A new Halloween-appropriate documentary, American Movie Classics' The Omen Legacy, does a real public service — it reminds viewers of the sharp drop-off in quality of the thriller-horror series that happened after the original film's theatrical release.
The 90-minute special tells the history of the development of the first film, The Omen,
which debuted in 1976 and fit snugly into the draft of popularity for the genre reinvigorated by The Exorcist.
The first film offered top-notch talent: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and director Richard Donner. It told the story of a couple who adopt a child, Damien, under mysterious circumstances. Grisly accidents seem to follow the family from that point on and gradually, the father begins to believe the child is actually the anti-Christ, the son of Satan.
The documentary makes the case that the first film was successful because the filmmakers insisted the deaths always be plausible as accidents, and not immediately suspicious as murders. That made the film creepy-scary, whereas the sequels were creepy-disgusting.
Versions two through four (the last a Fox made-for-TV movie) spent more time on innovative and garish ways to knock off Damien's enemies than they did on plot cohesion.
There are some interesting, behind-the-scenes factoids offered in the documentary. For instance, the child actor got the job in the original film by beating up director Donner during the audition.
Later, it is revealed that the "killer" rottweilers assigned to menace Peck and co-star David Warner in a crucial scene were timid — and more interested in mounting one another than attacking humans. The actors had to stuff their pants with meat to get the dogs' attention.
But after the "making of" portions on the first film, the documentary declines into an Omen
infomercial, and a not very convincing one at that. Even the filmmakers trash the product, with Donner at one point, discussing the pilot for a proposed NBC Omen
series: "I don't like to talk about that. It's one of the biggest mistakes I made in television."
The verdict: To get in the Halloween spirit, watch the original Omen
(if you're a wimp, with the lights on and your back to a wall) on AMC at 10 p.m. Oct. 30. Watch the Legacy
special only if you're a hard-core thriller cinefile, and the Omen
sequels only if you have bad taste or nothing else to do.
The Omen Legacy
debuts Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. Time-shifters and insomniacs can catch it again at 4 a.m. Oct. 31.