Yep, Iâ€™ve been moderating this site about media that scared us all as children for (over) thirteen years and Iâ€™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 Donnerâ€™s 1976 demonic kid flick THE OMEN and a recent re-watch really got the memories of fear aâ€™ 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 Karenâ€™s house and walk me home. She needed to talk to Karenâ€™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. Karenâ€™s family had just gotten something very new called â€œcable,â€ 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 didnâ€™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 whatâ€™s up. He has said too much. Evil forces appear to have his number! He sees a church in the distance- surely heâ€™ll be safe there! What evil force would dare come at him there? So now itâ€™s a race against time; will he get there before heâ€™s struck down? The church doors are closed! He canâ€™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 wasnâ€™t to witness another scene but Iâ€™d seen enough. I was terrified by what I had viewed (and from what Iâ€™d heard; Jerry Goldsmithâ€™s score is incredibly persuasive) but I was also profoundly betrayed by the inaction of God during a time of obvious crisis. If God didnâ€™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 â€œgoodâ€ person like a priest wouldnâ€™t shield me from lifeâ€™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 thereâ€™s no way to switch the channel.
Unk, you mention that maybe this particular k-trauma had to do with being raised in the 70s. I think you are right. A millenial would watch the priest getting skewered and think “he probably had it coming”.
Anyhow, I was completely unfazed by the majority of “Devil” movies. I dunno, my parents are Christians and I was raised that way, even reading a massive multi-set volume of bible stories when I was a kid (you might have had the same Arthur Maxwell set – seems like everyone did in the 70s), but it never really “took”. The idea of “The Devil” seemed like such a mythological fantasy that I could never get past it in a horror film.
I still like The Omen from the perspective of an Evil Kid thriller though – it is a very well-made movie. And I really, really like The Exorcist as a kind of “Rocky” of horror films.
BTW – my wife never saw the Original Omen but watched the remake a few years ago and it scared the SH*T out of her. So I guess that the religious upbrining stuff still resonates….
The weird thing is that my family was not religious at all. I remember going to Sunday school and doing crafts but that was about it. I think the only thing my family worshipped was McDonalds. For some reason though I personally gravitated towards it. Itâ€™s possible that I was attracted to the horror elements. I remember a bible I had with a picture of satan being cast down to hell that fascinated and terrified me. And I remember really digging Jesus because he loved animals and could hang out with lions and lambs at the same time (I think that was another illustration from my bible). But yeah that post-EXORCIST, satantic seventies time period was pretty potent & relentless. I think everybody was beginning to move away from blind faith and that caused a cultural rubber band effect of guilt and fear of retribution. A couple years ago I went to see THE EXORCIST in NY and the young audience laughed! And I figured they just were not raised in a culture seeped with religious guilt and fear. I almost felt they were being sacrilegious for laughing!
THE OMEN really is an incredibly well made film whether you fall for the hooey or not. I remember thinking that remake was pretty good even though Julia Stiles seemed way too young and it didnâ€™t offer much new besides some cool visuals. Casting Mia Farrow though was pure genius! I think I may watch it again tonight. very much in the mood for it! Thanks for your comment!!