The Omen saw Richard Donner not only break into the directing A-list, but he also delivered one of the all-time great horror movies.
After years of working on television, Donner kick-started his career with this classy demonic chiller. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick add authenticity as the middle-aged couple who accidentally adopt the child of Satan. Jerry Goldsmith’s masterful score adds power and Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography gives the film a visual panache which is rarely seen in horror films.
Charlton Heston was originally in the frame for Peck’s role as Robert Thorn, but he ultimately declined the invitation to star – one of the greatest regrets of his career. The film would go on to gross $60 million at the US box office – a 2006 remake (released on 6.6.6) banked $54 million and $119 million globally.
You made film through the 1960s and 1970s, but it was really The Omen that set you off on your career. It’s a very visual horror film. Was that a very specific choice coming from TV – wanting it to look like a big movie?
The thing is – The Omen had been around for a long time. It was called The Antichrist and eventually every studio in town tuned it down. When I read it, the reason I thought they turned it down was because it was a horror film and if they turned it into what I believed was a mystery-suspense-thriller and got rid of the cheesy cloven hoofs and devils, that maybe it would have a chance. My thoughts were echoed by Alan Ladd Jr who was then Head of Fox Studios, who said make it and do a mystery suspense and you’ve got a deal.
So, the look of it – sure! Since it was a big opportunity for me, I really carefully thought out the visualisation and the whole approach to the film quite different to anything that I had done before. It was a great script.
And a great cast as well.
We never would have got that cast if it was a horror film. It was approached, as I say, as a thriller and we were so lucky to get that cast. It was an amazing cast! Every single person from David Warner to Gregory Peck to Lee Remick. Oh my god, you go through that cast – I don’t remember them all now, but it gave the picture a sense of class.
Were you surprised by the film’s ultimate success?
Sure as hell! Yeah of course. You never know what you’ve made and you never know how it’s going to accepted and what’s going to happen. But when i saw it with my first audience in I think it was Fox Studios, in Soho Square, and I saw the audience reaction I said, ‘Oh my god, I think we’ve got something’. The audience was shocked, committed and involved.
Were you ever tempted to go back and make one of the sequels or did you just think, I’ve made The Omen movie I want to make?
At the time my career at that point was television, when they started to do a second one I stated to write on it with them and I got a call from the Superman producers and I went to the producer of The Omen and explained the offer I had. I told him I was going to leave and he was very generous about it.