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The Omen: Collector's Edition

While the cheap, gritty independent horror flicks of the 1970s — like Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left and John Carpenter's Halloween — were setting the template for the slasher craze of the next decade, the big studios had a few considerable fright classics of their own to contribute. With Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) and William Fredikin's The Exorcist (1973) proving that Satanic menace resulted in powerful thrills and potent box office receipts, David Seltzer's 1976 story of Biblical apocalypse, The Omen, made for a natural continuation of that popular and successful theme. Gregory Peck stars as Robert Thorn, a U.S. diplomat in Rome who agrees to an unorthodox adoption when his wife's pregnancy ends in tragic stillbirth. A priest at the Catholic hospital offers Thorn a newborn orphan and, despite a moment of hesitation, Thorn accepts this living son as a gift from God, without telling his oblivious wife, Katherine (Lee Remick), that Damien is not their real child. The Thorn family moves to London when Robert is appointed U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, and Katherine thinks her accomplished husband would be perfect for The White House. Damien (Harvey Stephens) is a cherubic and unusually placid child (except in proximity to churches), but their idyllic life begins to unravel when his doting nanny shockingly hangs herself during his fifth birthday party. Soon, Robert is stalked by a crazed priest who preaches grim prophecy, and Katherine is struck by a strange sensation that her son is somehow alien. With the help of a photojournalist (David Warner), Thorn travels to Italy and Israel investigating the true story behind his son's mysterious adoption and discovers an unholy conspiracy centered around the strange child.

Compared to the resoundingly effective and dramatically profound The Exorcist, Seltzer's story and screenplay are pulpy blather, completely lacking the penetrating suggestion of real evil. However, due to a divine confluence of talents, The Omen became a great horror movie of near epic proportions. Director Richard Donner, after nearly 20 years working mostly in television, broke through as a major film director with this picture. Perfectly utilizing the rough, docudrama aesthetic of the 1970s to give this ultimately superficial tale of horror a tactile resonance, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor — a veteran of Kubrick, Polanski, and Hitchcock productions — punctuates the gritty visuals with striking moments of flair. Composer Jerry Goldsmith revolutionized the art of scoring horror films, incorporating Latin chants and growling orchestration, winning the first Best Score Oscar for the genre. Donner directs his stellar cast to play their parts seriously and quietly, with Peck's steely countenance adding immeasurable strength and gravity, and Remick's piercing blue eyes accentuating both empathy and fear. Billie Whitelaw emits palpable menace as Damien's mysterious replacement governess, Mrs. Baylock, and little Stephens, the plump-cheeked toddler upon whose shoulders Armageddon is carried, is a natural, both coy and aloof, angelic and mischievous, despite doing little more than smiling and crying. The Omen brilliantly has it both ways, appearing in all facets like an important, serious studio drama while simply appealing to a juvenile fascination with impenetrable evil and gory death.

Fox's "Collector's Edition" DVD release of 1976's The Omen, a tie-in with the theatrical release of the 2006 remake, adds a second disc and a few extra features to the 2001 Special Edition release. The feature is presented in a new anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that is possibly slightly less grainy than the 2001 SE transfer, but the colors are also less rich. Audio is presented in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as well as Dolby Digital 1.0. The feature is accompanied on Disc One by two commentaries: the 2001 Special Edition's track featuring Donner and editor Stuart Baird, plus the addition of a new commentary teaming Donner with and The Omen-fan filmmaker Brian Helgeland. Disc One also recycles the 2001 Special Edition's featurettes "Curse or Coincidence," about the movie's behind-the-scenes creepiness, and "Jerry Goldsmith Discusses The Omen Score," plus the theatrical trailer. Disc Two adds an introduction by Richard Donner, the 40-minute featurette "666: The Omen Revealed" (also recycled from the 2001 SE), the comprehensive 100-minute "The Omen Legacy," a "Screenwriter's Notebook" interview with screenwriter David Seltzer, a silly deleted scene with commentary by Donner and Helgeland, and a 20-minute appreciation of the movie by Wes Craven. Stills gallery, dual-DVD slimline keep-case with paperboard sleeve.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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