In this 1976 classic horror movie, Gregory Peck plays American ambassador Robert Thorn, who makes the biggest mistake of his life when his newborn child dies, and he agrees to illegally adopt another baby, whose mother died in childbirth. This is all unknown to Thorn’s wife Kathy (Lee Remick), and for the first few years of their son Damien’s life, everything is great. The Thorns have a healthy, happy child, and a wonderful marriage. Things start to go wrong however, at Damien’s fifth birthday party, when his nanny commits suicide in front of all the guests, and shortly afterwards, a Priest warns Robert that his family’s life is in danger from their son. Strange and troubling events soon start to convince Robert that his child is evil incarnate…
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film – I’m not generally a fan of horror movies, and I wanted to see this one, purely because I am a fan of Gregory Peck. I actually did not find it scary – although there were a few genuinely tense moments – but I did find it riveting viewing. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick are perfectly cast as the Thorns, who come to suspect that their child is not all he seems. Billie Whitelaw is also superb, and genuinely unsettling as Mrs Baylock, the nanny who replaces their ill-fated first nanny. Harvey Stephens, as only a young boy, does a fine job as Damien, although he does not get as much screen time as one might have expected. Excellent support is also given by Patrick Troughton as Father Brennan, the repentant Priest who tries to warn Thorn, and David Warner as a photographer named Jennings, who finds himself drawn into the mystery surrounding Damien.
There is very little gore in this film; rather, it is a case of what you don’t see, i.e., the power of suggestion. This creates a more unsettling atmosphere. Although the film is not as frightening nowadays – and possibly has not aged very well – I can imagine that at the time of its release, it was genuinely disturbing.
It’s well worth seeing, even if you’re not a fan of the horror genre – it’s a film that’s a classic with good reason!
Year of release: 1976
Director: Richard Donner
Writer: David Seltzer
Main cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Billie Whitelaw, David Warner, Patrick Troughton, Harvey Stephens