Anyone familiar with my reviews and news posts will know that I constantantly rail against Hollywood for the paucity of fresh ideas. That’s not to say that is nothing new and interesting happening in American cinema, but there is a trend for rehashing classics (and, it has to be admitted, the occasional pedestrian film too).

The horror genre, perhaps more than most, has seen dozens and dozens of ill-advised rehashes and remakes. Most, like The Hills Have Eyes (2006) are shadows of their former selves, while every so often, a movie will surpass its previous incarnation. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) came close, as did Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2003), but perhaps one of the few films to top the original is, rather surprisingly, John Moore’s remake of The Omen.

The original 1976 movie, directed by Richard Donner, is a much loved classic, and many will disagree with my conclusion. It has a cracking script by David Seltzer and superb performances from Gregory Peck, who revitalised his flagging career, Billie Whitelaw, and David Warner. Young actor Harvey Stephens was suitably creepy as the young Antichrist Damien and the movie mixed a taut, lean plot with genuine shocks and gory moments.

The remake—which opened on a marketeer’s wet dream of 6 June 2006: 6/6/6—is a faithful adaptation of the original movie, but updates things for the twenty first century by alluding to events such as 9/11 and the 2004 tsunami, believed to have killed over 200,000 people, as signs of an impending apocalypse.

Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber), an American diplomat based in Rome agrees to swap his dead baby for a baby whose mother died in childbirth, but keeps this dark secret from his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles). It turns out that the baby is the son of Satan, which as you might expect, is bad news for all concerned as death and darkness follow in the young child Damien’s wake.

Damien is played by the sullen-looking Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, who has a nasty habit of scaring primates at the zoo, freaking his mother out and narrowing his eyes when thinking evil thoughts.

Aided by a photographer Keith Jennings (David Thewlis, in one of his take the money and run performances), Thorn gradually learns the truth about his son, and what he must do to end the cycle of death and destruction.

And while some may feel that the movie follows the original a little too closely, at least it turns the volume up for the tent-pole deaths of Father Brennan (the curiously cheeked Pete Postlethwaite) and Jennings, which are satisfactorily gory improvements on the originals. David Warner’s decapitation—so shocking in 1976—looks obviously fake to modern eyes and is almost twee and comical.

The Omen is a solid, performance-led piece, with generally low-key visual effects, but that doesn’t mean that it’s without problems. The movie was filmed in Eastern Europe with Prague standing in for London. As a consequence, it looks like no London I recognise, and matting the London Eye in the background of shots does nothing to convince me otherwise. In one car chase sequence, the shop signs are all in Czech which was a bit of a giveaway.

The movie also goes overboard with a red theme that threads its way through the film for no apparent reason. When used in the Sixth Sense (1999) at least there was some purpose, but here it seems to be used to inject a sense of creepy oddness.

The Omen also ladles on the underwear soiling shock moments, so beloved of horror directors, a little too liberally. I was hoping for more creeping dread and unease than cheap surprises, but perhaps that was too much to hope for. Finally, Michael Gambon as deranged archaeologist Bugenhagen is comically underused in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role.

These drawbacks mean that the remake is not a clear improvement over the original, and is a borderline case. Personally, I think the superb performance from Mia Farrow as the evil Mrs Baylock, tips things just slightly in favour of the 2006 version, but I can absolutely understand why people may prefer Richard Donner’s excellent telling of the story.

The Omen (2006)
Dir. John Moore
Stars: Liev Schreiber, David Thewlis, Julia Stiles, Mia Farrow, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Pete Postlethwaite
Genre: Horror

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