Judge Brett Cullum politely pretends not to notice that The Final Conflict actually isn't.
Our reviews of The Omen (published September 25th, 2000), The Omen: Collector's Edition (published June 26th, 2006), and The Omen Collection (Blu-Ray) (published October 20th, 2008) are also available.
From The Omen:
From Damien: Omen II:
From The Final Conflict:
From The Omen IV: The Awakening
Woman at party (after Delia has bitten a doll): She almost bit the head
Funny to think that even in the '70s, Armageddon and the end of the world was just around the corner. Thirty years ago things were as apocalyptic as they are now: the economy was in a funk; gas prices were soaring due to a shortage produced by unrest in the Middle East; free love had gone too far, turning marriage in to a mockery as Baby Boomer couples divorced at alarming new highs; women's lib threatened the nuclear family; gay rights became a hot topic—and The Exorcist had convinced everyone the Devil was real and working his evil plans through children. Something was in the air, and people were begging for more supernatural thrills to take their minds off real woes. The Omen appeared in 1976, creating a sensation with its idea of a little boy who could be the foretold coming of the anti-Christ. The film was a strong, spooky potboiler directed by Richard Donner (Superman). It proved that America's fascination with giving the devil his due was far from over, after lapping up a little girl who spewed pea soup. Damien Thorn became a sensation and a pop icon. Three sequels later the legacy faces a new evil incarnation—a reimagining. To tie in with the 2006 remake of the original epic about Damien Thorn, Fox is releasing a new two disc version of the original first film to cash in on the fervor sure to surround the arrival of 06-06-06. DVD Verdict was sent a copy of the long out-of-print The Omen Collection which should also see the light of day soon (either in this or another configuration). So stop hunting down bootleg or hard to find copies on eBay, because Damien is back full force to quench your thirst for a sacrilegious marathon of movies where a little child grows to become the son of the Devil. Stylish deaths, over the top musical chants, and creepy animals are all here to make the most of the coming Rapture. Of course it's all done Hollywood style with aging legendary stars, gorgeous sets, and the allure of wealthy people raising a hell spawn who will inherit a political dynasty and corporation that will destroy the world.
Facts of the Case
The Omen 1976
Damien: Omen II 1978
The Final Conflict 1981
Omen IV: The Awakening 1991
The first film in the series is more gothic mystery than anything else, with a central question of whether Damien Thorn is indeed who people says he is. The Omen is the most intriguing and solidly built of the franchise. If you're going to grab one title, it's the one to buy. Richard Donner directed the hell out of this film; the suspense is palpable. Everything is perfectly in place: mysterious deaths, chanting choirs, frightening coincidences, and a prophecy that seems unstoppable. The Omen becomes a slasher flick with an unseen killer. People die in what appears to be accidents or suicides, and the deaths are spectacularly gruesome. The jaw dropping deaths became a trademark of the series.
The only thing more memorable than the murders by unseen demonic forces is the musical score by Jerry Goldsmith. The composer won a richly deserved Oscar for his work on The Omen, and his music became a character all its own. Goldsmith worked on the first three films, and was heavily quoted in the fourth. Without his memorable music the series would be far less creepy or effective. Students of film scoring could learn an entire semester of theory about soundtracks just by viewing these films. The right piece at the right time makes the tension unbearable.
The casts are all uniformly good (yes, I include the fourth film in that statement). Gregory Peck and Lee Remick in the first chapter make wonderful parents. Peck took a percentage of the gross, and it became his most lucrative movie role. Remick was under contract with the studio, and her portrayal of Kathy Thorn is her most memorable performance. And who could forget Billie Whitelaw (Quills) as the demonic nanny who protects Damien? Harvey Stephens plays the cherubic Damien in the first film (look for him as a tabloid reporter in the 2006 remake). William Holden and Lee Grant play the adoptive parents in the second film. Holden was the first choice for the original, and he passed—but would not make the same mistake twice. The two veterans make a great pair. Sylvia Sydney (Beetlejuice) makes her mark as Damien's Aunt Marion. Jonathan Scott-Taylor (Shadey) got to play the more aware, yet still torn, teenaged rendition of the Devil's son. In the third film Sam Neill gets to chew the scenery in his first major American film role. He's wonderful as the adult Damien Thorn, hellbent on world domination and fully aware of his destiny. In the fourth film it is Faye Grant (no relation to Lee, and star of the television miniseries V) who stands out as a great mother to the Beast that "will consume the world."
The scripts are the things that vary the wildly from film to film. To break it down in easy terms:
The Omen is a true classic with no flaws to be found. It holds its own even today as a thrilling ride with shocking revelations. You know from the onset who Damien is, but the fun is watching all the other characters find out. The mythology around his birth is so twisted, it remains breathtaking even by modern standards. The Omen will always be a horror classic for good reason. Donner played everything without sentimentality or camp, it was pitch perfect in comparison to the excess that took over the franchise in the sequels.
Damien: Omen II lacks the element of surprise, but still makes for an entertaining sequel with a unique struggle inside Damien. Seeing Damien fight with his destiny is a neat idea for a second chapter, and the thrills are inventive. Of particular note is an under-ice sequence that is horrifying for its creativity. Unfortunately, cool ideas such as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Whore of Babylon turned human get short shrift, and it seems the film only exists to knock people out of the way with ravens, elevators, and knives.
The Omen III: The Final Conflict is the weakest of the theatrical releases, but maintains a gothic thrill no matter how blasphemous or hokey it gets. The final confrontation seems rushed and anticlimactic. Still, it's fun to see Sam Neill take on the role of an unrepentant adult Antichrist. Seeing him squirm around naked in his own private Satan prayer room is a hoot and a half. The deaths are completely over the top, and a baby killing spree crosses the line into offensive territory. But any movie with a wicked fox hunt and seven crazy priests with magic knives is all right in my book. I just wish the whole thing had been called Seven Knives for Seven Brothers.
Omen IV: The Awakening never rises to the level of the rest of the series, but could be considered a guilty pleasure—if a predictable one. It doesn't offer much, but provides at least a few memorable sequences such as a chaotic fire at a psychic fair (too funny). Delia (the female incarnation of Damien) dispatches all sorts of New Age worshippers, and also has it in for snake handlers. Seems the devil hates hippies, too.
Now don't get your hopes up high. The set I am reviewing is not a double dip, or even an improvement of the original The Omen Collection Fox released five years ago. The product given to DVD Verdict was the original release to promote the coming new movie, and sounds like some of these will crop up at stores again around the time the remake is released. It's the identical discs, extras, and the old transfers, all housed in the same packaging. If you get your hands on this one you'll notice the transfers were solid by 2001 standards, but a little uneven compared to what we are used to today. Ah hell, even retired Judge Harold Gervais (who wrote a review for the first movie at the Verdict) noticed The Omen's transfer was wonky back in 2001. All four movies are in widescreen, and the first one looks the best. Still, all of them are wildly inconsistent looking too colorful at some points and washed out in others. They're decent transfers of each film, but not spectacular. I imagine the new collector's edition of The Omen will be more consistent with less red flesh tones and natural color. The sound mixes are stereo, and usually do well by Jerry Goldsmith's score. Nothing to really complain about, except the let down that we didn't get a full five speaker mix. For some damn reason Omen IV sports a four speaker mix. I can only hope Fox will retool the entire series for a new collection, but all signs point to a rerelease with these discs intact with a possible inclusion of the latest edition of The Omen.
The first three films get commentaries as the main extras. All three tracks are superb examples of informative and entertaining tracks. The best is for The Omen with director Richard Donner and editor Stuart Baird. They bounce off each other with pointed comments about how CGI would screw their movie up (they recorded this before the remake was announced). Damien: Omen II gets narration from producer Harvey Bernhard who stayed with the series through the fourth film. He's a treasure trove of franchise history, and does well in his track. The Final Conflict is illuminated by director Graham Baker (who replaced a proposed return of Donner). Baker lapses quite a few times in his commentary, but remains engaging. The first film is supported by three in-depth featurettes which covers the making of the film, the score, and an alleged curse of the film's set. Omen IV: The Awakening gets a bare bones treatment.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A lot of people remark how Biblically accurate these movies are, including many featured in the documentaries about the films. Well, that's a load of bunk even with the religious advisors each film hired. Anyone remember this quote from The Omen?
Father Brennan: When the Jews return to Zion / And a comet rips the sky / And the Holy Roman Empire rises, / Then You and I must die. / From the eternal sea he rises, / Creating armies on either shore, / Turning man against his brother / 'Til man exists no more.
Don't go hunting down your Bibles for it, because it was completely made up for the film.
Damien: Omen II plays fast and loose with the Bible as well. Damien reads aloud from Revelation 13 but what he reads is actually cobbled together from separate sections of the Bible. In order, they are Revelation 13:4, 19:19, Daniel 8:25 and concluding with Revelation 13:16-18. He must have one of those "easy read" Bibles that conveniently gives only scripture related to the end of the world.
The Final Conflict adds its own theatrical non-Biblical flourishes with one sequence in particular. In the scene where Damien is "praying" to Satan in his own private sanctuary, parts of his speech are taken directly from the novel Lą-Bas (Down There) by J K Huysmans (1891). In the novel the central character hears the lines whilst attending a Black Mass. And don't look for the events of the Rapture or Armageddon to transpire here, instead we are treated to a haphazard plot without the dead rising or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Then Omen IV: The Awakening seems to create its own religious iconography with black crystals and New Age trappings added illogically to the ridiculous plot. It has no Biblical precedence since it takes the story in to uncharted waters outside of the typical Armageddon plot featured in the first three films.
Watching The Omen Collection made me realize how loopy all the continuity is between the four films. If you haven't seen all the movies you may want to skip this paragraph entirely since I will list nagging spoilerish issues that make my brain hurt. At the end of The Omen Damien is supposedly whisked away by what appears to be the President of the United States, yet in Damien: Omen II this never gets mentioned and he's with his uncle. The boy was born in 1976, but he's 12 in 1978, and 32 in 1981. Huh? He's the only ambassador to England I know that got the job when he was five years old! The Final Conflict adjusted the entire time line of Damien's life to suit its own purposes, and altered well known Biblical prophecy. At the end Damien says "You have won nothing.," and falls over deader than dead on an altar in front of a glowing specter that is assumed to be Jesus (honestly it looks like an animated velvet painting with good lighting). According to the previous movie mythology it would take all seven daggers to kill him, and he is taken down by a single blow to the back without the knife still in there? Then how do we arrive with Delia carrying on the evil legacy in Omen IV: The Awakening? It makes no sense given that The Final Conflict really should have cleansed the world with the Second Coming. Funny how people in the made for television story forgot about that in the ten years between this film and the last. Jesus came, and people ignored Him I suppose.
The Omen Collection feels like a wonderful batch of Hammer Horror classics complete with grand sets, glamorous Hollywood actors, and spectacular deaths done with an undeniably devilish style. I'm tempted to say they don't make them like this anymore, but I fear the remake will attempt it. You can't mess with perfection, and The Omen Collection has moments in each film where perfection is reached with a dazzling score, solid acting, and bizarre action sequences. Truth be told, only The Omen holds up well even today. Yet as each chapter unspooled in my DVD player, I was riveted to them all (yes, even the lame made for television one sucked me in). Even when the series submits to campy excess and ridiculous plotting it remains entertaining.
So why do these films work so damn well? At the core of all the thrills and satanic rites, there's a universal note that plays to popular culture. The Omen resonated like Rosemary's Baby or The Exorcist, because it's a parents worst nightmare. Most parents think their children are perfect, and yet every generation seems to be "the one that will destroy us." Think back to the talk about "Generation X" being slackers that would take down the system by the time they turned thirty. Compare that with how we malign today's youth for being out of touch tech junkies who can't communicate with live people. It's a generational fear the youth will destroy us and bring the world closer to the brink of the end. Add to this the perverse joy of seeing the beautiful, rich, and powerful couples of The Omen Collection realize they are unleashing the end of days with their perfect son or daughter. I can hear the Hiltons screaming now as Kathy prepares to shave Paris's head to look for the sign (or a more appropriate part of her anatomy). The idea that someone's child is pure evil is too easy to believe, and a hell of a lot of fun.
Funny how on the eve of the thirtieth anniversary, The Omen seems just as real and palpable as ever. The world once again seems on the brink of destruction as oil prices soar, divorce rates seem to rise, the economy slumps, women rule the work place, gays fight for rights, and family values (whatever the hell that means) are threatened. I believe it is time for a revisit of the series, and if you can track down The Omen Collection is well worth your time.
The Omen Collection is a sacrilegious four pack about the Antichrist. Be truthful. How many people checked their heads for the "mark of the beast" after seeing The Omen? At the very least you probably checked your friend's heads. Luckily, nobody ever found the triple six, or at least never admitted it. I'd be willing to lay bets the real anti-Christ has been born, and could be where we least expect it. Some would say he is hiding in the Middle East, or perhaps in the corridors of the White House. But I think those are too obvious. I'm guessing he's somewhere on network television…in a reality show…and people will vote for him…[cue chanting Latin chorus] on American Idol.
Guilty of being one hell of a fun ride.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, The Omen
Perp Profile, The Omen
Distinguishing Marks, The Omen
• Commentary with Director Richard Donner and Film Editor Stuart Baird
Scales of Justice, Damien: Omen II
Perp Profile, Damien: Omen II
Distinguishing Marks, Damien: Omen II
• Commentary by Producer Harvey Bernhard
Scales of Justice, Omen III: The Final Conflict
Perp Profile, Omen III: The Final Conflict
Distinguishing Marks, Omen III: The Final Conflict
• Commentary by Director Graham Baker
Scales of Justice, Omen IV: The Awakening
Perp Profile, Omen IV: The Awakening
Distinguishing Marks, Omen IV: The Awakening
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