13 Foreboding Facts About ‘The Omen’

Released nearly 50 years ago, 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. Fun fact, though? The now-demonic moniker was actually the screenwriter’s second choice. Read on to find out what the first choice was—plus 12 other freaky facts about this legendary horror flick.

It was first called The Antichrist, then later changed to The Birthmark.

When 4-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.

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.

Stephens actually had unruly blonde hair at the time when he was cast as Damien. To make him seem more like the devil’s spawn, his hair was straightened and dyed black.

Das Omen, Malediction (Omen, The)

The role of Robert Thorn eventually went to veteran actor Gregory Peck. / United Archives/GettyImages

William Holden and Roy Scheider allegedly turned down the role of the American ambassador, and veteran actor Gregory Peck was cast instead. Holden later accepted the role of Robert’s brother, Richard, in the 1978 sequel Damien: Omen II.

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, thinking it would be good for him to get out of the house and throw himself into his work.

Early in the movie, there’s a horrifying scene in which Damien’s first nanny jumps out of a window and hangs 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.

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.

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.

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 received in his career, Best Original Score for The Omen was his only win.

To promote the movie, gloom-and-doom posters and promotional materials went up all over the U.S. They contained uplifting messages such as:

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:

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.

This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for 2022.


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