In the wake of William Friedkin’s brilliant adaptation of The Exorcist, an unexpectedly enormous critical and commercial success worldwide, the mid to late 70s saw a slew of imitations and similarly-themed religious horror movies, most of which just trod similar ground and cashed in quickly on what was perceived to be a public appetite for more of the same. The only one of these worth revisiting, even though it never quite loses the shackles of its obvious influence, is this first film in the series (avoid the three sequels and pointless remake), which brings enough of its own new ideas to the table to be worthwhile, and has a mad taste for the operatic that makes it stand out.

A breakout hit for director Richard Donner, who had previously worked mainly in television and would go on to enjoy a varied and interesting career┬áthat included The Goonies and Lethal Weapon (though he sadly never worked in the horror genre again), The Omen followed the template of the Friedkin film by casting credible, talented actors and having them play it completely straight. There’s a sustained tone of complete seriousness, which creates an atmosphere of uncomfortable dread (helped enormously by the amazing choral score from Jerry Goldsmith), even if it occasionally tips over into camp territory.

It also boasts some extraordinary set-pieces, which are kind of like Final Destination deaths but without the laughs and ridiculousness. Patrick Troughton’s priest getting impaled by a church steeple and David Warner’s (still shocking) extraordinary decapitation scene are much-discussed and imitated (there’s a brilliant nod to the former in Edgar Wright’s second film Hot Fuzz), but for me the most disturbing is a nanny joyfully hanging herself, while young Damien looks on dispassionately. Like all great horror films, it’s these individual moments that stay with you long after, and make a lasting, unsettling impression.

Kind of just doing what The Exorcist did, only not quite as good5
O to the T to the motherfucking T8
That Jerry Goldsmith choral score (even if you haven't seen the film, you will recognise it)10
Gruesome, memorable death scenes9
Regular moments of outright camp6
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • There is only one brief conversation though
  • I am not counting the Antichrist as a female character
8Overall Score

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