Thursday, April 25, 2013
THE OMEN is a horror film about the rise of the Anti-Christ. Unlike so many films that have attempted to take on this subject matter, THE OMEN stood apart in its innovative approach to building up the story with a 'sense of authenticity on the absurd'. There was an intentional effort by director Richard Donner in partnering with screenwriter David Seltzer to create a sense of realism about Satan and the Bible by avoiding stereotypical supernatural images. Instead, the plot develops gradually in everyday moments that make both the main characters and the audience initially doubt if tragedies and oddities were simply accidental, coincidental or truly sinister.
While Thorn is further convinced of Damien's true identity upon witnessing the birthmark of the devil -three sixes- hidden by the course black hair on his scalp (young Stephens was naturally blond yet his hair was dyed black to give a more menacing look), he ultimately still struggles with conflicting task of killing the child he raised as his own son. Just as he raises the dagger to murder Damien, the boy cries out for his "daddy" to stop, the police have arrived by now and shoot Thorn dead. In the end, due to Thorn's high political ranking and personal friendship with the President of the United States, we see Damien attending his father's funeral in the personal care of the President. The Anti-Christ has successfully attained the next level of ultimate power and smiles knowingly into the camera.
What I found to be additionally fascinating about this film is the legend that the film itself is considered to be cursed. For all the bizarre tragedies in this film, it's been told that there was another parallel string of freakish accidents behind the scenes. On the very first day of the shoot, many key members of the crew survived a car crash. The Rottweilers attacked their own trainers. While both screenwriter David Seltzer and lead Gregory Peck flew to the U.K., each of their planes were struck by lightning. While in Rome, producer Harvey Bernard barely escaped being struck by lightning himself. Directer Richard Donner's hotel was bombed by the IRA during his stay. And at one point Gregory Peck canceled a flight to Israel to later discover that chartered flight crashed, leaving no survivors.
Despite these accidents behind the scenes, this film went on to become very popular and lucrative at the box office; making it the highest-paid role of Peck's film career. He wisely took the gamble of an extremely low salary- a mere $250,000, in order to be guaranteed 10% of the box office... which added up to over $60 million just here in the states plus international release. His gamble paid off nicely. Donner insisted working with high caliber talents of then-retired cinemaphotographer Gilbert Taylor and composer Jerry Goldsmith (he convinced head of 20th Century Fox, Alan Ladd Jr. to pony up $25,000 to hire Goldsmith.) Goldsmith went on win the Academy Award for Music Score, including the haunting theme song "Ave Satani" which significantly elevates the film's fear-factor. THE OMEN was his only Oscar win, although he was nominated 17 times over the span of his impressive career.
Do I truly believe in the existence of an Anti-Christ and that this film was actually cursed? No. But it's those little seeds of doubt, that suspension of belief that piques the curiousity and raises the adrenaline if only while sitting in the dark, with your hands tensely gripping your face. After watching THE OMEN that first time and as little girl who was born in 1966 (although NOT in June, nor on the 6th day, or even at the 6am/pm hour), I went home and carefully examined my scalp through my raven locks, looking for any triple-six birthmarks. You know... just in case.