Search This Blog

Saturday, October 06, 2012

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2012-Day 6: THE OMEN (1976)

After the massive kick to the head that was 1973's THE EXORCIST, the public just couldn't get enough of devil junk and the inevitable diarrhetic spewing of low-budget cash-in/ripoff movies splashed loose, stinky satanic turds across the movie screens of the world. But while the knockoffs certainly provided fodder for undemanding grindhouse patrons and drive-in gropers, it was only a matter of time until a major Hollywood studio entered the fray and once more restored big-budget Satan to the big screen where he belonged. Enter THE OMEN, the Bicentennial year's contribution to the genre and the introduction of Damien, the deceptively cherubic-looking soon-to-be archetype of the cinematic depiction of the anti-Christ/evil child.

The basic story details the birth and early childhood of Damien Thorn (Harvey Spencer Stephens), the adorable son of U.S. ambassador to England, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), and from the get-go the audience is aware that the five-year-old lad is none other than the bona fide son of the Devil (born of a jackal and not a woman, thereby making Damien a very literal son of a bitch). The story really doesn't have much to it other than an ongoing series of "accidents" and gruesome deaths that are all related to Damien, as well as the ambassador's slow and grudging realization that his kid is the anti-Christ, and when one really gets right down to it, the movie is nothing without its shock set pieces. The characters are uniformly impossible to care about and all of the film's elements come off as a veritable laundry list of devil movie cliches that lead to it ending up as an unintentional spoof of the sub-genre's over-the-top tropes. So much so, in fact, that while watching THE OMEN for the first time in well over twenty years, I found myself giggling through much of its running time. Everything about the film — and I do mean everything — is over-wrought to the point of utter ridiculousness, and it's that heavy-handedness throughout that undoes the narrative and eventually sees it collapse into worn-out boredom by the final reel. Among the now de rigueur devil junk tropes that pack this flick are:

  • The gruesome deaths of those who get too close to or would interfere with the evil presence's agenda. Often these deaths are the most interesting aspect of this type of film, and that's definitely the case with this one, especially when nosy photographer David Warner is memorably decapitated by a large pane of glass.
  • Demonic Rottweilers.
  • The creepy nanny/caretaker who's an obvious minion of Satan.
  • Wall-to-wall "ominous" Latin choruses in the film's score. When over-used, as is the case here, this element becomes eye-rollingly laughable.
  • The seemingly-crazed Catholic priest who knows what's up and must therefore meet a horrible demise.
  • The cute demonic child who seldom, if ever, says a word and stares ominously at the camera.
There are more, but you get the idea.

So what we get with THE OMEN is a so-called classic that may have been quite a shocker when originally released, but now it's become a an over-rated, nearly-two-hour stale joke that gets old quick and fizzles out by its non-climax (there were two direct sequels). I suppose the film is so beloved and considered a classic because it was the first devil junk effort to come in the wake of THE EXORCIST that was at all competent, thanks largely to it having a big budget and name talent involved, and the public's hunger for more satanic thrills may factor into the kindness afforded to it. But with that said, THE OMEN doesn't stand a chance in, well, Hell when objectively compared against the excellence that was evident in every frame of THE EXORCIST. THE EXORCIST was propelled by a solid, character-driven story that engaged the viewer on e deeply emotional level, while THE OMEN's charms are akin to what one might have found in a better-than-average issue of CHAMBER OF CHILLS. Perhaps it's unfair of me to even attempt to measure the relative merits of one as opposed to the other, but I call 'em like I see 'em and to my way of thinking THE OMEN is nothing more than a catalog of cheap thrills that doesn't even have the benefit of being either the least bit suspenseful or actually scary. It's worth sitting through once, but it's grossly overrated and, once seen in its entirety, quite easily relegated to the realm of "been there, done that." I defy you to say the same of THE EXORCIST.

No comments: