Slasher flicks I understand. For the more prurient-minded, a good slasher provides the right balance of soft-core porn, hardcore violence, and just enough “jump” moments for a guy to “inadvertently” avail himself of a left boob and, for the ladies, an opportunity to test a date’s squeamishness (if he squeals like Vin Diesel with a mouse underfoot, you know it’s time to move on). Besides, for the younger set, slashers are ideal make-out flicks because you need only wrench yourself away from his masticating jaw seven or eight times to watch some Barbie catch a pole through her chest and, fortunately for teenage gents, the only thing less appealing than the slobber-covered zit that’s about to erupt below your left nostril is watching a sociopath de-nipple Chad Michael Murray, meaning it’s the only time you’re likely to get more attention than the screen.
But I just don’t get the horror subgenre principally characterized by supernatural evils — the appeal of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Audrey Rose, the original Omen, and all of their cinematic devil-spawn completely eludes me. Perhaps it was some sort of anti-Vietnam sentiment or Archie-Bunkerian counterculture-inspired fear of the occult that catapulted the dystopian Satan flick into the pop zeitgeist of the Nixon era. Or maybe those films just had the benefit of some value-added psychedelia — I suppose after enough peyote, “end-times” movies, and Neal Cassady literary sightings, almost anything would scare the bejesus out of you. I dunno. But watching those films in 2006 does little but arouse boredom and disinterest — the eerie music, the slow-moving plots, the obvious revelations, and the hokey biblical quotes that are supposed to ground these films to some sort of religious underpinning all seem like tired relics of a time, perhaps, when America had difficulty telling the difference between a person possessed by the Devil and someone who had just come out of a Sunday morning Pentecostal revival. But for a generation with an attention span that is pushed to the limits by 22-second Onion podcasts, maybe now is not the best moment to be re-introducing 30-year-old plotlines with dramatic lulls as long and taxing as two-term Republican administrations.
All of which makes it that much more baffling that director John Moore (Flight of the Phoenix) would see fit to work off the same David Seltzer screenplay that Richard Donner used in the original, which means that, for those familiar with the 1976 version, the updated Omen provides hardly anything new. There are a couple of modern flourishes (evil dream sequences and brief allusions to 9/11 and the tsunami in Indonesia, presumably to add some political context), but for the most part, this Omen is as oddly irrelevant today as Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake was in 1998.
The film opens with a bunch of biblical hooey borrowed from the Book of Revelation and Nostradamus about the impending Armageddon, presaged by 9/11 and some other nonsense that only a religious scholar might find interesting, and only then if it had some grounding in the actual Bible (and it may, but I haven’t made it that far in my King James). Cut to Robert Thorn (Liev Schrieber), who is godson to the American president and soon-to-be Ambassador to Great Britain (also making Schreiber, with The Manchurian Candidate already under his belt, the Ambassador to Unnecessary Remakes); his wife, Katherine (Julia Stiles, sans tights), has just lost her baby because of unknown complications during childbirth. Robert, loving husband that he is, decides to keep this tidbit of information to himself and borrow the Son of the Devil and pass it off as their own spawn, which is all fine and dandy until the nanny hangs herself to celebrate Damien’s sixth birthday.
And, because a nanny with a broken neck isn’t much use hanging from a rope off a mansion wall, the Thorns welcome into their home a new caretaker, Mrs. Blaylock (Mia Farrow), who has an unnaturally close relationship to Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) and is prone to bringing strange dogs possessed by evil spirits into the house. Soon enough, Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) gets a bug up his ass about the return of Satan and starts bothering Robert about murdering his son to save mankind, which elicits all the expected responses, until Brennan is gored by a church in need of some repairs. At that point, the local tabloid photographer (David Thewlis) — who presumably has grown tired of snapping pictures of Sienna Miller — gets himself involved, borrowing a contrivance from the Final Destination series and showing Robert all these photos that seem to portend the death of the characters central to the plot. Alas, Robby is convinced; perhaps there is something strange about a child that would attack his mother before stepping foot in a church. (And is it just me, or could the beautiful Stiles pass off as a pasty, female doppelganger to the Brothers Manning?) So, Bob and the photog set about getting to the bottom of this whole Son of the Devil, 666, Armageddon gibberish so that they can finally get back to the important things in life, like frolicking through London streets with moon pies and penny whistles.
While the original Omen had a couple of things working for it — namely some grainy ’70s film stock that set a dark mood and a kid (Harvey Stephens) who probably terrified his own parents — the remake adds a couple of elements that make it slightly better than its predecessor, in the form of a cast that is more palatable to this younger generation of kids (say what you want about Gregory Peck, but Atticus Finch had no business fucking with Satan) and a few deliciously gruesome death scenes that might even give the aforementioned Destination series a run for its money. One scene in particular unintentionally borrows from the David Letterman arsenal, as a central character succumbs to a speeding car in much the same way Paul Schaeffer does three or four times a month, which is about as absurdly funny as The Omen gets. Farrow, for her part, also adds a certain amount of crazy-lady delight to the film’s penultimate scenes. Regrettably, however, this version of Damien is about as horrifying as Dakota Fanning holding a stick of cotton candy (though, I suspect, most audiences would prefer to see Fanning take a holy shiv to the chest). Indeed, the biggest thrill any teenager is likely to receive will be from sneaking in unattended by a parent; and for boomers hoping to recapture the glory of the original, well … umm … I hope you can still track down your dealer. He’s about 55 now, and probably the CEO of the company that just sent your job to India. So, good luck.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in a hippy colony/college town in upstate New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.6 + 6 + 6 = 18. So Fucking What?
Film | June 6, 2006 | Comments ()