The Omen is the story of a father’s slow, reluctant realization that his son is not just a little devil in the way of all young boys, but in fact the antichrist himself. The film is a modern horror classic, but unfortunately the DVD commentary track offers little in the way of salvation.
The commentary features the film’s director, Richard Donner, and Brian Helgeland, a screenwriter and director who was about 15 when The Omen was first released, and listeners are never told how Helgeland fits into all this.
A bit of digging through IMDB revealed that Helgeland worked on the screenplay for Donner’s 1995 film Assassins, starring Sylvester Stallone and Antonia Banderas, which presumably explains the connection. Helgeland has had an eclectic career in terms of both the genre and quality of his work, ranging from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Conspiracy Theory, and The Postman at one end of the spectrum, to L.A. Confidential, A Knight’s Tale, and Mystic River at the other. His body of work made me think he would lend an interesting perspective to The Omen’s commentary.
I was wrong. Although he serves as a combination co-commentator/interviewer, he brings little to the table and is unable to get much of value out of Donner. For the most part, they’re content to reminisce about their respective experiences making and watching the film. For the most part, their anecdotes are not as interesting to the listener as they are to themselves.
Richard Donner on The Omen
But there are exceptions from both of them. On Donner’s part, he claims that The Omen had a tangential impact on George Lucas’s original Star Wars. Apparently “it gave [Alan Ladd, Jr., president of Fox,] the money to give to Star Wars to finish up properly…” (00:09:50).
Much more significant is Donner’s description of how he filmed Damien’s mother (Lee Remick) falling from the second floor of their house. Donner explains that he filmed the falling goldfish bowl at 120 fps and had it smash against the floor to emphasize the height. The fish in the bowl aren’t real goldfish, just sardines painted orange. During the shots through the balustrade, as she appears to dangle over the edge, Remick was simply standing on a box. To get the shot of her falling, Donner “took the floor and put it on the wall, and I glued the ‘goldfish’ in…and I glued the glass and I put the palm tree [on it] and the rug all wired up, and I put her on a dolly with her face standing and she dollied straight away from me, turned the dolly as she hits the wall and it looks like she fell” (00:52:00). If this sounds familiar, it may be because in our write-up of the Jeepers Creepers commentary, director Victor Salva said he used the same technique and had learned it from The Omen.
Brian Helgeland on The Omen
Helgeland also offers his thoughts on what gives the film its power. He suggests, and Donner agrees, that the Bible “gives you a kind of mythology . . . for a lot of things because people know it, and that makes them believe it even more instead of trying to invent your own. A lot of movies that have something like this in it fail because they’ve tried to invent something that didn’t exist, and it doesn’t hold water” (01:12:10).
What really doesn’t hold water is Donner’s view of the story. Frankly, it sounds like something he cooked up to get Gregory Peck on board with the project and is about as full of nonsense as a black mass, but we’ll get into that next time.
What do you think? What was your reaction when you first saw The Omen? How do you think The Omen compares to other horror films of its time? Would you be interested in reading about the 2006 remake of The Omen? Leave some comments below and let us know!