The Omen (2006, John Moore)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In this remake of the 1976 original, Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is appointed deputy ambassador to Great Britain, so blah blah blah moves to England blah blah blah wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) blah blah blah son Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) blah blah blah strange deaths…

Best performance: In almost every main role is a decent actor, yet not one of them betters the first movie’s equivalent. Having said that, Pete Postlethwaite is appropriately troubled as Father Brennan; Mia Farrow is creepy as Mrs Baylock. (Harvey Stephens, who’d played Damien in 1976, has an unconvincing one-line cameo as a journalist.)

Best death: The beheading of photographer Keith Jennings (David Thewlis) is given a neat twist – rather than a sheet of glass flung sideways, it’s now a metal sign that falls loose of the wall, swings down and chops his head off as he stands.

Review: This mechanical remake was directed by John Moore, who later spunked up another film series with the abysmal A Good Day to Die Hard. As others have said, it’s more a release date than a movie – the temptation of The Omen coming out on 6 June 2006 (6/6/6, if you squint) was too strong to resist. And it comes off quite badly when compared to the original. For instance, see Robert Thorn’s first encounter with Father Brennan. In 1976, the scene was staged in a small, cramped office with its door locked; Thorn is backed into a corner and feels trapped and threatened. Now, the conversation is in the enormous, empty lobby of the embassy, so Robert is able to call for help from armed guards any time he likes. Also, check out the scene where Damien visits a zoo and the animals go, well, ape-shit. Originally, Damien and his mother are in a small car driving through a safari section – they get attacked from all sides and it’s terrifying. Now, the scene is in an unimpressive interior space and the primates are all behind thick glass. In short, the director’s staging choices have no relationship to the drama. There are also many more horror-movie clichés than in the original – especially in dream sequences that go very quiet then SUDDENLY THROW IN A LOUD SOUND. That superficial trick is emblematic of the whole film: it wants to jolt you, rather than *disturb* you. It’s perhaps telling that fun can be had in spotting how often the colour red is linked to Damien and his activities – it’s evident in Kate’s nightmares, Damien’s bedspread, a balloon at the zoo, the strawberries fed to the boy by Mrs Baylock, the flowers Kate is tending when she’s hit by Damien’s (red-wheeled) scooter, and at many other times. But you shouldn’t be consciously noticing this sort of thing if the film is doing its job.

Four sacrificial daggers out of 10

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Omen IV: The Awakening (Fox, 20 May 1991, Jorge Montesi and Dominque Othenin-Girard)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

US Congressman Gene York (Michael Woods) and wife Karen (Faye Grant) adopt a baby girl from an orphanage, but as Delia (Asia Vieria) grows up a number of strange deaths begin to occur…

Best performance: Michael Lerner shows up in the second half as a private eye called Earl Knight. The actor refers to his character as a ‘low-rent Columbo’ on the DVD extras, and that’s not far off. He’s fun and has a lot more life to him than anyone else. That is, until…

Best death: Moments after posting some vital information to Karen, Earl is looking in some shop windows. He sees a toy crane, then a small model of the Nativity scene. He has a vision of the baby Jesus turning evil and starts to panic. In a cut, it’s suddenly raining and a dazed Earl stumbles through the town. He then has a vision of macabre, ghostly people singing the incidental music to him. Meanwhile, a crane on a nearby construction site swings a wrecking ball into action. Earl is clutching his heart and sweating, but comes to a rest outside the building site. He begins to calm down. However, in the background the enormous crane is silently turning towards him. The wrecking ball gains momentum, smashes through an office, and – in a super-slo-mo POV shot – heads directly for Earl…

Pilot: Fox had another attempt at The Omen on TV in 1995. A one-off episode staring William Sadler, Brett Cullen and Chelsea Fields was broadcast on 8 September. Richard Donner, the director of the original movie, put his name to it as executive producer – but quickly denounced the episode as garbage. A series didn’t follow.

Review: “I’ve got an idea,” some executive at the Fox network must have said. “Let’s take the Omen franchise and turn it into a lacklustre TV movie!” Almost everything in this film reeks of daytime-soap dreariness. The story heads down a predictable road – Delia starts to act oddly, threats to her are killed off, we find out she’s the daughter of Damien Thorn – and it’s very hard to care about anything that happens. It doesn’t help that the cast is largely bland and the film was clearly shot on a budget. (Despite the story being set in Virginia, it was filmed in Vancouver – so even though the events take place over a long period, it’s *always* wintery!) The script also references a large number of non-Catholic beliefs – Native American culture, tarot, auras, healing crystals, general New Age mysticism, cults – but never uses them for anything interesting. This general lack of attack might be because of a troubled shoot: the producer wasn’t happy with the first director so replaced him halfway through. In the film’s favour, the switcheroo plot twist – that Delia is actually a bodyguard and the Antichrist is Karen’s newborn son – is inventive and works well. But overall this is rotten.

Three snakes out of 10

Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981, Graham Baker)

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Note: The on-screen title is simply The Final Conflict, and indeed that’s how the film was initially promoted.

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Damien Thorn, now 32, arranges it so he can have his stepfather’s old job: American ambassador to the UK. He needs to be on the spot because the Second Coming has been forecast as taking place in England…

Best performance: No one especially stands out. Sam Neill is fine if one-note as Damien. So for a laugh I’ll pick Ruby Wax, who has an uncredited cameo as a secretary at the US embassy. She unknowingly sets off the device that kills the ambassador, therefore freeing up the job for Damien. (The best performance certainly isn’t from Mason Adams, who plays perhaps the least presidential President in cinema. Incidentally, an establishing shot of the White House is stock footage bought from Superman II.)

Best death: The wife of Damien’s second-in-command is tricked into believing her newborn baby is evil. So she burns him to death with an iron. (The close-up of her nightmarish vision was slate 666 – ie, the 666th different camera position used during filming.)

Review: Even more so than the last film, this retcons the timeline. Despite being a child in a movie released five years earlier, Damien is now in his early 30s – approaching the age Jesus was when killed, in fact. Sadly it’s rote, unsubtle storytelling with little momentum.

Five Nazarenes out of 10

Damien: Omen II (1978, Don Taylor)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Now a boy of 12, Damien Thorn is living with his uncle, Richard Thorn. But the strange deaths continue…

Best performance: Lee Grant, the second ever killer in Columbo, plays Damien’s sympathetic aunt, Ann. It’s a decent bit of acting, which throws you off the scent of what’s actually going on.

Best death: Bill Atherton (Lew Ayres), a manager at Thorn Industries who opposes plans for expansion. At a winter barbecue, a big group is playing ice hockey on the frozen lake. Presaged by incidental music with overtone singing, Bill falls through a crack in the ice. He bobs in the water for a moment, then sinks. “The current’s got him!” someone cries as Bill reappears at various points, banging on the solid surface and being pulled to and fro. Then the would-be rescuers lose sight of him…

Review: A sequel with only one returning cast member. The story picks up a week or so later and Leo McKern reprises archeologist Carl Bugenhagen in a prologue. (His beard has grown a lot fuller since we last saw him.) After he learns that the Antichrist is still alive, Bugenhagen is killed and we cut to seven years later. Damien Thorn is now a tweenager played by Jonathan Scott-Taylor, who’s appropriately unsettling in the role. It’s probably best not to question when these films are meant to be set: in the real world, it had only been 24 months since The Omen came out! But we might ask why this sequel ignores the obvious plotline of having Damien living with the President, who took him in at the end of film one. Anyway, as the story develops, threats to Damien’s Satanic destiny are met with macabre deaths (“spectacles of big-screen gore!” the making-of documentary calls them with relish). Sadly, the ambiguity of the first film has been dropped – the lad is now actually evil and has magic powers – but there are political machinations in Richard’s company and power struggles at the military academy where Damien is a pupil and Lance Henriksen is a secret ally. The story definitely falls into the basically-the-same-as-the-first-film camp. The trappings have been moved around a bit, but the structure and themes are repeats from 1976, while there are equivalents of Jennings the photographer and Mrs Baylock the nanny. It’s all a bit functional – you just wait for each inventive death scene to come along – but is a competent enough horror film.

Seven crows out of 10

The Omen (1976, Richard Donner)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After a series of strange deaths, the American ambassador in the UK fears his son, Damien, may be the Antichrist…

Best performance: Gregory Peck holds the whole thing together, playing Robert Thorn as a man emotionally tortured into thinking the unthinkable. But it’s a notably strong cast, with terrific turns from David Warner as suspicious photographer Keith Jennings, Patrick Troughton as troubled priest Father Brennan, and Billie Whitelaw as Mrs Baylock, the terrifying nanny.

Best death: Keith Jennings, who’s decapitated by a sheet of glass that’s been flung sideways off the back of a truck. The stunt is shot from numerous angles and the edit shows us the impact four times. The fake head then spins off almost poetically, while behind Keith a shop window breaks and red wine is symbolically thrown up into the air.

Review: The really smart thing about this film is – to use the director’s term – its verisimilitude. Everything is played absolutely for real. It’s a horror film seemingly about the son of Satan, yet nothing inexplicable or supernatural actually happens. A nanny hangs herself, there are some tragic accidents, a child throws a tantrum or two… The horror instead comes from these plausible events mounting up, the way they’re centred on a creepy little boy, and – most effectively – the fact a father allows himself to be convinced that his son is evil. But is he right? One interpretation of the story is that Damien is just a normal child and Robert has gone mad. It’s a fascinating idea. The Omen is a great movie, helped by some terrific incidental music by Jerry Goldsmith, fine location filming at the genuine American embassy in Grosvenor Square, and an all-round excellent job of directing by Richard Donner. Superb.

Nine armies on either shore out of 10