I’ve seen a number of documentaries over the years that have covered one particular horror franchise or another. Depending on how these docs are assembled, they’re hit or miss. Still, I was more than a little jazzed when, a number of years ago, on Halloween night no less, American Movie Classics ran THE OMEN LEGACY, an in-depth look at the series started by my favorite horror movie, THE OMEN. The results are impressive, and should please all OMEN fans with background stories and some interesting insights on not only the films, but faith, God and the devil.
The documentary, narrated by Jack Palance, starts off with a brief overview of the series, and makes note of the “OMEN curse.” It then heads into a discussion of religious movies, and how they took a dark turn with ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST. This rolls into how an idea from Rev. Bob Munger about the birth of the Antichrist on Earth sent producer Harvey Bernhard on a quest that would lead to writer David Seltzer and director Richard Donner’s brilliant take on the notion. The doc then spends the next 47 minutes, nearly half its running time, discussing the inception, production, release and effect of THE OMEN, and excels in doing so. It discusses everything from why the name of the film changed from THE BIRTHMARK, and how the film’s robust box office returns allowed for STAR WARS to be made.
The doc then turns its eye to DAMIEN: OMEN II. The sequel was a troubled production from the start, as LEGACY chronicles. Quarrels between the studio and Bernhard and fellow producer Mace Neufeld, piled on by a change in director, led to a film that never had a chance to equal the original. Bernhard basically says that the movie is a highlight reel of five or six horrific events, a story without any meat. I couldn’t agree more.
Following chronologically, the doc then picks up on THE FINAL CONFLICT, the completion of the original trilogy. According to Bernhard, we OMEN fans can thank actor James Mason for fronting the air fare for Sam Neill to do his screen test. The introduction of a love interest for Damien led to real romance, as actress Lisa Harrow and Neill moved in with one another during the film’s production. The clips from the film display just how sinister Damien has become in his 30’s, and just how great a job Neill does as the adult Antichrist, now in full embrace of his powers. The film’s ending made Christian groups happy everywhere, but did little for fans, as it was the least successfully of the trilogy, financially speaking. A shame, since it’s a better film than OMEN II.
Regrettably, the doc next focuses on OMEN IV: THE AWAKENING. A made-for-TV abomination that has all the tell tale signs of being made-for-TV (dull camera work, stiff acting, a silly plot, lowbrow and ineffective special effects). For those who decry the current state of horror remakes that are far inferior to the originals, know that Fox was well head of the curve back in 1990. A film that is more sequel than strict remake, OMEN IV is an abortion best avoided by fans of anything, especially THE OMEN. I applaud LEGACY for offering a complete view of the franchise, but I advise fans to skip this section of the doc, which only demonstrates how appallingly bad the film is.
Finally, LEGACY looks very briefly at THE OMEN television series, which never made it beyond its pilot. Donner says he hated it, and refuses to talk about it any further. And so neither will I. Fortunately, the doc also includes a scene from the Damien episode from the first season of South Park as part of the franchise’s cultural legacy. The doc leaves off with the suggestion that the OMEN films are so popular because they base themselves in the eternal struggle of good vs. evil.
THE OMEN LEGACY does several things right, the first of which is installing Jack Palance as the narrator. His richly sinister voice suits the material perfectly, and writers Naomi Pfefferman and Brent Zachey give him a solid script with which to work. It also includes plenty of well-paced and well-chosen clips from the films themselves, and makes powerful use of Jerry Goldsmith’s brilliant scores. It includes interviews with many of the parties involved in all four films, such as: Donner, Seltzer, and Bernhard; actors Martin Benson, David Warner, Lee Grant, Lance Henriksen and many others; producer Neufeld, and former head of Fox studios Alan Ladd, Jr.; as well as a minister, a professor of theology and a member of the Church of Satan. The stories these people share, coupled with Palance’s commentary, provide a rounded background for the series that any die hard Omen fan will love.
Director Zachey also does a nice job of not repeating much of the information from “666: The Omen Revealed,” the excellent 46 minute doc that Fox included with their previous DVD releases of the first OMEN movie. Rarely do those interviewed for both docs retread information. Instead, LEGACY expands on “Omen Revealed,” discussing different aspects from the same topics. For instance, whereas Donner told a story about getting the baboons to act angry in the zoo scene, here Neufeld relates the story of how actress Lee Remick couldn’t drive a stick shift. Zachey must have had an easier time covering the other two films in the trilogy, and the dreaded fourth installment, as their stories were previously undocumented.
I have very few complaints about THE OMEN LEGACY. My biggest quibble is the lack of interviews with the people who played Damien. Harvey Stephens and Jonathan Scott-Taylor, the first two to essay the role of the Antichrist, left acting quickly after their portrayals, and perhaps Sam Neill was too big an actor to take part. Most sorely missed is Gregory Peck, the Academy Award winner who portrayed Robert Thorn. Peck died two years after THE OMEN LEGACY came out. I’ve seen Peck do plenty of interviews, but never once have I heard him comment on his role in THE OMEN. But given the breadth of people interviewed, and the depth of stories they share, this is a minor quibble.
THE OMEN LEGACY is available as a stand-alone disc from Image Entertainment, and as an extra on the two-disc re-release of THE OMEN from Fox. But if you buy the latter, you’ll miss out on one extra that is well worth seeing: “Power and The Devil: The Making of Damien: Omen II.” The seven minute piece is mostly fluff about the sequel, but it includes snippets of interviews with Academy Award winner William Holden, the only comments I’ve ever seen him make on the film, or his personal art collection for that matter. Scott-Taylor and Bernhard also comment briefly on the film and Damien himself. Is “Power and the Devil” a necessity? To the OMEN completist, absolutely. And let’s face it: who but an OMEN completist would fervently seek out LEGACY?
THE OMEN LEGACY is an outstanding documentary, a superb look at a top of the line horror franchise. As the series suggests, and the doc reflects, the world is constantly involved in a test of strength between good and evil. For fans of little Damien, who would grow from birth into the ultimate evil, THE OMEN LEGACY is a must-see.