On its own merits, without any memory of the original, The Omen is a metric ton of bullshit wedged into an 8-ounce baggie. As a contemporary horror movie, it’s merely another ponderous major-studio shocker bogged down in production values, without a thought in its head, made even dopier by its event-movie pretense. As a remake—of a readily accessible 1976 thriller that’s on TV more often than screen lint—it’s insultingly unnecessary: it’s the same damn movie, only worse. Like your co-worker’s Xerox of his butt cheeks, it’s a bad copy of something you didn’t really need to see in the first place.
But as an indicator of everything that’s wrong with the movie industry, this deviled egg about the birth of Beelzebub’s brat is scary as hell. How does a project like this start? Some studio exec is flipping channels, comes across the “original” Omen—itself the wolf-eyed offspring of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist—and thinks, “Boy, if that dude’s head flew off with an even bigger spray of blood, this would be a masterpiece!” Right? Or Liev Schreiber is polishing the Tony he collected for Glengarry Glen Ross, and he catches his reflection and murmurs, “Soon, the remake of The Omen will be mine.”
The sorry truth came from James Gunn, a panelist at last weekend’s Nashville Screenwriters Conference. The author of the fine Dawn of the Dead remake, as well as the maker of a rip-roaring monster movie called Slither this year that failed to find its audience, Gunn said that he was one of many screenwriters offered the Omen project who passed. In the end, the studio blew the dust off David Seltzer’s 30-year-old script for the original and rushed it into production. The reason? Because the marketing opportunity of releasing an Omen remake on June 6, 2006—that’s 6/06/06, whose significance any Iron Maiden fan can tell you—trumped any mandate to create a fresh, original movie.
Remake fever isn’t the problem. There’s no shame in trying a different angle on something previously filmed. If John Huston hadn’t taken a third crack at a story already adapted twice before—in just 10 years’ time—we wouldn’t have The Maltese Falcon. What’s galling about The Omen is that no one’s even trying. The brand-name title and marketing hook are enough to reel in the rubes; the film is an afterthought. And thus the 30-year-old magic of musty-on-arrival dialogue like “Its mother is a jackal!” returns verbatim to delight another generation.
Au courant religious hysteria and conspiracy-nut Catholicism aside, Seltzer’s screenplay has aged like something a bit less heady than wine—say, an open can of Beanie Weenies. But the remake manages to futz up even the aspects of the original that worked. Richard Donner’s 1976 film rode the crest of a demonic-possession cycle that played like gangbusters with parents traumatized by the hippie-dippie counterculture: “The Devil’s inside our kids!” In the Donner party, career diplomat Gregory Peck and wife Lee Remick bring home a bouncing baby who turns out to be—cue Jerry Goldsmith’s yowling choirs—the Antichrist. Dogs attack, monkeys attack, heads roll, and in a parting blast of post-Watergate paranoia, a closing kicker plants the demon seed in the White House.
Donner’s sole masterstroke was to cast a blank, sweet-faced tyke named Harvey Stephens as evil incarnate, which produced a queasy ambiguity. When priests told Peck to perforate the innocent-looking kid with Vatican-issue daggers, you got an inkling how Abraham must’ve felt. For the remake, however, director John Moore makes wee Damien (played by Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) a leering little goblin, which robs the movie of all suspense. Some symbol of ultimate evil: this Antichrist looks like he should be pissing on a Chevrolet logo. Not only does this turn the movie into unsalvageable camp—my audience howled—it makes Schreiber in the Peck role seem stupid instead of skeptical for not catching on.
Nothing in the repossessed Omen betrays a whisper of inspiration—not Remick’s replacement, Julia Stiles, the only actress on earth who enunciates with her eyebrows; not the hammy production design, from Stiles’ M.C. Escher floor pattern to a psychiatrist’s office that resembles a Gitmo interrogation cell; not the updates for topical relevance, the funniest of which has the Pope getting a PowerPoint presentation on Armageddon. (The 2004 tsunami and 9/11 are invoked for gullibility’s sake.) The only performer who realizes the comedy in the premise is Mia Farrow, cast amusingly as a hellbent nanny, but she doesn’t have a single good line.
But the movie will make money anyway. The original was a blockbuster with audiences who had no idea they were watching the progenitor of both The Da Vinci Code and the Final Destination movies. With audiences born after 1985, the title is a familiar brand—just like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, or any of a dozen 1970s TV-show titles—even if the product itself is a mystery. And Hollywood has proved that huge numbers of viewers are willing to buy the brand regardless of the product. So desperate is the reselling of the 1970s that another Nashville Screenwriters Conference panelist, an engaging and well-versed horror writer named Dan Madigan, announced that he is pitching a remake of Bad Ronald—an obscure 1974 movie-of-the-week from the barely remembered days of Killdozer.
Only ticket buyers can make it stop, and that’s if you stop buying tickets. So act now. Just imagine what else is coming. Imagine something even worse than what The Omen leaves us with: the Antichrist in the White House, a warmed-over pile of 30-year-old crap in theaters—and us, the ones in hell.