The calendar could not be more accommodating. June 6, 2006–or 6/6/06. That kind of devilish date is far more provocative than an entire month of Friday the 13ths–especially if you are working in the publicity department for The Omen. That’s right, Damien the devil-child is back and he is reeking terror on his scooter. Director John Moore has assembled an enticing cast in order to create a contemporary remake of the 1976 classic horror film starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick.
The Omen is right up there with Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist as far as legendary Hollywood depictions of spiritually charged evil. The Omen also tapped into the heightened American interest in apocalyptic material dealing with the end of the world, the rapture, the Mark of the Beast, and the Antichrist. In the 1970s, the film Thief in the Night terrified church groups with its schlocky portrayal of the end times, while small groups were reading Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. The modern-day Left Behind authors (50 million copies sold) understand today’s prophesy-hungry audience.
As you may recall, The Omen is about the birth and childhood of the Antichrist–an evil personality written about in the Bible by St. Paul and John the Divine. In the film, when diplomat Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is told that his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) lost their baby during childbirth, he is confronted with the possibility of cleverly deceiving his wife when the hospital priest offers him a different newborn whose mother had died at the same time. When Thorn wonders aloud whether he should tell his wife the truth, the priest says, “What’s to be gained? God will forgive this little deception.”
Of course, this little “deception” runs deep and eternal. Prior to the baby swap, the Vatican is aflutter with activity concerning a strange star that has been spotted in the heavens. A PowerPoint presentation is brought to Pope John Paul II and the Roman Catholic hierarchy with images from the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City intermingled with random verses from the Book of Revelation. The somber look on the pontiff’s face indicates that all the signs point to the birth of the Antichrist.
Several years later, the Thorns move to London where Robert has become the new U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. The family is still reeling from their nanny publicly hanging herself at the little boy’s birthday party after shouting, “Look, Damien. It’s all for you. It’s all for you.”
Shortly thereafter, Thorn is visited by Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) who frantically attempts to warn the deeply rational and non-religious ambassador that the boy in his home is none other than the Antichrist–666 and all. The priest confesses to having been at the hospital on the night of the switch and says, “I want to save you so that Christ will save me. His mother was a jackal. You must accept the Lord Jesus Christ each and every day!”
Thorn dismisses the priest as a loon and has him escorted out of the embassy. However, things at home are freakishly eerie. A new nanny (Mia Farrow!) has come to care for Damien (“Don’t worry. I am here to protect you,” she says to the boy). The bond between the nanny and boy becomes deviously strange. All the while, the mother becomes unhinged by her son’s ability to enrage all the animals at the zoo and his brutal and visceral reaction to the prospect of entering a church. During her time with a therapist, she confesses that she does not believe the boy is her own and that there is something evil about the child.
Her premonitions prove correct and her prominent husband is forced to ask some tough questions of his own, including the unthinkable.
One of the major publicity angles for the original Omen revolved around all kinds of spooky and inexplicable events that occurred during the making of the film. Director John Moore told me that there also was “weird stuff” going on during the making of the contemporary version. For example, they had to reshoot two days worth of film because there was a mysterious “blue and white mark on thirteen and a half feet of film.” It was a scene where Thorn must cut the boy’s hair to discover a 666 birthmark.
“I wish that I were a more superstitious person because I would have great ‘curse of The Omen’ stories, but I’m not superstitious,” Liev Schreiber stoically stated. He analyzed the phenomena as a way of understanding the incomprehensible. “When horrible things happen in the world, when unexplainable things happen in the world, we look for ways–its human nature–we look for ways to explain them,” he said. “And one of the only ways to explain the unexplainable is with the unexplainable. And I think that that is part of what The Omen is all about. And we look for something to believe in when things are horrible.”
His co-star, Julia Stiles, was surprisingly open about her fear and trepidation in making the film. “I feel so foolish about it now, but I was terrified throughout the entire filmmaking experience,” she confessed. Although none of the principal stars were willing to publicly acknowledge that any form of demonic tomfoolery was active on the set, Stiles said that she had to verbally reassure herself in order to relieve her fears. “It sounds very silly but we had to do this sort of dedication or whatever you want to call it, a prayer, before the scene, to remind ourselves that it was a work of fiction. I don’t know who we were praying to, but it was just to say out loud that…we’re just making a movie. It’s comforting.”
The end of all things
While the modernization of The Omen gave it a fresh look, there were elements included–the first eight minutes that has the Vatican in a dither and a portrayal of a forlorn Pope John Paul II–that were just plain ridiculous. I was in Rome a few days after seeing the film and spoke to a friend who works at the Vatican about the newly added segments of the film; she just smiled and chuckled. Aside from most mainline Protestants, the least likely Christian group to compare newspaper headlines with random apocalyptic verses from the Book of Revelation would be Vatican officials.
The Omen is not meant to be a seminary class on eschatology. Nevertheless, you certainly can’t blame writers from spinning yarns from the apocalyptic source material. But as for 6/6/06 worries: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” when the end will come (Matthew 24:36).
Remaking The Omen after 30 years is sure to conjure up anxious and volatile feelings. It’s still creepy after all these years. While some will speak with condescending tones about the superiority of the original version with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, the performances of Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Mia Farrow, and David Thewlis are engaging, with appropriately disconcerting performances. While the very premise of the film–the birth and adoption of an infant anti-Christ–will strike some as heretical or preposterous, it will definitely make for interesting conversation about the end of the world as we know it. If you enjoy suspense films that utilize provocative spiritual speculation, you’ll be intrigued by The Omen.
–Steve Beard is the creator of www.thunderstruck.org–a website devoted to faith and pop culture.