Yep, I’ve been moderating this site about media that scared us all as children for (over) thirteen years and I’ve still got a few of my own trauma tales to tell. I was somewhere less than ten years old when I first encountered Richard Donner’s 1976 demonic kid flick THE OMEN and a recent re-watch really got the memories of fear a’ flowing again.
My family was living in California at the time and my best pal was a tomboy named Karen who lived at the opposite corner of my block. Interestingly, we started out as enemies with both our families engaging in a rock throwing rumble but soon we were joined at the hip and spending entire days together discussing important matters like Welcome Back Kotter.
For unknown reasons on this particular day my mother came to pick me up from Karen’s house and walk me home. She needed to talk to Karen’s mother about grown-up business in the kitchen so we were meant to hang out in the den and watch TV while they gabbed. Karen’s family had just gotten something very new called “cable,” which meant that we could watch any movie that happened to be on (this was way before on-demand was possible). As it turned out HBO (or whatever station it was) happened to be showing THE OMEN.
We had missed the beginning of the film and jumped in mid way as a frazzled priest was informing Gregory Peck that his son was actually the spawn of Satan and the best idea would be to kill him as soon as possible. Peck didn’t buy what the priest was selling and walked away in a huff leaving the priest alone. Suddenly the weather began to change for the worse. Insane, howling winds popped out of nowhere, thunder bellowed.
It becomes pretty clear the priest knows what’s up. He has said too much. Evil forces appear to have his number! He sees a church in the distance- surely he’ll be safe there! What evil force would dare come at him there? So now it’s a race against time; will he get there before he’s struck down? The church doors are closed! He can’t get in! He looks up to the sky as if to ask God himself for help. Instead, a lightening bolt blasts a large pole from the top of the church roof that falls like a thrown sword and spears the priest right through his body in the middle of the graveyard! Wha!?!!
Where the hell was God during all of this? Was he doing his nails? It was time to go. I wasn’t to witness another scene but I’d seen enough. I was terrified by what I had viewed (and from what I’d heard; Jerry Goldsmith’s score is incredibly persuasive) but I was also profoundly betrayed by the inaction of God during a time of obvious crisis. If God didn’t protect people when they needed him then exactly what was he good for? Looking back, so many of my media based traumas from childhood, involved religion, which probably has more to do with when I was raised (the seventies) then how. But I think there was a scarier, larger truth hitting home that went beyond dubious Bible stories. On some level I understood that the forces I relied on to protect me were unreliable and that simply being a “good” person like a priest wouldn’t shield me from life’s calamities.
Watching THE OMEN once again, this unholy set piece still feels so dark and jarring to me. The ambiguous danger is inescapable and you get a dreadful sense of the enormity of mortality and the minuscule, ant-like nature of human life (an unnerving fatalistic vibe much like the FINAL DESTINATION films would later accomplish). Death is everywhere and there’s no way to switch the channel.