Any parent who’s watched their child willfully disobey and wreak havoc on their house knows that kids, even the most photogenic, oh-so-adorable toddlers, are anything but innocent. Big eyes and cute grin, sure… but turn your back or drop your guard and see how quickly they transform into little monsters. Perhaps that’s exactly what director Richard Donner (‘Lethal Weapon,’ ’16 Blocks’) and writer David Seltzer had in mind when they created ‘The Omen,’ a horror classic in the vein of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Exorcist’ that introduced audiences to yet another seemingly innocent child who just so happened to be a vessel of supernatural evil.
Loosely based on Christian mythology and Biblical prophecy, ‘The Omen’ tells the tale of Robert (Gregory Peck) and Katherine Thorn (Lee Remick), a loving couple who become the proud parents of a beautiful baby boy named Damien. However, Katherine is oblivious to two things: that her real son was stillborn and that, in an effort to protect his wife’s fragile psyche, Robert secretly switched the dead child with an orphaned baby. Over the years, the American diplomat and his wife shower Damien (uber-creepy waif Harvey Stephens) with all the wealth and privilege they can muster, but when bizarre incidents, freak accidents, and a suicide rouse their suspicions, Robert becomes determined to unravel the mysteries surrounding his son’s birth. With the help of a paranoid priest (Patrick Troughton), a photographer (David Warner), and a rash of others seemingly in the know, Robert learns that his son may actually be the ultimate incarnation of evil: the Antichrist.
While it hasn’t aged as gracefully as its critically-acclaimed genre brethren (specifically, the aforementioned ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Exorcist’), ‘The Omen’ still has a lot to offer modern horror fans. First, the story works on several levels: as a morality tale, a cautionary tragedy, and as a slow-burning thriller. While the Thorns are caught in the midst of a fiendishly complex supernatural struggle, they’re forced to deal with extreme versions of the base fears every parent must face at one point or another. Will my child be a success? Will he be a good person? Will she inherit my values or reject everything I represent? It’s these sorts of thematic explorations that make ‘The Omen’ feel authentic, even when it ventures into some fairly ridiculous territory.
Likewise, Donner and Seltzer have created a group of characters that manages to make the loftiest plot points seem more plausible. Robert has to choose between his son and the future of mankind, Katherine tries to deal with both love and fear of her child, and several supporting characters must risk their own lives to help stop a rising evil. Yet, each one strikes me as a regular person who’s stumbled into larger-than-life circumstances beyond their control. To that end, all of the characters have been developed as realistically as possible and the story gives the central players plenty of time to process new information and make credible decisions.
It may not offer the same scares and unsettling jolts that it did in 1976, but ‘The Omen’ is still a well-regarded, influential piece of horror filmmaking that helped shape the genre as we know it. With excellent performances, a tight script, and a few twists and turns that will still surprise modern audiences, the film continues to stand the test of time and retain its status as a genre classic.
'The Omen' features a carefully remastered 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that looks quite good considering its age and associated print issues. The film’s palette receives the most noticeable bump from previous DVD releases -- primaries pop, skintones are natural, and shadows are deep (albeit intrusive). Detail trails at a close second. While a bit of softness and haziness remains in several shots, the new high-def presentation boasts sharper textures, crisper subtleties, and more refined background elements. Contrast is also far more steady than it’s been in the past. I still noticed a bit of wavering here and there, but Fox has done a fantastic job of stabilizing the print and creating an attractive presentation. To top it all off, the studio thankfully didn’t slather DNR all over the original print. Grain is intact and, while a bit erratic at times, allows the transfer to retain a filmic quality Fox has unfortunately tried to subdue on other releases.
Problems? Edge enhancement makes a few distracting appearances, minor artifacts occasionally invade the image, and there are still a few spots of print damage. Don’t get me wrong, the overall image is much cleaner than it has ever been, but there are still a few too many imperfections to declare this version of ‘The Omen’ a flawless remaster. Regardless, for a film released in 1976, ‘The Omen’ looks great. I doubt many people will be able to muster many serious complaints about this one.
’The Omen’ features a remarkable pair of polished tracks -- a remixed DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and a presentation of the original mono mix. The remix effortlessly spreads Jerry Goldsmith’s score around the soundfield and utilizes subtle ambient effects to create an immersive experience. LFE presence is as strong as one might expect from a remastered 1976 production, and the noticeable low-end upgrade affords the film’s dialogue and effects some much-needed weight. The rear channels aren’t aggressive per se, but their usage seems to respect the film’s sound design while steadily enveloping the listener with convincing interior acoustics and environmental support.Even so, I found myself gravitating to the original mono presentation. High-end tones were a bit more crisp, sound effects were slightly more balanced with the musical score, and I didn’t encounter any problems with unintelligible dialogue (as I occasionally did in the remix). Of course, none of that should belittle the achievements of the DTS HD track, but should instead excite purists looking for a faithful presentation of the original audio.
'The Omen' earns a vast supplemental package that covers every conceivable aspect of the production, its achievements and lasting influence over the decades, and the hard work and talent that made the film everything it is. Plus, Fox has even tacked on a surprising amount of exclusive content (discussed in the next section) including an additional commentary, a PiP experience, an isolated score track, and a director's interview.
'The Omen' is a classic horror film that has influenced and shaped its genre over the last three decades. Easily the best of the 'Omen' series, this one has stood the test of time and emerged as a true classic. Thankfully, the Blu-ray debut of the film outclasses its standard DVD incarnations and will please fans, purists, and completists alike. It features a faithfully remastered video transfer, a pair of reliable audio tracks (a lossless remix and a presentation of the original mono), and an enormous supplemental package that's worth the price of admission alone. The film may seem a bit campy after thirty years, but it should have a home on any horror aficionado's shelf.