Two horrifying events happened over the summer of 1976, while my family vacationed on the shores of Lake Tahoe. For me personally, the big scare occurred when I decided to pursue a better fishing spot by climbing off of the dock and into someone’s moored boat. Being a kid, I didn’t have the span I imagined that I had, and I slipped between the boat and the dock, plunging into the icy waters of the lake. Horrifying in the Halloween sense? No. But, I did lose a brand new jar of salmon eggs. Secondly, my older brother and sister, along with the teen daughter of the friends with whom we were staying, decided to take a trip to the movies. I don’t remember a great deal from my childhood, but I do recall the three older children – young adults, I suppose – returning home that night, quaking while they detailed what seemed, from their account, to have been the most frightening film ever made: The Omen.
Of course, it would be years later before I was allowed to see any of The Omen films, but from that night on, the very thought of the next kid over (or – gasp – me!) being the Antichrist terrified this Catholic-raised boy. But I’m not the one picking The Omen today; that honor belongs to director Steve Miner. Miner first earned his horror stripes when an independent film crew arrived in his home town of Westport, CT to shoot what would become one of the most seminal fright flicks of all time, Wes Craven’s debut, The Last House on the Left (1972). Miner secured himself a position as a production and editorial assistant on Last House (he also appears in it), and it’s there that he formed the relationships with Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham which would go on to shape his early career. Miner would next produce two sports-themed kids’ films with Cunningham directing, and in 1980, the pair would return to the horror genre with the story of a group of camp counselors menaced by an unknown killer: Friday the 13th.
After associate producing the first film in the Friday the 13th series, one of the most successful films of 1980, Miner would go on to direct Part 2, in which Jason first takes over as the killer, and Part III. Of Part 2, Jim Harper, in his Legacy of Blood: A Comprehensive Guide to Slasher Movies notes: “Despite having much the same materials to work with – a cast of unknowns and a pretty tight budget – Steve Miner’s film is a better looking effort than the original. It’s also tighter and better paced.” Unfortunately, while the first Friday flew under the radar of MPAA scrutiny, the second film was not so lucky. Because the first film had been so successful, the MPAA seemed determined to make Part 2 pay for its oversight. Even with heavy cuts, Part 2 was a great success. Part III, of course, demanded the 3-D treatment, and, according to IMDb, went on to earned almost as much as the first two films combined.
Over the years, Miner’s work in horror continued to include helming the horror films House (1986), Warlock (1989), Halloween: H20 (1998), Lake Placid (1999), and, most recently, the remake of Day of the Dead (2008). This is a list that would be pretty complete for any director, but what’s most interesting about Miner’s career is his success across multiple genres. Add the coming of age drama, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, the Mel Gibson starrer Forever Young plus My Father the Hero, Texas Rangers, and countless television credits to the list, and you have someone who knows so much more about crafting a film than just shocks and screams. This multi-faceted perspective is evident in Miner’s assessment of what makes The Omen so great:
“There’s nothing scarier than a little devil kid with a big hound from hell as his bodyguard. Add in tour de force performances by two major movie stars, Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, and you have one of the most suspenseful horror films of all time. Richard Donner’s spot-on direction wrings every gasp, goosebump, and jump possible from David Seltzer’s terrific screenplay.”
If you’re not familiar, The Omen tells the story of the coming of the Antichrist, that being an orphan boy, born to a jackal mother, who is adopted by an American ambassador as a replacement for his own dead infant son. Great beginning to a healthy relationship, huh? As the boy grows, so do his abilities and the number of followers who come to nurture his ascension. Where The Omen works so well is in the way it knows how to make the best use of child actors – have the adults tell you how scary they are and then let the grownups do all the work. Damien – a name that quickly joined Adolf at the top of the “what not to name your son” list – is a pampered prince, with legions of humans and animals to do his bidding. It’s a great way to employ a creepy looking kid without having the film hinge on his acting ability (like Phantom Menace).
One of the most genius elements of The Omen is the way it deals with the “how do you kill a kid?” issue. It’s an unspoken rule in moviemaking that you just don’t kill kids – unless the death is central to the underlying drama, such as in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (no relation but appropriately named for today’s post). Of course, the quest to kill is Damien is central to The Omen, and the movie ultimately resolves this in a way which is not only satisfying but brilliantly sets up things to come (and which is, apparently, not the original ending). Miner comments: “I also love this movie for its nihilistic ending. Too bad its sequels never really worked…”
If you haven’t seen the original Omen, you really need to treat yourself. Skip the remake, which seems to have been made only because it could be released on 6-6-2006. As Miner states, the first in the series of films is a tour de force on every level – brilliant actors, great directing and writing, and wonderful visuals. Not to forget that David Warner is in it, and I’d watch that man in anything.
When Miner picked The Omen, we knew that there was only one drink we could pair with it – the Devil’s Own.
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass
Featured Glassware: Modern Grace Claret by Villeroy & Boch
This one comes from the Café Royal Cocktail Book of 1937, and the drink is therein credited to one Colin Symons. Well done, sir. There’s also a more modern drink with the same name, created by bartender Jason Schiffer, which calls for Rum, Fernet Branca, and Gran Gala, and I mention it here because it’s a great excuse to point you in the direction of Mat Robold at Rumdood.com — a place where you should definitely spend some time.
At first, I was a bit skeptical about the proportions on our version above, but I always go with the recipe first before starting to tinker. As the original recipe is presented here, it should come as no surprise that I was quite pleased by the balance of the drink. While it’s still very Cointreau-forward, the other elements prevent things from going overboard. There’s a viscosity to liqueur-heavy drinks that I really enjoy on a cold night – especially after dinner – and I’d certainly put this one in that category. What’s more, the beautiful salmon color makes it downright perfect for Halloween celebrations.
It’s time to say thank you to Steve Miner for taking time away from a shoot to join in on our fun as well as to our mutual friend, director of photography extraordinaire, Patrick Cady for connecting us. Even though we’re recommending that you see all of the movies we’re presenting here, The Omen stands tall as a shining example of how Hollywood sometimes gets it absolutely right, and you deserve to treat yourself to this creepy classic. If nothing else, consider it an educational experience – what to look for in the Antichrist when he descends upon the earth. Assuming the zombies haven’t gotten us first.
Esoterica: The original Omen was not above playing up the “666” significance as well. The film was sneaked on June 6, 1976, and as already terrified audiences left the screening, theater employees had hung signs declaring “Today is the SIXTH day of the SIXTH month of Nineteen-Seventy-SIX!” Many of the patrons apparently freaked out. Excellent.