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Q&A: The Omen (1976) Movie

Movie: The Omen (1976) – Questions and Answers

This time, I concluded the unholy trilogy from Hollywood with The Omen, likely one of the most supposedly curse films surpassing the claims of The Exorcist and equaling that of Poltergeist. Director Richard Donner noted these incidents plaguing the production and the PR firms championed them during the production, however if one looks at Richard’s credits, he benefited incredibly well from this hellish movie. One of the most interesting aspects of the movie, it all really questions is how these actions involve the child Damien. Spoilers lay ahead, as always, and this article written while listening to The Omen Soundtrack and watching the film on Easter.

Did the film The Omen (1976)  have other titles?

Yes, both Birthmark, although dismissed for a twofold reason, first due to the filming in Italy, the mothers-to-be thought it as bad omens tying the film concept with this association, this then to the fear that anyone with an oddly formed birthmark might become under attack or ostracized. The Antichrist, also had the reigning position of the title however, the producers as well Donner thought better of it, as they wanted hide who or what was influencing these terrible acts.

First, what is The Omen about and Is it a horror film?

We have American diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) whose wife Katherine (Lee Remick) just gave birth to their son, in Italy, however he didn’t survive after one breath and he died, Robert can’t bear to inform his wife of the tragedy and agrees to take a different newborn whose mother passed on from childbirth. As time elapses their son Damien (Harvey Stephens) returns to London and a series of strange events occur, including the hanging of Damien’s nanny who is then replaced by Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw) and the meeting of Father Brennan.  Who’s child is he raising, the Antichrist’s? After all the movie does use real and false scripture, poems, and yet touches on many real theologian statements such as the reference to a man’s number – six hundred and sixty-six [Revelation 13:18], but it never relies solely on it, thereby allowing all viewers to decide who or what controls fate and testing their faith in some manner too.

As for the second part of this question a tad more layered, first Peck, sworn off the horror genre completely, this movie though sold to him on the basis of a psychological-religious thriller which he accepted, although in disguise it’s a horror film without excessive gore or blood loss. If one reviews Peck’s career they see he did dramas and thrillers, among those Cape fear (1965) and worked with the legendary Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock on his film Spellbound (1945). Therefore, it’s both, but most fans to claim it as a horror movie solely.

A major mistake claimed by fans, what could that be?

Many articles claim that The Omen found itself released on June 6, 1976, i.e. a reference to 6/6/76, however that was actually a Sunday, and films don’t find themselves released on the last day of the weekend in almost all cases. The actual date of June 25, 1976, a Friday marked its official release, although the remake claims the more ominous date of 6/6/06.

Speaking of Peck, was he always the first choice?

No, in fact a slew of other name actors had their names tossed about for the project such as Charlton Heston, who panned thinking as far too cheesy concept, William Holden also skipped mention the satanic aspects distasteful. Then others, which included Roy Scheider, Dick Van Dyke, and Charles Bronson skipped on the project. However, Holden accepted the lead in 1978 sequel and Heston did a similar movie in 1980 called The Awakening. Another reason Peck took the role, his career started to slide, and retirement thoughts flooded his mind especially after his son committed suicide in 1975, the role earned him both acclaimed and biggest payday of this career.

Was it difficult to cast Damienin the movie The Omen (1976) ?

It was becoming increasingly difficult to find the right little boy to play the title character, many would flash an evil grin or wince back in fear to anything exceptionally scary, at one point the thought of changing the sex of the child to a girl (which occurred in Omen IV). Then the presence of Harvey Stephens who without much coaxing attacked Donner, (the other children were told to do this action most failed miserably), he screamed, clawed, a guttural yell, and kicked him in the groin. Although one last thing happen Harvey needed his hair dyed black from blonde and given darken contact lenses.

What is the ‘interesting aspect’ Donner wanted from screenwriter David Seltzer?

Donner first didn’t want to create a standard horror film, but rather a family in crisis, and insisting it start slowly, using the metaphor of a frog in a pot with the water warming to a boil, hence a layering script with religious thrilling compelling elements. This leads to a crisis of faith within The Leader of Family, The Man, and The Father perhaps a form of insanity. Therefore, Seltzer needed to remove anything supernatural, no demons or witches’ Sabbath. A basic rule to everyone if it can’t happen in real life then it can’t occur in the movie, an order carried out both in the script, to actors and even special effects department.

Is Damien to blame for the deaths?

No, he never causes any of them, he is an innocent boy, unaware of who he actually is, think about his birthday party, he’s playing with the other children and enjoying life as a child, not wanting to wear shoes, laughter. But the dog that suddenly appears to communicate with eyes to the nanny, a freak accident kills Father Brennan, the driver of the truck hits the emergency brake which sends the vehicle and glass at Jennings. Baylock is involved in killing Katherine, and police shot Robert thorn, unsure who eliminated Thorn’s real son, but it was not Damien. Some attributed Katherine’s injury to Damien, while that’s true, first no bond is formed between them, after all, she mentions he’s alien to her, not her son, however after she falls Damien shown running back in the direction of his room and nanny Baylock perhaps to get help.

Why does Damien freak out at the church with his parents?

An interesting question that actually opens into a chasm of interpretations such as Mrs. Baylock, who informs Katherine that Damien is just too young to attend church, he won’t understand anything and likely to scare him. Now one may think that Baylock told of Damien of the dangers of this church or that upon his arrival he’s either naturally scared or knows within himself of the harms, many suggest this last one as the reason. However, incorrect, Damien really doesn’t know who or what he is until Part II, when he learns through self-discovery and his transformation of human puberty and self-awareness. As a child he doesn’t ‘act up’ until seeing the church this enormous building with angels and cross adore it, a pure fear, in the film we know he’s 5-years old and suggests he won’t understand an episcopal wedding. If one thinks about it often children create a fuss during a church service, it can be a fearful place, words such as eat this it’s the body of Christ or drink the blood of Christ, the various statues found at a Catholic church is all tad overwhelming. Then add in what lessons unbeknownst to us the audience and a chaotic moment erupts, though the parents never seem that religious, and don’t endorse any religion just like that at of The Exorcist.

Why does Father Brennan (The Omen (1976) ) have a birthmark of 3-sixes?

His role expanded and is explained further in the book, he wasn’t born with the birthmark, rather it appeared after he accepted Satan, and became a follower, a mark commonly referred to as ‘the mark of the beast’. Let’s look at why he turns his back on Satan, mainly his body riddled with cancer, and since death stalks, he’s worried of the afterlife, and hopes Christ will forgive him, but in doubt, and hence warns Robert Thorn about his so-called son. Now this opens a deeper issue, if one believes the message that Christ died for everyone’s sins, and with honest repent he will forgive all, then Brennan (portrayed by Patrick Troughton) is saved. However, if the doubt strongly rages in him, then he believes he’ll find himself cast into the lake fire.
It’s highly recommended that one read the book from screenwriter Seltzer who penned a novelization that expanded on this character greatly. Such as he came from a poor home, and fatherless his mother feeding him awful foods, orphaned taken in by priest who beat him to love God, and that led to lusts and perversions involving whippings, forbidden acts and further deeper into devil worship. I recommend reading the book too.

Who and is what Mrs. Baylock any significant to her first meeting with Damien?

She replaces the previous nanny (Holly Palance), who commits suicide, at Damien’s birthday party. Mrs. Baylock, likely married to Satan, she is a human demon, an Apostle of Hell, and teacher to Damien, however her primary appearance as a protector in this innocent age and she’s proceeded by the black pooch (who was extremely playful on set). When she sees him for the first time looking down, Damien curiously smiles up at her, as flames grow higher behind him in the fireplace (strange as what parent leaves their young child alone so close to open flames). She’s definitely the opposite of a Mary Poppins and more akin to Mrs. Mott (Peyton Flanders) from The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, speaking in calm moments, and matter of fact tones.

Why does Donner do many close-ups of the eyes in the film?

This technique shows both a hypnotic trance (similar the style of Dracula (1931) and even Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)), the conveyance of power and depth often expressed quite well by trained actors, while at the same time showing the fear. The close-ups continue from the animals to the human counterparts, such as the giraffes to Damien and then again with baboons.  Donner first tried to anger them by using a baby ape and removing it with no success, the second attempt was removal of the largest baboon, their leader, and the look from their attack shows the real panic in Stephens and Remick.  In addition, Father Spiletto (Martin Benson) who’s later shown “his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded” [Zechariah 11:17] foretelling of the coming Antichrist, an aspect hinted in the early moments of The Exorcist, in both films foreshadowing the religious mindset of the All-Seeing Eye, in other words Lucifer. Lastly, Damien’s look at the end of the film, tells us either it is all a big joke or there’s more to come such as a bigger reveal lying ahead, all while holding the hand of the President.

What curse surrounds the film, The Omen (1976) ?

Whether it’s a curse hard to state, but the film likely to have the most incidents of oddest, strangest and perhaps all secretive omens. For example, while uncommon to have a plane struck by lightning, even rarer for two different planes struck, which is what happened to both Gregory Peck and screenwriter David Seltzer as they both flew to UK to film the flick. Speaking of airplanes, Peck had acquired a ticket for a private small plane to fly him to Israel, although due to a shooting change he cancelled the ticket and five Japanese (some investigations state it was Chinese individuals) businessmen rented it instead and the flight crashed killing all aboard. This actually is only partially correct, the flight originally arranged by the studio for ariel shots, and Peck never a part of this flight, although the crash and persons aboard did die, as well as a mother and children (of one the pilots) that plane struck as it crashed. An eyewitness account details this tragedy, as the numerous sources pointed that the man’s name John Thorne. [Clue the Omen soundtrack!] A deeper uncovering noted a third lightning struck a third person’s plane executive producer Mace Neufeld, three separate times enough to anyone freak just a bit.

Director Richard Donner whose career blossomed wonderfully after the film’s release did have his hotel in the UK bombed by the IRA (though some sources stated it was next door) and he also found himself sideswiped by a car. An additional note on the explosions Neufeld stayed at a hotel that blew up by a bomb from IRA and days later a trendy London restaurant met its fate with another bombing, in both cases Mace missed the events by a few hours. Even an extra, who played the taxi driver almost lost his thumb, as Peck’s hand slipped and accidentally swung a car door on the gentleman’s hand. Let us remain with cars the crew, on the first day of shooting a few of the crew were in a head-on accident, all reported safe and made it to the set, while Harvey Bernhard, the producer had an accident with another driver traveling in the wrong direction from a side street and demolished his driver’s side door.

However, the fates aligned again for Harvey in Rome, where lightning just missed him. Sticking with nature’s wraith where a portion of the crew stay near Hadrian’s Gate lightning struck at their location as well as a violent storm.

Of course, animals found themselves as part of the madness with a game warden at the zoo a few weeks later he became a meal for a lion attack and Terry Walsh, David Warner’s stunt double severely injured by one of the dogs at the pivotal cemetery scene. The incident shocked everyone, especially since the few rehearsals and walkthroughs all went smoothly. Even the weird events continued after filming finished, while in post-production as some of the crew went to work on a War-Drama called A Bridge to Far (1977), first involving long working and professional stuntman Alf Joint who injured himself badly falling off a rooftop and missing the air mattress (a gag which worked fine in rehearsal). Then the worst thing possible occurred on August 13, a Friday in 1976, Liz Moore died in car accident with John Richardson in his BMW had a head-on collision resulting in the beheading of Moore (eerily similar to Jennings on-screen death), in the Netherlands, near a town called Ommen. As for a road sign marker of 66.6 km this seems to be urban legend, folklore spread amongst countless websites or just more sensationalism as all evidence currently contains no supportive data or resource to fact check it properly.

Of most recently Harvey Stephens (who had a cameo role in the remake version) had unexplained rash moment of road rage attacking and hurting two cyclists near Westerham, Kent he later learned he received a suspended sentence on Jan 13, 2017, a Friday. He clearly admitted to the incident but remains unsure why it happened or what caused the sudden rage in his behavior.

Most ridiculous claim to the film?

Some stated the film secretly inspired the Son of Sam (July 29, 1976 – July 31, 1977) and his defense of state claimed to be obeying orders of a demon in the form of a dog, such as in the film with the devilish communication between the Rottweiler and the first nanny of The Omen released on June 25, 1976.

What is unique about Jennings’ death?

First when he (David Warner) shows the photograph of himself that captured in the mirror the line (which implies the threat from the Devil/or impending doom) goes clear through his neck, premonition to his beheading, but it goes further, when the incident occurs, and his head comes to a rest it is reflecting in a mirror like surface. The creation of the scene took days to work out the bugs, originally planned for the glass to fall vertical and slice off Jennings head, however John Richardson couldn’t make it work (remember long before digital effects and CGI), Donner wanted the scene. Therefore, Richardson suggested a horizontal beheading, only two issues lack of funds and had to justify it as possible real-life accident (hence explained away), the truck contains the sheets of glass and the driver inadvertently hits the handbrake. Now one must note the scene works the best thanks to both the editor and using lessons learned from Hitchcock, as Donner explained in many interviews, the typical audience member sees the impending horror, hides (overts) their eyes, for at least 3-seconds. But the infamous head spinning works strangely enough allowing a rotation for approximately 5-seconds, thereby capturing the screams and cries from the viewers.  A side note the actor Warner stated never to witness the actual scene and it took years before he could look at it, although he once noted he lost it in the divorce.

What makes Jerry Gokldsmith’s musis in 1976’s The Omen so memorable?

The music uses reverse Latin and opposite choral for example instead of Halleluiah and Praise Jesus, the title track Ave Satani (Hail Satan) matches the power of the famed soundtrack from The Exorcist. Goldsmith’s music contains elements that work more with the mysterious religious thriller and a straight-up horror movie. It allows for wonderful inferences and capturing the audience for upcoming thrills and chills, in addition conjuring deep seeded suggestions that in one scene used for something evil and another time the same piece as good, thereby luring the viewers into a false sense of security.

Did the film lead to any Awards, Collectibles and/or a Franchise?

Yes, composer Jerry Goldsmith finally won a famed Oscar (his only) and in fact actually wasn’t going to attend, since he became tired of losing, he planned on skipping it, however something compelled to attend and hope a good omen.  In addition, to celebrate Jerry’s 80th birthday the Tenerife Film Orchestra and Choir in 2009, led by Diego Navarro performed the various music selections of his compositions including the famed Ave Satani. In fact, the legendary track Ave Satani adopted into many versions used by or playing to tribute to either The Omen but more often to the dark arts by Black Metal. Although many critics and fans state the bands, Death SS give the most honest cover of song from their Horror Music Vol. 2 compilation album of 2014 while Gregorian delivers a wonderful version as well. The soundtrack led to 40th anniversary limited edition released by Varese Sarabande one of the few collectibles, aside from the posters and lobby cards as well as the novels, however the company Living Dead Dolls issued an early version of Damien.

The film led to 4 sequels, a remake released on June 6, 2006 (referencing Damien’s birthday), a limited television series run and loosely connected comedic film called Little Evil (2017). Those movies include Damien: Omen II (1978), The Final Conflict (1981), and Omen IV: The Awakening (1991) a TV Movie.

A side note it was not Donner’s intention to show Damien at the end of the film, rather one of the producers who authorized a few more funds to give a sinister feeling to the audiences. This concludes The Omen’s Q&A, remember the Antichrist sees in the darkness very well, do you, and his power equally disturbing but we all live by our own warnings and omens good and bad, such as things coming in three’s. However, face it every parent checks under their child’s hairline for the three 6’s.

One comment

  1. Great article! June 25 was selected as the release date because it’s the exact opposite of December 25, ie the birthdate of the anti-Christ.

     

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