The Series Project: The Omen (Part 2)
If this times out well, this article will go up on the 21st of December, 2012, the most recent prediction date for the end of the world. This is perfectly fitting for The Omen, as all five of the movies are about no less than the apocalypse itself. Indeed, The Omen is doubly appropriate, as Christmas is nearing, and what better way to celebrate the birth of the Christ child than to look at a string of satanic thrillers all about the birth of the Antichrist? Welcome back, my dear readers to the latest installment of The Series Project here in the ancient and sacred texts of CraveOnline, wherein we will be finishing up The Omen.
To offer a brief recap: The Omen series runs a mere four films, and contains a remake. Each of the first three films was theatrically released, and involved the life of a young child named Damien Thorn, born to be the Antichrist and destined to bring about the end of the world. It's unclear if he will blow up the planet Earth, or if he will simply usher in an age of pain, suffering, and desolation for all living beings. I think it's the latter. In each film, the central player would be convinced that Damien (at ages 5, 13, and 32 respectively) was indeed the son of Satan, and would indeed become lord of evil. It wasn't until the third film in the series, however, that Damien would manage to be taken down by a righteous soul. The Final Conflict was released in 1981, and was, as the title implies, supposed to be the last film in the series. If we learned anything from Freddy & Jason, however, “final” chapters are hardly ever final. Reboots, remakes, and outright defiance of the “final” appellation are plentiful. Which is what we'll find with The Omen as well.
Last week, I covered the first three films in the series, and saw Damien die. This week, I will be skipping merrily ahead 10 years to write up the only TV movie in The Omen series (which actually continues the mythos from the previous films), and then will skip ahead yet another 15 years to the remake of The Omen, which came out, appropriately enough on 6th June, 2006. 06/06/06, get it? Say your prayers, get your Bible handy, and prepare to look desolation in the eye, 'cause we got a hatin' on Satan to do. Let's start this devilish assignment with…
Omen IV: The Awakening (dirs. Jorge Montsei, Dominique Othenin-Girard, 1991)
So I accused The Final Conflict of being silly and off-the-wall, but I feel bad about that now. The over-the-top screaming of The Final Conflict (“Come out and face me, Nazarene!”), complete with all of that film's baby-killing and Sam Neill scenery-chewing pales in comparison to the cheap, stupid wonders of Omen IV: The Awakening. The first few Omen films at least felt hefty and scary, even when they were doing goofy things. When people spoke of religious matters, the filmmakers bothered to make those discussions feel weighty and important, as religious discussions typically are. Omen IV has none of that weight, and all of the unholy talk and looming specter of apocalyptic doom has been replaced by corny, predictable melodramatic evil child stuff.
I think much of its cheesy cheapness has a lot to do with its TV status. There is little blood, and no subtlety. The evil child in this film looks evil from the git go, and does some outwardly evil things, making the ambivalence of her potential Antichrist status less ambivalent. She sneers at holy people, cackles at injured schoolmates, eyeballs anyone who might be a threat to her, and even bites the faces off of her Barbie dolls. At least she doesn't blow her nose on pages from the Bible, just to make sure we know she's the Antichrist. She was clearly born bad. It's even more obvious than in Lynne Ramsay's evil child drama We Need to Talk About Kevin, but without the artistry. Actually, heck, with Lynne Ramsay's movie, I think a more apt comparison would be to another TV movie from about this time called Child of Rage, which is one of the most spectacularly awful TV movies I have ever seen. That film featured an evil girl named Cat (Ashley Peldon) who intentionally injured her little brother, flirted with her grandfather (ulp), and kept a knife hidden in her teddy bear. Take away a good portion of Child of Rage's campiness, and replace it with ill-thought out Satan talk, and you've got Omen IV: The Awakening.
So yeah, the Antichrist this time is a little girl. She was just born, and lives in an orphanage. Her origins remain a mystery, I think, but Sister Yvonne (Megan Leitch), one the nuns running the orphanage, complains to the Mother Superior that the child is evil, and that no family should look after it. When Mother Superior gives up the little girl anyway, Sister Yvonne rips off her habit and leaves the order. Also there are creepy signs like lightning flashes and, uh… well that's pretty much it.
The couple that adopts the girl is a pair of yuppie DINKs, both lawyers, who live in posh surrounding in a suburb somewhere. Mom Karen is played by Faye Grant from "V," and dad Gene is played by Michael Woods from "NightMan" and "Passions." They name their little girl Delia. Skip ahead eight years, and Delia is now played by Asia Vieira, a dark-eyed, dark-haired moppet who is practically emitting a cloud of evil. When Delia is baptized, the priest who baptized her is crushed by a falling crucifix. She lures classmates into dangerous locations, and laughs as they panic. In one scene, she pummels another classmate with her lunchbox until he thinks to punch back. She bleeds and grins and punches him in the face. Delia is a horror, and Karen is clearly creeped the hell out by her weird behavior, which no one else seems to observe. A goodly portion of the film is devoted directly to Delia's bad behavior.
Here's something weird: Even though Delia is only eight years old, she's already menstruating. This can happen, but it's really rare. This detail could have been used to establish a creepy level of sexuality to the young girl, hence upping the stakes a bit were she to sexually pursue an older man, but nothing is done with this detail. Well, actually it ties in to a really weird twist that will come later. Hang on, dear reader, for a really off-the-wall twist ending.
Karen hires a nanny to help with Deila in the form of Jo (Ann Hearn), a gentle soul who believes in psychic powers, healing crystals, tarot cards, and New Age spirituality. You may have noticed at this point that all the film's main characters are female,which leads me to ask the question: why is it women are so strongly linked to crystals and New Age spirituality in horror movies of this stripe? I'm thinking of something like Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 here. The women in that film were all witches of varying moral alignments. In this film, women don't take on the powers of Christ, but the powers of crystals and psychic photography. Essentially, the women are witches. I guess that's what passes for feminist power in the horror universe. Anyway, Jo finds that taking care of Delia is dangerous, and that her crystals have a tendency to turn black around her. When a psychic photographer takes a picture of Delia's aura, it's all sticky and gross and black, and Jo comes to the conclusion that Delia is an evil creature of some sort. This was also after Delia managed to set an entire psychic faire ablaze. Delia is such a horrible monster, it's a wonder that only Jo and Karen magae to see anything amiss. Everyine else is blissfully unaware that they're in the midst of an effing Antichrist. When Jo goes to tell Karen about her findings, Delia psychically pushes her out a window. Her body lands on a merry-go-round. Fun imagery.
Nothing bad ever seems to happen to Delia. She is never punished, and never feels bad. She only glowers and twirls her proverbial mustache. Only one bad thing happens to her in the movie, and that's when she's injured from being thrown off of a horse. But we know this will also be part of her evil apocalyptic plot somehow, since every dang thing in this movie seems to feed into her evil apocalyptic plot.
Karen, now incidentally pregnant, then takes her case to an out-of-town P.I. named Earl, played by recognizable character actor Michael Lerner. Earl is skeptical of her “evil child” story, but decides to look for Delia's birth parents anyway. He does manage to track down Sister Yvonne, now living out of state under the name of Felicity, and leading a Pentecostal congregation, healing people, and handling snakes. When Earl shows her a picture of Delia, she freaks out, and is bitten by the poisonous snakes she is handling. Oops. Earl learns that Delia's dad was none other than Damien Thorn himself! Dunh-dunh-DUNH! You may recall from The Final Conflict that Damien did manage to bed a comely reporter. I guess that was when Delia was conceived. Earl mails his findings to Karen just in time to be harangued by an evil choir of Antichrist zombies (seriously, they sing to him on the street baring inverted crucifixes), and killed by a rogue wrecking ball (!).
Anyway, to get to the ending of this thing: Karen gives birth to a little boy, and Delia immediately takes to him. Karen, at the end of her rope with Delia, confronts a local priest who reveals the truth about her pregnancy. Hang onto your seats, 'cause this is about to get really wacky: It turns out that Karen was not pregnant with her own child, but with Delia's. Delia, you see, was actually a twin, but her twin brother somehow managed to survive as a tiny fetus insider her own tiny fetus womb. Which means Delia's birth mother was pregnant with a pregnant fetus. Sort of like an Antichrist turducken. When Delia injured herself on the horse, a Satan-worshiping doctor removed Delia's twin from her womb, and, I dunno, kept it on ice somewhere. Then, when Karen went in for her next gynecological examination, the gynecologist secretly implanted the twin in her womb without her noticing. The twin, it turns out, was the real Antichrist this whole time, and it was giving Delia her evil powers from within her own body. The twin is the one with the 666 birthmark, although the birthmark looks like a series of warts on the baby's hand more than a faint red symbol.
Omen IV: The Awakening is cheesy as a cheese shop, but is also fun if you, like me, are capable of sensing the cheap, melodramatic wavelength of your average TV movie. One can choke it back with a wince and not be too seriously injured. Since Omen IV ran on broadcast TV, there's no blood, no real sexuality, and nothing so edgy as to be disturbing. The film also gets a lot of mileage from the symbol of the inverted cross, which appears in shadows, on walls, and hanging out in the background of many shots.
I'm a little baffled as to the central mythos of the series as presented in this flick. So much time and work and satanic energy went into grooming and protecting Damien, that you'd think all the satanic plans would go out the window when he was stabbed. It turns out that Satan had a mulligan. Omen IV ends the same way that the first did. With dead parents, and the chilling implication that the Antichrist would go on to bring about the apocalypse. Only with Omen IV, it's not so chilling. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with an Antichrist turducken.
At some point after Omen IV wrapped, some studio head realized that 6th June 2006 was coming. I suppose if you're going to remake The Omen, you'd best release it on 6/6/06. Let's take a look at…
The Omen (dir. John Moore, 2006)
So I watched this remake of The Omen all the way through, from beginning to end, and I really have nothing to say about it. Beat for beat, and scene for scene, it's exactly the same as the 1976 original. Seriously, it doesn't alter anything. The producers of the film hired David Seltzer, the same screenwriter as the original, and he didn't bother to do anything with the material other than to make the parents younger and to update the chronology. Also the director upped the ante by adding much more lush photography, faster edits, and a few creepy dream sequences. Otherwise, it's pretty much the exact same film.
And yet the emotional impact wasn't as great. It wasn't as scary. It didn't feel as portentous. Maybe it's because I know the original so well that this one didn't strike, but my theory as to why the 2006 version of The Omen isn't as good as the original reaches into a much deeper aesthetic place, which I will ramble about now: When it comes to remaking a film, the tendency tends to be to jazz up the source material with all kinds of artistic flourishes. Horror remakes tend to have slicker special effects and darker violence than their forbears. Which kind of makes sense, given that the public is already intimately familiar (or at least passingly acquainted) with the cultural presence and established mythos of the original; you can't remake something like The Omen and change too much. That the remake of The Omen (and this theory can be applied to the 1998 remake of Psycho as well) wasn't as scary or as moving as the original only cements the aesthetic fact that adding style, ramping up drama, making the photography complex and gorgeous, and making all the individual scenes all seem to crest to a much more exciting place, only serves to deteriorate the material. 2006's The Omen proves that bigger is never better. In fact, bigger is often worse.
Are there any differences? A few. Let's look at the cast. Lee Remick's character is now played by Julia Stiles. Gregory Peck is now Liev Schreiber (who is an excellent actor, and perhaps worthy of Gregory Peck's legacy). David Warner is now David Thewlis. Bugenhagen is now Michael Gambon. The scarred priest now looks like a rubbery monster straight out of Ridley Scott's Hannibal. The nanny is now played by Mia Farrow (!). Damien is no longer a spooky adult-faced five-year-old, but a chubby-cheeked Hollywood moppet (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, easily the most Irish name I have ever seen; I bet his middle name is Finn). Their roles are all the same, and they do all the same things in the same order. The jackal skeleton, the countries, the prophecies are repeated, the spectral photographs, the hung nanny, the impaled priest (now played by Pete Postlethwaite), the daggers. All of that is all exactly the same.
I think by making the central couple younger, you're actually missing something kind of vital. Lee Remick was 40 when The Omen came out. Stiles was only 25 in 2006. Gregory Peck was pushing 60 in his Omen. Schreiber is was a mere 38 for his. An older couple would, I think, be a little more grateful and appreciative and protective of their first child. The notion of them even having a child would be seen as a source of drama. In the remake, they are of average parenting age, and, as such, are seen as little more than well-to-do politicians who are looking after a cute li'l kid. They also give some creepy nightmares to Stiles, which are cool, I suppose but do little other than offer a few “boo!” moments in a film that would be better off without them.
The one change I appreciated was the addition of Mia Farrow to the cast. Her presence was clearly intended to invoke memories of Rosemary's Baby, but Farrow is a classy enough actress to tastefully overplay her part. There's is an amazing scene, played without dialogue, wherein Farrow (to remind you: playing the satanic nanny) is feeding strawberries to Damien in a darkened room, wiping the red juice on his lips, and grinning to herself like a maniac. When she begins flipping out near the film's climax and throwing herself on Schreiber's back, wailing like a banshee in heat, I smiled and found myself enjoying the film in spite of myself. When her character is run down in a car, I imagine that he last thought was probably a hope that her body at least left a permanent scratch in the guy's paint job.
I wish I could offer some more insightful lessons from the 2006 Omen other than the usual gripe of “Don't do remakes anymore,” but that's all I can really offer. If you had never seen the 1976 original, you may find yourself digging this version, but even then I don't think it's a very classy or effective film. For me, it's just sort of inert. Like a cast that has performed Hamlet thousands of times, and are tired, and, even though saddled with some excellent material, are just going through the motions. I get the sense that no one really wanted to make this film. We just knew that we had to do something for 6/6/06, and this was our best idea. I think if I had seen it on the date in question, I would have liked it more. I think, come the 21st, I'll have to hunker down with Roland Emmerich's clunky disaster flick 2012. That may be one of the only days that film will be fun to watch.
The original is, as in most cases, the best one. I liked how spooky it is, and how foreboding it is. It made the wise choice to be perfectly respectful of the religious aspects. The films all contain their share of Jews, atheists, doubters, and other non-Christian characters, but it was careful to pay decent respect to them all while still keeping a close eye on Christian language. If you're going to make a satanic thriller, I think this is a vital aspect to nail. Even in a largely secular world, it's wise to remain respectful of beliefs and belief systems, especially in movie like this than lean so heavily on religious symbolism. The Omen is a movie about Christianity (specifically Roman Catholicism) without preaching Christianity.
The first two movies nail the balance well, but the third tips into preachy territory, which is the opposite danger of satanic thrillers. You do want God to win in the end, of course (y'know, so we don't all die at the hands of the Antichrist), but you don't necessarily have to have a sermon prepared. No matter what your religious message is (be it Christian, Jewish, atheist, non-committal), you will only alienate people if you spend your whole movie screaming about it. The Omen movies, for the most part, have gentler touch. Of course, none of this matters by the fourth film, because it's just so wonderfully stupid that you can't take any of it very seriously; I'm going to use the phrase again, just because I'm so fond of it: Antichrist turducken. I think I'm going to name my Norwegian death metal band that.
I'm actually going to do something odd, and recommend that you watch all the films in The Omen series, but I recommend that you watch them in reverse order. If you have never seen the original, you might dig the remake. You may enjoy the stupidity of the TV movie, and the much classier bonkers aspect of the third film as an intermission. After that, you can go back to Damien: Omen II, and kind of get a sense of how classy this series was intended to be. By the time you're on the series' wavelength, you can hunker down to the original, and see the best. I didn't do it this way, but I suspect it might work.
Give it a try and tell me if my suspicions are correct. Do they work in reverse order?
Anyway, thanks for taking this little Antichristmas vacation with me, and thanks for accepting my little anti-gift during this unholiday anti-season. Happy Christmas, y'all, and enjoy the end of the world. Even if the world does end, I'll still be here writing about movies. Be sure to join me next week for The Series Project: Rocky.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on Twitter at @WitneySeibold. But only at your own risk.