The Omen: Collector’s Edition
June 30, 2006
The 1970s was a great decade for horror movies. You had independent films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Dawn of the Dead (1979) and mainstream Hollywood fare like The Exorcist (1973). Along with Rosemary’s Baby (1968), this film dealt with the Devil and demonic possession. Riding this wave was The Omen (1976), completing this unholy and informal trilogy. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, 20th Century Fox has re-released the film with loads of new extras and a beautiful looking transfer.
On the sixth day of the sixth month at the sixth hour, Katherine Thorn’s (Remick) baby is stillborn. Understandably distraught, her husband Richard (Peck) exchanges his dead child for one born at the same time with the priests at the hospital. He is an American diplomat assigned to a post in London and so he and his family settle in England. Initially, everything is domestic bliss but at a birthday party for their son, Damien (Stephens), his nanny hangs herself. Was she on drugs? Distraught? Or, was it the weird look that the child’s dog gave her earlier in the day? The next day, a priest visits Richard at his office and claims that his son is the spawn of Satan. He was at the hospital when Damien was born and tries to warn Richard but of course he doesn’t believe him.
Director Richard Donner does a good job in establishing a dark, foreboding atmosphere by effectively utilizing the lush, countryside manor that the Thorns live in. He gradually introduces the horror elements with the first death that creates an unsettling vibe followed by Damien’s violent refusal to go to church and then the unusually overprotective nanny (Whitelaw) that all adds up to something being not right with the child.
Gregory Peck brings the right amount of stiffness to the role of a globetrotting diplomat while Lee Remick is suitably sympathetic as the understandably freaked out mother of the Antichrist. But it is Harvey Stephens as Damien who steals the film with his creepy performance. He has very little dialogue but is able to convey an unsettling menace with only a look. There is something disturbing going on behind his eyes which is in sharp contrast to his cherub-like face. And for good measure there is genre veteran David Warner as a ubiquitous photographer witness to many of the strange occurrences at the Thorn household and an ally to Richard’s quest to find the true origin of Damien.
The Omen is a dark opera both visually and thematically with an atmospheric score by Jerry Goldsmith. The sound cues that denote surprise are crucial in horror films and the ones on this disc are crystal clear. Goldsmith’s score has never sounded better.
Of the demonic possession movies released in the ‘70s, The Omen is certainly the most commercial with Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist directed by bonafide auteurs. You’d be hard-pressed to think of Donner as a filmmaker with a unique vision but he does bring a skilled, workman-like approach to the material that is very effective.
The first disc features an audio commentary with director Richard Donner and editor Stuart Baird. They tend to get caught up in watching the movie while offering the occasional comment, like “Greg is wonderful,” or “This is the old, abandoned estate,” or Donner gently making fun of Baird. Do yourself a favour and check out the documentaries instead if you want the low-down on the making of this movie.
Things pick on the second commentary with Donner returning and joining him this time is writer/director Brian Helgeland. Initially, the studio wanted more of a slasher film vibe and Donner fought to make it classier. In talking with Gregory Peck, the director says he had him act as if his character was a victim of circumstance and not the result of supernatural means. Helgeland comes in as a fan and keeps Donner talking by asking him a lot of questions. There is a bit of repetition from the previous track and the documentaries but it is still an enjoyable listen.
“Curse of Coincidence” takes a look at the strange things that happened while making the film. Odd occurrences like two different planes carrying crew members were hit by lightning on two occasions. Donner was nearly killed in a car accident. On the day at the zoo in which they shot the baboon sequence, a zoo keeper was killed by lions. All of this begs the eerie question – coincidence or something else?
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
The second disc starts off with an “Introduction by director Richard Donner.” He gives gratitude for what the film did for his career and talks briefly about how proud he is of it. This really should’ve been on the first disc with the movie.
“666: The Omen Revealed” is a detailed retrospective documentary that takes us through the making of the movie. The impetus for it was what if the Antichrist came back as a little boy? The film’s religious advisor, a born again Christian, believes that The Omen is grounded in absolute truth while Donner is more of a realist, remarking that the success of the film probably got more people in churches. Various aspects of the production are covered with lots of fascinating anecdotes told by key crew members about specific scenes.
“The Omen Legacy” originally aired on AMC and takes a look at the entire series of Omen films. The success of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist paved the way for The Omen. The film even scared some people back to church. Inevitably, a sequel followed with Damien as a teenager and living the United States. Like the first film, the production was plagued with problems including the first of director Mike Hodges and the hiring of Don Taylor. The third film sees Damien as an adult, played by Sam Neill. He has become a rich businessman with an eye on an ambassador position. This one was the most ambitious film as Damien tries to affect things on a geopolitical level.
“Deleted Scene – Dog Attack” with commentary by Donner and Helgeland. This features more footage of the dog attacking Richard Thorn only for the man to kill it with a screwdriver which Donner felt was too much and toned down the scene by cutting it out.
“Screenwriter’s Notebook” takes a look at David Seltzer’s screenplay. He wasn’t interested in the genre but needed the money. He talks about the research he did which involved reading the Bible extensively. He didn’t want to repeat The Exorcist formula and made his film more of an internalized experience. Is Damien really possessed or is his father going crazy?
“An Appreciation: Wes Craven on The Omen.” The veteran horror filmmaker talks about what he likes about the film. He describes it as a classy studio movie made by a director who knew how to please audiences. Craven makes some good observations and offers fascinating insight into the movie from a filmmaker’s perspective.
Finally, there is a “Still Gallery” featuring production and behind-the-scenes photos.