“What could be wrong with our child? We’re beautiful people, aren’t we?”
When his wife (Lee Remick) loses her baby during childbirth, a diplomat (Gregory Peck) is urged by a hospital’s chaplain (Martin Benson) to secretly give her a replacement baby whose mom has just died. Soon, however, their son Damien (Harvey Stephens) — cared for by a nefarious new nanny (Billie Whitelaw) and her big black dog — begins showing distressing signs of evil; and when a mysterious priest (Patrick Troughton) repeatedly warns Peck that he must investigate the truth behind his adopted son’s birth, Peck enlists the help of a journalist (David Warner) in learning more.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Amateur Sleuths
- Evil Kids
- Gregory Peck Films
- Lee Remick Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this “big-budget horror film, given class by a distinguished cast, starts out well, but becomes extremely unpleasant”, with the deaths “repugnant” — “particularly a decapitation (a scene known for its effective special effect).” Peary goes on to write that, “In The Exorcist, God defeats Satan; in Val Lewton’s films, God and the devil fight to a stalemate; but this picture joins Rosemary’s Baby and other recent films in which the devil emerges triumphant — it’s part of a depressing subgenre.” While I agree with Peary that the deaths become increasingly “unpleasant” (and a particular plot twist will sit like a lump in your stomach), it seems to me they’re part and parcel of how a tale like this would be told. The inherent tension of the story — starting with Peck deceiving his wife in such a profound way — carries the narrative along, as we watch the unbearable discomfort of a woman fearing her own son:
… and Peck’s eventual realization that he will have to take unthinkably drastic actions. Of special note is Billie Whitelaw as Damien’s nanny; she steals the show each moment she’s on screen.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Billie Whitelaw as Mrs. Baylock
- Gregory Peck as Robert Thorn
- Lee Remick as Katherine Thorn
- Atmospheric cinematography and sets
- Many creepy and/or horrific moments
- Jerry Goldsmith’s score
No, but it’s definitely worth a one-time look.