*. Though it did decent box office, or really very good box office for its slight budget, I’d missed this version of The Omen entirely when it came out and so went into it now not expecting much of anything. I’m sure I didn’t have my hopes up, probably figuring it was going to be just another one of the dismal twenty-first century horror resets that didn’t go anywhere (see, for example, my notes on the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and Child’s Play) .
*. The first thing that struck me was David Seltzer’s name appearing in the credits for the screenplay. Seltzer had done the screenplay for The Omen (1976) and I thought it curious he would have come back to do this after not wanting to be involved in the sequel Omen II.
*. Well, actually he wasn’t involved in this at all. The screenwriter who had been working on a new script was denied a credit by the Writers Guild because it was deemed to be too close to Seltzer’s original. Which it certainly is, both for the story and much of the dialogue, which is repeated verbatim. This, in turn, leads to a number of further reflections.
*. In the first place, why bother? This is something a number of critics wondered about at the time. The review by Peter Travers in Rolling Stone may be taken as representative: “Not since Gus Van Sant inexplicably directed a shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho has a thriller been copied with so little point or impact.”
*. I’m just as baffled at what the point was in sticking so closely to the original. On the DVD commentary there’s an exchange at the beginning where director John Moore is asked about the use of news footage of recent human catastrophes like floods, 9/11, and even the Challenger explosion as suggesting the coming of the Antichrist. I found his response very odd. “Oh yeah, that’s mostly the point here, is that the Beast, the Antichrist, will be a man-made entity, and that most of the ills that befall us are man made.” The “point of the remake,” he goes on to say “was to give it [these disasters] context.”,
*. So the heralds of Revelation, the opening of the seven seals, are all human in origin. Things like war and climate change. So why does the devil need Damien? And can the forces of faith fight rising sea waters? Or fix defective O-rings? If this was the “point of the remake” you can colour me confused.
*. Another point that I questioned with regard to sticking to the original script is that it was far from flawless in the first place. If you’re free to make changes, why not? Why not fix the character of Father Brennan, who can’t keep his act together for just the couple of minutes he needs to try and convince Thorn of what’s going on? He finally gets access to this powerful figure and he has to lead off with cries for him to drink the blood of his saviour and find Jesus?
*. OK, he’s a kook. One of the good guys, but still a kook. But here’s another point in Seltzer’s script that should have been reworked. It comes when Thorn has finally been convinced that Damien is a demonic force, responsible for his wife’s death (and indirectly the death of two of his unborn children). He’s just finished listening to all of Bugenhagen’s spiel (which he accepts as true), when . . . he suddenly develops scruples. Damien is just a child, Thorn can’t go through with it, and he even throws the daggers of Megiddo away. I didn’t think that made any sense in the original and it’s a problem they did nothing to fix here.
*. They also made no attempt to fix a stupid factual error in the original: a single line where Jennings says that the place name Megiddo is derived from Armageddon, when it’s the other way around. Talk about an easy fix! Did nobody care that this was wrong? Did nobody know?
*. Perhaps we’re just getting stupider. In the original when Thorn digs up the grave of Damien’s mother and finds the skeleton of a jackal he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to because it was assumed the audience would have followed along. Here he has to explain what it means to Jennings, and to us. It’s no longer a safe assumption that audiences will keep up or be paying attention.
*. As a final point on the question of why they would want to keep the remake so close to the original there is the fact that all of the signature scenes from thirty years earlier are just repeated here, without finding any way to improve on them. Damien’s freakout in the car going to church is just done through rapid editing. The trip to the zoo is more a trip the mall with some apes improbably in glass cages. Except for one gorilla they don’t seem too upset. Father Brennan is speared again with a falling lightning rod, the only difference being that the rod smashes through some stained glass first.
*. Then there’s the decapitation scene, which by the time it comes was about the only thing that had me still interested. I guess it’s neatly done, in a sort of Rube Goldberg-Final Destination sort of way. But still not up to the original.
*. I wouldn’t suggest it as a general rule, but still: anytime a horror movie indulges this much thunder and lightning you start to think it’s in trouble, trying to give itself any extra support it can get.
*. A good cast. I was wondering what happened to Julia Stiles. I hadn’t seen her in anything since all the Shakespeare adaptations she’d been in a few years earlier. Liev Schreiber does his best. Mia Farrow, the devil’s mother, is back as the devil’s nanny. Ha-ha. She’s good, but I’d still give the nod to Billie Whitelaw. David Thewlis is still getting hyped on the number of the beast. I wonder if they considered having him do the same routine he did in Naked. Would that have been too obvious? Pete Postlethwaite steals every scene as Father Brennan. Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick not saying much but looking more consciously evil than Harvey Stephens (who shows up here in a cameo as a reporter).
*. I wouldn’t call this movie a disaster, though at the same time I can’t think of a single thing it does better than the original, which was, in turn, only a happy bit of a trash. Well, maybe the way Miss Baylock kills Damien’s mom in the hospital. That’s properly sickening. But as far as sequels go this was, along with most of the other horror resets coming out at the same time, stillborn. Surely there’s a message here that we may not have needed any of these franchise offspring. It did, however, make a lot of money so I suppose we haven’t seen the last of this devil yet.