While we do admit that Judge Dennis Prince does bear an intriguing birthmark of his own, we apologize for his continually hoisting up his judge's robe to show it off.
He's the beginning of the end.
Following the movie-going scare sensation known as The Exorcist, executive producer Mace Neufeld believed he had a similar thriller just waiting to be unleashed upon skittish audiences. After having been turned down by every major studio, he called in a few favors and found 20th Century Fox and an unproven big-screen director to bring forth his chilling prophecy of evil becoming incarnate on Earth. The film was 1976's The Omen and it became a blockbuster sensation that once again challenged audiences to decide whether they believe in the Evil One and if they're confident that the Divine Host has unequivocally secured the salvation of mankind.
With the recent remake of the original, Fox Home Entertainment again presents the chilling tale of good versus evil in this expanded The Omen—Special Edition DVD.
Say your prayers…
Facts of the Case
"Look…he's a perfectly healthy boy. We have nothing to worry about with him…physically or…or otherwise."
Katherine Thorn (Lee Remick, The Medusa Touch) will have none of it—she adamantly dismisses any notion that her cherub-like five-year-old son could be ill or otherwise maladjusted. She had so badly wanted this child and simply refuses to concede that there may be a matter with little Damien (Harvey Stephens, The Omen, 2006). Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck, Cape Fear), recently assigned the office of U.S. Ambassador, fears otherwise. He allowed Katherine to be presented with a different baby in that Rome hospital, stunned at the news that her natural child had died just moments following its birth. Fearing his wife simply could not tolerate the heart-wrenching truth, he accepted Father Spiletto's (Martin Benson, The Human Factor) suggestion to "adopt" another child whose mother died during delivery. But with the strange goings on now enveloping the Thorns and the persistent assertions by the odd Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger), he who insists Damien is not the human child he appears to be, Robert begins to wonder if his deception of several years ago could have devastating effect.
The Omen became a surprise hit of the summer of 1976, largely fueled by the pre-release of the novelization some weeks prior and spurred by a pervasive ad campaign that warned citizens to take special note of any odd occurrences around them. The tale struck a sensitive nerve with readers and, ultimately, filmgoers as it proposed that Evil could become incarnate on Earth in the most unlikely of forms, that of an innocent infant. This notion resonated with audiences who would soon playfully assess the behaviors of their own children—or those with whom they came in contact—in regards that any unwelcome actions could be sign of a devilish presence within. Almost immediately, the name "Damien" became synonymous to evil or devilishness and current pop culture quickly adopted the assertion that each of us should be on the lookout for the prophesied Mark of the Beast—"666"—on any child that acted out of turn. For 20th Century Fox and the filmmakers, this translated into box office gold.
After the intense theological controversy that befell 1973's The Exorcist, it seemed such material could be hit or miss with movie audiences, movie critics, and church bodies. In the original script for The Omen—formerly titled The Anti-Christ and The Birthmark—screenwriter/novelist David Seltzer had focused quite sharply upon the stark Biblical aspects of the Devil made incarnate, material that made Alan Ladd, Jr., head of 20th Century Fox at the time, appropriately uneasy. He commanded Seltzer to remove the definitive spiritual elements and, instead, craft the story in a more ambiguous fashion that would provide plausible (albeit starkly coincidental) explanations for the dreadful events that occurred. It was a shrewd move since it allowed audiences of varying religious convictions to accept the plot's progression on their own terms and by their own individual rationalizations. This shift from Seltzer's original draft also gave greater depth to the overall interpretation of the film, that which actually centers upon Robert Thorn, not Damien. It begins with Thorn's original deception—his original sin?—to accept the baby Damien yet not disclose the matter to his wife. Arguably, what follows could then be the price Thorn must pay for such immense indiscretion. Still, that too could be countered as being too overarching and that all the gruesome events that unfold around Thorn are coincidences, horrific as they are, and can be logically explained. This effectively gives credence to the assertion that Thorn is slowly losing his grip on reality, actually tipping to insanity, as he's implored and embattled by those around him, especially by photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner, Time After Time), who presents his own evidence that the tragic occurrences are being foretold through his camera lens. And, in the end, the script is perfect in its ambiguity whether Damien is at the heart of the mishaps of if there will be more hell to pay if this presumably innocent child isn't stopped.
What seemed to resonate most with audiences of the day were the various on-screen deaths. Following the visual shock presented by The Exorcist, it seemed this horror tale would likewise need to startle viewers with an unflinching depiction of human death and dismemberment. The film excelled here and was essentially delivered with the same sort of structure that the later "slasher" pictures would adopt. The Omen was an excursion into the realm of visual shock and graphic violence that left audiences squirming over what they might see next. Although slightly dated by today's effects standards, it still delivers carnage in an unsettling manner. This, shrouded in the swirling uncertainty of the presence of evil or insanity, maintains the film's horror impact today.
Much is owed to the presence of screen legend Gregory Peck in the role of Robert Thorn. He is immediately recognizable, by name and on sight, and brings an unmistakable level of credibility to the proceedings. Although easily identifiable by his numerous performances that went before this, Peck quickly disappears into the character of Thorn, allowing the viewer to effectively forget about the "actor" and, more preferably, become drawn into the exploits and struggles of the character. What does linger of Peck's accomplished body of work is his unmistakable professional pedigree, which makes the Thorn character immediately believable and statesmanlike. Therefore, as he dismisses assertions that Damien is actually the Anti-Christ come to Earth, we too see this as ludicrous and paranoid; how could such a dignified man like this possibly accept the absurd charges lain before him? However, as the situation unravels and he begins to give credence to the potential evil he has brought onto himself and his wife, he effectively convinces us that otherwise fantastical revelation might be possible.
Lee Remick is likewise immediately believable in her role as the mother who will defend her child and rebuff any claims that he's troublesome, problematic, or otherwise unhealthy. Doubt begins to creep into her character's mind as she withstands Damien's violent outburst at the church and witnesses his disconcerting affect on the wildlife park's animals. When she becomes the actual target of Damien's affronts, her rejection of the boy in deference to her own survival is painful yet plausible. Remick's performance, though sadly constrained to too few scenes, is spot on and adds to the genuine despair the viewers feel, they who know the secret her husband has been keeping from her up to this point.
Little Harvey Stephens is perfectly cast in the role of Damien. He doesn't speak much, but his gaze and his quirky smirks are incredibly unsettling. Again, the fact that the audience is in on the great deception at hand helps make Stephen's otherwise innocent expressions immediately translate to a deviousness that brings on genuine squirming as the dark proceedings unfold. Coupled with the downright creepy performance by Billie Whitelaw (Frenzy) as the caretaker, Mrs. Baylock, the two are partners in evil and present a formidable force to be reckoned with. David Warner's photographer, Jennings, is suitable, yet the otherwise stellar actor isn't given much to work with—Jennings serves more as a plot device to propel and provide exposition to the events on screen.
When Ladd accepted Neufeld's proposal, he stipulated that Richard Donner was to direct the picture. With only TV projects to his credit (including Get Smart!, Kojak, and The Six Million Dollar Man), Donner was eager for a chance to direct a big screen feature. He worked closely with Neufeld, Seltzer, and producer Harvey Bernhard (The Lost Boys) to guide the final result into becoming a smash hit. It's impressive box office receipts were enough to keep the financially struggling Fox studio from going under and was responsible for providing requisite funding for another Fox project, an inauspicious sci-fi film called Star Wars.
Capitalizing on the 2006 remake, this new two-disc special edition comes along to remarket many of the features found on the September 2000 and the more recent The Omen Collection DVD releases. First up is the anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. As before, this transfer, though virtually spotless, is afflicted with consistent softness that prevents it from being regarded as a high-value remastering effort. The overall look is somewhat drab and dull and the saturation strangely vacillates from washed out to overdone (skin tones are often too reddish in some standard lit scenes). The black levels are better managed yet also get a bit pale looking, seemingly in need of a contrast boost. Compression artifacting was thankfully restricted to just a couple of moments of moiré effect brought on by the busy clothing patterns of the day. The audio, previously remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, is likewise a disappointment. The dialogue isn't well managed and you'll need to turn up the volume to hear what's being said. This, of course, leaves you exposed to jarring musical cues when the more active sequences roll along. Thankfully, the film's original mono track is included and may be preferable in lieu of altering the settings of your surround system. In all, it's not an entirely awful transfer but it certainly lacks the sort of punch and clarity—both aural and visual—we've come to expect these days.
In regards to the extras, there are certainly plenty here, some old and a few new. Disc One contains the feature film and offers a repeat appearance of the audio commentary between Richard Donner and editor Stuart Baird. It's a jovial exchange of observations and, while it's fun to listen to them, they don't offer very much intrinsic detail. Thankfully, this new DVD includes a second newly recorded commentary in which Donner is joined by the uninvolved writer/director Brian Helgeland. As odd as it seems, Helgeland serves as an effective moderator and pries more details out of Donner this time around. To this end, the commentary is the superior of the two and a true boon to fans of the film. Disc One also includes the previous "Curse or Coincidence," a six-minute short where Donner and other crew members provide details of odd, dangerous, and outright tragic events afflicted those involved in the production. Also repeated is "Jerry Goldsmith Discusses The Omen Score" and an anamorphic theatrical trailer.
Disc Two also contains previously-release material including the documentary, "666: The Omen Revealed." New to this release, though, is the inclusion of the AMC documentary, "The Omen Legacy." This hefty 101-minute exposé narrated by Jack Palance retraces each of the Omen pictures with plenty of scenes and interviews; it's a welcome addition to this release. Another treat is the deleted Dog Attack Scene (with optional commentary by Donner), referenced in the previous release but not included, until now. A strange addition is "An Appreciation: Wes Craven on The Omen." There's not much to this sit-down discussion with Craven since he generally just speaks praise for the original film. "Screenwriter's Notebook" provides a new interview with Seltzer as he candidly discusses his scripts and how he wasn't very interested to work on the film outside of the fact that it would sustain his livelihood. It all wraps up with an extensive photo gallery.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you're tired of being tempted by double- and triple-dip releases of films, you may choose to resist this new two-disc set. If it does have any merits, it is a most complete collection of the film and supplemental material available in a single package. The additional features here are quite good and make for recommended viewing, but if you're merely looking for an upgrade to the feature transfer itself, you're best advised to skip over this one.
Despite its obvious age, The Omen still embodies a requisite amount of dread and creepiness to make it effective today. It's certainly not a cheap jump-fest but, rather, an interesting excursion into a realm where all that seems coincidental may, in fact, not be. Then again, perhaps there's a simple logical explanation for all of it. You'll have to decide for yourself and, for that reason, the film succeeds in making its delivery very personal.
You've been warned.
Despite the triple-dip at hand here, this new release is suitable enough to be considered worthy of a spot in any horror fan's film library.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio commentary: Director Richard Donner & Editor Stuart Baird
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