So, thirty years later comes the remake which had one hell of powerful marketing campaign. Script wise, the film is practically a carbon copy, but does have a few minor alterations and better polished quality. It’s not a perfect film, but if my opinions of the original weren’t polarizing enough, I can tell you that I liked this 2006 film more in the first fifteen minutes than I did the whole of the 1976 version.
When a Vatican observatory priest sees the appearance of a prophesized comet, the Church is sure that it confirms the eve of the Armageddon. Meanwhile, the United States President’s godson Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is informed in the maternity in Rome that his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) has just lost her baby, and she had troubles with her uterus and would not have another pregnancy. Father Spiletto (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) suggests Robert take another newborn child, who lost his mother, as his own. Robert accepts the child and gives him the name of Damien. After a tragic accident, Robert is promoted to U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, but years later, bizarre occurrences begin to center around Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). When his nanny commits suicide at his birthday party, a substitute, Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow), comes to work and live with the family, but Katherine has come to realize that Damien is evil. Meanwhile, Robert is contacted by Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite), who tells him that Damien is the son of Devil. Soon after, photographer Keith Jennings (David Thewlis) shows evidence to Robert that confirm Brennan’s prophetic statements. Thus, they commit themselves to a journey to discover the truth about Damien, and how to ultimately stop him.
What so immediately engaged me into this remake more than the original is the depth of real emotion and humanity in the performances. I really do hold Liev Schreiber in high regard. I think he’s really a fantastic actor with a fine range of talent. I love that you can see the deep concern he has for his adopted son, but also, the internal conflict he has over the secrets he hides from everyone about Damien. That knowledge is always in the back of his head, and builds up a sense of guilt as the foretelling words of Father Brennan become truth. While Schreiber surely doesn’t have the dramatic presence of Gregory Peck, Liev brings something more valuable with that depth of emotion and relatable humanity. He feels like a man with realistic struggles that define him as a conflicted, sympathetic person who only wished to bring happiness to his family, but brought evil in instead.
This remake wisely strengthens Katherine Thorn’s role. She is given so much more emotional turmoil to grapple with over her fears about Damien. Julia Stiles does a hell of a fine job. Where Lee Remick left me with nothing to say about her performance, Stiles brings a strong breadth of traumatic emotion. You can feel her pain seep through the screen with a lot of sorrow. The filmmakers added in a series of surreal and startling dreams for her which are very foreboding as manifestations of her fear. She is so afraid that there is something grossly wrong with Damien that the thought of this child being born from her psychologically and emotionally damages her. This creates further turmoil for Robert who does not know how to tell her the truth without damaging her or their marriage further.
The late and very great Pete Postlethwaite does a far more realistic job as Father Brennan. Instead of coming off as a frayed crazy man, he shows the immense fear and dread in the character. He’s very much a prophet of doom who sells that sense of doom with every fiber of his terrified being. It’s not a big splashy performance, but more subtle and foreboding.
I also enjoyed Mia Farrow’s different take on Mrs. Baylock. She’s very kindly and unassuming, but is actually so nice to the point where it seems like a mentally unhinged disorder. She makes the character the perfect nanny, to a fault. Farrow is much more subtle in how she plays the role, making her evil nature less obvious and more subversive. The performances of both Mia Farrow and Billie Whitelaw are excellent in this role in their respective films, and both work equally as well on different levels.
Unfortunately, David Thewlis’ turn as Keith Jennings is about average. It’s nothing tremendous, but it services the film decently enough. Between Thewlis and David Warner in this role, I would certainly choose the latter, even with that bad 1970s hair style he had. On the whole, the acting in the remake is more dimensional and real instead of the more surface level performances of the original. With a film that’s more heavy on ideas than plot, it is ultimately the performances which have to carry the film, and convince the audience of the validity of everything that is occurring.
On the down side, it is rather distracting how much of the dialogue is taken verbatim from the 1976 original. I honestly would’ve preferred if the screenwriter freshened it up a little. You can still stay true to the spirit of the original dialogue without making radical changes. Say the same thing in a different way is all I suggest. In fact, this screenplay differed so little from that of the original film, Dan McDermott was not awarded a writing credit by the Writer’s Guild of America for his work on the remake’s script.
One significant addition to this remake that I felt was very effective were the Vatican scenes. There, a Cardinal recites lines from a prophecy which correlate with real world horrific events. These events foretell the coming of the son of the Devil. I would say it’s more than a little controversial to use images of 9/11 to this effect, but one cannot deny the weight those images hold. It’s a very good sequence that really sets up an ominous feeling that something terribly evil is coming, and it is bookended at the film’s conclusion.
I also like that a scene I felt was poorly handled in the original, where Damien disappears on the Thorns as they take a walk, is revamped into a much more effective scene here. This time, Katherine pushing Damien on a swing set when she gets pulled away by a cell phone call. When she turns around a moment later, Damien is suddenly gone, and she realistically panics. It’s actually Damien playing a mischievous prank on his mom, one seems to take a little pleasure in frightening her with. It’s a much more realistic and tonally appropriate scene that also strongly establishes Katherine’s deep, motherly concern for him. The music here appropriately goes for a tone of dread as opposed to the original’s melodramatic punctuation.
This remake of The Omen does look absolutely gorgeous using a rich but restrained color pallet of ambers, blues, and greens. That coupled with some excellent, shadowy lighting creates a very moody visual atmosphere. While it might look a little too polished at times, on the whole, it’s a very well shot film. Director John Moore also made vibrant use of the color red as a signal of supernatural events which you can take or leave at your discretion. It’s artistic symbolism which I am generally indifferent about.
The score by Marco Beltrami might not be iconic or especially memorable, but it is entirely new and original. He goes for a more traditional score that enhances mood and emotion instead of bludgeoning you with bombastic music cues. It highlights the horror very effectively, and solidly supports the various subtle tones of the film. It is a very good piece of scoring by Beltrami which works immensely better than the overbearing Jerry Goldsmith score for Richard Donner’s original film. While Goldsmith’s would probably be a rousing listen on its own, apart from the film, Beltrami’s does what a film score is meant to do, and that automatically gets my praise.
Another thing that is mostly quite improved are the death scenes. The impalement might not yet be perfect, but it is far better executed with quicker timing and stronger impact through use of digital effects. Katherine’s fall from the balcony, again while not perfect, is vastly improved with a greater sense of the height from and force of which she falls. The decapitation death is pretty good giving us more gore, but it’s not as elaborate or prolonged of an effect. I could’ve done with a little less CGI where some of the latter deaths are concerned, but for the dramatic size of them, there really wasn’t much of an alternative for the filmmakers. Still, many of these deaths did hold more dramatic weight for me between the strength of the performances, and quality of the execution of each one.
On the opposite end of the critique spectrum from the original, the makeup design on this film’s Father Spiletto, the burned priest, is actually taken too far for my tastes. The extreme look feels out of place in the film evoking some sort of freakish ghoul. I can imagine it’s hard to present a burned flesh make-up design that is scary without it looking like Freddy Krueger. However, there must have been a happy medium these filmmakers could’ve gone for that would’ve felt more realistic. Still, what I can merit this version for over the original that the quality of the make-up is vastly superior.
Enjoyable so, this film actually delivered some suspenseful scares for me. This is, again, due to the atmosphere director John Moore forged for this picture. He is able to create some tension leading up to some frightening or traumatic moments. The characters are genuinely scared, especially Katherine, and become more so as events unfold which solidify their fears. Also, I mentioned before that there are a series of dream sequences. They haunt Katherine early on, but eventually, Robert Thorn starts having his own. I really, really liked these. They progressively got more creepy and disturbing. As most dreams do, they are a little hard to read into as what every image means, but on the surface, they showcase very occult and frighteningly evil acts which do feel in line with Damien. The final one, seen by Robert, is probably the best with some very chilling faces and images startling the Ambassador onward to what he must come to grips with.
I also really like that this Damien seems to be more aware of the power he has as he appears to silently conspire with Mrs. Baylock, at times. During the zoo scene, he’s aware that the animals are afraid, and likely of him. He uses his power against a police officer standing guard while Mrs. Baylock is in the next room committing murder. I will state that Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick doesn’t have as strong of a look as Harvey Stephens did in this same role. He can appear a little too dour, but he is able to conjure up an eerie, unsettling expression when needed. He does quite well in the role. If the original film had been written with this more self-aware Damien, I think Stephens would’ve had an even more effective performance. In comparison, I think this Damien is better written while the original’s actor just had a consistently better look.
Now, while this remake generally takes the same amount of time for the same series of events to occur, what makes it work better, in my opinion, is the development of emotional depth and turmoil which establish a foreboding atmosphere. We get characters who are dimensional, and a director who knows how to create an ominous, foreboding tone. This version of The Omen definitely has a more natural flow of events with the emotional weight carrying the drama and horror along with cohesion. You feel the tragedy, horror, and emotion pile up from one scene to the next creating dramatic momentum. It’s interesting that both the 1976 and 2006 versions have about the same runtime, but this remake seems to move along at a smoother, quicker pace. There are even a few new scenes in the remake, and thus, this film is able to traverse a little more ground in the same amount of time. While little extra substance is added into the pages of the script, it really are the performances that add the substance. And while I criticized the 1976 original for taking just as long to develop its plot, the key difference here is that emotional depth which develops the characters, and creates that impending sense of dread that the original sorely lacked. This film always feels like it is building towards something whether in plot, character, or emotion. Robert Thorn has internal struggles he’s dealing with which show through in Liev Schreiber’s performance, and we see Katherine’s struggles very outwardly. The film gives the audience something to invest themselves in as the plot gradually forms.
So, obviously, without question, I do honestly believe that John Moore’s 2006 remake of The Omen is much more effective than the original. It’s better in vastly more ways than it is not. Still, while I believe it is a good film, it certainly did not propel The Omen into greatness in my view. I enjoyed watching this film, and I felt it delivered some very strong, well rounded acting with a real skill for atmosphere and horror. Yet, if ever someone were to revisit The Omen again, I would really like more substance put into the script, and add in some new ideas that enhance what’s already there. Develop things further to build more dire urgency into the plot, and make the stakes bigger or, at least, more real. This remake took some good steps towards that effect, but I think there’s still room for improvement, if ever another filmmaker wants to re-fashion The Omen for a future generation.
By happenstance, it seems that I prefer the even numbered Paramount Pictures’ Friday The 13th films over the odd numbered ones, and this is no exception. I won’t deny there are large flaws with this film, but it basically comes to whether or not I have an enjoyable time watching the film. For Jason Takes Manhattan, I find a great deal of enjoyment from this, and tend to find myself watching this one most often when I just need a fun, easy slasher to watch.
The graduating class of Lakeview High is setting out on a cruise to New York, but after a late night diversion by two students out on Crystal Lake, Jason is electrified back to life for an unexpected journey. Rennie Wickham (Jensen Daggett) is among the classmates with her uncle and biology teacher Charles McCullough (Peter Mark Richman), her caring literature teacher Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham), and boyfriend Sean Robertson (Scott Reeves). Unfortunate for everyone on board is that Jason has hitched a ride on this ship which is sailing straight into a storm. Jason stalks through the ominous, closed quarters of the S.S. Lazarus until the survivors are forced to abandon ship, but even the harbor of Manhattan, New York is not safe for them. Jason Voorhees continues his muderous rampage through the streets of New York as Rennie continually gets chilling flashes of a young Jason which will lead to a personal revelation from her past.
The reason why I like this entry while so many trash it is because it’s quite fun. There plenty of enjoyable characters portrayed by actors who do seem like they were having a fun time making this film. I also truly like the idea of trying out some new ideas and breaking free of the old environments. Unfortunately, there was vast potential wasted due to the film’s budgetary constraints. Writer / director Rob Hedden explains in the film’s DVD commentary track that his original script had sequences taking place at numerous New York landmarks including Madison Square Garden and the Empire State Building, and the New York part of the story would dominate the film, leaving a much abridged section on board the S.S. Lazarus. Regardless of what might’ve been, the film we are left with has definite problems which have to be addressed.
The lack of gore is obvious. Too many off-screen kills make for a more bland slasher movie, but at the time, the MPAA were being very unrelenting with horror films. Filmmakers had to hack n’ slash the gore from their films so badly, the entire genre suffered. Granted, these slashers becoming more campy and less scary attributed to their lack of effectiveness, but the low gore levels didn’t help matters. Still, this film has a few memorable kills with both the electric guitar and boxing decapitation kills. It really is more in their inventiveness that make them memorable than any use of blood or gore. Of course, the entire toxic waste flood taking out Jason with the intent of this being last Friday The 13th movie, ever, is very cringe inducing. Some of the greatly more horrid footage from this scene was very thankfully discarded. New Line Cinema does have to be thanked for not allowing this to be the ultimate cinematic demise of Jason Voorhees.
I will surely admit there is some bad acting in this film, but I feel it’s limited to a few minor roles. Our main array of characters are very lively and amusing. I highly enjoy spending time with someone like Julius who has some bravado and charisma, even if the performance can be a little over the top at times, but I don’t view that as a negative in this film. Saffron Henderson’s J.J is a vibrant 1980s hot rocker who I felt departed the film far, far too early. Wayne, the aspiring filmmaker, is also nicely geeky without becoming stupid or obnoxious. These are characters that just add charm and a little bit of heart to the film. Peter Richman’s stern, uptight McCullough is a great foil in the film that you can love to hate, and his veteran acting skills really benefit the role nicely. Barbara Bingham brings some heartfelt motherly concern to Ms. Van Duesen as she tries to be an emotional counsel to Rennie. Scott Reeves meshes decently well with the film’s female lead in Jensen Daggett. Of the whole main cast, he’s probably the least noticable likely due to not having as much on the page to work with.
I do strongly feel that Jensen Daggett is among the best heroins of the series. Rob Hedden gives her a very nice psychological storyline to deal with that ties into her own personal history, and links it up with Jason at the same time. This gives her a sense of personal determination later on to defeat Jason. Daggett gives Rennie a nice breadth of innocence and likability without losing her strength. At the time of this film, she felt like a fresh faced young woman with a lot of potential and warmth. There’s a fine range of emotions built into the character of Rennie, and Jensen Daggett proved to be a nicely talented choice to handle those demands. I’ve always enjoyed what she had to offer in this role, and I feel she carries the forefront of the film very well.
Kane Hodder steps into the Jason role for the second time, and does what he does. He surely looks more into the performance than in his later outing where he would over-accentuate certain character traits. The only thing I think makes this return performance a little inferior to the debut one is just the trappings. The violence is not as hard edged, the tone is not as heavy, and the appearance of Jason is scaled back a great deal. So, it is a consistent Hodder performance, and a rather effective one, regardless. I do have to say that the “teleporting Jason” style of editing does not strike me very well. It simply succumbs to no logic. The dance floor scene could be explained by an artistic license to reflect the disorientation of Kelly Hu’s character amongst the blaring music and flashing lights, but Jason consistently shows up in places ahead of other characters were he should be lagging far behind. It does tend to bother me when watching the film, but only in those brief instances.
Regardless of such facts, I do feel Rob Hedden did an admirable job directing this film. He had the imagination and initiative to try something new with transplanting Jason into new locations, and it feels refreshing. Eight films in, and you need some new ideas to keep it interesting. Of course, you can take it into really bad territory, such as with Jason X, but I digress. I know Hedden could’ve made the film one thousand times better if he had the budget to realize his original script and ideas. Not to mention, a chance to retain more of the blood and gore in the final cut. Unfortunately, what’s done is done, and you’ve gotta live with it. The suspense in the film is decent, but is compensated for by a nice array of exciting or startling sequences. Instead of the usual third act chase through the woods, we get Jason stalking Rennie and Sean through the urban landscape of Manhattan on the streets, in the subway, and ultimately, through the sewers. That money shot of Jason standing in the middle of Times Square is just priceless. Even though most of the film was shot Vancouver, British Columbia, this moment in the film truly adds a sense of credibility and scope to the film.
Fred Mollin takes full reins as composer for this film, and like his work in The New Blood, I find it very good with a heavier, more haunting and relentless style than Manfredini’s work. Both Mollin and Rob Hedden worked together on television’s Friday The 13th: The Series, and I think that helped their creativity to jibe well together. The tone of the film is definitely enhanced by the score, offering one of the better works of the series. Manfredini’s work has never really impressed me. It tended to feel very one-dimensional, ringing the same bell over and over again. There would be beautiful moments on rare occasion, but Mollin’s work seems to have a bit more depth, accentuating different styles of tension, suspense, and horror with more effectiveness. Mollin also co-wrote the two songs that J.J. jams on early in the film, but it’s been revealed by his collaborator Stan Meissner that pretty much everything that was recorded for those tracks appear in the film. That’s a bit of a shame since they are very stellar hard rocking tunes with a great 1980s pop sensibility. They really have “hit song” written all over them, and I would buy them up in an instant if they were released as complete songs. Mollin would reuse one of these tracks when he scored the pilot episode of Forever Knight a few years later. The track “The Darkest Side of the Night” by Metropolis is one that I really love, and sets a good, yet different tone for the opening and closing of this film. It is commercially available from their “Power of the Night” album, but not widely or easily so.
While there are instances of a lighter tone sort of playing up Jason’s iconic status, much of the film has a rather haunting and unsettling tone due to the psychological and hallucinatory aspects of the story. Rennie’s visions of the young, deformed Jason are creepy, and give the film some dramatic weight. Rennie herself doesn’t know what’s happening, and the audience has to learn the reasons why alongside her. I just find the tone fresh and inviting along with much of the ideas Rob Hedden mixes into the old Friday The 13th formula.
All in all, the film really is entertaining and enjoyable. It offers some good brutality, but lacks the proper gore level for a Friday The 13th film. By today’s standards, these severely cut down slasher flicks are rather tame. They could almost pass for a PG-13 rating these days, but there are enough creepy and unsettling moments to sway it otherwise. In any case, despite the poorly conceived ending for Jason, I do find this to be a good, worthwhile way to spend a fun, laid back 90 minutes. With the consistently shrinking box office takes for the franchise, Paramount Pictures decided that this would be the end of Jason for them. I’m sure anyone anticipating a glorious swan song for the character would’ve been grossly disappointed even more than the failure to widely deliver on the film’s New York-based premise.
I fondly remember catching Jason Takes Manhattan late night on the USA Network in the early 90s, and it was always great when there would be a Joe Bob Briggs MonsterVision marathon of the films in the late 90s. Despite all the ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses throughout the Friday The 13th films to this point, they are all classics of the genre, and sparked the whole 1980s slasher film trend that it rode out to the very end of the decade. By 1989, it was hard to call any franchise the reigning king of the genre, but Friday The 13th surely was the juggernaut and iron man of the bunch. While Jason Takes Manhattan is not the strongest film one could’ve hoped for, it’s a decent entry with a few flaws that I can generally overlook. Kane Hodder maintained Jason as a force to be reckoned with, and unlike a character like Freddy Krueger, the integrity of the character can never be damaged by humorous or off-beat approaches. Jason will always be as bad ass as he ever was no matter what type of film you put him in. Of course, it’s still hard to get over Jason X, but thankfully, I have one more favorite in the franchise to spotlight before confronting that film, again.