The Omen

The Omen (1976)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Stephens, Billie Whitelaw
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Featurette, Interview with Jerry Goldsmith, Trailer

When it came to the horror genre, the early 70s were not exactly an era in which the genre saw many quality releases, with the exception of "The Exorcist, " a movie that set entirely new standards and changed the definition of filmed horror. From there on the genre started to build gradually and by the end of the decade horror was more graphic than ever, and eventually the zombie wave took the world by storm, which ultimately lead to the slasher craze of the early 80s. In 1976, on the brink of the genre’s big resurrection, director Richard Donner served up a movie that was just as memorable as "The Exorcist" and one that also used an innate religious theme to create its thrills. The movie was "The Omen" and to this date it is one of the most shining horror movies of its time. Never relying on gratuitous blood or gore, "The Omen" has much more psychological thrills than you’d expect, and as a result turns out to be absolutely timeless in its ability to scare.

In an Italian hospital, Kathy Thorn (Lee Remick) delivers a stillborn baby while at the same time the mother of another baby dies at the exact same time. In the hospital her husband, the diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), is given the choice to substitute his own dead child with this orphaned infant, which he does, never telling his wife that her own baby had died.
Damien (Harvey Stephens) grows up as the son of the diplomat who eventually relocates to London with his family as the American ambassador in the UK. On Damien’s fifth birthday, strange things begin to happen, turning the Thorn’s lives into a deadly nightmare.

First Damien’s nanny stages her suicide during the birthday celebration. Shortly after, a priest shows up in Robert Thorn’s office telling him that Damien’s is the son of the Devil and needs to be killed. The next day reports of the priest’s grisly death grace the front page of the local newspapers. Doing away with these incidents, the Thorn’s hire a new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), a strict woman who seems to have a very special bond with the young boy.

But soon more unexplainable accidents happen and more people die and the Thorn’s begin to fear for their own lives. When photographer Jennings (David Warner) approaches Thorn with strange ghostly shapes he noticed on his pictures, the two decide to find out the true origins of Damien. They travel to Italy to visit the hospital in which Damien was born to learn more about his mother, but even there they don’t seem to be safe from the fatal accidents that continue to happen!

Eventually Robert Thorn has to accept the truth that his son is the Antichrist, brought to this world to destroy mankind

"The Omen" is the first film in series of four movies that were produced over time. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment makes the second and third part of the series also available as separate DVD releases. If you want to own the entire series, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has prepared a special box set for you that includes all four parts, all packed in separate Amaray cases.

"The Omen" is an unsettling and eerie movie with a scary atmosphere that permeates every single frame of the film. While there are lighthearted moments in the film’s beginning, the foreboding events that go along with them, make it a gripping film from the very start. When the tension slowly builds, "The Omen" creates an atmosphere that is so dense that you could literally slice it. Every moment, every breath, every line takes on an importance in the story as the evil unfolds. Just like the characters in the film, the viewer never feels safe, and when the end credits begin rolling, you will need some time to take a breath.

The fact that big-name actors such as Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and David Warner lend their talents to this movie, makes it all the more chilling. Their characters have credibility, authority and the ability to convince the viewer that everything we see is real and never allow a shadow of a doubt to creep in on your mind.

Because "The Omen" is not an exceedingly graphic movie – apart from some shocking but non-gratuitous displays of victims’ demises – it has aged surprisingly well. You are never distracted by special effects that no longer work since most of the terror is happening in your own head. In that aspect, "The Omen" follows the rules of some of the most classic horror films as it uses the viewer’s own imagination to fill in the horrific blanks. In the end, the movie is a riveting experience that is scary and commanding, a movie you won’t forget.

The DVD 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has prepared for this movie, features the film in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation in its 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Although the color scheme of the film gives away its age, the sources used for this transfer are of very high quality. Free of nicks and blemishes for the most part, the DVD renders an image that is highly detailed and very clean. The transfer exhibits a slight oversaturation of red tones throughout, rendering flesh tones a little rosy, but other than that, the film’s color reproduction appears entirely faithful, restoring the movie’s somewhat silky look. The level of detail found in the transfer is very high, creating a very pleasing image. Some edge-enhancement has been applied to selected shots to increase the edge-delineation, introducing occasional ringing artifacts. The movie’s cinematography is very dark at times, once again a deliberate device to engage the viewer’s imagination. The DVD recreates these blacks very solidly without breaking up and without introducing any artifacts. Overall I found "The Omen" very good looking on this DVD however without ever being distracting. The compression is entirely without artifacts, maintaining all the details of the movie.

The DVD features a newly mixed stereo version of the film’s atmospheric audio track. Previously presented in mono only, the new audio track now makes use of the front sound stage more efficiently with better integrated sound effects and dialogues. The track has a good dynamic range and frequency response, although once again the age of the material is evident, creating a somewhat harsh sound presentation of which especially the dialogues are affected. The audio is entirely without noise or distortion however, always creating a balanced presentation.
Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie Academy Award winning score benefits the most from the new stereo mix, as it gives the track more dimensionality that goes very well with the images. The high influential score that has ventured quite daringly into music territories other composers regularly shy away from, Goldsmith’s use of the piano, and more importantly his introduction of Gregorian chants have become synonymous for religious horror. Turning these choirs into menacing pieces, they have taken on a heretic quality that gives the film a very lasting unsettling note. It is this extremely energetic music that give "The Omen" the final impact that makes the movie so subconsciously powerful and memorable.

The DVD also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> with director Richard Donner and editor Stuart Baird. It is a very engaging <$commentary,commentary track> that goes into quite some detail. Many aspects of the movie, such as shooting location, effects, problems that were encountered and the cast are covered in this track, making it a fabulous addition to this DVD. Unfortunately the audio is a bit uneven as Donner’s low voice can become a mere mumble at times, especially when he is seemingly turning away from the microphone to talk to Baird, that is very hard to understand. Still, this is a great and very informative <$commentary,commentary track> that will shine new light on many aspects of the production.

You can also find a new 46-minute documentary on the disc, entitled "666: The Omen Revealed." Featuring new interviews with Richard Donner, editor Stuart Baird, writer David Seltzer and other crew members, this documentary is a very thoughtful recollection of events and production anecdotes. Covering a wide variety of aspects the documentary also covers background information like the details how the project started and how it evolved to become one of the most influential horror films of its time. Even composer Jerry Goldsmith comes to word in this documentary as he talks about his involvement and intentions when writing the music for the film.

A featurette called "Curse or coincidence" can also be found on the disc, which has good chances to give you the shivers. During the production of the movie a mysterious string of accidents and deaths plagued the film, giving off the impression as if some other force tried to prevent the filmmakers from making it. I’ll leave it up to you what you make of it, but it is quite chilling to hear.

A separate section gives Jerry Goldsmith the chance to talk about some of his most favorite themes from the movie. He introduces each of the themes, explaining what he tried to do, how the emotional set-up was for the piece and how he approached it. His discussion is then followed by the according excerpt from the movie with the music so that you can see what he was referring to. Although it is a great segment – composers are not given the chance to speak up all too frequently – it is too bad, the material is so brief. The release is rounded out with the movie’s theatrical trailer.

As expected, "The Omen" makes a great DVD debut here with a good presentation of the movie as well as an improved stereo audio track. The film has lost none of its tension and scares, and trust me, by the time Gregory Peck searches for the mark of the devil on his son’s body, you will be entirely engrossed by the film’s sheer terror! In the end the question remains, was it all just a series of weird coincidences and a figment of Thorn’s brain, or is Damien really the Antichrist? No matter what your verdict is, the DVD gives you a fantastic opportunity to relive the chills of the movie, so go and get it already!