Following the immeasurable success of The Exorcist back in 1973, the majority of the horror films in the mid-to-late 70's dealt with the idea of satanic possession and the supernatural. Countless clones and imitations were created to cash in on the demand for demonic possession, whether it be about houses, like in The Amityville Horror, or about babies, like in I Don't Want To Be Born. A sequel to The Exorcist was made as well, but the bulk of the films were mediocre at best. Like the slasher genre that would follow, most of the films were mere imitations that covered little new ground in the genre.
There was one film, however, in the clutter of apocalyptic religious films to follow, that would rise above the countless retreads. That film was The Omen. Made in 1976 by future Superman director, Richard Donner, it combined elements of the supernatural with mystery. The film scared many upon its initial release, and now thanks to 20th Century Fox, it will continue to scare people on the digital medium. Labeled a Special Edition with several features, Fox looks to have created quite a disc. But do the transfer and supplements measure up? Read more and find out.
The film begins with U.S. ambassador Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) panicking at the loss of his newborn son. Devastated and in fear that his wife Kathy (Lee Remick) will not take the news so well, he makes a deal with a church to raise one of its infants as his own. He tells no one, and lives his life accordingly, but little does he know that the baby, Damien (Harvey Stephens), is the son of Satan himself.
Things go quite well for the family for Damien's first five years, but after a freak (or maybe not so) accident on his fifth birthday occurs, things for the Thorn family, and those linked to them, start to turn for the worst. Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) warns Robert of the evil that will ensue, and although he is somewhat concerned, Robert dismisses the preaching as psychotic rambling. Matters get worse when the newly hired housekeeper becomes overprotective of young Damien, playing catalyst to some of the horrid events that would ensue.
Robert begins to realize that there may be a link to all that is happening when photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) approaches him with a revealing discovery. The deaths happening appear to be foreshadowed by faults in his photos, and the two team up together to get to the bottom of this ghoulish mystery. After traveling far and wide, they determine the Devil is routed in politics (who knew?) and that Damien is indeed the anti-Christ. They then decide that he must be stopped, or the fate of the world will lie in damnation.
The Omen is a classic look at the possibility of the apocalypse, and how Satan can manifest itself in everyday life. Filmed with taught direction, Donner is able to fabricate a frightening story based mostly on a looming idea of danger. Damien is still a helpless child with little power, but it is the idea of what might become of his destiny that gives the film its uneasy character. True terror comes from the imagination, and when ideas are brought forth, but never physically shown, the mind's eye is left to visualize the situation. And the mind is left little else than apocalypse to visualize throughout The Omen, because once the evil is unleashed, there is little relent.
Jerry Goldsmith's Academy AwardŽ winning score greatly contributes to the creating of the solemn and apocalyptic tone of the film. A piercing orchestral score accompanied by deep Gregorian chants, it suits the religious implications of the films material, overcastting it with an ominous gloom. The cast also lends a hand in the quality of the film, with credible performances by all. Admittedly, Gregory Peck plays the same role time and time again, but there is no denying he does it damn well. Peck and Remick work well together, and embody their innocent and well-meaning parental roles convincingly. Little Harvey Stephen deserves credit too, as his relenting gaze and fatal smirk make for a truly frightening anti-Christ.
The film is well-written, posing some interesting questions about the future and human nature, The Omen works on the viewer psychologically. The scares, instead of shocks, are composed of the unseen. The imagery that is disclosed will assuredly frighten and remain with the viewer for days onward. Gore hounds will no doubt be pleased by some of the visuals, while thinking horror fans will applaud the craft and intrigue of the story. It remains one of the few supernatural films of its time to be remembered, and for good reason.
Presented in a new anamorphically enhanced 2.50:1 widescreen ratio, this transfer is a mixed blessing. It is certainly the best the film has ever looked, but could still look a whole lot better. Blacks are inconsistent and grainy with little depth, and the colors often appear washed out and weak. The transfer is also inconsistent, with some of the interiors boasting decent colors, while the exterior countryside shots look weak and damaged. The film's red tint is reproduced nicely however, and there are times when the visuals look quite good. Blame can be pointed at the age of the source material, which is over 25 years old and counting, but given Warner's fine transfer on The Exorcist there is no reason this film shouldn't look just as good.
Fox has provided both a mono and a newly mixed 2.0 stereo track, but like the video, the audio is somewhat lacking. The stereo track for all intents and purposes a mono track with the score pushed into the surrounds. There are no directional effects, and the mix ultimately sounds flat. To its benefit, the stereo track is louder than the mono mix, but both of them sound fairly weak. It is presented clearly with nary a hiss or a pop, but the mix is still unsatisfying. It does sound much better than VHS, and is serviceable for a film of such age, but it could have sounded a lot better.
Here is what makes this disc a keeper. Fox has provided us with a full out Special Edition with over three hours of entertaining supplements. First up is the full length, screen specific commentary by director Richard Donner and editor Stuart Baird. Both are very outgoing, and provide some interesting anecdotes and witty comments throughout the film. There are some blank spots, and some time is spend trying to recollect peoples names and events, but overall this is an entertaining two hours. Next up is a great 46 minute documentary: "666: The Omen Revealed." Included are interviews with several key crewmembers with clips from the film. They talk about everything from the actors and music all the way over to the religious connections of the screenplay. Everyone involved has nothing but fond memories of the production, and their excitement radiates through the entire piece.
There are also a few entertaining short featurettes included on the disc as well. Most interesting is the 6 minute short: "Curse or Coincidence", which features recollections from the crew about how the production was marred with problems ranging from crashed planes to decapitated girlfriends. Many of the statements are quite interesting, and it raises the question as to whether the Devil was against this film being made. Jerry Goldsmith also contributes with four featurettes on each of the various pieces included in the film. He is a well spoken guy, and provides some interesting information on scoring a film. Also included is a creepy full screen trailer that looks its age. It gives away too many plot points in the film and should only be seen after seeing the film. Lastly, the opening menu is nicely animated and sets the tone for the movie. Overall, a great batch of supplements!
The Omen is a thoroughly frightening film that works both as a film about the supernatural and as a mystery. Featuring fine performances, skillful photography and an ominous score, it will exhaust the mind as well as make you think twice about adoption. The audio and visual presentations are good, but could have been a lot better. The supplements however, are top-notch and oozing with life and information, and make this disc a must buy. So get to your nearest synagogue, fire up some candles, and watch this fine DVD. And remember, "it's all for you Damien!"
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B-
Supplements - A
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