|It's all for him, as Damien rides home with his parents in The Omen.|
In addition to our regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing will be bringing readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we make our way to Halloween. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror here, and be sure to check back each day for a new suggestion.
Day 9: The Omen
The Devil is a great cinematic villain. His powers are so immense as to be unfathomable, and his motivations, while vague in their specifics, are pretty much always clear in the abstract. He wants humans to be the worst versions of themselves. He wants to induce them into lying, cheating, stealing, and more general amoralism.
In fiction, poor, misguided saps are always making Faustian bargains with the Dark Lord for money or power or influence. These deals never turn out well – with the notable exception of The Devil and Daniel Webster – because the Devil has existed since time immemorial, and a mere mortal would have to get up pretty early in the morning to get ahead of the game there. However, these people essentially get what is coming to them. They say when you play with fire, you will get burned. Well, imagine playing with the fires of hell.
What makes director Richard Donner's The Omen great is that Robert Thorne, played by Gregory Peck, strikes no such deal. The wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time, Thorne is “father” to the antichrist – the Devil is, of course, the true father – and through no fault of his own, he now is tasked with preventing Damien’s rise to power. Think what an impossible position this would be. In this world, there does not appear to be a god who will step in to help, and the fate of mankind rests on Peck’s broad shoulders.
The other stroke of genius, the element that transfixes and haunts us still, is that the embodiment of the antichrist is a child. As hard as it is for anyone to believe it, a cherub-faced boy of about 6 spells doom for all those he encounters and beyond. Yesterday, we talked about looking into the face of horror. Damien’s is the face of pure evil, and to look upon it is to know. Yet, it is impossible to comprehend.
I do not know that a whole lot of plot description is necessary here. The tirelessly brilliant Peck plays Thorne, a man who inadvertently adopts the antichrist. That Damien is evil is clear to the audience from the beginning. From start to finish, Thorne’s only objective is to prove this and stop him.
It is about as straightforward as it gets, but because the battle is being waged against the Devil himself, the slope of the action is ceaselessly downward. Thorne, Damien, and the rest of their world are dragged into the pits of hell on earth. That is all the Devil really wanted to begin with – and just by starting the fight, he gets it.
Tomorrow, we look at another child who gets involved in black magic and the dark arts.