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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Omen

I’ve had a hell of a time sitting down to write something about The Omen. What can I possibly say about a remake of a movie that I thought was already quite good enough as it was?

I hunkered down at the Essex Cinemas next to super supervisor Austin Whitaker and his cinemaphile friend Justin, whom I adore (but not quite enough that I didn’t make him take off his hat so I could inspect his head for signs of a “666” birthmark hidden underneath before I’d sit next to him in the dark). Justin is a great guy and knows his movies, but I’ve only seen him at the Essex Cinemas so I’ve never checked out important information about him like if he was born at 6:00 o’clock on June 6th or anything like that.

You see, The Omen is obsessed with the ‘666’ configuration and since the original movie entered the public’s consciousness thirty years ago these numbers have become synonymous with the Devil. Oh sure, it’s in The Bible, as part of The Book of Revelations, but, face it, a lot more people have seen the first version of The Omen or its’ many sequels and rip-offs than regularly read The Bible. I’m sorry but it’s true. So it is only natural, I guess, that as much as I loved Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as Robert and Katherine Thorn, it was inevitable that a new generation of demon-obsessed movie-makers would want to tinker with my vision of the story. Perhaps the Devil made them do it. I don’t know, but despite my apprehension, it did turn out quite fine actually.

The story has barely changed at all, thanks in most part to the fact that the script for this adaptation was written by David Seltzer, who also wrote the original. It begins with a celestial observation at the Vatican that causes alarm, signaling to the Catholic hierarchy that the coming of the Anti-Christ is near. Sure enough, Deputy Ambassador Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber, The Manchurian Candidate) and his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles, The Bourne Supremacy) have just given birth to their first child, a son. Unfortunately, Robert is told that the child died and that Katherine will never bear another child because of complications during the delivery. However, a priest at the Catholic (!) hospital assures him
another baby was born at the same time as his, and his healthy (?) mother died giving birth to him, so the priest suggests that it would be “God’s will” that Robert present this boy to his wife and raise him as their own, never telling anyone the truth. When Robert says he would like to see the body of his own son, the priest tells him there is no need, that it is more important he move on and give his love to his new son, the future. Hmmm.

Obviously Robert hasn’t seen enough scary movies to know that this is not going to end well, and when we cut to five years later, at son Damien’s birthday party, now American Ambassador to Great Britain Robert Thorn and his wife are horrified when Damien’s nanny offers the most unusual present of all, by turning herself into a human piñata, jumping off the roof of the Thorn’s palatial home in full view of the Thorns and all of their dozens of guests in attendance.

Things quickly go downhill from this point once the new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow) moves in. Any time the mother of Satan’s son from Rosemary’s Baby shows up at your doorstep to be the kid’s nanny you can expect trouble. Soon bad things happen all around the Thorns. A whack-job priest stalks Robert with ominous warnings about Damien, followed by an equally oddball photographer who has his own theories about the boy. Eventually the pieces fall into place (as does Mrs. Thorn) and Robert realizes what we’ve all been waiting for him to figure out for more than an hour. All he needed to do is give the little devil a haircut and he’d have seen those cute little 666s and he could have moved the plot along much quicker, but then we’d have missed a good impaling, poisoning, and decapitation if he had.

Of course the ending is ripe for a sequel and the first thing Justin asked when the movie was over was “Do you think they’ll remake all the sequels?” I imagine that would depend entirely upon the
financial success of this one, but I’d certainly be interested to see at least Damien: Omen 2 make it to the screen. I always enjoyed the original version with Lee Grant and William Holden, though it would be hard to imagine who the Hollywood Powers-That-Be would put in their place. This one struck gold with Schreiber, who adds gravitas to any project he takes on, but it lost points with Stiles as his wife. She’s a fine actress, but she’s only 25 and looks much younger. It is hard to imagine her negotiating the high-powered world of politics and diplomacy when she could easily still play high school parts. As for Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, the ominous imp himself, he could not be more perfectly cast. I can only imagine that his real life parents have now installed deadbolt locks on the door to their bedroom and always use the “buddy system” when spending time in the same room with him.

I quite enjoyed this updated apocalyptic admonition, despite my initial reservations. The Omen is quite simply a good enough tale to be told again and again and still keep its’ edge. I think anybody
looking for a couple of good thrills or a chance to see fret some more about the possible twisting of scripture ala The DaVinci Code should bring say their prayers and them scurry on down to the Essex Cinemas
for a heavenly bit of hell on earth. Just make sure that the person next to you hasn’t got any strange 666s on their bodies, if you want to be safe.

***By the way, for film buffs everywhere, look for Harvey Stephens, the original Damien, making a cameo after 30 years away from show biz, as a tabloid reporter in one scene with Liev Schreiber.

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