The supernatural and the religious often become intertwined in battles for souls and psyches in horror cinema, and with the rising popularity of movies such as The Conjuring films and the enduring legacy of franchises like Hellraiser, House of Leaves Publishing is bringing the discussion of faith-based and worship-centric horror to the printed page in the new book Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion and Worship in the Horror Film. Ahead of its publication in February of 2020, we've been provided with an exclusive excerpt from The Omen (1976) chapter of Scared Sacred to share with Daily Dead readers!
Featuring Dr. LMK Sheppard's examination of The Omen, you can read our exclusive excerpt by clicking the cover art below, and we also have a look at artist John Sowder's artwork for the chapter.
Edited by Rebecca Booth, Erin Thompson, and Valeska Griffiths, and curated by RF Todd, Scared Sacred features a foreword by legendary actor and author Doug Bradley.
Collecting essays from a wide range of authors and experts, Scared Sacred looks at religion in horror cinema through the lens of four key categories: Christianity, Mysticism, Occultism, and Beyond Belief. In these four sections, the book examines the impact and depiction of religion in an extensive list of horror films, including The Conjuring movies, The Wailing, the Hellraiser franchise, The Exorcist III, and many more.
You can read the exclusive excerpt below, and to learn more, visit:
Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion and Worship in the Horror Film
Exclusive chapter except for Daily Dead from:
“I don’t know if we’ve got the heir to the Thorn millions here or Jesus Christ Himself”: Catholicism, Satanism and the Role of Predestination in The Omen (1976)
In The Omen’s (1976) climactic scene, protagonist Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) takes his adoptive son Damien (Harvey Stephens) to sacred ground on the instruction of historian and demonologist/exorcist Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern). Thorn plans to murder the young heir in accordance with an ancient ritual. The entire narrative has led to this moment, at which point the titular omen is finally brought to bear: will the suspected Son of Satan be allowed to live, or will he be sacrificed for the greater good? This choice is not one made of free will; it has been purportedly predestined since biblical times, as confirmed by the final scene. At the double funeral of his parents, the camera focuses upon the face of Damien as he smiles before revealing that the child is holding the hands of two adults: Thorn’s best friends, the President of the United States and his first lady. Thorn’s attempt to kill Damien has set in motion a specific course of events, and the orphaned child has been adopted by arguably the most politically influential couple in the world. Thorn’s choice therefore played a pivotal part in the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: the Antichrist will arise from the world of politics and bring about the apocalypse. Initially regarded as a difficult conundrum, Thorn’s decision to kill Damien is revealed to be no choice at all but an inevitable, predestined outcome.
The Omen, as a cultural text, acts as an agent within this sociopolitical environment and a disseminator of conservative and religious dogmatic roles. Even such apparently antithetical religions as Satanism and Catholicism are configured and conceived as equally historically rooted and thus equally traditional faith mechanisms. This agency contributes to cultural stabilization and personal grounding, providing a challenge and alternative to the modernist agenda of liberty and openness that characterizes the era in which it was made. If “[t]o be modern is to live a life of paradox and contradiction” (Berman, 2010, p. 13), then The Omen may be regarded as being equally unsettled. It treads the line between these two purportedly sociopolitical opposites, in its secular and religious receptions in the press, thematic analysis, and artistic choices.
Superficially, The Omen positions itself as both reactionary and ultra-conservative by appearing to support a traditional philosophy containing historical imperatives, such as an observance to traditional religions and familial generational connectivity. The thematic thrust of The Omen warns against a breakdown of such systems’ sociopolitical authority, coined as “grand narratives” by Jean François Lyotard (1984, p. xxiv), an integral component of its contemporaneous modernist culture that repudiates such institutional underpinnings (Jancovich, 1992; Lyotard, 1984; Sobchack, 2015; Wood, 2003). In a chapter titled “Post-Fordism, Postmodernism and Paranoia,” Mark Jancovich (1992) argues that the general sociopolitical insecurity and subsequent concomitant, overarching breakdown of stabilization in the 1970s resulted from an unbridled foregrounding of cultural commodification. This problematic social configuration ushered in a culture of narcissism, wherein self-interest takes precedence over historically outward-facing mechanisms of identification, stabilization, and restraint—such as the family and the Church (Jancovich, 1992). Likewise, citing The Omen as an example, Vivian Sobchack (2015) asserts that this explosion in turn leads to an end-of-the-world scenario:
From the early to mid-1970s and coincident with bourgeois society’s negative response to the youth movements and drug culture of the late 1960s […] [t]he child was figured as an alien force that threatened both its immediate family and all adult authority that would keep it in its place […] The bodies and souls of such children […] are “possessed” by demonic, supernatural, and ahistoric forces that play out apocalypse in the middle-class home. (p. 178)
This literal demonization of the child was elicited by a prevalent counter-cultural phobia of the traditional family and the gender roles therein associated. On the one hand, the bread-winning father, through his existence in the public sphere of commerce, was seen to dominate; the stay-at-home mother, counter-culturalists argued, was denied a sense of individual selfhood due to her primary responsibility as a caregiver to both husband and offspring. She was relegated to the private sphere, her happiness a secondary consideration (at best) next to the needs of her family. On the other hand, even the dominant male position was regarded as entrapping: the father, being solely responsible for offering financial security, was tied to his job and his role as provider. Such gender roles were perceived as inherent anathemas to the apparent freedoms being championed in the 1970s culture of ‘getting loose,’ contributing to an undercurrent that vilified not only the traditional family, but all such conservative, cultural mechanisms of individual stabilization associated with the patriarchy. In structuring a text around the conservative, nuclear Thorn family, which fits into such a category, The Omen was viewed by film critics and historians like Robin Wood (2003) as being reactionary overall:
In obvious ways The Omen is old-fashioned, traditional, reactionary: the goodness of the family unit isn’t questioned; horror is disowned by having the devil-child, a product of the Old World, unwittingly adopted into the American family; the devil-child and his independent female guardian […] are regarded as purely evil. (p. 79)
The thematic privileging of institutions, including the family and traditional religion, over the lure of radical individualism within a horror text offers up readings that are unsettled, as Wood suggests. As individual agency is brought to its knees within The Omen, predestination and an outward focus on conservativism remains a dominant force that cannot be challenged, negated, or defeated. One must thus question whether the true terror rests in the glorification of the conservative or its potential undoing, as the film’s impending doom is achieved through a melding of Satanism and Catholicism—faiths configured as being equally historically rooted and traditional so as to become, at least within the world of this text, indistinguishable.
“I don’t know if we’ve got the heir to the Thorn millions here or Jesus Christ himself”: Catholicism, Satanism and the Role of Predestination in The Omen (1976)
by Dr LMK Sheppard
This chapter focuses on how The Omen (1976), as a representation of New Hollywood Horror, acts as both an agent within this sociopolitical environment and a disseminator of its message and values. In addressing cultural and religious neo-liberal and conservative debates—involving the role of free will and its opposites, determinism and predestination—the film in many ways challenges this liberty of choice. Like the culture out of which it arises, The Omen may be regarded as being not only conflictual, but also conflicted.
Dr LMK Sheppard, Contributing Writer (bio)
LMK Sheppard lectures at Palomar College and the University of East Anglia. Her publications include: Look Ro, It’s the Pope at Yankee Stadium, Christ What a Mob: Modernism, Commodification and Spiritual Affiliation in Rosemary’s Baby, A Jigsaw of All Our Worst Fears: Representations of Mary Shelley as Gothic Heroine in Popular Media, and This whole country is built on skeletons. One would like a cup of tea, though: Discourses of Class within the Adaptive Victorian Gothic Labyrinth of Penny Dreadful. Additionally, she co-coordinates the Hallowed Histories Festival and produces their monthly podcast. She has also functioned as Assistant Film Curator at The Brooklyn Museum, Archivist for The Andy Warhol Foundation and as Development Assistant for Women Make Movies.
Website: Hallowed Histories
Artwork by John Sowder: