Tony Fyler goes beyond the ‘classic’ Omen trilogy, and asks what Damien did next.
The Omen Trilogy became a hallmark for the horror genre in the seventies and eighties – its first instalment won an Oscar (albeit for its score), and garnered Emmy and BAFTA nominations for two of its stars. But let him or her who hath understanding reckon the number of the Beast, for it is a human number. Its number is resolutely, resoundingly, three. The story of The Omen is the story of a single person – Damien Thorn, the AntiChrist – on his journey from birth, through childhood, puberty and manhood, to his death. Any attempt to resurrect (see what I did there?) Damien after his death was always going to have the tang of shark-jumping, of flogging a dead demon beyond the natural limits of its life.
Perhaps it is inevitable then that people tried to do it. Perversely, it’s at the point when the series should be dead and done that things get particularly interesting in the real world. There are, as you may be aware, two iterations of The Omen IV. The first was a novel by Gordon McGill, who had novelised the third movie, The Final Conflict, and as such became a kind of literary gatekeeper for the franchise. Omen IV: Armageddon 2000, McGill’s novel, takes the loophole of The Final Conflict – Damien buggering Kate Reynolds rather than allowing himself to feel love for her – and spins a direct sequel from it: the “birth”, if one can call it that, of an abomination to succeed its father, a new Damien Thorn, but stripped of his father’s charm, patience and even humour: McGill’s Damien Thorn II is a revolting, sadistic creature, who, for instance, turns a CND rally into a riot simply by his presence and – oh yes – provokes the Armageddon of scriptural prophecy, a nuclear war that lays waste to the Middle East. McGill’s Omen IV was brutal and blunt, but it took the story forward in a fairly direct way and maintained a logical consistency (and indeed some character consistency: Paul Buher, last seen in Damien: Omen II, but heard of in the third instalment, features prominently) with what had gone before. It is particularly perverse that if you really want to read it this way, the Book of Revelation allows for McGill’s continuation – there’s The Beast, but then there’s The Beast who hands power to The Beast (two words – magic mushrooms). Clearly, too, McGill’s interpretation of how the Trilogy could really have been more than it was found favour – it was turned into a movie script in 1983, under the Harvey Bernhard-Mace Neufeld banner, but never got as far as the screen.
McGill topped his Omen IV though, with Omen V: The Abomination. The Abomination is how the second Damien Thorn comes to be known, and the book has more than a whiff of desperation about it, as he tries, having accomplished the technical Armageddon, to bring the world to total destruction. The book has more McGill hallmarks – horrible, inventive deaths, and a lead character you only follow because of what he is and what he’s capable of (it’s not actually much of a fun read), but it does end with a classic gambit. Having averted another Armageddon, one character, Jack Mason, decides to chronicle the careers of the two last Thorns. The first words he writes (and the last words of Omen V, are the first words of the novelisation of the original Omen, written in real life by author David Seltzer.
RIP Omen series?
Far from it. Omen IV: The Awakening in 1991 was a made-for-TV movie which is officially allowed in the canon, carrying Jerry Goldsmith’s music and being produced by Harvey Bernhard. It too hangs its existence on the continuation of Damien Thorn’s line through the pregnancy of Kate Reynolds in The Final Conflict, but in all other respects it breaks ties with the original chronology, going back to the Rosemary’s Baby idea of a suburban family raising (in this case) the daughter of the Devil. Needless to say, the father of the family quickly enters politics and is fast-tracked throughout the movie towards the Presidency. Delia, the Devildaughter here, plays the whole thing with a more outright smirk than any of the Damien actors, and the dilemmas she faces seem, by comparison with the first three installments, very infantile, the reactions overdone – she kills the father of a boy who was picking on her…pretty much, just because. The movie also delivers a re-hash of many Omen favourites – there’s a nanny out of a window, there’s a decapitation with rolling head, there’s a journalist killed in a massively unlikely fashion, there are photos which reveal what’s going on, there’s a priest killed in a church, there’s a scene where animals freak out etc. There’s also an unhealthy dose of schlock – crucifixes spontaneously inverting, homeless people turning into a choir of the damned, and so on. The ending is an attempt to pay homage to that of the original Omen, but tinged with weirdness when it turns out Delia herself is just the vessel for the new AntiChrist – she’s been pregnant since birth with her own…erm…brother, who will be the real AntiChrist. As a way of ending the series, it’s less satisfactory than McGill’s nukefest, and a less imaginative way of making a fourth instalment – which is perhaps why nothing more came of it.
Now, RIP Omen series?
Nope, guess again. In 1995, a pilot was made for an Omen TV series, entirely divorced from the movies. It failed, and the notion was never heard of again – save for a brief reworking by David Seltzer, into the again short-lived show Revelations on NBC.
Now, finally, the Beast is dead, right?
You know it isn’t. You remember 2006, don’t you?
There was a fashion at the time for a generation of filmmakers to put on celluloid updated, but generally utterly pointless remakes of horror classics. Some succeeded. Then there was The Omen 2006. To give it its due, like the original it was remaking, it cast big stars perfectly in the roles of some of its major characters – Liev Schreiber is a stolidly lumpen replacement for Gregory Peck as the new Robert Thorn, while Julia Stiles works well in the role of the new Kathy. Billie Whitelaw’s fantastically unpleasant nanny, Mrs Baylock, was always going to be a hard act to follow, so in one of the movie’s few brave stabs at reinterpretation, Mia Farrow’s Baylock is softer, sweeter – and more appalling for it, especially when she has her big scene (another variation from the original) and kills Kathy Thorn herself in a slow, horrible, softly-spoken way. David Thewlis was born to replace David Warner in…well practically anything that venerable actor should ever need, and Michael Gambon, while no Leo McKern, is probably the actor you’d most immediately think of as a replacement Bugenhagen. Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, the new young Damien, tries his best but is miscast, bless him, because whereas Harvey Stephens had looked like a little cherub, Davey-Fitzpatrick looks, right from the outset, like he’s just itching to flail the skin off you – dark eyes, dark hair, and a scowl too en pointe make him easier to think of as the son of the Devil, but yet less convincing, because it looks like that’s what the director is wanting you to think. Also of course, this Damien speaks, and it really does lessen the illusion if you watch it with any awareness of the original. The main miss-steps though come mainly from a lack of creative guts, and with notable exceptions like Farrow’s Baylock killing Kathy and an inexplicable and laughable demon-in-the-mirror shock-horror moment, what ends up on screen can’t help looking like a bunch of 21st century actors playing dress-up in the scripts of their fathers. No follow-up remake of Damien: Omen II was greenlit.
So now, finally, absolutely, the Omen series is done, yes?
In late August 2014, very generally female-orientated TV channel Lifetime gave a straight-to-series order for Damien – a TV show with Damien Thorn as an adult, apparently unaware that he is the AntiChrist until ‘a series of dark events forces him to come to terms with his true destiny.’ The project was the brainchild of Glen Mazzara, formerly of The Walking Dead, so it had some degree of pedigree. It aired. It sucked. It didn’t air again. Everybody was just a little bit grateful that the corpse of Damien Thorn seemed finally – finally – to have stopped moving, particularly since comic-book adaptation Lucifer gained a second series, and slit the wings of everyone’s favourite AntiChrist.
Not for nothing, but the remake of the original Omen was released in 2006.
Rrrrrround about now he’d be in a military academy.
I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’ – remake of Damien: The Omen II, anyone?
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk