The Omen directed by John Moore, written by David Seltzer, with Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles and Mia Farrow. A 20th Century-Fox release. 110 minutes. For venues and times, see Movies, page 123. Rating: NN Rating: NN
This 30th-anniversary remake of 1976 Satan-fest The Omen is different from the legion of other retread 70s horror flicks (besides being the first movie ever given the green light by a Hollywood studio because of its release date: 6/6/06).
It's a very rare instance of a remake using the original script. The solo screenplay credit for David Seltzer, who wrote the original, was the tipoff, but re-watching the first version confirms that, with the exception of a couple of scenes and dialogue touch-ups, this film has recycled Seltzer's entire screenplay.
Here's a quick recap for those who missed the original over the course of its 30 years on home video and television.
On a stormy night in Rome, American diplomat Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) learns that his newborn son did not survive, and the priest who so informs him offers another newborn whose mother died and who has no other family.
Jump five years into the future, and that child ain't right. Weird things start happening: his nanny commits public suicide for no reason, and a crazy priest (Pete Postlethwaite) shows up in Thorn's office telling him to accept Christ. Death and destruction ensue, whereupon Thorn, with the help of a scruffy news photographer (David Thewlis), comes to realize that his child is the Antichrist and that the new nanny (Mia Farrow, a mordantly witty piece of casting) doesn't exactly come with the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Like the original, it's a big, stodgy, gaseous piece of studio filmmaking that suggests Satan's true purpose is to kill people by means of elaborate Rube Goldberg devices. Director John Moore, who did the recent Flight Of The Phoenix remake, seems competent but devoid of artistic personality, making him ideal for this sort of project.
Are there any major 70s horror movies left to update? The last few years have seen new versions of Dawn Of The Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, The Amityville Horror, When A Stranger Calls, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Fog and a TV movie of Carrie.
Then there are all those films that feel like remakes even if the scripts are sort of original: Wrong Turn, High Tension, The Devil's Rejects, House Of 1000 Corpses.
Nobody's touched the rape-revenge horror cycle yet. As far as I know, there are no plans to redo Last House On The Left or I Spit On Your Grave.
It's important to recall that most of the original horror "classics" were independent films. These low-budget shockers were eruptions from the American id. There was nothing quite like seeing Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1976 or Dawn Of The Dead in 1979 in a grubby exploitation theatre; that's where those movies played.
The current crop generally have "better" special effects, and no doubt Chainsaw's Jessica Biel is a better actor than the original's Marilyn Burns, though Burns was a more impressive screamer. But something about these retreads just ain't right.
What were once transgressive films have been recycled through the major studios, which worked real hard to get PG-13 ratings. These zombies were brought to you by NBC-Universal-Viacom-NewsCorp, and it's not the same thing. Domesticated transgression is a contradiction in terms. And the studios are plainly thinking of their DVD double dip, when they release special "unrated" versions with more gore and bad language restored.
The Omen is part of a cycle of "demonic" horror that stretches from Rosemary's Baby to The Exorcist and beyond (anyone want to remake The Sentinel?). It reflects certain social fears of the time, especially the adult generation's anxiety about its own children. The remake cycle rips these films loose from their sociological contexts. Currently, Hollywood is so bereft of interesting ideas or so afraid of them that it's giving us new versions of films that weren't any good in the first place.
The Omen was redone to... any suggestions? To show that we can now do cooler decapitations than Richard Donner could back in 1976? That Liev Schreiber, try as he might, can't be as dull as the original's Gregory Peck?
By way of contrast, Steven Spielberg's War Of The Worlds and George Romero's Land Of The Dead were very specifically post-9/11 films. Though they never mentioned the date, the attacks certainly influenced their imagery. These movies may not be "origi-nal" one is a remake, the other a sequel but they engage with the world the filmmakers live in.
The Omen seems designed only to provide folks with something on DVD to double bill with The Da Vinci Code.