Judge Clark Douglas probably isn't the son of the devil...but how can we be sure?
Our reviews of The Omen (published September 25th, 2000), The Omen: Collector's Edition (published June 26th, 2006), The Omen (2006) (published December 8th, 2006), The Omen (2006) (Blu-Ray) (published August 13th, 2009), and The Omen Collection (published June 5th, 2006) are also available.
Those who foretold it are dead. Those who can stop it are in grave danger.
"He must die, Mr. Thorn!"
Facts of the Case
This Blu-ray collection includes four films: The Omen (1976), Damien: Omen II, Omen III: The Final Conflict, and The Omen (2006). The set represents the entire history of the Omen franchise, with the sole exception of the terrible made-for-television film Omen IV: The Awakening.
In the original version of The Omen, Gregory Peck (The Yearling) plays Robert Thorne, a powerful man who has just been appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. He is married to Kathy (Lee Remick, The Long, Hot Summer), and they have just had their first child together after many years of waiting. Unfortunately, the baby died during childbirth. Kathy doesn't yet know that her child has passed away, and Robert doesn't want her to know. With the help of a priest, Robert claims an orphaned newborn baby as his own, and tells Kathy that the child is hers. For several years, everything goes smoothly. Young Damien and his parents are very happy together at first, but things suddenly start to turn ugly. Damian begins acting in strange ways. People start dying. Slowly but surely, Robert begins to come to the horrifying realization that his son just might be the Anti-Christ. The exactly same plot description can be used for the 2006 remake, substituting Liev Schrieber (The Sum of All Fears) and Julia Stiles (The Bourne Ultimatum) for Peck and Remick.
In Damien: Omen II, we fast-forward seven years. Damian (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is now living with his wealthy aunt (Lee Grant, Mulholland Drive) and uncle (Willam Holden, Sunset Boulevard), and is currently attending a military school with his cousin. Damian doesn't seem to be fully aware of what his destiny is, but he certainly has a dark streak. When he is confronted by a classmate, Damian sends the challenger reeling with insanity by simply looking at him. Before long, Damien begins to discover his true identity, and quickly begins to make plans for his ascension. His first goal: taking over his dear uncle's business.
By the time we get to Omen III: The Final Conflict, Damien (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park) is indeed running Thorne Industries. He has also just been appointed as ambassador to Great Britain, the esteemed position once held by his father (well, not his real father). Unfortunately for Damien, things may be taking a difficult turn sometime soon. An ancient prophecy claims that a Savior (aka Jesus) is going to come and do battle with The Beast (aka Damien). The prophecy also claims that the Savior wins this battle. Damien has other plans in mind. He's examining his chess pieces, rolling up his sleeves, and preparing to try and take out a certain Nazarene that is going to be in town soon. Who will win this epic battle of the spiritual giants, this…oh, what shall we call it…how about The Final Conflict?
The Omen and its two sequels were made during the 1970s and 1980s, during the heyday of horror franchises. Most of the popular franchises felt pretty similar in nature. The Halloween films featured Michael Myers killing teenagers. The Nightmare on Elm Street movies featured Freddie Krueger killing teenagers. The Friday the 13th movies featured Jason Vorhees killing teenagers. You see the pattern, I trust. In the midst of all that material, The Omen films manage to attain some sort of genre dignity, offering gothic and spine-tingling horror that focuses just as much on plot and character as on bloody murder. The films are not great, but we are given thoughtful adults instead of mindless scream queens and dumb jocks, and there is something considerable to be said for that.
The first film is widely regarded as the best, and rightfully so. Admittedly, you have to buy the contrived concept to enjoy any of the films. The movie simply expects us to accept that Damien is the Anti-Christ. There is no room for doubt or argument. The film is not about whether Damien is the Anti-Christ, the film is about the terror of people who come to discover this truth (and how they deal with it). Unlike The Exorcist, which carefully considered every possible rational argument against the supernatural, The Omen takes the blend of Biblical prophecy and general hocus-pocus at face value. Once you understand and accept that, you may find the film to be tremendously engaging and entertaining.
This is portentous fun on a large scale, directed by a young Richard Donner with considerable enthusiasm. The material sounds like the makings of a cheesy B-movie, but the cast and crew put enough effort into this thing to make it feel like a genuinely respectable A-movie. Part of that respectability vibe comes from the casting of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick in the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Thorne. Peck in particular manages to provide a nice blend of level-headed skepticism and increasing terror, and does a nice job of slowly building up to his frenzied climax. You haven't lived until you've seen Gregory Peck trying to stab a little kid to death with a knife. Donner stages this sequence and many other key moments with ominous splendor. A steady trickle of memorably effective scenes of terror are presented here: the maid hanging herself, the death of the priest, Damien's savage tricycle trip down the hallway, and Peck's discovery of a dark secret that is followed quickly by a savage dog attack.
The 2006 remake of The Omen is actually rather good (though many critics would disagree), but it's better described as a "tracing" than a "remake." Much like director John Moore's remake of The Flight of the Phoenix, it follows the original more or less beat for beat. The only significant difference comes from the casting, which puts a slightly new spin on the familiar characters. Thankfully, the casting here is rather excellent, and the re-interpretations of these roles often match the originals. Live Schrieber lacks the dominant screen presence of Gregory Peck, yet he brings a welcome complexity to the role that was lacking in the first film. David Thewlis is a good choice to play the photographer, while Michael Gambon and Pete Postelthwaite do a lot with rather small roles. Two roles are not on par with the originals. One is superior, one is inferior. The former is Mia Farrow's masterful portrayal of Damien's wicked nanny, who is far more frightening here than she was in the original. The latter is Julia Stiles' turn as Damien's mother. Stiles is a decent actress, but she seems far too young for the part, and lacks the memorable qualities that Lee Remick brought to the role. Also worthy of praise: a new spin on the hospital scene between the mother and the nanny, which is perhaps the best thing in the film. The film will be most appreciated by those who haven't seen the original, but frankly I think it's vastly superior to many recent horror remakes (Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre come to mind).
Damien: Omen II is not exactly a bad film, but it's a bit tamer than the original, which isn't really a good thing. The first movie focused on a rather grand and gothic plot that was very enjoyable. The film wasn't really believable, but that didn't matter. The biggest mistake of the sequel is its attempt to gain some sort of credibility. You're making a movie about the Anti-Christ himself, and you want to focus on his attempt at a business takeover? That may frighten Donald Trump, but it's a bit dull for the rest of us. Nonetheless, when the film does manage to move away from the somewhat mundane business subplot, it can be pretty engaging. The material centering on Damien's self-discovery is subversively effective, as our antagonist goes through what can perhaps best be described as "Satanic Puberty." The series is also notable for the Rube Goldberg-lite deaths it offers, and this film has a couple of gems. My favorite is a scene in which a woman has her eyes picked out by a demonic crow, and then gets run over by a truck because she can't see that she is standing in the middle of a desolate highway. If that sounds a bit callous, note that these deaths never feel remotely realistic in any way. The deaths here are frankly meant to be entertainingly over-the-top, as opposed to the in-your-face grisly torture of many modern films in the genre. The acting here is a bit less formidable than in the previous film. William Holden and Lee Grant are acceptable substitutes for Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, but they aren't given nearly as much to do here. For some odd reason, it just isn't as interesting when Holden finally declares, "The boy has got to die!" Perhaps it's because Holden is an actor who seems a bit more likely to say such a thing than Peck.
Finally, we have Omen III: The Final Conflict. It still doesn't quite recapture the quality of the first film, but it's a step back in the right direction. The film has that same fearless willingness to drive full speed ahead with a tale of Biblical proportions no matter how ridiculous things may get. A movie leading to a battle between the Anti-Christ and Jesus Christ might be easily explored for a low-budget cheesefest, but how many mainstream blockbusters would be willing to take on such a risky tale? Here we have a movie that actually tries to treat that situation with some measure of credibility, and the results are occasionally very compelling. One of the best scenes here is an extended solo sequence with Neill (who aces the role of grown-up Damien). He walks down into a basement, and starts praying to his own father in his own passionate way. He then wanders over to a statue of Christ, and launches an angry diatribe towards the savior of all mankind. "I will push those thorns in even deeper," he seethes. "You've done nothing but drown man's soaring desires in a deluge of sanctimonious morality." I kept expecting the film to back away, to try and let itself off the hook a little bit. No way. This movie delivers in the third act what it promises to deliver in the first act. I have an endless supply of admiration for those rare movies that drive towards an impossible goal with utter sincerity, never second-guessing their mission. Many of these films could be accurately described as failures, but I adore them nonetheless. Omen III: The Final Conflict is a terrible movie on paper…and really, it's kind of terrible onscreen. Nonetheless, it achieves something noteworthy with the persuasive performances, sensational individual scenes (the opening sequence, the fox hunt, the aforementioned Neill scene, the Cecil B. DeMille finale, etc.), and the score. There is a commitment to the material here that grants the film a special place as something simultaneously wonderful and appalling. It is the very definition of "guilty pleasure."
For me, the single greatest asset of these films is the music. I have long been a fan of the great Jerry Goldsmith, and his work was rarely better than what he provided this franchise. I sincerely believe that The Omen would not have been half as effective without his Oscar-winning original score. It could be persuasively argued that The Omen is the greatest horror score of all time, and Goldsmith's blood-curdling "Ave Satani" is a simply chilling composition. His music in the first film is rich and blood-soaked, suggesting an ancient evil rising again for the first time in thousands of years. The material is largely reprised in the second film, though given an arrangement that decreases the fright factor and increases the level of darkly gleeful enthusiasm. The music in Damien: Omen II seems faster and more aggressive; a reflection of Damien's increasing comfort level with his villainous role in life. As great as those two scores are, perhaps they are both topped by The Final Conflict, which is nothing short of a magnificent symphonic portrayal of good and evil, heaven and hell, agony and ecstasy. The music is a remarkable achievement that elevates the film immeasurably. Even more notable is the fact that Goldsmith was able to conjure such glorious material for a film like Omen III: The Final Conflict. Finally, composer Marco Beltrami's effort for the remake of The Omen is actually quite good, but naturally pales a bit in comparison to Goldsmith's sublime efforts. Speaking of the music, the sound on most of these films is superb. The Omen, Omen III: The Final Conflict, and the 2006 version of The Omen all boast very robust and clear sound, and the music gets a very aggressive mix in all of them. In this case, that's a very good thing. Only Damien: Omen II disappoints, as the music and sound design is a bit pinched and tinny at times.
The hi-def transfers here are pretty solid. I wasn't expecting The Omen to look as lush as it does. There's a very minimal level of grain, and essentially no damage worth noting. The fine cinematography is often somewhat soft and gentle, which somehow seems to suit this particular blend of violent and dark material. Damien: Omen II has some rougher patches, particularly early on, and there's a notable lack of detail in a few scenes. Still, this uneven transfer is acceptable, if not ideal. Omen III: The Final Conflict is just as sharp and impressive as The Omen, however. Of course the remake of The Omen looks the best, as it was released in 2006. That one boasts a solid transfer with excellent facial detail, deep blacks, and a pleasing palette. Most of the supplements here will be familiar to those who have owned previous versions of these films, but they are welcome nonetheless. The original version of The Omen contains the majority of the special features. The original features two commentaries with director Richard Donner (one with editor Stuart Baird, one with Omen fan and screenwriter Brian Helgeland). Both tracks are reasonably engaging, particularly the former. There's also an excellent new commentary from film historians Lem Dobbs, Nick Redman, and Jeff Bond, who tend to focus a lot on the importance of Goldsmith's score. Speaking of that, we also get an awesome 5.1 isolated score track. Cool beans. A trivia track with "BonusView" is onhand, which offers pieces from the special features as you watch the film. "Richard Donner on the Omen" (14 minutes) is a video interview with the director, featuring some general thoughts on the project. This is well worth a look for those who don't want to sit through an entire audio commentary, as it condenses some of the more important points. We also get Donner's two-minute introduction to the film from the 2006 DVD release. "666: The Omen Revealed" (45 minutes) is a solid making-of documentary that more or less covers the entire production of the film. "Screenwriter's Notebook" (15 minutes) is an interview with screenwriter David Seltzer, while "An Appreciation: Wes Craven on The Omen" lets the famous horror director wax eloquent about the movie for 20 minutes. "The Omen Legacy" (101 minutes) is a feature-length documentary narrated with bizarre creepiness by Jack Palance, which is a hit-and-miss affair. On the one hand, it features interviews with such strange individuals of "The High Priestess of the Church of Satan," but on the other hand, it tends to be a bit too hyperbolic and cornball. It examines all four Omen films, and also takes time to consider other spiritually-themed horror films such as Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. "Curse or Coincidence?" (6 minutes) is one of those slightly hokey featurettes that ponders whether the ridiculous parts of the film are plausible. We hear producers say things like, "The devil did not want this picture to be made. I sincerely believe that." "Jerry Goldsmith on the Omen Score" (17 minutes) is a charming interview with the late composer, who I have always found to be intelligent and engaging. Finally, we have a deleted scene, a trailer, and a stills gallery. With over 10 hours of features to watch and/or listen to, there's certainly some overlap…but this is an immensely impressive batch that offers pretty much everything any fan of the film could want.
The two sequels are much thinner on supplements. Both include the theatrical trailer. Damien: Omen II gets an audio commentary from producer Harvey Bernhard, and Omen III: The Final Conflict receives a commentary from director Graham Baker. Bernhard's track is only modestly interesting, while Baker's is terrifyingly dull. I would consider both of these skippable, unless you're a diehard fan desperate to hear a little trivia. The remake of The Omen is just a bit meatier. The commentary with John Moore, Glenn Williamson, and Dan Zimmerman focuses a bit much on the technical side of things, but it's worth a listen, I suppose. In addition, there are two making-of featurettes, some extended scenes, and a trivia track.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The most genuinely Satanic thing about this collection is the packaging. A fold-out cardboard case contains the four discs, and each disc is held in place by a flimsy little piece of Styrofoam. The material the cardboard is made out of lends itself very easily to fingerprint smudges, something that I'm sure many collectors will find annoying. The cardboard case is housed inside a very thin cardboard box that would get crushed quite easily in the mail (in fact, that's what had happened to my copy when I received it). Those who are considering purchasing this set online should take this into consideration. Those who purchase a physical copy in the store may be annoyed to discover that none of the film details or supplements is listed on the back of the package, but rather inside the case. Thus, unless someone reads a review like this one, they will not be given any information on special features, subtitles, sound, etc. If there were annual awards for bad packaging, this would certainly be in the running.
As for complaints about the films, I have one more thing to add. Whenever someone discovers that Damien is the Anti-Christ, they immediately start running around screaming their heads off in a ridiculous manner that would force any reasonable person not to believe a word they are saying. The films depend a bit too much on such dumb contrivances, particularly the second outing.
The films look and sound reasonably good in hi-def; the supplements included with The Omen alone are extremely generous. As for the films themselves, you get a good classic horror flick, a respectable remake, one mediocre sequel, and one spectacularly good/bad sequel. Some awful packaging makes it a close call, but I'm leaning towards the positive side with this one. Some people prefer those lean, grimy slasher movies with faceless serial killers and pulsing synth soundtracks. Me, I'll take these bombastic and endearingly ambitious slices of religious horror and the accompanying large-scale Jerry Goldsmith scores. It's all a matter of taste, really. Bearing that in mind, this collection is recommended.
Not guilty. We would punish Damien, but judging by the conclusion of Omen III: The Final Conflict, someone has all ready taken care of that for us. Court is adjourned.
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