Another classic film brought to me by the 101 Horror Movies book.
Once again, we are referring to the original of course, not the remake from 2006. All I can remember about that one is that it had Liev Schreiber, and I remembered I didn’t care for it.
The original however, still gets the job done.
Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon series, Goonies) made the jump from TV director to feature films with a script by David Seltzer, which every studio passed on the first time it made the rounds.
The film has an all-star cast adding clout and gravity to the film much as Max Von Sydow did with The Exorcist. Starring as Robert Thorn, the newly minted U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, is Gregory Peck, Lee Remick as his wife Kathy, David Warner as a photo journalist named Jennings, Billie Whitelaw as the disturbing Mrs. Baylock, and Doctor 2, Patrick Troughton as Father Brennan.
Backed by an Oscar-winning score by Jerry Goldsmith, the film opens with Robert performing a rather questionable move, instead of informing his wife that their child died in childbirth (we learn later that he was murdered so Damien could be placed with the family), he seeks out and is given a child whose ‘mother’ died during delivery through the church.
With the replacement baby in place, they move from Rome to England for Robert to take over his new role, and very things start to get ominous shortly after their arrival.
Father Brennan tries a number of times to warn Robert that not only does he know the true origins of his ‘son’ but that he and Kathy are in terrible danger.
Let me just clarify… if a Time Lord tells you something like that… YOU LISTEN!
I know, I know, I’m confusing the actor and the role, but still!
Jennings in his turn, approaches Thorn, after Brennan’s death by impalement, and shows him rather disturbing pictures that seem to hint at the cause of death before it occurs.
Finally, Thorn begins to come to his senses, although it’s after Kathy takes a horrible fall, precipitated by the evil little tyke riding a trike (that rhymes) in a great shot, that follows Kathy’s fall all the way down, which was actually done by having Lee stand on a dolly, and be moved towards a wall, made to look like the floor, I love camera trickery like that!
Upon learning the circumstances of his own child’s death, and what birthed Damien as well as the consequences of learning that, Robert and Jennings kick into high gear to find out how to murder the child.
Yup, that’s right, for the side of right to win, they have to murder a little boy.
As every one of his supports is torn away from him Thorn focuses on the task at hand and with a set of sacred daggers, plans to kill Damien.
Robert returns home to dispatch the boy, and the evil Mrs. Baylock, after making final confirmation that the boy truly is the son of Satan, by discovering the trio of 6s hidden under his hair.
The film has an incredibly downer ending, I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but I will say, that even now, this film stands the test of time.
That has to do not only with the script and the direction but the strength of the cast as well, it remains a well-crafted horror and religious thriller, and while I am partial to the two sequels (I don’t really include the Fox TV movie) the original will always remain the best film.
It is filled with great sequences, Kathy and Damien being assaulted by the baboons, Robert and Jennings digging up the graves only to find themselves surrounded by Rottweilers, Damien’s assault with the tricycle, the beheading, and of course that last shot, all highlighted by Goldsmith’s powerful choral score, and Donner’s directing.
What do you think?