it.
  • Burnt priest and subsequent graveyard scene very effective. Another creepy image – this time of a infants skeleton, which reminds us of the child murder that began the whole plot.
  • Graveyeard scene is almost certainly a studio soundstage but is good work from the production design team.
  • Cathy’s death reminds me of the opening of Donner’s LETHAL WEAPON (1987) – also featuring a woman slamming into a vehicle from a great height.
  • Peck delivers some fine acting on hearing of his wife’s death – nice shot of his head as he recites the poem and the anounces he wants Damien to die.
  • More great location work in the Israel sequence.
  • Did the bit where the photographer’s head gets cut off through by ‘accident’ influenced the entire FINAL DESTINATION franchise? It really is spectacular and shows what can be down with a fake head and editing.
  • Peck’s doubts about kiiling a child are eminently reasonable.
  • Interesting (almost) wordless sequence where Gregory Peck goes back to murder Damien – only dialogue spoken is when Billie Whitelaw says “Run, Damien, Run!”
  • The church at the end is in Staines.
  • Bit where Damien says “please Daddy, no!” is very clever as it puts you right in Robert Thorn’s shoes and plays on his doubts about killing a child.
  • The graveyard at the end is Brookwood Cemetery, one of the largest in Europe.
  • Apparently Donner struggled to get the kid playing Damien to smile at the end.
  • The idea that Damien is heir to the US presidency is a highly effective pay off.