On Thursday, The Hollywood Reporter broke news that a prequel to The Omen was coming from 20th Century Fox. Appropriately titled The First Omen, it’s being produced by David Goyer and Kevin Turen through their Phantom Four production company and a script has already been written by Ben Jacoby. Antonio Campos is in talks to direct. Now… I don’t know who Jacoby is and I haven’t seen anything by Campos or Turen. But I’m sure we’re all familiar with Goyer. Initially, I assumed the news was about Platinum Dunes finally gaining some traction on the Omen remake that Bloody Disgusting reported on in 2014. But no – this is really about a prequel!
And I’m shocked. More so than I was about the Damien announcement. I mean, a prequel? How much story is there to tell before the birth of Damien? It’s a valid question – one that movie fans took great pleasure in asking (and answering) all day long. The Internet was abuzz with theories and speculation. And of course, there was no shortage of people expressing their butt-hurt over the news. Many quipped that we already have the prenatal Omen in Rosemary’s Baby. Others joked that only a satanic sex-education film could serve the premise: depicting the devil getting jiggy with a jackal.
But we Omen fans know where to find eligible backstory that’s ripe for the telling: The Omen novelization.
During an interview appearing on the The Omen Collector’s Edition DVD (2006), screenwriter David Seltzer remembered when he decided to turn his screenplay into a book: he was visiting the set while director Richard Donner was filming the infamous decapitation scene. The spectacle of it all convinced him that the movie was going to be a hit. “If I run home,” he recalled thinking, “I’ve got about five weeks to do a novel.” And that’s what he did. The book was published ahead of the movie’s release and became a best-seller.
But the novelization isn’t just a rehash of the film. The book allowed Seltzer to explore the macabre details leading up to Damien’s birth and the players involved. It also afforded him the opportunity to salvage character elements written for the screenplay but scrapped for the film. For instance, in the movie, lanky David Warner plays the photographer Jennings – but on paper he’s described as having a “hulking frame.” Same for the sinister Mrs. Baylock, portrayed for much of the film with quiet dignity by petite Billie Whitelaw but originally written as “imposing, loud, and exuberant.” Seltzer successfully resurrected all of his initial characterizations for the book – which gives many scenes a whole new flavor.
However, the real interesting stuff is in the backstory. In the film, Father Brennan (played by Doctor WHO alum Patrick Troughton) tries to warn Robert Thorn about Damien. He gravely declares that he witnessed the birth. But in the book, he does much more than simply bear witness – he is an active participant. Seltzer describes the priest’s grizzly involvement, joining Mrs. Baylock and Father Spilletto in the birthing of the Antichrist and the subsequent murder of the Ambassador’s son. In fact, it is Brennan (renamed Tassone in the book) who delivers the crushing blow to Thorn’s newborn. In other passages we learn of his days as a young priest, losing his way and being turned to the dark side.
But even more compelling is the mysterious character Bugenhagen introduced near the end of the picture (played by the uncredited Leo McKern) and with whom Thorn plots Damien’s demise. Bugenhagen reveals the seven holy daggers to Thorn, demonstrating how to kill the Antichrist. He is perhaps the most intriguing character in the whole movie yet he is an enigma. It’s only in the novelization that Seltzer illuminates the Bugenhagen lineage: generations of “religious zealots; the watchdogs of Christ” who foiled two earlier attempts to raise the Beast, once in 1092 and again in 1710. A variation of this backstory was in Seltzer’s original screenplay with Jennings describing the man as a 17th century exorcist – but the “17th century” line was cut from the film.
And let’s not forget the mystic knives themselves; glinting stilettos with effigies of Christ on the Cross carved into the handles. Where did they come from? Who made them? Their origin remains a wonderful mystery. And a perfect example of why you don’t need to stray from the source material for inspiration. Holy super weapons, complex characters; both Brennen and Bugenhagen are deep reservoirs of story. Not to mention Mrs. Baylock, whose true name is revealed to be B’aalock in the book. Together with her sister-in-arms B’aalam they comprise a female duo of destruction responsible for all manner of evil deeds prior to Damien’s birth (they’re also the devil’s handmaidens, so says Seltzer).
All of this is fodder for a prequel. You don’t need to create from whole cloth. But people like their own ideas. And fresh new ideas are not a bad thing when it comes to derivative works…as long as you respect the source material. The Damien TV series honors the original while doing its own thing and it has developed into an eagerly anticipated hour of suspense each week; the future of The Omen seems to be in good hands. So, I’m more than willing to consider its unknown past. I have no idea what kind of scripture Ben Jacoby has written. But as a fan, I’m eager to find out. I just hope it has a Bugenhagen and some daggers.