Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Omen, The

A series of four movies: the Damien trilogy plus, much later, the loosely related 4 (which seemed intended to spawn a new cycle). The initial plan was a Damien tetralogy, but, after the huge success of 1, the relative box-office failure of 2 curtailed ambitions. The series, especially 1, is mercilessly parodied (> Parody) in Good Omens (1990) by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. In addition to the movies, Gordon McGill, who novelized 3, continued the book saga in Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 (1982) and Omen V: The Abomination (1985).

1. The Omen US movie (1976). 20th Century-Fox. Pr Harvey Bernhard. Exec pr Mace Neufeld. Dir Richard Donner. Spfx John Richardson. Screenplay David Seltzer. Novelization The Omen * (1976) by Seltzer. Starring Martin Benson (Father Spiletto), Leo McKern (Carl Bugenhagen), Holly Palance (Holly), Gregory Peck (Robert Thorn), Lee Remick (Kathy Thorn), Harvey Stephens (Damien), Patrick Troughton (Father Brennan), David Warner (Keith Jennings), Billie Whitelaw (Mrs Baylock). 111 mins. Colour.

In Rome, at 6am on June 6 (i.e., 6/6/6; > Great Beast), Kathy gives birth to a stillborn child; husband Robert, US Ambassador to Italy, colludes with the hospital's Father Spiletto to replace it with the living child of a mother who died in childbirth at that same moment. At the Changeling Damien's fifth birthday, with Robert now Ambassador to the UK, a black dog appears and mesmerizes his nanny into hanging herself. Soon after, eccentric Irish priest Brennan comes to Robert to try to persuade him Damien is the Antichrist, but is shown the door. A new nanny, Mrs Baylock, arrives without warning; she is in fact an emissary of Satan. The tale becomes very complex, leading Robert to Megiddo, near Jerusalem, to consult with mystic/archaeologist Bugenhagen and eventually to conclude that Damien is indeed the Great Beast. Using the set of Seven knives Bugenhagen gave him for the ritual killing of the child, Robert is poised to do the deed when shot dead by a policeman. At Robert's funeral, we find Damien hand-in-hand with the US President.

TO is a very classy Horror Movie, riding on the coat-tails of The Exorcist (1973), with excellent camerawork and spfx and some fine performances – notably by Peck (Charlton Heston had declined the part), Stephens and Warner – all disguising occasionally poor dialogue and several plotting infelicities. A highpoint is the sequence leading up to Brennan's impalement by a church's falling lightning-conductor: the howling winds and the flailing trees contribute to a scene of Nature attacking an individual that rivals the gathering of the birds in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). [JG]

2. Damien: Omen Two (vt Omen 2) US movie (1978). 20th Century-Fox/Mace Neufeld. Pr Harvey Bernhard. Dir Don Taylor. Spfx Ira Anderson Jr. Screenplay Bernhard, Michael Hodges, Stanley Mann. Novelization Damien: Omen II * (1978) by Joseph Howard. Starring Allan Arbus (1918-2013) (Pasarian), Lew Ayres (Bill Atherton), Lucas Donat (Mark Thorn), Robert Foxworth (Paul Buher), Lee Grant (Ann Thorn), Lance Henriksen (Sergeant Neff), William Holden (Richard Thorn), Leo McKern (Carl Bugenhagen), Nicholas Pryor (Charles Warren), Jonathan Scott-Taylor (Damien), Elizabeth Shepherd (Joan Hart), Sylvia Sidney (Marion), Meshach Taylor (Dr Kayne). 109 mins. Colour.

Immediately after the events of 1, Bugenhagen, still at Megiddo, realizes Damien is depicted on a just-uncovered ancient mural; he tries to spread the news but is buried alive. Seven years later Damien lives with his Uncle Richard (his father's brother), Aunt Ann and cousin Mark, he and Mark attending Davidson Military Academy. Great-Aunt Marion knows Damien is evil, but a malign raven (in the first part of this movie ravens have the same symbolism as black dogs in 1) induces a fatal coronary in her before she can take action. Various relics unearthed by Bugenhagen and his successors are being shipped from Israel to the Thorn Museum; among them, a statue of the Whore of Babylon astride the Great Beast particularly fascinates Ann. With the antiquities comes reporter Joan Hart, who has discovered the truth about Damien; a raven pecks out her eyes and she stumbles into the path of a truck. Damien, ignorant of his true identity, has two demonic minders: at the academy Neff; elsewhere Thorn Industries VP Buher. Neff at last tells Damien the truth about himself. There are many deaths: Thorn Industries' Dr Kayne (Kane in the credits) discovers Damien has the blood of a jackal, and dies in a freak elevator accident; Cousin Mark discovers the truth, so Damien fatally ruptures his brain; etc. Richard, too, deduces all: he plans to kill Damien with the ceremonial knives from 1, but is knifed by Ann, who admits she has always been Damien's tool. Damien rewards her by destroying both surrogate parents in a boiler-room accident.

D:OT, a somewhat better movie than the synopsis suggests, is marred by a succession of good ideas not followed through: Buher and Neff correspond to two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (War and Famine), but there is no sign of the other two; Ann is a Whore of Babylon analogue, but seems to lack whorishness; the potentially interesting clash between Damien-the-nice-lad and Damien-the-Antichrist is heralded but never arrives. D:OT did poorly at the box office. [JG]

3. The Final Conflict (vt Omen 3: The Final Conflict) US movie (1981). 20th Century-Fox/Mace Neufeld. Pr Harvey Bernhard. Exec pr Richard Donner. Dir Graham Baker. Spfx Ian Wingrove. Screenplay Andrew Birkin. Novelization Omen III: The Final Conflict * (1980) by Gordon McGill. Starring Mason Adams (President), Rossano Brazzi (Father De Carlo), Don Gordon (Harvey Dean), Lisa Harrow (Kate Reynolds), Barnaby Holm (Peter), Sam Neill (Damien), Leueen Willoughby (Barbara Dean). 108 mins. Colour.

Now 32, head of Thorn Industries and fully dedicated to Evil, Damien is busy engineering disasters so the company may profit from relief operations. Guided by the prophecies of the Apocryphal Book of Hebron that Christ will be reborn in the "Isle of Angels", he engineers also his ambassadorship to the UK. But others know of the imminent Second Coming: a rare conjunction of stars reprises the Star of Bethlehem, and from their alignment the precise place/instant of the Messiah's rebirth can be pinpointed; moreover, the knives of Negiddo have been recovered from the ashes of the Thorn Museum and are now with Father De Carlo, head of the monastery at Subiaco, Italy, where Father Spiletto has just died, confessing all. De Carlo and six fellow-monks, each with a knife (Seven Knives for Seven Brothers, as it were), travel to the UK to defend the Christ and kill the Antichrist; most are disposed of pretty swiftly. Also disposed of by Damien's disciples are, Herod-like, all male babies born in the UK on the night of March 24. And so the plot meanders gorily until De Carlo confronts Damien in a ruined church. Damien kills De Carlo, but tv journalist Reynolds, whose son Damien has also killed, seizes the knife and slays him. As Damien dies, he admits defeat to a Vision of Jesus that appears over the altar: the Second Coming of Christ has been successfully achieved.

TFC is a clumsy movie, and Neill a heavy-handed Damien; the scientific illiteracy of the astronomy sequences is risible. Yet there are some merits. Addressing his massed disciples, Damien spells out a sort of Mirror religion to Christianity, where pure Evil has the virtue of pure Good (> Good and Evil), in which pain rather than love is the true beauty. And there are glimpses of the Antichrist as a Trickster figure, bending the Perceptions of the soldiers of Good so that they unwittingly commit evil acts. [JG]

4. Omen IV: The Awakening US movie (1991 tvm theatrically released outside USA). FNM/20th Century-Fox. Pr Harvey Bernhard. Exec pr Mace Neufeld. Dir Jorge Montesi, Dominique Othenin-Girard. Spfx Gary Paller. Screenplay Brian Taggert. Starring Duncan Fraser (Father James Mattson), Faye Grant (Karen York), Ann Hearn (Jo Thurson), Megan Leitch (Sister Yvonne), Michael Lerner (Earl Knight), Andrea Mann (Lisa Roselli), Madison Mason (Dr Hastings), Asia Vieira (Delia), Michael Woods (Gene York). 97 mins. Colour.

A low-budget rerun of 1, with the sexes comprehensively reversed. Some years after the end of 3 – whose Second Coming appears forgotten – Gene and Karen adopt a baby girl, Delia, from the St Francis Orphanage in Virginia. Young Sister Yvonne, who knows the truth of the child, has fears; her Mother Superior chastises her for them, but in the process has a heart attack; the same fate attends the priest who attempts baptism, while later the threatening father of Delia's kindergarten bully is decapitated in a freak car accident (shades of Jennings's fate in 1). Gene's path towards political stardom is strangely eased. Delia grows up healthy but friendless to age 8, when she attains menarche: this is where the main action starts, but a promising setup dissolves into a mess of gory deaths and reverent nods towards "Alternative Wisdom". Delia proves to be the daughter of Damien (from 1-3); moreover, thanks to the condition called foetus papyraceous, when born she carried the embryo of a twin brother, which Satanist GP Hastings later transplanted into Karen to engender younger brother Alexander. Karen tries to kill the Children, but Delia mentally forces her to turn the gun on herself.

A near-perfect performance by Vieira cannot dispel the tvm aura and the desperately contrived plotting, rich in clichés: the few occasions when crucifixes stay the right way up are causes for surprise. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.