Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck of To Kill A Mockingbird) is in the hospital awaiting the birth of his son. When a priest comes up to him and tells him that the boy has died in childbirth, things seem pretty destitute but the priest who breaks the news to him convinces him to adopt a baby who has just lost his mother recently – his wife, Katharine (Lee Remick of Days Of Wine And Roses) will remain in the dark about this and be none the wiser.
The Thorn's take 'their' new baby home with them shortly after and they do their best to provide for him as any new parents are apt to do. As the boy, named Damien (Harvey Stephens) gets a little older, strange things start happening around him. His behavior becomes cold and calculating and there's something decidedly sinister about this young boy. Adding to the strange atmosphere is the boy's creepy nanny, Mrs. Blaylock (Billie Whitelaw), who seems to know more than she is letting on. As Robert and Katherine start investigating things a little more with the aid of a Catholic priest (Patrick Troughton of Dr. Who!) and a photographer (David Warner of The Ballad Of Cable Hogue), they start to wonder if they haven't wound up with the Antichrist himself in their home…
The Omen is an interesting film from a theological perspective as well as a filmmaking perspective. Like many horror films that deal with the devil and his works, a Christian upbringing probably helps a bit in enhancing the scares and a basic knowledge of the Book of Revelations doesn't hurt either but even without knowing the prophecies of the end times off by heart, certainly the most skeptical of viewers can still enjoy what is at it's core a well made film about evil masquerading under the guise of the innocent. If you don't necessarily believe in God or the devil, that's fair enough but there's little denying the fact that director Richard Donner has turned little Harvey Stephens into on creepy little devil-kid!
Donner does this by effectively building suspense the old fashioned way, not by beating us over the head with jump scares or crazed editing techniques. While it might be hard to completely engross yourself in the film as it has become a large part of pop culture (the score has even been covered by The Fantomas and the movie has been spoofed plenty of times) if you're able to suspend your disbelief and put yourself in the shoes of the parental leads it's easy to see how audiences in 1976 were pretty taken with the film. Despite the parody and the fact that the power of the original film has been slightly diminished by some crappy sequels and a recent remake the film retains a lot of atmosphere and the stand out murder set pieces for which it has become well known still pack quite a punch even now, decades later and in an era where cinematic sensory overload has become common place in genre films.
In addition to the eerie set pieces and slick atmosphere, the film also has an excellent cast. Gregory Peck is as good as you'd expect from him in the lead, he's noble and believably staunch in his ways and having him cast opposite the equally good Lee Remick did a whole lot to give this movie some credibility in the eyes of many people. Remick's performance is great, though one wishes her character were fleshed out a little more as her screen time isn't as generous as Peck's despite the fact that what she brings to the screen in this film rivals his contribution. Warner and Troughton are fun in their supporting roles as well but the real star of the show is little Harvey Stephens who is completely and utterly diabolical despite the fact that he's just a little kid and therefore, quite harmless. Billie Whitelaw's somber acting skills work well alongside Stephens' own odd screen presence and together the pair make for a pretty terrible twosome.
The icing on the evil cake has got to be Jerry Goldsmith's score. No matter how much of a cliché parts of it might seem to be at this point it really is an excellent selection of music which uses heavy, bassy bits against gothic chants to create a pretty rich mood all on its own.
The movie might be flawed in its depictions of the supposed end times and pop culture assimilation ensures that parts of it aren't as terrifying as they might have been years ago, but The Omen holds up well. It's a classy film with a great cast, some unforgettable visuals and set pieces, and one of the most chilling scores of the last fifty years.The DVD
The Omen hits DVD in an excellent 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks fantastic – almost perfect, really, proving that Fox really has started delivering some great looking discs with these two disc 'Collector's Edition' releases. There is some grain present in a few spots and if you look really carefully you might even see some mild print damage present in a couple of scenes in the form of the odd speck here (but you're really going to have to strain your eyes to see them) and there but other than that, the image looks great. Edge enhancement and aliasing are never problematic and mpeg compression artifacts are virtually non-existent. Color reproduction looks dead on and black levels remain strong and deep throughout the duration of the film. Both foreground and background detail is strong (some of the close up shots look positively eerie) and even during darker moments, of which there are a few, the image always remains very clean and very clear. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the picture stays sharp from start to finish. The transfer is very film like and very natural looking without a lot of obvious digital enhancement or the like. Anyone who has seen the film projected should be impressed with the job that Fox has done here, as it really does capture the look of the movie pretty much perfectly.Sound:
High marks are scored with the audio presentation on this disc as well. The original English language mono track is included as is a new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, also in English. Dubbed tracks are available in French and Spanish, both in mono, and optional subtitles are provided in English and Spanish. Closed captioning is available in English only.
Fans get the best of both worlds in the audio department. Purists will enjoy the clean sound of the original mono mix, which does a fine job of presenting the film in a format closely resembling its theatrical version, whereas surround sound nuts will get off on the 5.1 mix, which really brings some punch to the film's famous score and to some of the murder set pieces that the movie is well known for. Directional effects are really only used when they're needed and as such the 5.1 track sounds pretty legitimate, rather than forced or over done as some remixes of older films tend to sound. Either way, regardless of which option you choose you'll find that the dialogue is clean and clear throughout, that there are no problems with hiss or distortion and that things just generally sound really good on this DVD.Extras:
Disc one starts off with the commentary from director Richard Donner and the film's editor, Stuart Baird that was on the previous special edition release of the film. This is an interesting discussion that, while screen specific at times, gives us a pretty interesting look at what went into making the film. We learn about casting decisions and shooting locations as well as how some of the more elaborate set pieces from the film were created. Donner talks working with a child actor and with big name performers like Peck and despite some dead air in a few spots, this is a pretty engaging talk that is definitely a worthwhile listen for fans of The Omen. In this talk, Donner talks about a deleted scene that never made it onto the last DVD for some reason. Fox has corrected that this time out – more on that below.
A brand new second commentary track appears on this disc as well, featuring Donner once again who, this time around, is joined by Brian Helgeland (screenwriter of Man On Fire and director of A Knight's Tale). Despite the fact that Helgeland really has nothing to do with the movie being discussed (unless you include the fact that he wrote and directed The Order which deals with some similar themes) he's obviously a fan and he does a good job of keeping Donner talking for most of the track. If you listen carefully you might notice that Donner contradicts some of what he said in the earlier commentary track but these are minor discrepancies and while a lot of the information contained in these two tracks is covered just as thoroughly in the featurettes, they're interesting and entertaining enough in their own right as they at least provide a different take on the production's history.
Also carried over from the previous special edition release is an excellent documentary entitled 666: The Omen Revealed that clocks in at a lengthy forty-six minutes in length. This is a pretty in depth look at what went into making the first film in the franchise (it doesn't really touch on the sequels at all) through some interviews with Richard Donner and a few other crew members. It's interesting to hear how Donner had to get Peck on board before he could bet studio backing for the release and it's also interesting to hear who some of the original casting choices were for the part that Peck more or less came out of retirement to take (he hadn't made a film in the five years prior to The Omen).
The six minute Curse Or Coincidence, again carried over from the last disc, is also here. For those who haven't seen it this is an interesting little segment which takes a look at the strange circumstances surrounding the film as it was being made. It's been well documented how unusual problems plagued the staff. Planes were hit by lightning, dogs attacked animal handlers, an IRA bomb went off in a hotel being used and the curse even seemed to follow people involved in the production, notably effects guru John Richardson who was injured and whose girlfriend was decapitated during the making of A Bridge Too Far shortly after working on The Omen. Strange and compelling stuff!
Whereas the last time Fox put this film out on DVD, they for some reason omitted the deleted scene that Donner bluntly mentions in his original commentary. Thankfully that bizarre oversight has now been corrected and the Dog Attack Scene is presented on home video for the first time with optional commentary from Donner over top. Without spoiling it too much, let it suffice to say that Damien's diabolical dogs wreak havoc in the scene which Donner covers in a fair bit of detail with his optional discussion. Though the scene isn't one hundred percent complete (you can tell when you watch it that it ends short), it's
An Appreciation – Wes Craven On The Omen is a short video interview with the director of Last House On The Left who reminisces about catching the movie in the theater during its original theatrical release and being surprised with how strong a horror film it was. Taken aback by the fact that a big studio production with A-list stars was as frightening as it was, Craven talks about the film quite affectionately but doesn't add a whole lot to anything other than just, as the title states, a simple appreciation.
The biggest and best of the supplements in this set is The Omen Legacy, which is a massive one hundred and one minute long documentary that covers the entire franchise in some serious detail. This documentary was previously released as a single disc from Image Entertainment but Fox has done well and included it here which adds a whole lot of value to this package. Originally broadcast on AMC and narrated quite effectively by none other than Jack Palance, we learn about the origin of the first film and the follows ups through to the TV show that quickly fizzled and died. The making of the first film takes up half of the documentary and we hear from Donner, Seltzer, a Catholic priest and a Satanic priestess all of whom give their take on the authenticity of the material. The curse of the film is covered in more detail here than it is in the Curse Or Coincidence segment, and we also hear from some Fox studio executives, a special effects technician, and a few other assorted people somehow linked to the first film. It's an interesting examination of the movie and the effect that it has had on pop culture. From there the piece moves on to the follow ups and while none of them are as popular or well liked as the first film is, they too have some interesting behind the scenes stories. There are some refreshingly honest opinions given about the second film from a few people involved in the film including Seltzer and Lance Henrikson and they cover some of the more remarkable set pieces of that film in some detail. The rest of the spin offs are covered in increasingly lesser chunks as the documentary plays out but the filmmakers have done a good job of rounding up a lot of the people who had a hand in creating this material to give us their thoughts on how it all turns out and what it was like working on this stuff. This makes a very nice addition to this release.
Jerry Goldsmith Discusses The Omen Score is also carried over from the last disc. This is essentially four really brief talks with Goldsmith who covers how he created four of the more memorable musical numbers for the film's score. The Omen is one of those rare horror films whose score has gone on to become a part of pop culture in much the same way that the Tubular Bells theme from The Exorcist or John Carpenter's opening theme from Halloween have been ingrained in the minds of the populace, and it's interesting to hear from the man who did all the work on that aspect of the production what went into creating as masterpiece of music.
In The Screenwriter's Notebook we hear from David Seltzer who penned the script that Donner shot. Seltzer discusses quite openly how he approached the project simply as another job and how, not being a fan of the horror genre, he took the job so that he could pay some bills and put food on his table. That being said, Seltzer then discusses what kind of research he put into the project and how he pulled inspiration from various portions of Revelations and how he has, over time, become quite proud of the film even though he didn't necessarily have the greatest amount of confidence in it while he was working on it.
Rounding out the extra features are a few generous still galleries of over a hundred images from various aspects of the production, a video introduction to the movie from Richard Donner, and a trailer. Both discs include animated menus and chapter stops and the disc which houses the two discs comes inside a slipcase which features alternate cover art on the outside.Final Thoughts:
While a lot of the supplements have been carried over from the last release, the addition of the second commentary and the Omen Legacy documentary make this a pretty appealing double dip. This release easily comes highly recommended for those who don't already have the previous incarnation on DVD, and even for those who do The Omen 2 Disc Collector's Edition might still be worth a look depending on how much you enjoy the movie. This is, overall, an excellent package for an excellent film.