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Trivia / The Omen (1976)

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  • AFI's 100 Years… 100 Thrills: #81
  • Actor-Inspired Element: Mrs. Baylock was written to be a warm and friendly Irish nanny. Billie Whitelaw auditioned with some of the dialogue changed to make her cold and sinister. Mia Farrow's portrayal in The Remake is closer to how she was originally written.
  • Breakthrough Hit: For Richard Donner.
  • Channel Hop: The movie was considered by Warner Bros., who thought it might be ideal for Oliver Reed.
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  • Dyeing for Your Art: Richard Donner decided that Harvey Stephens' naturally blond hair should be dyed black to give him a more sinister look in his role as Damien. He was also given contact lenses to darken his eyes.
  • Enforced Method Acting:
    • Done with the baboons in the first movie. Richard Donner explained that they were having trouble getting the baboons to attack the car. Coincidentally, a veterinarian was there to treat the baboon group's leader, who had been injured in a fight. He suggested to Donner to put the leader in the back of the car in front of the others and make it look like he was being taken away. This sent the baboons into the frenzy shown on-screen. Lee Remick was told that this would happen, but no one expected the baboon leader to actually wake up while in the back of the car and grab her hair. Her screaming during that scene ended up having a very real component to it, as well.
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    • Less traumatically, Donner did this several times with child-actor Harvey Stephens; for example, he provoked Damien's final smile by very emphatically warning Stephens to not smile at the camera. He also got the annoyed reaction Damien has at being taken to church by antagonising Harvey off-camera.
  • Executive Meddling: Damien was supposed to die at the end, but Donner was persuaded to change the ending to allow for sequels.
  • Fake Nationality:
    • Italian priest Father Splietto is played by Martin Benson, an English actor of Russian-Jewish descent.
    • The vaguely-Germanic Carl Bugenhagen is played by Aussie actor Leo McKern.
  • Follow the Leader: One of the many "evil child" films following the success of The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby.
  • Meaningful Release Date: The film was sneak previewed nationwide on June 6, 1976 (the official date was June 25th). Which also happened to be a Sunday.
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  • Money, Dear Boy: David Seltzer has claimed that he only wrote the script because he needed the money. He said of the film:
    "I did it strictly for the money. I was flat broke. I do find it horrifying how many people believe all this silliness".
  • Never Work with Children or Animals: The biggest problem with shooting with Mrs. Baylock's ominous dog was that the animal was nothing like the creature he was supposed to be portraying. He wanted to lick and play with his co-stars rather than threaten them.
  • Novelization First: As part of a marketing blitz, and done by the film's screenwriter.
  • Pet Fad Starter: The popularity of Rottweilers increased after this movie came out.
  • Playing Against Type: David Warner, best known for playing villains, plays the heroic Nice Guy Keith Jennings.
  • The Production Curse: Various mishaps plagued the production:
    • During filming, David Seltzer's plane was hit by lighting, as was Gregory Peck's, as was executive producers Mace Neufelds'.
    • A hotel Neufeld was staying at during production was bombed by the IRA, as was a restaurant Richard Donner and actors were scheduled to eat at. Luckily, no one died.
    • One of the film's tiger handlers died. Gregory Peck's son shot himself. A plane scheduled for use in the film, which was rescheduled and used for a commercial flight instead, crashed and killed everyone on board.
    • An assistant to special effects consultant John Richardson on the other hand, wasn't quite as lucky. On Friday the 13th of August 1976, Richardson crashed his car in Holland. His assistant was sliced through by the car's front wheel. Scrambling out of the wreckage, Richardson looked up and saw a road sign: Ommen, 66.6km.
  • Reality Subtext: Gregory Peck had great difficulty filming the climax where Thorn tries to kill Damien, as he had previously lost his son to suicide.
  • Serendipity Writes the Plot:
    • Billie Whitelaw was performing in a play on the West End, and rang the production office to see if she could drop out of the film. She called on a late Friday afternoon and there was no one to take her call. Therefore she had to show up for filming the next week. Ironic if you look at What Could Have Been below.
    • The title change from 'The Birthmark' to 'The Omen' came about because they were filming in a real maternity ward and had signs up saying "Filming the Birth Mark". Patients asked for no mention of birthmarks, fearing bad luck, so they put up signs saying "Filming The Omen" instead. They eventually decided to keep the name.
  • Vacation, Dear Boy: David Seltzer asserted that he set the story in London as he fancied a trip to England.
  • Wag the Director: Richard Donner frequently had to reshoot close-ups of Gregory Peck because the star objected to being seen with double chins.
    • They both disagreed over the direction the scene where Robert Thorn finds out his wife has died. Peck wanted to smash things angrily, but Donner wanted to cut in long after he'd gotten the news. Gregory grudgingly did it the director's way, but later said it was for the better after viewing the dailies.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Warner Brothers initially though Oliver Reed would be ideal for the film.
    • William Holden turned down the role of Robert Thorn. Seeing as how the finished film turned out, he jumped at the chance to star in the sequel. Charlton Heston chose to do Midway instead, allowing Gregory Peck to come out of retirement to play Thorn. Dick Van Dyke also turned down the role; a decision he later regretted. Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Roy Scheider were also considered.
    • Damien was originally going to be called Domlin, named after the child of one of writer David Seltzer's friends, until his wife insisted on a name change. Finding a suitable child actor was also so tough that David Seltzer considered changing the character to a girl instead.
    • The script had some more overt supernatural elements - such as witches' covens and demons with cloven feet. Richard Donner had them removed, and the golden rule was that everything in the script had to be plausible in real life. This was so that there could be an element of doubt over whether Thorn was just going mad.
    • Producers considered cutting Mrs Baylock out of the film completely, feeling she was almost too evil - and also making it clear that the demonic conspiracy was real (because someone as evil as her had to be straight from hell). Richard Donner however loved Billie Whitelaw's performance and couldn't bear to cut the character.
  • Working Title: The film was originally going to be called The Anti-Christ. When studio heads suggested something more subtle they appropriated the Nathaniel Hawthorne title: The Birthmark.

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