Released 40 years ago today, The Omen still holds up as one of the scariest movies of all time—and the reason why the name "Damien" was ruined for children everywhere for decades. The now-demonic moniker was actually the screenwriter's second choice. Read on to find out what the first choice was—and 12 other freaky film facts.
1. THE FILM'S TITLE WAS CHANGED TWICE.
It was first called The Antichrist, then later changed to The Birthmark.
2. THE YOUNG ACTOR WHO PLAYED DAMIEN WAS CAST BECAUSE HE ATTACKED THE DIRECTOR.
When four-year-old Harvey Stephens auditioned for the part of Damien, director Richard Donner had him act out one of the role’s more demanding moments. Donner invited Stephens to attack him, and attack he did—right in Donner’s privates. The ballsy move is the reason Stephens got the role.
3. DAMIEN ORIGINALLY HAD A DIFFERENT NAME.
Screenwriter David Seltzer planned to name his antichrist Domlin after the “total obnoxious brat” child of a friend, until his wife convinced him that it would be a horrible thing to do to the kid. (Not to mention friendship-ending.) He landed on Damien after Father Damien, who started the first leper colony in the Hawaiian islands.
4. DAMIEN WAS NATURALLY BLONDE.
Harvey Stephens actually had unruly blonde hair at the time. To make him seem more like the devil’s spawn, his hair was straightened and dyed black.
5. CHARLTON HESTON WAS CONSIDERED FOR ROBERT THORN.
William Holden and Roy Scheider also allegedly turned down the role of the American ambassador. Holden later accepted the role of Robert’s brother, Richard, in the 1978 sequel Damien: Omen II.
6. GREGORY PECK'S SON COMMITTED SUICIDE SHORTLY BEFORE FILMING BEGAN.
The tragedy was part of the reason the semi-retired Peck took the part of Robert Thorn. Peck’s agent encouraged him to take the role because it would be good for him to get out of the house and throw himself into his work.
7. DAMIEN'S FIRST NANNY IS JACK PALANCE'S DAUGHTER.
Early in the movie, there’s a horrifying scene in which Damien’s first nanny commits suicide by jumping out of a window and hanging herself during Damien’s birthday party. That nanny was played by Holly Palance, daughter of Oscar-winning actor Jack Palance. Her father later narrated The Omen Legacy, a 2001 documentary about the making of the movie.
8. LEE REMICK'S REACTION TO THE BABOONS WAS REAL.
There’s a scene in the movie where Damien’s mother takes him on an outing to a safari park. Apparently sensing Damien's evil, the baboons violently attack the car. To get the baboons to run at the vehicle, handlers refrained from feeding them the night before. When the scene was filmed in the morning, food was placed on and around the car, bringing the hungry primates right over. To make them angry, handlers placed two baby baboons in the car with the actors and the trainer, thinking the adult baboons would be upset about being separated from the youngsters. It did the trick ... maybe a little too well. “Lee screaming in there is Lee really screaming,” Donner said.
9. GREGORY PECK AND RICHARD DONNER HAD ONE ARGUMENT DURING FILMING.
Peck wanted to angrily smash a bunch of stuff during the scene where Robert finds out his wife has died. Donner disagreed; he wanted to cut in on Thorn well after the discovery, not in the moment. According to Donner, he and Peck argued about the scene for an entire day before Peck told him, “You’re wrong. I’m right. But you’re the director, and therefore I have to do it your way.” After the scene was shot, Peck reviewed the dailies and conceded that Donner had been right about how to film Thorn’s reaction.
10. THE SCORE WON AN OSCAR.
Composer Jerry Goldsmith almost didn’t attend the ceremony, as he had already been nominated for a number of Oscars and Grammys and didn’t think he could handle losing again. Luckily, he didn’t have to. “Ave Satani” was also nominated for Best Original Song. Of the 18 Oscar nominations Goldsmith has received in his career, Best Original Score for The Omen is (so far) his only win.
11. THE MOVIE CAME WITH A TERRIFYING AD CAMPAIGN.
To promote the movie, gloom-and-doom posters and promotional materials went up all over the U.S. They contained uplifting messages such as:
- “Good morning. You are one day closer to the end of the world.”
- “Remember ... you have been warned.”
- “It is a warning foretold for thousands of years. It is our final warning. It is The Omen.”
12. THE PRODUCTION MAY HAVE BEEN CURSED.
Like many other horror movies, some spooky things happened to the cast and crew that made them wonder if they had angered some higher power. Here are just a few of the incidents:
- Peck, writer David Seltzer, and executive producer Mace Neufeld were on planes that were struck by lightning or had a near-miss.
- The crew had planned to charter a plane to get some aerial shots, but had to switch at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict. The original plane ended up crashing, killing everyone on it.
- Director Richard Donner’s hotel was bombed by the IRA the day after they shot the safari park scene.
- A zookeeper at the safari park was killed in the lion area, which also happened the day after filming.
- The stuntman standing in for Peck was attacked by Rottweilers during the graveyard scene; they managed to bite through the protective gear he was wearing.
- After the film wrapped, special effects director John Richardson and his assistant, Liz Moore, moved on to the film A Bridge Too Far. While filming in the Netherlands, the duo was in a serious car accident. Richardson survived, but Moore was decapitated. This was especially eerie since Richardson was responsible for the infamous decapitation scene in The Omen.
13. HARVEY STEPHENS HASN'T DONE MUCH ACTING SINCE—EXCEPT FOR ONE NOTABLE ROLE.
Though Stephens pretty much exited the acting game after The Omen wrapped, he did take on one appropriate role in 2006: He had a cameo as a journalist in The Omen remake starring Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles. The remake was released on 06.06.06, by the way.