Horror fans rejoice! Shout! Factory has released another excellent franchise boxset, this time for the supernatural horror series that began with 1976 classic The Omen, from director Richard Donner. The plot is now familiar but remains brutally effective: American diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) consents to the hospital chaplain's plan to replace his seemingly stillborn son with an orphan baby to spare Thorn's wife Katherine (Lee Remick) the pain of losing her child. The boy is named Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens), and Robert later becomes U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Once the family relocates to London, strange events surround Damien. His nanny publicly commits suicide at his birthday party, shouting, "It's all for you, Damien" before plunging from the roof with a noose around her neck. When the family tries to attend a wedding, Damien becomes enraged at the sight of a church, and Katherine soon grows to fear her son. A new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), appears unannounced, but is hired based on her credentials. She later allows Damien to adopt a Rottweiler dog without Robert or Katherine's permission, and begins making decisions for the boy that concern the Thorns. Catholic priest Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) contacts Robert to warn him that Damien is not human but the son of the devil.
On its face, the premise is spooky if a bit silly, but the film executes this story, later adapted into a novel by screenwriter David Seltzer, with precision. Donner keeps the pacing relentless, and The Omen only gives its audience a minute to breathe in the second half, as Robert seeks answers about Damien's origin with the help of photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner). The acting is strong from the leads. Peck is probably the least memorable, and his stoic demeanor recalls many of his other filmed performances. Of course, that still means his work is strong, especially as the world around his character begins to unravel. Remick is excellent, and her character takes the brunt of Damien's malfeasance. Young Stephens is very believable as the unwitting antagonist, and his quiet innocence makes the implication of his character more disturbing. Whitelaw gives what is perhaps the film's standout performance, and her duplicitous behavior as Mrs. Baylock is chilling.
Released three years after The Exorcist, this film suffered from the same middling reviews as William Friedkin's did upon arrival, yet both are widely considered classic horror films today. Each works in its own respect, with The Omen unspooling as the more subtle of the two movies, despite the slasher-like kills for those looking to stop Damien. Films about demonic evil and the devil frighten because they consider an antagonist that cannot be stopped by human weapons and customs. That Damien is a child but also the antichrist and the most basic evil is horrifying. I particularly enjoy the lean, unsympathetic way in which the film rolls through its narrative; leaving no one safe from Damien. The Academy Award-winning score from Jerry Goldsmith is excellent, as is the cinematography from Gilbert Taylor, which includes shots with peculiar focus and framing that add to the film's uneasy atmosphere. While I understand some of the criticism of the film's premise, I have revisited it numerous times since my first viewing as a teenager and find it perpetually thrilling. The Omen (1976): ***** (out of *****).
Two years later, a sequel was released, warning viewers that "the first time was only a warning." In Damien: Omen II, an archaeologist attempts to assist his friend in killing Damien with a set of daggers. The pair is killed when viewing a mural with an ancient depiction of the antichrist with Damien's face. The movie jumps forward in time seven years, as now 12-year-old Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) lives with his industrialist uncle Richard Thorn (William Holden), aunt Ann Thorn (Lee Grant) and cousin Mark (Lucas Donat), Richard's son from a previous marriage. The boys enroll in a military academy, but Richard's aunt Marion (Sylvia Sidney) tries to warn him that Damien is a bad influence on Mark. She is visited by a raven in the night and seemingly dies of a heart attack. The narrative here primarily concerns Damien's time at military school and his ultimate revelation that he is the antichrist, which causes Damien to consolidate resources and begin his ascent to power. He is assisted by a duplicitous sergeant (Lance Henriksen) and begins making conscious decisions about the fate of those that attempt to challenge his destiny.
The original writer and director of this film, Mike Hodges, left amid reportedly heated disagreements with producer Harvey Bernhard, and the Stanley Mann screenplay credited is the film's weakest link. The notion of Damien conceptualizing his own destiny and acting upon it is fascinating. The writer of the original, David Seltzer, laments in one of the set's interviews that he had grand ideas for the character that would have taken Damien on a more interesting path to the White House. While the film is nicely acted and decently shot by Don Taylor, the screenplay is clunky and episodic. Anyone who doubts Damien is killed in over-the-top ways, including investigative journalist Joan Hart (Elizabeth Shepherd). It takes Richard forever to believe Damien is evil, despite what happened to his brother and sister-in-law seven years earlier. Most of the supporting cast is introduced only to be killed by Damien, but Scott-Taylor's performance is not bad. He plays the role fairly straight, with hints of social anxiety that ring true for the character. Damien: Omen II is not a bad film, but a bit more development on the front end could have resulted in another classic. Damien: Omen II: *** (out of *****).
Damien Thorn is appointed U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, like his late father, in 1981's The Final Conflict, later re-issued as Omen III: The Final Conflict; a film without much pulse. This Graham Baker-directed thriller was written by Andrew Birkin and stars a then-unknown Sam Neill as a Damien fully aware of and pleased with his unholy lineage. A priest familiar with Damien acquires the Seven Daggers of Megiddo needed to kill him from the wreckage of the Thorn Museum. The man and several other priests intend to find and destroy Damien, who now prepares to stop the Second Coming of Christ and protect his destiny. Even Damien finds love in The Final Conflict, and he begins dating journalist Kate Reynolds (Lisa Harrow) [notice a character trend here?], who initially is unaware that Damien has begun killing his would-be assassins. After an alignment of stars in the Cassiopeia constellation that creates a second Star of Bethlehem, Damien orders his henchmen to begin murdering all boys born in England on the morning of March 24, 1981, to prevent Christ's return.
The most impressive thing about The Final Conflict is the ruthlessness in which it dispatches dozens of young British boys, a plot point that is truly frightening. The rest of the movie is not so successful. The assassin priests are terrible at their jobs and are quickly and easily killed by Damien. Reynolds also makes some very questionable decisions, including returning to Damien's bed after learning of mounting evidence that he is the antichrist and almost drowning in a river as he stands idly by. Goldsmith again provides a classy score, but that's about the most respectable thing in The Final Conflict. Neill is fine but not overly impressive, and the rest of the cast seems aware that this is cable-tv grade schlock. The film runs a dull 108 minutes that concludes with an overly dramatic ending, and it fails to capitalize on its evil-in-power narrative. The Final Conflict: ** (out of *****).
Even worse than the previous sequel is the Canadian made-for-television follow-up Omen IV: The Awakening, which was released ten years later and was written by longtime series producer Bernhard and Brian Taggert. Jorge Montesi and Dominique Othenin-Girard direct this fine production, which at least appears to realize it is garbage. Virginia congressman Gene York (Michael Woods) and his wife Karen (Faye Grant) adopt a child they call Delia (Asia Vieira) from a Catholic orphanage. In a plot that mirrors the original, things go swimmingly for the Yorks until Delia attacks the priest conducting her baptism, then begins acting violent and reserved. People begin dying and getting injured around Delia, and the girl's hippy-drippy nanny, Jo (Ann Hearn), takes her to an aura reader, who discovers some bad juju involving Delia. Karen starts to understand that her baby girl is evil, so of course Delia sets her evil gaze on Karen, who unexpectedly becomes pregnant and immediately wants the child out of her body. This movie only tangentially relates to the previous three films, but it is certainly the trashiest and worst produced of the franchise.
Having the antichrist return in the body of a snotty adolescent girl is hardly an epic restart to the franchise, but I will give Omen IV some minor points for its ridiculous ending, which is so bad it is almost brilliant. This movie of the week rips off the best parts of previous franchise films, and not one of the actors seems invested in the material. Woods, Grant and Vieira all give bad performances, and the film's production values, editing and death sequences are all squarely network grade. This easily could have been a standalone film but for someone's desire to cash in on the Omen name. Cash in they do, and Omen IV: The Awakening has the dubious honor of being the worst film in the franchise by far. Omen IV: The Awakening: * (out of *****).
I reviewed the 2006 remake of the original as a teen columnist for my local newspaper, and I really did not like this The Omen (sometimes titled as The Omen: 666 at the time. Cleverly released on June 6, 2006 (get it?!), this remake is directed by John Moore and stars Live Schreiber and Julia Stiles as Robert and Katherine Thorn, respectively. Though it is not as slavish to the original as Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot retelling of Psycho, this remake sticks very closely to the narrative of the original. Upon revisiting the film several times since my theatrical viewing, I have grown to appreciate it. The Vatican-set opening is pretty nifty: An astronomer views a formation of comets that seemingly coincides with a Biblical prophecy about the rise of the antichrist. He then presents a startling reel of atrocities to Vatican authorities, including footage of the September 11, 2001, attacks and space shuttle Columbia disaster, as proof that the antichrist is set to rise. The movie then shifts to familiar territory, as Robert allows the hospital's chaplain to substitute an orphan boy for his seemingly stillborn son. The Thorns name their son Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), and they move to the United Kingdom after Robert is named Deputy Ambassador to the Court of St. James.
Seltzer is the credited writer for this remake, and Marco Beltrami's score takes cues from Goldsmith's work on the original. Moore's filmography, which includes Behind Enemy Lines and A Good Day to Die Hard, suggests he is not a particularly prolific director, but his work here is acceptable and The Omen is slickly lensed by Jonathan Sela. Stiles gives a strong performance as the embattled Thorn matriarch, and, while Schreiber's work is less impressive, I like that Moore and company gave him a little bit more anger toward Damien than the original Robert had. Davey-Fitzpatrick certainly looks more evil than the original Damien, but he has the novice-actor tendency to overplay scenes and expressions, and he spends the majority of the film in deep scowl. Pete Postlethwaite is good as Father Brennan, as is David Thewlis as photographer Keith Jennings. Better is horror legend Mia Marrow as Mrs. Baylock, and the veteran actress puts her own effective spin on the duplicitous character and disciple of Damien. There are a couple of slick kills in The Omen and some unsettling imagery, but Moore's film suffers from a second-act slowdown that makes the climax unsatisfying once it arrives. Not a bad remake by any means; this is one of the better films in the franchise. The Omen (2006): *** (out of *****).
THE BLU-RAY COLLECTION:
Perhaps the most welcome addition to this set is a new 4K transfer for The Omen that was approved by Richard Donner. This 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer eclipses the 2008 Blu-ray by a large margin and offers fantastic detail and clarity. Though soft focus is frequent in this original film, fine-object detail and texture are abundant in this new restoration. I could not believe how filmic and organic this image is. Close-ups reveal intimate facial details and every button and patch on the actors' clothing. Sets are gorgeously detailed and wide shots are crisp and deep. The grain is natural, and the film looks great in motion. Gone are blooming highlights and murky blacks, and in their place are abundant shadow detail, inky blacks and gorgeously saturated colors. The print is in excellent condition, and I noticed no issues with digital tinkering or compression artifacts. ****1/2 (out of *****).
Damien: Omen II unspools with a 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that is likely a recycled image from Fox's 2008 Blu-ray boxset. That said, this is still a decent HD presentation that offers natural grain, strong detail and texture and overall pleasing color saturation and black levels. There is minor print damage and some softness present, and I only noticed a couple of spots where film grain may have been digitally manipulated. The Scream Factory disc permits the transfer a healthy bitrate. ***1/2 (out of *****).
This set also recycles the 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer for The Final Conflict, which is also a decent HD presentation. Detail and texture are again more than acceptable, and this print is cleaner than in the previous film. Colors are nicely saturated, highlights only suffer from minor blooming, and black levels are decent. I noticed a couple of minor edge halos, but the overall presentation is filmic. ***1/2 (out of *****).
Omen IV: The Awakening makes its Blu-ray debut with a 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that appears to have the theatrical formatting of the international release. Scream Factory does not include a 1.33:1 transfer to mirror the television broadcast. This Blu-ray image is not revolutionary, but it looks quite good for a lower-budget TV production. I noticed some minor digital noise reduction, but the grain is otherwise intact. Print defects are largely absent, and sharpness, detail and texture are good. Colors are nicely saturated, highlights and skin tones appear natural, and black levels are good. The film has a somewhat flat, unremarkable appearance, but this is likely due to the source material. ***1/2 (out of *****).
The most dated transfer in the set is that of The Omen (2006), which is the same 1.85:1/1080p/MPEG-2-encoded transfer from the 2006 Blu-ray. When I say "the most dated," I'm referring to the ancient compression codec and the fact that this image was created several years before the oldest of the other transfers. That said, the presentation is actually pretty decent and supports the slick photography with strong detail and texture. Close-ups reveal intimate facial details, set dressings and other production elements, and wide shots are decently crisp. Some softer photography pops up from time to time (as it does in the original). Black levels are decent, though moderate black crush is present due to the older transfer, which also exhibits a fair bit of noise in nighttime shots. Colors are bold and appropriately saturated, though skin tones run a bit pink at times. This is not a bad transfer, but it could have been much better. ***1/2 (out of *****).
The Omen offers both a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio dual mono mix and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround mix. The surround mix is recycled from the previous Blu-ray, but Scream Factory re-introduces the mono mix for its Blu-ray release. Both are excellent, free from defects like hiss, distortion or popping, and each provides a strong listening experience, depending on your preference. The score is wonderfully deep and realized, and both ambient and action effects are spaced appropriately, with the stereo mix taking the edge on immersive sound pans. English SDH subtitles are included. ****1/2 (out of *****).
For Damien: Omen II, you also get 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio dual mono and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround mixes. Each is free from defects, and I noticed no issues with element crowding. This mix is not quite as crisp as that provided for the original film, but dialogue is clear and balanced appropriately with the score and effects. The surround mix offers light effects panning and more aggressive LFE action. English SDH subtitles are included. ***1/2 (out of *****).
You get the same 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio stereo options for The Final Conflict, and these mixes are slightly more impressive than for the previous film. Goldsmith's score, particularly, is presented with great weight and clarity, but it remains balanced with dialogue and effects. Sound pans are effective when used, and light ambience makes good use of the surrounds. English SDH subtitles are included. **** (out of *****).
Not surprisingly, Omen IV: The Awakening only offers a TV-appropriate 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio stereo mix that offers clear dialogue reproduction, light effects panning and a decently weighty soundtrack. There are no issues with crackling or hiss, but this mix feels a bit smaller and less grand than previous offerings. English SDH subtitles are included. ***1/2 (out of *****).
Finally, The Omen (2006) receives the same 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix as the original Blu-ray. This is not a bad thing, as the mix is quite immersive, offering frequent sound panning, crystal clear dialogue and an immersive soundtrack. The LFE is called upon during action sequences, and sound pans are impressive. English SDH subtitles are included. **** (out of *****).
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
The Omen Collection: Deluxe Edition is a five-disc set, and Scream Factory serves up each film on its own disc. Most appreciated is that each disc is given its own standard Blu-ray case with two-sided artwork. All five cases fit inside a sturdy outer cardboard box adorned with newly created artwork. There are no superfluous DVD copies or digital copy codes here. The set includes a f**k-ton of recycled extras and a host of newly produced pieces:
The original The Omen includes a newly recorded Audio Commentary by Special Project Consultant Scott Michael Bosco, as well as an Audio Commentary by Director Richard Donner and Editor Stuart Baird, an Audio Commentary by Director Richard Donner and Filmmaker Brian Helgeland, and an Audio Commentary by Film Historians Lem Dobbs, Nick Redman and Jeff Bond, which offer something for everyone. The Devil's Word - An Interview with Screenwriter David Seltzer (23:25/HD) is newly shot, as are It's All For You - An Interview with Actress Holly Palance (13:14/HD) and The Devil's Music - An Interview with Composer Christopher Young on Jerry Goldsmith's Score (19:05/HD), and each offers interesting remarks. You also get a ton of recycled extras, including an Introduction by Richard Donner (1:56/HD); Richard Donner on The Omen (14:37/HD); The Omen Revelations (24:10/HD); Curse or Coincidence? (6:22/HD); 666: The Omen Revealed (46:18/HD); Screenwriter's Notebook - An Interview with Writer David Seltzer (14:53/HD); An Appreciation - Wes Craven on The Omen (20:17/HD); Jerry Goldsmith Discusses The Omen Score (17:37/HD); Trailers From Hell (2:46/HD); the Theatrical Trailer (2:25/HD); TV Spots (1:26/HD); Radio Spots (3:51/audio); and several picture Galleries.
The disc for Damien: Omen II is fairly stacked, too. Things kick off with a newly recorded Audio Commentary by Special Project Consultant Scott Michael Bosco and an older Commentary by Producer Harvey Bernhard. Damien's Guardian - An Interview with Actress Lee Grant (15:56/HD) is a newly shot interview, as are The Devil's CEO - An Interview with Actor Robert Foxworth (16:21/HD); The Harbinger - An Interview with Actress Elizabeth Shepherd (26:34/HD); and Elizabeth Shepherd's Scrapbook (3:36/HD), in which the actress shares some behind-the-scenes photographs. You also get older featurette Power and the Devil: The Making of Damien: Omen II (7:22/HD); the Theatrical Trailer (2:59/HD); TV Spots (1:34/HD); Radio Spots (1:31/audio); and a Stills Gallery.
The Final Conflict offers a new Audio Commentary by Special Project Consultant Scott Michael Bosco and a recycled Commentary by Director Graham Baker. You also get The Devil in the Detail - An Interview with Director Graham Baker (24:56/HD), which is newly shot and quite interesting. Other new offerings include Resurrecting the Devil - An Interview with Screenwriter/Associate Producer Andrew Birkin (20:30/HD) and the Interview with Production Assistant Jeanne Ferber (16:38/HD). Things wrap up with the Theatrical Trailer (1:51/HD); TV Spots (1:03/HD) and a Stills Gallery.
Even the crappy Omen IV: The Awakening gets some love. The Book of Evil - An Interview with Screenwriter Brian Taggert (18:11/HD) is new and must have been shot mere months before his June 2019 death. The Omen Legacy (1:41:39/HD) is a feature-length documentary about the franchise originally released in 2003, but discussion of this film only receives about 10 minutes of that running time. You also get the Theatrical Trailer (1:19/HD) and a Stills Gallery.
Scream Factory obviously is not a huge fan of The Omen (2006), as the disc only includes recycled extras. You do get an Audio Commentary by Director John Moore, Producer Glenn Williamson and Editor Dan Zimmermann; "Unrated" Extended Scenes and an Extended Ending (7:09 total/HD); Omenisms - Behind the Scenes of The Omen (37:19/HD); Abbey Road Recording Sessions (10:14/HD); Revelation 666: Behind the Scenes (22:17/HD); and Theatrical Trailers (3:56/HD).
Horror fans will absolutely want to add this impressive collection to their libraries. It is difficult to give star ratings to each segment for a boxset like this, as its overall value exceeds that of each individual ranking. I did what I usually do in cases like this; I averaged the scores from each category and rounded up. While the final film score itself is not incredible, I found even the worst films in the franchise offer moderate entertainment value. The original The Omen is a classic and receives a new 4K transfer; the set includes solid A/V specs across the board; and the bonus features are exhaustive. At the end of the day, this Scream Factory set earns my highest recommendation: DVD Talk Collector Series.