Films Reviewed by Cliff Homewood

Catholicism makes a good horror film. The Spanish Inquisition and the like may have receded into the myth of history but Catholicism’s still here.  Among past treats in this sub-genre are films like Communion (aka Alice, Sweet Alice) and of course the original Omen films, not to mention the many outings for The Exorcist

Jesus spent his life trying to stop suffering on this Earth. When people then suffer in his name, I feel they are perhaps missing the point. So, here we have two horrors that I’m being told are actually the same film.  Both are set in the Catholic Church, and are about conception and birth.  In the bloody red corner, we have Immaculate and with the Devil in the … redder … corner, The First Omen.


Immaculate is about the Immaculate Conception, Jesus being born from a virgin … and our main character is a nun with a habit (sorry!) of appearing in other films, she’s played by Sydney Sweeney, who was recently seen in Madam Web. In Immaculate she’s a virgin who gets pregnant. It’s a miracle! No, it’s a film. I was hoping for supernatural shenanigans as that’s how I like my horror, but there are none involved. The film is more reality based, although it does share tropes with other films. It’s grim. When I was a wee nipper I saw a ’70s horror with a scene of lads in a gym taking shears to some poor buggers unmentionables. That came to mind. Immaculate has mixed reviews and I see why. It has that ’70s feel of slow and serious, but with moments of horror intersected, like dream sequences.

The place becomes unsettling as something isn’t quite right. It also has a bit of torture porn in its make-up. More than once I held my hand up to obscure what was being shown, I know, I’m a pussy.

Sydney Sweeney is a good lead, relatable, and she carrys the film well.  It was her passion project, she was cast and then funding fell apart.  She became a Producer and helped get the film made as well as rewriting the script. The ‘sexy vicar’ character is portrayed well by Alvaro Morte (the Professor in Money Heist).

Our hero’s best friend Gwen (Bendetta Porcaroli) is very likeable and helped me enjoy the film for a while. Showing how much an actor can bring a part to life. But the script, whilst semi-original, does not get you involved enough to truly care, whether the fault of the script, director, music or actors, I don’t know. I was just aware I was watching a harrowing story. Watched not felt. Thank God perhaps. There is a scene of our hero yelling in pain towards the end which goes so far some will find it disturbing, others will be amused, you know who you are.  I suspect it will become a meme.

Coitus Interruptus – A Catholic Interlude

Some people are bought up to believe in heaven. I was bought up a Heathen. But Christian English Schools had other ideas and I have great respect for Christian ethics. Religions lay good moral groundwork, and it’s a shame not everybody lives by them. A religion full of love is actually full of intolerance. People behave with self-interest and expect others to do the same. The bible appears bipolar: The Old Testament with a God that smotes with wrath, and the New, full of love and forgiveness. The Da Vinci Code reminds us that the Bible can be contradictory and thus over time has been altered. The West Wing had a great speech against religious intolerance, behold Bartlett’s Quotation:

‘I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleaned the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the Police? … Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you?’ writer Aaron Sorkin admits this was based on an anonymous circular.

More recently Stephen Fry attended an Intelligence Squared debate on: The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World, and won by a landslide with his argument that it isn’t.

Jesus makes a great role model but his example of giving unconditional love means giving yourself totally to the other person and this could end in tragedy. Brian Aldiss’s story on this theme Supertoys Last All Summer Long was eventually made into the film AI.

The First Omen

Surely The Omen (1976) is the first Omen?  No? Actually this is, because it says so. Rogue One proved that everyone likes a nice prequel that dovetails into the start of the original movie.

The film starts with a lovely homage to The Omen, with a camera shot and incident referring to the original. Beloved by Doctor Who fans because it starred Patrick Troughton, The First Omen sees us returning to that and other characters before they got involved with the demon child. Who was Gregory Peck again? A younger version of Troughton’s character, Father Brennan, is well portrayed by Ralph Ineson here. The First Omen then takes us back to 1971 where the film’s set. A very special year, the year I was born, and so too it seems, the Anti-Christ. The film has a bleached 1970s feel to it. The main character, Margaret (played by Nell Tiger Free), has moved to an orphanage and is becoming a Sister. She makes friends with a fellow apprentice, the likeable Luz (Maria Caballero) who is trying to get them to be sexy nuns, to ‘enjoy what you got before you have it taken away’. Margaret is uncomfortable in such attire; her nonverbal discomfort shows Nell Tiger Free can act. The film is also blessed with mighty fine actors like Charles Dance and Bill Nighy.  It twists and turns, you think it’s cementing her best friend for the movie, but we don’t see her as much as we expect. One scene is so telegraphed that a messenger boy turns up handing you a card heralding the next scene. Talking of heralds, the film makes you wait for The Omen music, but it is there and used well.  We start with whisperings and high-pitched choral voices. This film is not above the quiet, quiet, LOUD scare tactic either. As Margaret delves into the place’s mystery (she hasn’t seen Immaculate*) the answers are satisfying, the logic is sound but old. We see the birth in more detail than is pleasant, gone are the days when the cameraman had to stand in the corridor. The film was resubmitted to the American Censors four times, the makers refused to cut the scene out, and the censors refused to allow it all in.

As is typical of Hollywood movies the mother is in a far better a state than expected having just given birth, Hollywood scripts carry no rest. Despite such over-the-top moments (what do you expect from a horror film?) I enjoyed The First Omen and it’s good to finally see a good sequel to the original Trilogy.  I watched Omen IV and wished I hadn’t, didn’t even try the remake.

Kudos to first time Director and co-writer, Arkasha Stevenson, pulling of a fine prequel, only making minor changes to established lore. It has some lovely visual cues and lots of aerial shots of Rome.  It’s good to finally have another decent Omen film. The original helped give birth to the modern horror genre with its killer set pieces. Its creation was a request for writer David Seltzer to make a film like The Exorcist, but it was thought garish and trashy by some at the time, Harlan Ellison called it bloodsport.

The First Omen feels like a proper story as opposed to a collection of set pieces. A film so religious you have to say 6 Hail Mary’s and 5 Our Fathers having seen it.  No, 12,  No 660, and then watch The Omen trilogy as penance. According to this film there’s two churches, the one we know and love, following the teachings of Christ, and the other, the one that commits killings and rape. Guess which Church our heroine has alas probably wandered into.

*cheap joke but then you are reading this for free.


The First Omen, I found the ending stirring, the link to the franchise providing extra enjoyment.