Collins’ Crypt: THE OMEN Franchise Is The Boyhood Of Horror

The only thing missing from Scream Factory's boxed set is the film that never actually got made.

Since it never changed hands like some other franchises (looking at you, Pinhead), it's no surprise that Fox has collected The Omen franchise a few times over the years. However, they would always botch it in one way or another - flimsy packaging, missing entries, etc. Proudly going against the "if you want something done right you gotta do it yourself" rule, Scream Factory finally fixed Fox's mistakes and put together a set of all five films that fans of the series can be proud to have on their shelf. It won't save you any room on the shelf as each film gets its own case, but each entry is loaded with extras new and old - there are four (4) commentary tracks on the first film alone! - and given solid transfers, not to mention a nice sturdy box that will survive being taken down/put away a few times, unlike the Fox boxes that would practically fall apart if you looked them wrong.

Going through the franchise (OK, just the first three films - Omen IV is a sort of spinoff about Damien's children, and while it's nice that they included it, I personally had no real reason to revisit the 2006 remake) again was a lot of fun; it's an unusual horror franchise in that the "villain" rarely does anything himself - in fact he spends a good chunk of his screentime not even aware of his powers. But that's one of many things that helps it stand out next to its brethren (i.e. Exorcist, which bungled sequels far more often than Omen did), and even if the fourth film and the remake - from possible real life Antichrist John Moore - aren't exactly worth keeping in your collection permanently, the first three provide first-rate entertainment, especially at this time of the year.

But watching them back to back (as opposed to over several years as I originally did, seeing the original as a teen and the sequels not until I was almost 30) made it really noticeable that Fox kind of made a blunder by aging Damien up so much from the 2nd film (Damien) to the 3rd (The Final Conflict). In Richard Donner's first movie, released in 1976, he's only five years old, and is presented as a total innocent when he's onscreen, acting like a perfectly normal child - the idea was to let audiences decide if he really WAS the Antichrist or if the folks saying he was were simply crazy (or mistaken). The little guy isn't even present for most of its death scenes, including the hilarious decapitation scene featuring David Warner's not-very-convincing fake head (though his ex-wife seems to think it has value), and when his father (Gregory Peck) tries to kill him in the film's climax, it's really only the existence of the sequels that keep you from (barely) wanting someone to stop him. 

Then in Damien: Omen II (1978), he's about 12, and attending a military academy. A good chunk of the movie follows suit with the original - people that are in Damien's circle tend to meet mysterious and elaborate deaths (the Final Destination films definitely took cues from these), but Damien himself seems like a pretty normal kid, maybe a little cocky but really only deserving of a good smack at most, and certainly not execution by the "Seven Daggers of Megiddo". But after a few plot turns Damien does indeed learn his true nature - which he embraces, deliberately committing a few heinous acts (including the murder of his cousin/best friend, who isn't keen on him turning to the dark side). And he isn't stopped at the end of the film, paving the way for another sequel.

Three years later, Damien returned in the form of Sam Neill for The Final Conflict, and while anyone watching for the first time today will probably marvel at how young Neill looked, it doesn't change the fact that they skipped ahead twenty years in Damien's timeline. Now the head of the Thorn corporation, Damien is appointed the US Ambassador to Great Britain - the same job Peck's character held in the first film, while also making sure that the second coming of Christ is prevented. Part of his plan involves murdering every infant born on a certain day that year, so it's by far the most evil we've ever seen the character (who also kills a few priests and manipulates another child whose mother he's having an affair with, for good measure), so along with the aging it feels like we missed a step somewhere, as if this should be Omen IV and Omen III should have featured the character as a late high school/early college student, discovering the extent of his powers and figuring out how they can benefit him on a larger scale as opposed to just getting a few associates out of his way (not to mention going from a military brat to someone who is seemingly heading toward a potential Presidency). 

Well I guess writer Gordon McGill felt the same way. The author had been behind the novelization of the third film, and took it upon himself to write sequels to it, published as Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 and Omen V: The Abomination. With Damien dead, the antagonist of his novels was Damien's son (simply referred to as The Abomination), and he is indeed 17 years old during their events, as if McGill wanted to see Damien at that point in his life but didn't want to go the prequel route, so he created the son as a sort of consolation prize. I haven't read the books myself, but from what I understand they more or less follow the style of the movies, with plenty of political and church figures getting roped into the mix, many of whom meet overly stylized deaths. There were plans to bring the first book to the big screen as a proper Omen IV, but a series of setbacks had the project shelved until being resurrected with the TV movie that also focused on Damien's child but otherwise had no connection to McGill's novel.

Apparently, Armageddon 2000 is a minor gem while The Abomination more or less lives up to its title, and I can't help but think it's due in part to the fact that it was an immediate sequel to its predecessor, with the new Damien being the same age. Likewise, the one and done A&E show Damien from 2016 (which ignored the other sequels anyway) had Damien at around the same age Neill was in Omen III, so it wasn't offering us much we hadn't seen before. The thing that makes this an interesting franchise is that we are always seeing Damien at a different stage in his life, so it always feels fresh even though each film (and McGill's books) could be generally summed up with "Priests and politicians attempt to stop the Antichrist, who is being protected by Satanists." What's the Antichrist like at 50? Or 80? In this era of simply ignoring things for sequels, how great would it be to have a new Omen movie - perhaps with Neill returning? - spotlighting the (no longer dead) character in his 70s? Certainly one could see how the story of an Antichrist in his early 70s wreaking havoc on the world for his personal gain might touch a nerve in the year 2019.

Interestingly, Scream Factory recently released a special edition of Fear No Evil, a 1981 film about - yep - a teenaged Antichrist. Stefan Arngrim stars as Andrew Williams, a sort of awkward high school senior who discovers his true nature and... well, continues to be kind of awkward as he does evil things. Not sure if it's Arngrim's performance or the way the character was written, but there's something almost kind of pathetic about the character, and he almost never appears particularly threatening. Most of his evil deeds have a homoerotic slant to them, like possessing a jock to suddenly make out with him in the locker room in front of the other guys - and later, Andrew uses his power to give the guy a pair of breasts? It's kind of a weird movie, but an interesting one (the first from Frank LaLoggia, the filmmaker behind the terrific Lady in White) on its own, and thanks to the timing of its release, a fun thing to watch and imagine what a proper high school set Omen movie would have been like. 

It's a shame that the remake was so goddamn bland, copying the original film practically scene for scene, even though it was a very different world thirty years later. While it was a box office success and even scored a few good reviews (including one from Ebert, who preferred it to the original, somehow), it did not kickstart a new series of sequels; the aforementioned TV show has been the only use of the license since. I wouldn't say I'm clamoring for another remake (especially considering who owns the series now), but in an imaginary dream world, one could start over again and basically make it the horror movie version of Michael Apted's 7 Up series, where we check in with Damien every seven years or so and see how he interacts with the world at that particular age in his life, without jumping ahead so far at once (and then killing him!). We frequently get to check in with the good guys as they age (Laurie Strode, Tommy Jarvis, the Loser's Club), but rarely a villain - I think it's time Damien either got resurrected or got some like-minded company.