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Gregory Peck and Lee Remick? YES. (Attention young people... this is a publicity shot. The movie was in color. We had color film in 1976.)
Hulton Archives/Getty Images
Julia Stiles? Not so much.
When I first saw The Omen on a fall Ohio night in 1976, I went home truly unnerved and felt ripples of unease for months. The soundtrack stayed in my head. So did the baboons and the dogs. The spooky nurse. The haunted priest.
And this scene:
Priest: "I saw its mother."
Peck: "You saw my wife."
Priest: "Its mother was a ... "
I was a teenage boy when the movie came out. I had snickered and winced at Friday the 13th and sneered at A Nightmare on Elm Street. But when I think about that scene with the priest, I make the slithery, shivery noise that Bart and Lisa Simpson make when something is just too much for the senses to handle... like a kiss from Aunt Selma.
I'm also afraid — very afraid — that the remake of The Omen will ruin one of the best movie-going experiences ever for an entire new generation of film fans. And simply because the calendar has moved inexorably to 6-6-06. (The mark of the beast, don't you know.)
Gregory Peck — aka Ambassador Thorn — was a robust 60 when the film premiered, 14 years after he won the best-actor Oscar for To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee Remick, as his doomed wife, was 41 and still the kind of beautiful they simply don't make anymore. She made relatively few films in her career, but was a best-actress nominee for 1962's powerful melodrama Days of Wine and Roses.
I note the ages because The Omen drew poignancy and power from those choices. Damien was a late-in-life baby. Peck, no spring chicken, grows increasingly haggard in his draining race to learn the truth. As he faces his final choice, it's clear what the ordeal has cost him.
Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles, the remake Thorns, are 39 and 25. Schreiber is an undeniable talent, and so is Stiles. But here's a telling detail: After important roles in at least 20 films in her short career, she is also oft-nominated. In four different years, she's been up for "Teen Choice" awards.
Also telling: Director John Moore jumped from the world of advertising to what I'm going to call cinema adverite (you'll pardon my French). So far, he has made Behind Enemy Lines and Flight of the Phoenix.
Before The Omen, Richard Donner had not directed a big-screen film. But he had nearly two decades of TV work behind the camera. He had a hand in episodes from more than a dozen popular series from 1958 to 1975. Among them: The Rifleman, Combat! and The Twilight Zone; The F.B.I, Kojak and the The Streets of San Francisco; Get Smart!, Gilligan's Island and even The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.
(Hmmm... wonder which was more of a challenge: directing Telly Savalas or directing Drooper, Bingo, Fleegle and Snork?)
Donner capped his small-screen work (and prepared for a leap into the horror genre) with 1975's Sarah T., Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic, which starred Linda Blair of Exorcist fame.
I'm not sure what the future holds for John Moore. I do know Donner went on to give us a whole string of popcorn movies: the Christopher Reeve Superman blockbuster and the entire Lethal Weapon franchise. He also "helmed," as Variety would have it, the witty Bill Murray vehicle Scrooged, the amusing Maverick (Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster), the perplexing Conspiracy Theory (Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts) and the touching Radio Flyer.
I would argue that The Omen was his best work. Did no one think of simply re-releasing it for a new crowd?
Why, Todd, Why?
(Thank you, Mr. Subhead, for asking.) It's painfully obvious to me that the ONLY reason to recast and remake one of the chillest thrillers I know is to create yet another teen flick. To which I can only reply: Omigod. Why must we treat teens as if they're idiots?
Teen films don't bother me. I rather like many of them. Nor am I a purist. I don't object to all remakes. I said not one bad thing about Poseidon, because the original — however gripping in its day — was at least in part a special-effects film. I could well imagine a better version being turned out with today's technology.
But friends, The Omen is NOT a special-effects film. It's a terrific, intelligent, plot-driven vehicle with an excellent cast. To the degree there are effects, they are live effects, which makes them all the more terrifying.
Did I mention the baboons?
Devil's in the Details
For the small but essential role of Lucifer's minion, Mrs. Blaylock, the new film trots out Mia Farrow. This is a nice touch, adding the scent of that earlier devil-may-care romp, Rosemary's Baby, to the whole endeavor. And Mia knows a thing or two about children possessed by evil forces, on and OFF the screen.
But I must add that Billie Whitelaw, Damien's original nursemaid, had one significant advantage. According to the invaluable film site imdb.com, Billie Whitelaw's ACTUAL BIRTHDAY is June 6.
Todd Holzman is supervising editor of NPR.org. He will probably break down and watch the new version, but not until it comes to a TV set near him.