My 100 Favorite Films. Entry #36: The Omen.

The Omen (1976)
written by David Seltzer
directed by Richard Donner
starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and David Warner
country: usa/uk
genre: horror

Visuals: 9
Writing: 7
Everyday watchability: 5
The number of the beast: 666

This is one of those movies that, like The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness, took me by surprise with how good it was. Horror films often get derided as being base and of low quality, but like any other genre, there are true standouts. The Omen comes before slasher fare like Halloween, and after more psychological fare like The Exorcist and firmly plants itself somewhere in between.

The Omen is a surprisingly straightforward. Richard Donner's camera (via Gilbert Taylor, who also shot Star Wars and Dr. Strangelove) uses some unique techniques, including a dioptic lens, slow motion and the most impressive rack focus I've ever seen. Still, the camera tricks are never trickery. They're just this side of calling attention to themselves but are clever enough to add visual interest.
The movie has an interesting pace, with the scares coming on suddenly in places where you don't expect. Most horror films through in cheap shocks and scares, but The Omen is more patient than that. In one scene, a priest begins his walk home, and a storm quickly begins raging around him. The storm builds to an eerie crescendo, when the priest is suddenly killed by a falling weather vane. And just like that, the storm clears.


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