Classic Scenes #7: The Omen (1976)

Top 10 Films’ Classic Scenes goes back to 1976 for a special celebration of actor Gregory Peck in association with FlixChatter.net

Gregory Peck special, Flix Chatter, The Omen, 1976, Richard Donner

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I will immediately issue a spoiler warning for this post as it concerns a classic scene that appears right at the end of Richard Donner’s brilliantly unnerving and absolutely captivating horror film The Omen. This little post was created in celebration of the great Gregory Peck who is enjoying a whole series of posts about his life and work thanks to FlixChatter.net which is hosting an online event to commemorate the work of one of Hollywood’s true icons.

The Omen was one of the first horror films I remember seeing. Thanks to Richard Donner’s wonderfully macabre concept, energetic pacing and penchant for graphic violence, the film duly scared the living crap out of me. But the film wouldn’t have been half as good without the inspired casting of child actor Harvey Stephens and of course the gravitas brought by Hollywood legend Gregory Peck. In a film conceived as fantasy, Peck’s controlled charisma and long-established persona brought unreality into the real world. He effectively made the imaginative horror a tangible horror that could bite through the screen.

The Omen is one of the best horror films of the 1970s. Peck plays Robert Thorn, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. When his wife loses her baby at birth, Thorn is persuaded to switch the baby with another whose mother died the same night. Unbeknownst to Thorn’s wife, she is given the child as if it were her own and she raises it unaware that her real child is dead. But strange occurrences take place such as Thorn’s son, who is named Damien, seeing his nanny commit suicide by hanging herself during a birthday celebration. Thorn believes he switched the babies with the best interests at heart – he feared his wife may suffer mental trauma given the death of her baby so decides to hide the truth from her. But now he regrets his decision and it quickly becomes apparent that Damien is no human child. When Thorn’s wife dies, he suspects Damien orchestrated it. He finds help in an archaeologist who tells him that if Damien has a small birthmark that appears to look like three sixes then it confirms he is the son of the Devil. Thorn goes home and finds the birthmark buried beneath Damien’s hair.

The archaeologist gave Thorn the seven daggers of Megiddo – the only weapons that can kill Damien. Thorn drives the boy to the local church and is about to destroy the Antichrist when police burst through the doors and shoot Thorn dead. The end of the film sees Damien smiling at the camera during his “father’s” funeral. The Omen’s ending is one of the most powerful in horror film history.

Written by Daniel Stephens

To find out more about Gregory Peck, check out Flix Chatter’s celebration of his work.

Discover More:
Top 30 Horror Films 1967 – 1979
The attraction of horror cinema: Why I love scary films
Top 10 Scariest Movie Scenes

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    mark Reply

    You’ve probably seen all this before ….

    “A dreadfully silly film … Its horrors are not horrible, its terrors are not terrifying, its violence is ludicrous.”
    – Richard Eder, New York Times

    “Quite a number of silly scenes … starring a very sonorous and vapid Gregory Peck.”
    – Penelope Gilliat, The New Yorker

    “Trash … When a producer spends as much money on ads and commercials for a movie as he spends on making the movie itself, perhaps audiences have a right to suspect that they are being sucked into seeing a piece of junk. And that junk is called The Omen.”
    – Gene Shalit, Ladies’ Home Journal (now there’s a heavyweight)

    “The Omen is certainly all dog from snout to tail … Nowhere can you glimpse a hint of subtlety or credibility.”
    – John Simon, New York

    “A dumb and largely dull movie … The latest serving of deviled ham.”
    – Jack Kroll, Newsweek

    “A package of nonsense … Not to be taken seriously … Stick a pin in this nonsensical balloon at any point and the story will deflate.”
    – William Wolf, Cue.

    These gems (amongst others) were reprinted in The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time (and how they got that way) by Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss, in which they said about The Omen (a listee): “Gregory Peck as Ambassador Thorn often sinks to the level of pompous self-paraody that characterised actor Adam West in the old Batman TV series. His delivery is punctuated by so many lengthy and dramatic pauses that at times we are left to wonder whether the great actor has fallen asleep.”

    The book has dated somewhat, and goodness knows what the boys would think of torture porn, but what I found interesting about it was, although it came out in the early 1980s, it didn’t list Plan 9 From Out of Space which, at the same, was being declared the worst film ever made by a number of circles (it did, however, include the hilarious Robot Monster, which at the time was being shown in various places as a double bill with the Ed Wood film).

    Another interesting inclusion in the book was Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, which has since been recognised as one of Peckingpah’s most personal (and ambitious) films. In their review of this one, Medved and Dreyfuss failed to mention the fact that Roger Ebert said it was one of the best films of 1975 (or was it 1974?) – and still rates it highly today.

    As for me, I didn’t see the full version of The Omen until the early 1990s when I rented the video … I still have memories of it being shown on TV full of ads and cuts – the most noticable omission being when David Warner is sliced in half by the glass sheet.

    It’s OK … as is the remake. And in relation to the latter, a good question for Woody Allen would be: “Did you secretly wish you were behind the wheel of the car that ploughed through Mia Farrow?”

  2. Avatar
    Pete Reply

    Not the best of 70s horror but a great ending nonetheless!

  3. Avatar
    le0pard13 Reply

    Great post of a famed horror film and Mr. Peck, Dan. I remember it well during its first run and the amount angst and shock surrounding it. I think that fact that Gregory Peck starred in it brought it more recognition. I agree that it’s one of the best for that decade.

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    Evan Crean Reply

    Never seen it, but I’ll definitely have to add it to my list.

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    ruth Reply

    Thanks for taking part, Dan! I saw this years ago before I even knew who Peck was and it was quite terrifying! There’s a funny story in Peck’s bio on how the kid got the job to play Damian, he definitely was the ‘little devil’, ahah.

  6. Avatar
    Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, Mark, Dan and company:

    I have a copy of ‘The Fifty Worst Films of All Time’ and remember all the condescending, snarky comments from myriad critics.

    The odd thing is that with the passage of time. Films that were once considered dreck from those who opine(d) are now looked upon as classics.

    What I enjoy about ‘The Omen’ is that Gregory Peck isn’t really acting throughout the film. He’s reacting to young Damien’s scarily testing his skills with prepubescent power plays.

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