The Omen Pentology (1976 – 2006)Feature, Spotlight — By Kevin Matthews on October 31, 2011 at 8:00 am
I don’t think I need to say too much about The Omen before moving on to review the movies in the series. It’s a very particular type of horror movie but it’s quite possibly the best of that type and stands tall as yet another classic of the genre. So let me just begin with that rhyme that you never manage to remember.
“From the eternal sea he rises
Creating armies on either shore
Turning man against his brother
Until man exists no more.”
The Omen (1976)
A big-budget horror with a big-name cast, The Omen remains a classic of the genre and retains a certain charm thanks to the way it represents an investment that rarely happens with such material.
The whole thing begins with the news that a child has died. The father (Robert Thorn, poised to become U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, played by Gregory Peck) knows that this news will crush the mother (Lee Remick) and so, when the opportunity arises, he accepts the offer from a well-meaning priest to adopt a newborn child whose mother died while giving birth. And his wife will remain blissfully unaware. Unfortunately, five years later things start becoming far from blissful, with a number of strange deaths occurring and mysterious events that may be linked to the son, named Damien, they actually know nothing about. Perhaps another priest, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton), can be of assistance. Or a tenacious photographer named Keith Jennings (David Warner). It certainly doesn’t seem like Mrs Baylock, the new governess (Billie Whitelaw), will make things any easier.
Providing inspiration and new satanic references for an entire generation, The Omen remains such a resounding success when watched today because of the way in which the bombastic material is embraced and the story is developed.
Gregory Peck, that epitome of cinematic goodness and integrity, is very believable in the role of a man who gradually comes to suspect that the madness overwhelming his life may well be stemming from his “son”, as others around him have tried to warn him. Lee Remick is just fine, not really great in the standard scenes of mother and child but surprisingly effective in the moments where she confides to Peck that she suspects something is very wrong with their child and/or with herself. Patrick Troughton is appropriately over the top, David Warner is a very sympathetic secondary protagonist and Billie Whitelaw is simply creepy from her very first appearance onscreen.
Director Richard Donner, working from a great script by David Seltzer, shows just how marvellous any horror material can be when given the correct treatment. The core story is imbued with religious dogma and unbelievable predictions but the gradual realisation of the characters involved is done in a surprisingly plausible manner and the bigger moments are surrounded by lots of low-key, atmospheric scenes that build the sense of dread towards a fantastic climax. Things are also helped immensely by the superb score from Jerry Goldsmith, perhaps my favourite horror movie score of all time.
Followed by three sequels of varying interest and a glossy remake, The Omen remains a landmark movie in the world of modern horror.
DIRECTOR: RICHARD DONNER
WRITER: DAVID SELTZER
STARS: GREGORY PECK, LEE REMICK, DAVID WARNER, BILLIE WHITELAW, PATRICK TROUGHTON
RUNTIME: 111 MINS APPROX
Damien: Omen II (1978)
A sequel to the smash-hit horror movie, The Omen, was probably inevitable but the biggest surprise stems from just how good this second outing for young Damien Thorn (now a teenager) really is.
The movie begins with a scene set just days after the events of the first film. Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern, reprising his role from the first movie) is still busy with his important archaeological work, which has led to him finding a wall that depicts the antichrist in various stages of his life. The first face on the wall is clearly of the child, Damien Thorn.
Luckily for Damien, the devil can create a lot of good and bad luck and thus the wall is kept away from the public eye for a good number of years, allowing Damien (now played by Jonathan Scott-Taylor) to grow up with his uncle (William Holden), his uncle’s wife (Lee Grant) and his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat). But things can only be kept under wraps for so long and it soon becomes clear that a number of people may be on the road to discovering Damien’s big secret. It becomes equally clear that none of these people have a good chance of enjoying life to a ripe, old age.
Directed by Don Taylor (who took over from Mike Hodges, though a few scenes directed by Hodges remain), this movie succeeds because it takes the lead from the first film and continues to just run with the wild central idea. Arguably more of a “bodycount” movie than the grandiose horror that we had the first time around, modern audiences may look back on this as something not quite as scary or atmospheric but it remains a slick piece of work with moments that chill, mainly due to the coldness of certain characters, and some very impressive death scenes. The screenplay, by Stanley Mann and Mike Hodges and based on a story by producer Harvey Bernhard, does quite well but stretches the material closer and closer to breaking point with each scene that reveals someone who may reveal the real identity of young Damien.
The acting is all pretty good despite the fact that the cast is missing the big names that populated the first movie. William Holden and Lee Grant are both excellent, Lucas Donat is fine, Robert Foxworth does well, Nicholas Pryor is fine as Charles Warren and there’s a good turn from Lance Henriksen as a sergeant at the academy being attended by Damien and his cousin. Jonathan Scott-Taylor is very good in a leading role that’s often dismissed by people who forget how much is layered into the role – this is Damien as he is developing into his formative, teenage years and he wrestles with his own identity as any other teenager would, with the added problems that stem from people realising his true heritage and destiny. Remembering how audiences reacted to that final moment of The Omen and how averse they were to the mere sight of young Damien, with the potential evil that everyone knew he had within him, it’s amazing that a second (and, indeed, third) movie could be constructed with the spotlight very much on the villain of the piece.
Jerry Goldsmith provides another memorable score, this time with the addition of some electronic sounds and effects that create enough of a difference between the two soundtracks while maintaining a high quality of work.
An enjoyable sequel that may not reach the heights of the first movie but that certainly provides further, horrifying entertainment for those wishing to see how the life of the antichrist develops.
DIRECTOR: DON TAYLOR
WRITER: STANLEY MANN, MIKE HODGES
STARS: JONATHAN SCOTT-TAYLOR, WILLIAM HOLDEN, LEE GRANT, LUCAS DONAT, ROBERT FOXWORTH, NICHOLAS PRYOR, LANCE HENRIKSEN
RUNTIME: 107 MINS APPROX
Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)
There are many things you can criticise about the third movie in what used to be a great horror trilogy (until that derided TV movie came along and then the inevitable remake) but the things that work in the film work astoundingly well. Namely, a fantastic central performance from Sam Neill and some truly dark and disturbing material that remains some of the nastiest stuff to be released by “mainstream Hollywood”.
The plot is relatively simple. Damien Thorn (Neill) is now all grown up and the extremely powerful CEO of Thorn Industries. He’s due to be made Ambassador to Great Britain, just as his “father” was, and everything couldn’t be better. There are, of course, one or two problems. First of all, those sacred knives have been found again and a bunch of dedicated priests want to kill him. Secondly, the Nazarene is due to be reborn and the prophecy states that the Antichrist will lose this important battle. Damien is determined to defy that particulat prophecy, even if it means destroying every child who could possibly grow to cause him harm.
Director Graham Baker, working from a script by Andrew Birkin, does a great job in completing the character arc of Damien and taking the in-built audience to a dark place beyond anything previously seen in the series. The movie still has the requisite nasty death scenes but it feels less like a “bodycount” movie than the enjoyable second film.
Of course, with everything going on around him and everything that has occurred over the years it’s time to start considering that more people would have put two and two together and figured out that Damien Thorn isn’t quite your average guy and this casts a shadow of implausibility over the proceedings. I can still suspend my disbelief easily enough but have to admit that this takes a bit more effort as things build to a strange, yet appropriate, climax.
Jerry Goldsmith is as much a star of these movies as any of the actors onscreen so fans will be pleased to know that he provides yet another excellent score, though not quite as memorable as his previous work in the series.
Neill is cool, charming and absolutely believable as the silver-tongued beast in human guise. Don Gordon, as his assistant, does well and manages to gain some sympathy in the second half of the movie despite his selfishness. Lisa Harrow, as a journalist/talkshow hostess who takes more than just a professional interest in Damien, is very good. Her character may be ignorant of the facts but she doesn’t go through the entire movie with blinkers on and her priority always remains her young son, Peter (Barnaby Holm). Rossano Brazzi plays DeCarlo, the leading figure amongst the dedicated priests, and he lends a great mix of earnestness and gravitas to a role that could so easily have been over the top and bordering on the hysterical.
The pacing could have been tightened up throughout, the scheming of Damien takes on a grand scale and is therefore harder to swallow and the ending is, admittedly, a bit preposterous and overblown. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is still a decent stab (pardon the pun) at ending a fantastic horror story in an intelligent, and brave, continuation of material that lesser people could have made into something trite and unwachable.
And on a trivial note – viewers should easily spot Ruby Wax in a small role but UK viewers may especially enjoy seeing Eric “Sgt Cryer from The Bill” Richard as an astronomer’s technician.
DIRECTOR: GRAHAM BAKER
WRITER: ANDREW BIRKIN
STARS: SAM NEILL, LISA HARROW, DON GORDON, ROSSANO BRAZZI, BARNABY HOLM
RUNTIME: 108 MINS APPROX
Omen IV: The Awakening (1991)
The TV movie made to continue a franchise best left alone, is there anything worse? If, as I have, you have endured the likes of Home Alone 4, the later Anaconda sequels and even the follow ups to the enjoyable Lake Placid then you will probably agree that, in the world of movies, a belated TV movie sequel is rarely going to be any good.
And so it proves to be with this fourth Omen movie (that actually did get a theatrical release here in the UK, somehow). There are so many things wrong here that it’s hard to know where to begin.
Let’s start by covering the slight plot. It’s pretty similar to the first movie, albeit with a gender switch. A childless couple adopt a baby girl and are initially happy with their good fortune. But as the girl starts to grow up and strange behaviour becomes more noticeable (to others if not her own adoptive parents) it starts to provoke some thoughts about who exactly her real parents were.
Asia Vieira plays the young girl, Delia, and is hampered by laughably poor material. Remember in The Omen when Damien could still look relatively innocent and oblivious to the wild events occurring around him? That’s far from the case here, Delia is a scheming little brat who knows exactly what her destiny seems to hold in store for her. Faye Grant does better as Karen York, the woman who becomes more and more convinced that something is wrong with the little girl they adopted, and Michael Woods is okay as her husband, Gene. Ann Hearn plays a nanny who senses something very wrong with Delia and tries to convince everyone around her to wake up and see the aura. Michael Lerner fares the best, playing a detective hired by Karen to find out just who this little girl had as biological parents.
Director Dominique Othenin-Girard quit halfway through production and was replaced by Jorge Montesi, surely not a sign to inspire confidence (even if the former director had already given horror fans a disappointing fifth Halloween movie).
The script, by Brian Taggert based on a story co-created with series producer Harvey Bernhard, is pretty awful, veering between the outright laughable and the just plain boring.
And remember the memorable scores from the previous three movies? Well, the good news is that some of Jerry Goldsmith’s work is reused throughout this film. The bad news is twofold – the rest of the score is a dreary piece of work by Jonathan Sheffer and there is one scene in this movie, I kid you not, when someone who may be in imminent danger of being killed actually sees a bunch of ghoulish people singing “Ave Satani”. It’s as if someone mixed up the the reels at one point and we end up seeing footage inserted from Mighty Aphrodite.
The death scenes aren’t memorable, the tension is non-existent and the entire concept is treated in such a slipshod manner that the glaring ridiculousness of it all shines through (something that the first three movies somehow managed to avoid). A bad horror movie and an absolutely travesty compared to the other movies in the original series. In fact, even the unnecessary remake soars way above this one.
DIRECTOR: JORGE MONTESI, DOMINIQUE OTHENIN-GIRARD
WRITER: BRIAN TAGGERT
STARS: ASIA VIEIRA, FAYE GRANT, MICHAEL WOODS, ANN HEARN, MICHAEL LERNER
RUNTIME: 97 MINS APPROX
The Omen (2006)
A fine example of a completely unnecessary remake, The Omen was made to capitalise on a quirky release date (6/6/06) and really has no other reason for existing. The original hasn’t dated too badly at all and is still a well-loved classic of the genre and it’s a movie so well cast that even a handful of fine actors can’t quite replicate the magic of the original.
For those viewers who have seen the original, the story remains almost exactly the same. For newcomers, you probably already know enough about the story even if you haven’t seen either of the movies. It’s time for the Antichrist to be born on earth and he’s given to a man poised to become ambassador to Great Britain. As odd things start to happen and strange behaviour starts to worry the adults (young Damien, as the lad is named, doesn’t really like churches, upsets animals and also hasn’t really been ill at any point in his young life) it becomes clear that the parentage of the child must be discovered. But the truth of the matter is hard to swallow.
David Seltzer, who wrote the original movie, is back on hand for the remake and you can take that as a good sign but he doesn’t add anything of note. Perhaps too concerned with updating the material while remaining respectful to the original movie, everything is similar but inferior.
John Moore (who has shown talent with the likes of Behind Enemy Lines and even, though I’m in the minority with my liking of it, the Flight Of The Phoenix remake) doesn’t help matters by failing to elevate the material. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the original movie then this film just fails to satisfy on a basic level. Tension isn’t built, except clumsy attempts when it is required just before a death scene, and there is no sense of unease as events wind towards the big finale.
Liev Schreiber plays Robert Thorn and does okay but he’s fighting a losing battle, never able to invest the role with the earnestness and integrity that Gregory Peck managed in the original. I really like Live Schreiber as an actor but he’s just not the kind of guy who I would pick for this kind of role. Julia Stiles as Katherine Thorn is a much weaker link in the chain. Despite her age, poor little Julia just doesn’t look like a woman who would have a 5-year-old child. In fact, she looks as if she should be studying for final exams as opposed to enjoying the good life as wife to an ambassador. Mia Farrow isn’t too bad in the role of Mrs Baylock, played so superbly in the original movie by Billie Whitelaw. Pete Postlethwaite is surprisingly disappointing as the priest trying to warn Robert Thorn about the child that he is raising as his son. It’s a role that was pitched just perfectly by Patrick Troughton but this time around it’s overdone and less effective. Last, but by no means least, David Thewlis is great as the photographer who stumbles on to something mysterious and potentially life-threatening. Oh, I should also mention young Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick who plays Damien. He does okay with what he’s given despite physically not looking as cherubic and innocent as Harvey Stephens (who played Damien in the original movie and has a brief cameo in this film as a reporter). With small roles for Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Michael Gambon, the cast is not wanting for well-known names. It’s just a shame that they weren’t given something better to work with.
The lack of a memorable Jerry Goldsmith score is something else that puts a black mark against the film and then there is the opening sequence that ties in a number of modern disasters with some biblical prophecy – not only does it feel like a stretch but it also seems a little distasteful. What was wrong with the simple sequence of events that marked the beginning of the original?
I guess that Moore can’t really win. Stick to closely to the original and it’s completely pointless, make any changes and if they don’t seem to be for the better then it’s completely pointless. Strangely enough, one of the few highlights of the movie is a nice variation on the most memorable moment from the original film and if more care had been taken with the rest of the set-pieces and structure then something halfway decent could have been made. Sadly, this barely rises up to the level of the pointlessly mediocre.
DIRECTOR: JOHN MOORE
WRITER: DAVID SELTZER
STARS: LIEV SCHREIBER, JULIA STILES, MIA FARROW, DAVID THEWLIS, PETE POSTLETHWAITE
RUNTIME: 110 MINS APPROX
The Omen Pentology DVD boxset really is one of the best ways to pick up this enjoyable horror series and comes laden with extra goodies. Commentaries accompany each movie (with the exception of the fourth film) “The Omen Legacy” spread across the discs, numerous featurettes looking at the making of the movies and the coincidences and events that occured to make people consider the film cursed. Of course, a number of the featurettes tie in to the remake hype and perhaps attempt to make the reality spookier and more interesting than it actually was but they’re all enjoyable for fans of the films.
Oh, and do remember one last thing.
“Here is wisdom
Let him that hath understanding
Count the number of the beast;
For it is the number of the man;
And his number is 666.”
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