August 18, 2017


Music by Michael Giacchino. (2017, 76 min).

Michael Giacchino's score for the War for the Planet of the Apes is the best of the entire series.

The disc hooks the listener with the very first track, "Apes' Past is Prologue," an epic 11-minute piece which is at-times reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's groundbreaking music in the original 1968 film. Whether or not that was directly intentional, it's an eerie mood-setter with ominous moments where a choir is utilized to great effect.

"Assault of the Earth" continues the dark path more urgently. The third track, "Exodus Wounds," is emotionally sweeping and a strong candidate for the best one on the entire album, establishing two of the score's strongest recurring themes. Elsewhere, these 17 tracks vary from quick two-minute bursts, such as the stunning "Ecstasy of the Bold," to longer pieces like "Apes Together Strong," which is both haunting and suspenseful.

More importantly, the score works as a stand-alone piece of music, always the hallmark of any great soundtrack album. One of the best of Giacchino's recent efforts, this disc is definitely worth picking up.

Blu-Ray News: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND 40th Anniversary Available 9/19


All-New 4K Restoration Available Sept. 19 on 2-Disc Remastered Blu-ray, 3-Disc 4K Ultra HD & Limited Edition 3-Disc 4K Ultra HD “Light and Sound” Gift Set.
Both Blu-ray & 4K Ultra HD Releases Include All Three Versions of the Film, Plus All-New Bonus Material Featuring Interviews with Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams & Denis Villeneuve.

Following its exclusive one week engagement in theaters across the country starting September 1, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment celebrates the 40th anniversary of legendary director Steven Spielberg’s epic adventure CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND on September 19 with the new 4K restoration available on 3-disc 4K Ultra HD, a Limited Edition 3-disc 4K Ultra HD “Light and Sound” Gift Set, and in high-def on 2-disc remastered Blu-ray. A must-own for all true fans, the highly collectible Limited Edition Gift Set features illuminated packaging that plays the iconic 5-tone motif. Also included is an expanded booklet with rare archival photos. Both Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD releases include all three restored versions of the film, including the 1977 theatrical version, the 1980 Special Edition and the 1997 Director’s Cut.

In addition to the legacy bonus materials, the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND Blu-ray comes with new bonus content, including rare, never-before-seen home movies and gags from the set, and the all-new featurette “Three Kinds of Close Encounters.” This featurette includes a new interview with director Steven Spielberg on the legacy of the film, as well as new interviews with directors J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) on the impact of Close Encounters.

August 17, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: KILL SWITCH

Starring Dan Stevens, Berennice Maylohe, Tygo Gernandt, Charity Wakefield, Baz Keijzer, Mike Libanon, Mike Reus. Directed by TimSmiT. (2017, 92 min).

Kill Switch is conceptually intriguing, but questionably executed.

In the near future, the Alterplex corporation has developed and built a massive device that will provide unlimited energy to the world. It does this by sucking energy from The Echo, a mirror universe created by the machine. When this begins to trigger bizarre interdimensional disasters, NASA pilot Will Porter (Dan Stevens) is recruited to travel into The Echo and close the link between both worlds using a black box called the Redivider. This will also destroy The Echo, but failure to do so will result in the end of both worlds. However, even though The Echo is supposed to be devoid of biological life, people identical to those in the real world exist there and understandably don't relish the thought of extinction.

"What? You're not the Ghostbusters??
It will come as no surprise that director/producer TimSmiT's background is in CG special effects, which he created for this film as well. Considering the film's limited budget, Kill Switch is visually impressive, with boats and railroad cars falling from the sky and deadly police drones patrolling the city. However, while the  ramifications of multidimensional interaction is a concept just begging to be explored, everything takes a backseat to barrages of gunfire and explosions. 

Fans of Stevens will also be disappointed to learn he only appears onscreen in flashback sequences, which are periodically dispersed throughout the film to provide exposition (including a pointless subplot involving his sister and her troubled son). The rest of plays like a first-person shooter video game, shown entirely from Porter's point of view. While initially interesting, the gimmick is nothing new and grows tiresome after awhile.

As it is, Kill Switch certainly watchable. It seldom slows down for a minute and boasts enough mayhem to please undemanding action fans. But by choosing spectacle over substance, it's also a missed opportunity. With a concept like that, our brains should be as engaged as our eyes.

FEATURETTE: "The Visual Effect: Inside the Director's

August 16, 2017


Starring Adam Baldwin, Rutger Hauer, Steve Guttenberg, Bryan Brown, Alexa Hamilton, Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots, C. Thomas Howell, Amber Sainsbury, Sylvia Sims, Peter Weller, Nathalie Boltt, Peter Dobson, Alex Kingston. Directed by John Putch. (2005, 175 min).

We all know the story...on New Year's Eve during her final voyage, the SS Poseidon is struck by a massive tidal wave which capsizes the ship. The survivors must now make their way to the hull and hope for a rescue before it sinks for good.

Well, purists be prepared, because this 2005 made-for-TV remake of The Poseidon Adventure commits heresy by removing the tidal wave from a story that was mostly about a tidal wave. The original is unarguably a disaster movie classic, though not such a sacred cinematic cow that a remake is out of the question (a lot of folks in Hollywood must have agreed because we got two within a year). But, tidal wave? Whose idea was that...George Lucas'?

Like attempting to enjoy a meatless burger, disaster buffs just need to suck it up and accept the idea that an oceanliner can be capsized by an exploding beer keg.


Someone enjoyed one too many deviled eggs from the buffet table.
Actually, the keg is one of several bombs that are brought on-board by an unnamed group of terrorists. It's never made clear exactly what their beef is, but much of the first hour - besides introducing a variety of ill-fated passengers - focuses on this plot, with grumpy Sea Marshal Mike Rogo (Adam Baldwin) searching the ship for terrorists. This is The Poseidon Adventure in-name-only until the ship finally capsizes. Perhaps the producers chose the terrorist route because, considering the already-terrible CGI, recreating a convincing tidal wave was an insurmountable task. Or maybe there wasn't enough meat to the original story to justify the four hour running time a miniseries generally requires.

But believe it or not, the movie improves as it goes along and the stuntwork itself is rather impressive. Better yet, it starts to resemble the Poseidon Adventure of old during the second half. Several escape sequences are more-or-less recreated pretty faithfully, albeit on a TV budget.

Some of the characters - both familiar and new - are actually pretty interesting. Baldwin, in a rare leading role, is suitably badass, while Rutger Hauer is surprisingly effective as a tough-but-kindly priest. To be honest, I always hated Shelley Winter's whiny, obnoxious performance in the original, but Sylvia Syms does wonders with the same character, rendering her subtly endearing and sympathetic.

Steve Guttenberg as The Douchebag.
In fact, most of the cast and their characters are decent as TV movies go. One glaring exception is Steve Guttenberg as Richard. Having a face that's inherently punchable is bad enough, but he's also stuck with one of the most repugnant characters I've ever seen in a disaster movie (taking into account every movie in the Airport franchise, that's saying something). This is a guy who abandons his entire family to shack up with the ship's masseuse for the rest of the trip, then we're expected to hope he survives the disaster. Worse yet, even though time is rapidly running out, everyone is repeatedly forced to halt their escape plans while Richard makes impassioned declarations of love to his wife and kids (and Guttenberg can't emote worth a damn). But even after that, while his wife looks on, he still mourns the death of the chick he's been boinking.

That brutal story & casting decision aside, the movie itself isn't all that bad once you get over the fact no tidal wave is forthcoming. Sure, like a lot of "event" miniseries that were popular at the time, The Poseidon Adventure is too long by an hour (further padded by needless scenes of rescue efforts) and the special effects are terrible, but this often-dubious genre has produced bigger stinkers, including its mega-budget brethren, Poseidon, which is far more spectacular, but works better as a sleep aid.


August 14, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: BLUEBEARD

Starring Cho Jin-woong, Shin Goo, Kim Dae-myung, Song Young-chang, Lee Chung-ah, Yoon Se-ah. Directed by Lee Soo-yeon. (2017, 117 min).

Did I miss something while watching Bluebeard?

I could see what they were trying to do by giving us a main character we don't entirely trust, making us question whether or not what he's experiencing is real. Cho Jin-woong plays Byun, a troubled doctor who's estranged from his ex-wife and living alone in a cluttered, tiny apartment. Once the owner of a clinic which went bankrupt, he now performs colonoscopies in a crime-ridden part of town to make ends meet. There's also a serial killer on the loose, and one of the dismembered victims has recently been discovered in a nearby river.

As a favor to his landlord, Jung Sung-geun (Kim Dae-myung), Byun examines his father (Shin Goo). But while sedated, the old man describes gruesome details of one of the murders. Though he befriends Jung, Byun begins to suspect the Sung-geun family (who also own a butcher shop in the same building) are the serial killers everyone is looking for, especially after he spots what looks like a human head in their meat locker. That same head pops up in his own freezer, then disappears the next day. Later, his ex-wife disappears right after a recent visit, prompting Byun to find evidence to expose the Sung-geuns.

"You must owe a hell of a lot in library fines."
Bluebeard does so many things right that it's a shame the film undoes itself during the final act. Director Lee Soo-yeon does an exemplary job creating a moody, surreal tone, with some creepy, hallucinatory sequences and effectively deliberate pacing. As Byun, Cho Jin-woong hits all the right notes as a tormented doctor whose life has recently taken some dark turns, and we're intrigued to learn exactly what led him to his sorry state. But unlike similar films which depend on deceiving the viewer to set up a big twist, we almost immediately begin to suspect something's not quite right with Byun.

Bluebeard's "failure" to pull the wool over our eyes isn't the problem, though. After all, I know the outcome of every sports movie ever made, but still enjoy them. Without providing spoilers, the biggest issue is the final act, where previous events are laborously revisited from a different perspective. But then the subsequent resolution undermines its own story by throwing us another curveball which, based on what we've already been presented with, rings false. Unless I completely overlooked some vital piece of information - a subtle hint, a throwaway line, my willingness to suspend disbelief - I don't see how the denouement is even possible.

Still, I find myself thinking a lot about the plausibility of that ending, and maybe that was the film's purpose all along. Maybe it intended to confound its own logic   just to get a rise out of the viewer. Whatever the case, Bluebeard's dark tone and solid performances may not be enough for us to forgive the narrative shortcomings, but at least the journey is kind of interesting. 


Blu-Ray News: KRAKATOA, EAST OF JAVA Coming to Blu-Ray for the First Time on 9/12

Blu-ray and DVD Street Date: September 12, 2017

Director: Bernard L. Kowalski
Starring: Maximilian Schell, Diane Baker, Brian Keith, Sal Mineo, Rossano Brazzi, J.D. Cannon, John Leyton, Marc Lawrence

Adventure / 131 min / G / Color

The Epic Adventure that Shook the Earth to its Core! In Singapore harbor, 1883, Captain Chris Hanson (Maximilian Schell, Judgment at Nuremberg) of the Batavia Queen embarks on a perilous search for sunken treasure off the island of Krakatoa. To find a fortune in rare pearls, he must brave a boiling sea, douse an uprising by a horde of convicts, and outwit a greedy crew desperate for more than their fair share... only to confront the most devastating and catastrophic volcanic explosion the modern world has ever felt creating giant tidal waves that engulf the island and endanger all aboard the Batavia Queen. TV veteran Bernard L. Kowalski (Stiletto) directed this widescreen spectacle that featured a splendid cast that included Diane Baker (The Silence of the Lambs), Brian Keith (The McKenzie Break), Sal Mineo (Rebel Without a Cause), Rossano Brazzi (South Pacific), John Leyton (The Great Escape), J.D. Cannon (Cotton Comes to Harlem) and Marc Lawrence (Custer of the West) with a rousing score by Frank De Vol (The Dirty Dozen).

Rest in Peace, Joseph Bologna

August 12, 2017


Starring Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Raphael Alejandro, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell, Raquel Welch, Rob Riggle, Rob Huebel, Renee Taylor, Linda Lavin, Mckenna Grace. Directed by Ken Marino. (2017, 155 min).

If nothing else, this film's pre-title prologue made me laugh loud enough to startle my cat.

In a year rife with raunchy, unfunny comedies that have mostly bombed at the box office, the rest of How to be a Latin Lover is a breath of fresh air. Even with a PG-13 rating, I was expecting something filled with self-humiliating characters, sex gags and snickering innuendo. While the film does indeed have some of that, it's often genuinely funny without ever becoming mean-spirited or descending into pure sleaze. And - surprise, surprise - it even manages to be sentimental and sweet at times.

"Hey, has Friskies?"
Eugenio Derbez is Maximo, a man with no work ethic who marries an older rich woman for her money. 25 years later, she dumps him for a younger man, leaving him homeless and broke. He moves in with his sister, Sara (Salma Hayek), a budding architect, and her nerdy, awkward son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Predictably, his self-absorption, laziness and inappropriate behavior around Hugo makes him a bane to Sara. Hugo, who's own father died a few years before, is quite taken with his uncle, who initially wants nothing to do with the boy.

Meanwhile, rather than look for a legitimate job, Maximo sets out to snag another wealthy older woman to take care of him, which he thinks he finds in Celeste (Rachel Welch, still looking mighty fine for 76). Coincidently, she's the grandmother of the girl Hugo has a secret crush on. Maximo decides to give his nephew lessons in winning-over the ladies (the only sleazy way he knows how) in order to get closer to Celeste. Unfortunately, Maximo is no longer the virile young stud he used to be and generally ends up making things worse for everybody, including himself, not helped by the so-called advice of friend and fellow man-toy Rick (Rob Lowe).

"What do you mean you don't like tea parties?"
The premise alone naturally lends itself to ample opportunities for cartoonish antics and low-brow comedy, which the film more-than-willingly provides. It isn't always laugh-out-loud funny, but much of it is chuckleworthy and resists the overwhelming temptation to degenerate into a leering sex farce. In fact, except for some suggestive dialogue here and there, you might even feel comfortable watching this with your older kids, who'd probably enjoy the scenes involving Hugo and Maximo. Speaking of which, these two provide the emotional crux of a film I never expected to have one. Despite their age difference, they treat and talk to each other as equals since Hugo is wise beyond his years and Maximo never really grew up in the first place.

From a narrative standpoint, there aren't too many surprises, but the characters are fun due to lively performances by an impressive cast. Despite his shallow, obnoxious character, Derbez renders Maximo likable, while Alejandro is charming as the socially-awkward Hugo. The rest of the cast are all given their moments to shine, as well. Lowe plays yet-another oily sleaze as only he can, while Linda Lavin is unnervingly hilarious as his sugar mama. Kristen Bell's cat-lady character is arguably the least essential to the story, though the increasingly brutal scratch wounds on her face & body is the best running gag in the movie. Even Welch, never exactly renowned for her comedic skills, has a few amusing moments.

How to Be a Latin Lover isn't gonna change the world and perhaps runs a tad longer than it needs to, but it never quite wears out its welcome. It's an engaging, affably entertaining film that manages to juggle slapstick & situational comedy pretty well, while remaining surprisingly sweet-natured.

FEATURETTES: "Show Me Your Sexy!" (making-of); "A Little Help from My Friends" (mostly about director Ken Marino assembling the cast)
AUDIO COMMENTARY - by director Marino, producer Ben Odell & editor John Daigle

August 11, 2017

Blu-Ray News: "Get The Yondu Look" Tribute Event - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOl. 2


On Tuesday, August 22, from 9:00am-12:00pm, fans around Los Angeles will be able to come pay tribute to the beloved Ravager, Yondu, with a morning of prizes and activities at Shorty’s Barber Shop in West Hollywood! Michael Rooker (‘Yondu’ in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) will be on location to commemorate his character and interact with fans!

Activities Include:
  • The first 50 fans will receive a $50 gift certificate to Shorty’s Barber Shop to come back and Get the Yondu Look
  • Additional giveaways will include Blu-ray Combo Packs and Digital Copies of Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, posters signed by Michael Rooker and other Guardians themed items
  • Themed photo opportunity
  • Get the Yondu Look by getting your hair styled into a faux hawk and hair sprayed red

For those of you hardcore enough to go FULL YONDU*, there will be room for ten lucky Ravagers to get a full hair dye and shave. Those that pledge their loyalty to the captain will not only meet Rooker himself, but will head out with various Guardians loot!

But wait! There’s more, y’all! Two lucky fans will also walk out of Shorty’s with an awesome custom-made Yondu umbrella to keep that new ‘do safe from the LA sun!

* If you volunteer to be one of the 10 fans to get the Full Yondu you will need to be over 18 years of age, be available to get your hair dyed on Monday, August 21st, and shaved or styled from 9:00AM-12:00PM on Tuesday, August 22nd.

To schedule for the Full Yondu, please e-mail your name and mobile number to

All colors and cuts will take place at:
Shorty’s Barber Shop
755 N Fairfax Ave
West Hollywood, CA

Now Available Digitally and Blu-ray on Aug. 22

August 8, 2017


Starring Natasha Bassett, Peter Benson, Clayton Chitty, Nathan Keyes, Nicole Oliver, Jillian Walchuck, Matthew Harrison. Directed by Anne-Marie Hess. (2017, 88 min).

My oldest daughter has always loved all things Britney Spears - even during years when it wasn't fashionable - and even she had to rage-quit this movie after about 30 minutes.

As hard as it might be for some of us to wrap our heads around, this prolific pop tart has been pumping out softcore silliness for nearly twenty years. That's roughly 15 years after I assumed she'd end up desperately clinging to fame on a season of Dancing with the Stars. At the very least, Britney Spears deserves some kudos for longevity.

As a decades-long source of tabloid fodder, who sells sex and songs with equal abandon, Spears' career is certainly a worthy subject for a music bio, no matter how superficial. But Britney Ever After barely even tries. It's a biography only in the sense that its subject exists. Abe Lincoln did, too, but we're pretty certain he never hunted vampires.

You know you're in trouble when a movie about a musician doesn't include any of their actual music. None of Spears' own songs are featured. And though she's been renowned for years as the reigning diva at MTV's Video Music Awards, Britney's antics are depicted on the chuckleworthy "Music Awards". Lifetime - longtime purveyors of fan-baiting claptrap - obviously had no legal permission to feature either.

"Uh...could you stop sniffing yourself?"
But that's just nitpicking. While admittedly not a fan of Britney or her questionable musical abilities, I don't believe she's an idiot. Here, she's initially portrayed as the type of dumb, backwoods hick you'd expect to see popping out of the cornfield in an old Hee-Haw episode. Then before you can say "Oops, I Did it Again,", she's a spoiled, oversexed, man-hungry valley girl who settles a marital spat with Justin Timberlake by challenging him to a dance-off.

Britney Ever After cheaply & inaccurately re-enacts the more tabloid-worthy parts of her career, then speculates the rest (Really? A sex tape?). The narrative jumps from point A to B with little or no transition, essentially rendering the whole thing a series of unrelated film clips. The actors only superficially resemble their real life counterparts and perform like high-schoolers imagining what pop stardom is like.

I can't imagine Britney Ever After appealing to her die hard fans, who'd likely be insulted by this lazy & shallow attempt to capitalize on their adulation. Since nobody else is going to care, this cynically-produced ratings grabber is nothing more than a cable TV version of click-bait.


Rest in Peace, Haruo Nakajima

August 6, 2017


Starring Lily James, Jai Courtney, Christopher Plummer, Janet McTeer, Eddie Marsan, Ben Daniels, Mark Dexter. Directed by David Leveaux. (2016, 107 min).

The Nazis have recently invaded Holland, where Germany's former leader, Kaiser Wilhelm (Christopher Plummer) is living in exile. While he has no political power during the Nazi campaign, they are concerned with reports that a Dutch spy is lurking around to kill him. So Captain Brandt (Jai Courtney) is charged with protecting Kaiser and his wife.

On the day of his arrival at their mansion, he meets house-servant Mieke (Lily James). In a couple of rather graphically gratuitous moments, they have explicit sex before even learning each other's names. Just when you think The Exception is going to be one of those movies, along comes the plot, which plays its hand earlier than one might expect...

Kaiser never loses at Risk ('cause he cheats).
Brandt is the 'exception' of the title, an SS officer who is appalled at what the Nazis are doing, and tormented by nightmares of the horrors he's witnessed. In a revelation that'll surprise no one, Mieke turns out to be the spy the Nazis are looking for, in addition to being Jewish. Kaiser himself, while still loyal to his country, does not approve of the Nazis' methods. Though a tad eccentric, he's kindly, sympathetic toward the Dutch and ultimately horrified upon learning some of Heinrich Himmler's atrocities.

"Come on, lady, it was one hotel towel. What's the big deal?"
The film takes time establishing its players, but despite their initial full-frontal encounters, the 'romance' between Brandt & Mieke doesn't resonate all that much. Still, Courtney and James are appealing enough to make us care about them. Plummer, on the other hand, effortlessly steals every scene he's in. Though his role is far from a cameo, it's too bad Kaiser isn't the central character. Elsewhere, the film is relatively slow-going until the final act, which provides a fair amount of suspense and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Those looking for the usual action and romance often found in a WWII drama may be disappointed. The Exception doesn't have much of either, despite a few fleeting efforts to establish its two leads through decidedly non-erotic sex. However, the story itself is just interesting enough to keep us watching, as is Plummer's wonderful performance.

FEATURETTE: "Behind the Scenes of The Exception"
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director David Leveaux

Blu-Ray Review: KUNG FU YOGA

Starring Jackie Chan, Aarif Rahman, Zhang Yixing, Miya Muqi, Sonu Sood, Disha Patani, Zhang Guoli, Amyra Dastur. Directed by Stanley Tong. (2017, 107 min).

Near the beginning of Kung Fu Yoga, there's a brief scene where a few of our protagonists engage in some tendon-snapping stretches. Since yoga figures absolutely nowhere in the actual plot and is never mentioned again, I'm assuming it was included so they could give the film a funny title.

It's just as good a title as anything else, since this reteaming of Jackie Chan and director Stanley Tong (Supercop, Rumble in the Bronx) is a kitchen-sink collection of action/comedy set pieces assembled into an Indiana Jones plot filtered through Chuck Jones. The film gives us ancient maps, lost treasure, hidden tombs, angry snakes and booby-trapped lairs as Chan leads an eclectic batch of archeologists, treasure hunters and yoga experts to battle an Indian megalomaniac, cannon fodder henchmen, killer hyenas and a grumpy lion riding shotgun in an SUV. We're whisked to one exotic location after another, from the glacial caverns of Tibet to the immaculate palaces of Dubai. And everything culminates in an epic Bollywood dance number.

At no point does the film approach anything resembling plausibility, nor does it really try. For example, the extended car chase through the streets of Dubai is played almost entirely for laughs, such as when our villain escapes his suddenly airborne vehicle by stepping out at just the right time, then walks away without a scratch. Speaking of which, the ample amount of CGI is so terrible that one begins to suspect it is intentional. In fact, during the opening prologue, my wife was sure it would be revealed to be a character playing a video game.

Still, Kung Fu Yoga is often quite funny. While the humor is mostly of the slapstick variety, some of the dialogue is priceless, as when one character, held hostage, begins to cry, "I'm gonna die! I mean, I know everybody dies, but I'm gonna die right now!" Jackie Chan is affable and charming as usual. While not as limber as he used to be, he's still a terrific physical performer. Chan also seems more than happy to share the spotlight with the rest of the cast, all of whom have their amusing moments (even the bad guys come across as sort-of congenial).

Kung Fu Yoga is one of those movies where, if you aren't already onboard the crazy train, you'll find it insufferable. Nearly a live-action cartoon, the film never takes itself too seriously and nor should the viewer. This one is for those looking for nothing more than colorful, silly, inoffensive entertainment.

FEATURETTES: "Best of Both Worlds"; "The Dynamic Duo"; "The Making Of Kung Fu Yoga"; "Jackie Chan Featurette"; "Bollywood Dance Featurette"
BLOOPER REEL (needlessly punctuated by "funny" onscreen text)

August 4, 2017

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Alternate Ending

"I sure hope Ralphie doesn't shoot his eye out."


"Not my eye, Ma. Not my eye."

August 3, 2017

THE OMEN (1976): A Beginner's Guide to Satan

Starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens, Patrick Throughton. Directed by Richard Donner. (1976, 111 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON

It was near the end of sixth grade when The Omen crept onto my radar. Before that, 666 was simply the number which followed 665.  

The trailer was spooky as hell, as was the appearance of the title itself in the newspaper ads, with three sixes symbolically stamped inside the 'O'. I didn't know what it meant, or what the movie was even about, but those numbers were intriguingly ominous.

This was also the time when puke colored Pee-Chees were the school folder of choice for many kids. There were handy math & science tips located on the inside pockets (the multiplication chart is the only reason I still remember that 12 x 12 equals 144), and generic illustrations of high school athletes which practically begged for afro enhancement or arrows in their heads. And we all knew someone who revised 'Pee-Chee All Season Portfolio' to read, 'Kissing is Pee-Chee, but sex is an all season sport.'

The perfect canvas
There was also plenty of empty space left to scribble band logos, expletives or the name of your current crush. Ever the movie fanatic, I used to draw copy titles and tag lines all over my Pee-Chee the way my peers painstakingly drew the KISS logo on theirs. When The Omen came out, I drew those sixes with a red marker as accurately as I could. I still didn't know what they meant, but man, it looked cool. The girl seated next to me, Suzanne, saw it and issued this dire warning: "That's the Devil's number! You're gonna go to Hell for that!"

Even though I told her it was from a movie, she went and informed the teacher, Mrs. Swanson, who was apparently unconcerned that I had just damned myself. She simply told the Suzanne to sit back down and reminded me get back to reducing my fractions (which none of my Pee-Chee charts could help me with).

Suzanne's comment, and the fact she thought my actions were blasphemous enough to rat me out, weighed heavily on me. The Devil's number? Oh, man, what have I done? On the plus side, Suzanne didn't talk to me for the remainder of the year. She was a sanctimonious little shit who went on become an equally sanctimonious cheerleader in high school (I know, because she refused to go out with me).

Now that I knew 666 was associated with Ol' Scratch himself, my sixth-grade mind deduced that The Omen must not only be scary, but evil. I'd seen horror movies before, but never one that suggested I'd risk my soul just watching it. For an impressionable youth like me, that meant only one thing: challenge accepted!

When the movie opened at the nearby Southgate Quad later that summer, a few friends and I cheerfully peddled our bikes toward damnation. Since The Omen was rated R, we further-tarnished our souls by sneaking into this one after buying tickets for one of the PG movies playing there.

In The Omen, Gregory Peck is Robert Thorn, the American ambassador in England with his pregnant wife, Katherine (Lee Remick). After Robert is told their baby was stillborn - and Katherine was apparently kept out of the loop - a creepy priest suggests replacing it with another newborn whose mother just died. Robert agrees to raise it as his own to avoid breaking Katherine's heart.

The Thorns lead an idyllic life until bizarre things begin to happen: their nanny hangs herself, baboons go apeshit (no pun intended) in Damien's presence and the kid freaks out whenever he gets near a church. A few folks figure out Damien is actually the Antichrist, but most die before they can convince the Thorns. Those spectacular death scenes were a big draw for The Omen back then, including the iconic onscreen decapitation by a wayward pane of glass, which certainly wasn't something you saw everyday, even in a horror film.

As Robert begins to suspect Damien might be behind more nasty doings than simply soiling some diapers, he and photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) do some investigating. They learn Damien's arrival was foretold in the Book of Revelations and has been watched over and protected from birth by Satanists, including their new nanny, the family dog (bad dog, indeed) and the priest who suggested the baby swap in the first place.

After Katherine is killed, Robert realizes Damien must die. The only way to kill the Antichrist is to stab him in a church with seven holy daggers. Robert drags Damien kicking & screaming to the alter, but just as he's about to use the first dagger, he is shot and killed by police.

What to Expect When You're Expecting an Evil Little Bastard
If you know anything about how movies work, you also know I haven't really provided any spoilers. First of all, the title of the first sequel, Damien: Omen II, gives away the fact the kid lives. Not only that, killing children onscreen remains mostly taboo by major studios, even of the character is a spawn of Satan. No way in hell would 20th Century Fox ever release a potential summer blockbuster that ends with a legendary & beloved icon like Gregory Peck stabbing a five year old seven times.

Maybe for people who take the Bible literally (like Suzanne), The Omen and its Cliff's Notes depiction of the Antichrist might be considered evil, especially since evil wins. Other than Rosemary's Baby, there weren't too many other mainstream horror films where the devil emerges triumphant. That bleak, foreboding resolution was a big part of what made The Omen pretty scary.

Unlike the esoteric dread of Rosemary's Baby or The Exorcist's existential crises, The Omen's brand of evil was easy to digest and instantly identifiable...just check your kid's scalp the same way you'd check for lice. If you spot three sixes, he's gonna destroy the world and must therefore die. Until Star Wars came along, the conflict between good and evil didn't get any simpler than that.

The Omen's impact on popular culture was significant, particularly its use of the number 666. Many of us those who never even cracked open a Bible suddenly saw "the devil's number" UPC codes, on street addresses and Black Sabbath album covers (of course). People even wanted to change their phone numbers to avoid being stuck with 666 prefixes. The number was scary and intriguing at the same time.

In 1982, Iron Maiden released their classic song, "The Number of the Beast," complete with a paraphrased spoken-word intro from the Book of Revelations. Bassist/songwriter Steve Harris was inspired by Damien: Omen II, which gave him nightmares (officially making him the only person ever scared by Omen II). These were the good ol' days when "Satanic Panic" had puritanic parents and watchdogs more concerned with protecting impressionable youth from falling in league with the devil than teaching them to practice safe sex. While other bands were long-suspected of putting subliminal shout-outs to Satan in their music, here was Iron Maiden screaming it on-high right in the fucking chorus:

Six...six six!
The Number of the Beast;
Hell...and fire
Was spawned to be released!

Compared to the black metal bands who'd later ooze out of Norway, Maiden's demonic noodlings sound as harmless as a Pat Boone record. But at the time, these guys displayed some epic balls to put that shit right out-front for the world to hear. Hell, a tiny part of me feared for my soul for simply enjoying it. That song and its blasphemously catchy chorus briefly made Iron Maiden the most terrifying band in the world. Ironically, anyone who actually took the time to read the lyrics would realize they weren't promoting Satanism at all.

"I feel pretty...oh, so pretty..."
The Omen's legacy doesn't stop there. For years after it was released, the very name, Damien, epitomized evil to people who thought a lot like Suzanne. They'd point out that it sounds like demon, and some idiots believed it actually meant "son of the devil." Nearly 20 years later, when my wife and I were expecting our first child and pondering baby names, she flat-out refused to consider Damien when I suggested it. Because of its sinister connection to the movie, she didn't want any kid of ours strapped with that kind of cultural baggage. Though I was initially dejected, it turned out to be a moot point since we had a girl (we named her Medusa, though it's spelled N-A-T-A-L-I-E).

Actually, despite its evil implications, the name dramatically increased in popularity after its use in both The Exorcist and The Omen. That could be a coincidence, of course, but while I'm sure some folks were inspired by The Exorcist's Father Damien's existentially-troubled character, it's safe to assume more-than-a-few twisted couples chose it because of a blue-eyed toddler who tried to kill his mother with a tricycle.

"I don't wanna go to gramma's house! It smells old there!"
Of course, all things fade with time and we're more than a generation removed from The Omen's insidious cultural influence. Only the most literal-minded zealots still piss themselves when accosted by three sixes. Not even a pointless remake of the film (premiering with considerable studio hype on June 6, 2006 at 6:06:06 in the morning) could restore the number to its former evil glory. To this generation, Iron Maiden's most notorious song is simply a challenging level in the Guitar Hero video game. The name of Damien is no longer synonymous with the Antichrist (I would say Donald has that distinction right now). People are currently more familiar with Damian Lillard than Damien Thorn. As a teacher in the real world, I recently had a boy in my class named Damien. A nice kid, but when I once made a joking Omen reference regarding his name, he appeared to have no clue what I was talking about (or maybe I just wasn't very fuckin' funny).

All that being said, The Omen gave many kids of my generation a terrifying introduction to the devil, albeit a simplistic one (much like kids from the 1950s who learned about Moses from The Ten Commandments). The movie has actually aged pretty well, though. Its creative methods of human demise may seem rather quaint to those raised on Final Destination, but the foreboding tone and atmosphere (helped immeasurably by Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning score) hasn't been equaled by too many supernatural horror films since.