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Archive for September 15th, 2010

Copyright © 2010 by James Clark

Due to its extraordinary commercial pressures, filmmaking is unique amongst the arts in displaying a labor pool foregoing—often forever—their most serious intent. Take the case of Budd Boetticher (1916-2001), a hyperactive patrician who, after leaving college, made his way down to Mexico where he became obsessed with pursuing a career of bullfighting. His well-connected parents, not keen on his own first job choice, shuffled him over to Hollywood where he could cut a rakish figure without being cut to pieces. There he readily took the controls of a series of blustery lemons, not unlike a young Grand Prix driver. Getting out from under Mom and Dad, he resumed his calling for the bullring, but now it had to share his passion with the excitements of movie-making. He must have noticed having been slotted into the cinematic equivalent of stock-car racing, and who knows how frustrating that rather limiting form of entertainment would have been to this happy-go-lucky kid moving into middle age? (more…)

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(Richard Donner, 1976)

(essay by Robert)

By no means is this an original story line.  The timeless battle between good and evil and the arrival of the antichrist upon unsuspecting mankind.  Nor was the Omen the most impactful religious/possession horror of its time.  Of course The Exorcist, just 3 years prior, owns that distinction.  What makes The Omen such a great film is its reliance on the audience’s belief that good will overcome.  Even though Donner repeatedly assures us that the forces at work are far larger than the individuals in the story, we find ourselves rooting for the death of a young child.  The film is an exhilarating witch hunt and a tremendous success at the box office because of Donner’s ability to play off these.  You can almost still hear the collective gasp when Damien is revealed in the film’s final shot.  Evil is still out there!  Note that in an alternate ending, one of the 2 caskets is actually a child’s casket, suggesting that Damien had been killed. Clearly, Donner made the right choice.

These aspects, along with a fantastically eerie soundtrack and visuals (See below), are all certainly commendable.  As I re-watched The Omen though in preparation of this list, I became less impressed with these and more taken with a more subtle message throughout. Good needs evil and the church needs Satan, they both need us to believe, and without them- we are free.  These are the true essences of the film. The symbolism, complete with biblical passages, site excavations, and Italian monasteries, are piled-on but the film also gives us plenty of opportunities to appreciate the deeper intent. Notice, for example, the fact that it was a priest who convinced the atheist father to take the antichrist child- as if to say, we need you to take the burden of our relevance.  He could have easily declined and cast the priest away as crazy but his own weaknesses (not wanting to inform his wife that their baby had died), allow him to be targeted. In a later scene, Mrs. Thorn gives her husband another chance to make things right when she asks for his support in an abortion.  He refuses, not because he is animately opposed to the operation but because he wants to prove his own fate is in his hands.  There is also the distorted photographs that predict the multiple deaths- the priest’s impaling, the nanny’s hanging (a fantastic horror moment) and the photographer’s famous decapitation.  These are all taunted in our face saying- destiny is out of your control.  Even if you crack all the codes it is futile, so why do we pray? Why do we fear? Why do we fight?

The film does use some eye-catching visuals- including transparent shots of the priest and father-to-be overlooking Damien in the hands of the nun.  Donner also chose to use still images (photo album shots) to show the passing of time which are very effective in delivering us to through the first 4 harmless years of Damien’s life. There is also to wonderful contrast of the rich symbolic Roman  setting (the scene of of the original crime) VS the beautiful landscapes of the English scenes.  I thought the symbolism of the menacing black dog was a little bit too palpable but it does create a lingering intense presence.  There is also the orange lit scenes as Embassador Thorn rummages through Damien’s hair to find the hidden 666.

I also love the casting in the Omen.  If I had to pick an ambassador to England, I think I would choose Gregory Peck.  With his stately wisdom and air of confidence, he is sensationally paired with the glowing domestically of Lee Remmick.  The star of the show is Billie Whitelaw who portrays Mrs. Baylock, Damien’s zealous caretaker, who challenges the Thorns (Peck and Remmick) at every opportunity.  It is easy to find yourself involved with the dialogue as she inputs her “advice” on how to properly raise Damien.  Young Harvey Stephens also did a notable job portraying the notorious child most strikingly for his bone-chilling stares and smirks that he delivers in his dialogue-less role.

The Omen is not the best horror film of 1976 nor is it the best film of its sub-genre, it is however, a great film that is worth a re-watch if you have not seen it recently.  Re-watch it for the great visuals, re-watch it for the outstanding horror performance of Billie Whitelaw, and (most importantly) re-watch it for the

Top Horror Moments:

-A vieled Mrs. Thorn is cornered in her hospital room by the diabolical “caretaker”
-A grave is opened to reveal Damien’s true mother.
-Suspense is in the air as bells chime and the deformed priest writes a note for the father.

(this film appeared on just one list, Robert’s at #23)

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