A film that polarises opinion irrespective of its religious incantations, some unimpressed by its comic-book style hokum, others like myself willing to be immersed in the tale of the anti-Christ (Stephens) born into a wealthy American family living abroad, setting a course for Satan's second coming. Peck, playing American Ambassador to the UK and his wife Lee Remick lose their child during birth, but with the assistance of corrupt clergyman Martin Benson, Peck manages to procure a replacement child of shady origins. In the history of bad decisions, this is right up there with the most catastrophic, as the baby Damien wields his unassuming temperament against those conspiring to subdue the rise of the devil on earth.
David Warner co-stars as the intrepid photo journalist who's bitten off more than he can chew investigating a series of strange events surrounding the family, former "Doctor Who" incarnation Patrick Troughton has a memorable supporting role as a doom-saying priest, and other notable roles are played with aplomb by Martin Benson, Leo McKern, Bruce Boa, John Stride and Anthony Nicholls to name a few. Jack's daughter, Holly Palance has a great cameo in one of the film's many penultimate moments, early on at the birthday party.
Billie Whitelaw's inspired performance as the sinister house-keeper is perhaps the template that would be emulated many times over (e.g. Dimitra Arliss in "Bless the Child" for example), and in my opinion, the real sleeper in this film. Her measured performance is one of the key aspects that elevates this tale beyond the comic-book hokum for which some reviewers hold contempt, notwithstanding the fuzzy logic on the religious overtures, which to be honest, who really cares. It's only a movie, and a chilling one at that, director Richard Donner immortalising himself with this effort, which in my opinion is easily in the top ten horror films ever made for its imagery, atmosphere, visual effects and of course, "Ave Satani" soundtrack.
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