The First Omen Pays Homage to Original 1976 Horror Movie

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In her characteristic directorial debut, The First Omen filmmaker Arkasha Stevenson has pulled off the fragile stability between homage and invention. Prequels are at all times tough on this regard, but it surely’s particularly tough when it entails Richard Donner’s horror basic, The Omen (1976). Stevenson’s task, along side her co-writer and producer Tim Smith, was to inform the origin story of how Damien Thorn got here into the world and who gave beginning to the franchise’s indelible Antichrist character.

Set in 1971, Stevenson’s story begins with the arrival of novitiate Margaret Daino (Nell Tiger Free) at a Rome-based orphanage, and he or she quickly discovers a sinister plot to beginning the Antichrist to ensure that the Catholic Church to regain its grip on the counterculture society of the ’60s and ’70s. However, earlier than she’s knee deep within the conspiracy, Margaret witnesses a pregnant mom giving beginning to one thing that causes her to move out in horror, and the express scene landed Stevenson’s movie an NC-17 ranking for 18 months. Ultimately, the movie was nonetheless capable of present a substantial quantity of the terrifying scene, as a facet angle of the feminine anatomy led to a compromise with the MPA’s rankings board.

“For [the ratings board], it was not what was taking place to the physique; it was the precise physique itself that they discovered graphic and gratuitous, which is admittedly upsetting,” Stevenson tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s 2024. You’d anticipate that we’d be previous this, however that simply made it all of the extra necessary to get what we may on display screen.”

As Margaret’s personal private demons start to resurface throughout her investigation, she finally has a showstopping within the vein of Isabelle Adjani’s iconic subway scene in Possession (1981). Free just lately advised THR that the scene disturbed The First Omen’s crew members to the purpose the place a few them even needed to walk off set.

“After all, it’s a shameless homage [to Adjani’s scene in Possession] … It’s such a sacred scene and we felt so emotionally compelled to pay homage to … the queen scene of feminine physique horror. You don’t high that,” Stevenson says. “So [Nell] simply knocked it out of the park … I don’t know if our crew totally knew what sort of film we have been capturing, however they undoubtedly knew after Nell did that shot.”

Under, throughout a current dialog with THR, Stevenson additionally discusses how Billie Whitelaw’s beloved Omen villain, Mrs. Baylock, suits into The First Omen’s equation. Then she expresses her curiosity in telling extra tales within the Omen universe.

Early on within the film, I pointed on the display screen like a Leo DiCaprio meme, as a result of Carlita’s (Nicole Sorace) drawing was the identical drawing that journalists reminiscent of myself have been mailed in an unmarked envelope. However, on the time, I didn’t know what it was, and since I’ve seen too many motion pictures, I made some extent to not open the envelope with my naked palms. 

(Laughs.) Lovely.

So though you had nothing to do with it, thanks for the pre-movie scare.

Completely! I like that you just have been so considerate and cautious. I’d’ve simply ripped it open and thought, “Oh, someone has a crush on me.” 

(L-R): Director Arkasha Stevenson and Nell Tiger Free as Margaret on the set of twentieth Century Studios’ THE FIRST OMEN.

Moris Puccio/twentieth Century Studios

I imagine you signed on when there was already a model of the script, however when you started rewriting, was Richard Donner’s cemetery scene your jumping-off level for this prequel? It looks like a whole lot of this film was born out of that scene.

Perhaps it was within the earlier drafts that I inherited. After I got here onto the undertaking, the script was in such a singular and fascinating place. It was attempting to reply these questions of, “How did Damien come into the world? And who’s his mom?” So the second that I actually centered on within the unique movie that helped me construct my perspective on this movie was the second when Gregory Peck [as Robert Thorn] is holding Lee Remick [as Katherine Thorn] in mattress, and he or she’s telling him, “Hey, I believe that you must name me a health care provider. I believe I’m dropping my thoughts.” It’s this one shot that begins large and slowly creeps in on them, and this second made me assume, “Oh, that is actual horror the place you don’t know in case you can belief your actuality or not.” In order that’s one of many lovely issues concerning the unique movie. It’s so grounded in realism and these real-life relationships and characters that you just’re nearly not sure if the supernatural components exist or not. 

I like well-done prequels as a result of they recontextualize the flicks we’ve already seen. Was there a selected scene within the unique that you just hoped so as to add a brand new dimension to by way of your prequel? 

Truthfully, the hanging homage. The hanging scene [in The Omen] is burned in horror followers’ brains. It’s such a seminal scene, and it felt very intuitive to pay homage to that scene. And, simply as an Omen fan, I actually needed to pay homage to that scene, however in a barely completely different manner by approaching it with a special tone. You’ll be able to’t do the identical tone that they did, and it’s scary as a result of the violence comes out of nowhere. So what we realized is that the second you begin to see someone go up someplace excessive [in an Omen movie], you realize that they’re about to hold themselves and it’s probably not scary anymore. The viewers is already going to anticipate what’s going to occur, so we needed to sofa the horror within the tragedy of this example. 

After we have been working with the actress Ishtar [Currie Wilson], whose Sister Anjelica character hangs herself, she was saying, “I don’t know if this character totally desires to do that. I don’t know if she desires to kill herself. She feels very compelled to, however she’s terrified.” And he or she was already this very infantile character, so to see how frightened she was felt like a extremely fascinating technique to pay homage to that scene that everyone is aware of so properly already.

(L-R): Nell Tiger Free as Margaret and Nicole Sorace as Carlita in THE FIRST OMEN

twentieth Century Studios

Sister Anjelica makes use of the well-known line, “It’s all for you,” in a really intelligent manner. Realizing that you just’d be anticipated to incorporate it, did it take fairly some time to provide you with one thing that didn’t really feel compulsory? 

Sure, one of many guidelines we tried to provide ourselves was to not mimic only for the sake of homage, however to maintain the whole lot grounded in story and character. And within the emotional state that Sister Anjelica was in, there was no conviction behind that line. It’s nearly a query for herself — a terrified query. In order that’s why it’s very completely different from the unique. She nearly whispers it to herself. She doesn’t wish to hear it out loud, versus, within the unique, it’s a joyous declaration that feels nearly manic.

The early birthing scene that causes Margaret (Nell Tiger Free) to move out from afar resulted in an NC-17 ranking for a 12 months and a half, and I’m actually shocked that you just have been nonetheless capable of get away with the whole lot within the R-rated theatrical lower. The facet angle actually made all of the distinction to the MPA’s rankings board?

It’s loopy. We have now a lot gore and violence on this film. There’s additionally a jackal phallus. So there’s all this imagery, but it surely was actually simply this frontal shot of a vagina that received us flagged for therefore lengthy. For us, the horror will not be that we’re exhibiting that piece of the anatomy, however what is occurring to the feminine physique. In our compromise with the rankings board, they finally gave us the R ranking as soon as we lower deeper into the shot. It used to only be the full-frontal vagina and then you definitely see this hand slowly emerge. So their compromise was that we may lower to that [side] shot when you begin to see the hand emerge. For them, it was not what was taking place to the physique; it was the precise physique itself that they discovered graphic and gratuitous, which is admittedly upsetting. It’s 2024. You’d anticipate that we’d be previous this, however that simply made it all of the extra necessary to get what we may on display screen.

(L-R): Director Arkasha Stevenson and Nell Tiger Free as Margaret on the set of twentieth Century Studios’ THE FIRST OMEN.

Moris Puccio/twentieth Century Studios

It’s broadly presumed, however is Isabelle Adjani’s well-known subway scene in Possession a direct inspiration on Nell’s personal spasmodic episode outdoors the automobile?

After all, it’s a shameless homage, and I nearly felt like Sister Anjelica on the balcony, as a result of it’s such a sacred scene and we felt so emotionally compelled to pay homage to it. It’s the queen scene of feminine physique horror. You don’t high that. And personally, it spoke to me in a manner that I may by no means articulate what I used to be feeling. So Nell and I have been like, “That is the proper climax to this lengthy voyage by means of intense physique horror. This character is lastly exploding.” And what Nell did that was so wonderful is that she took it to an exceptionally feral and fierce place, which is such an exquisite distinction to the very candy, variety, younger lady that we meet at the start of the movie. Candy and type doesn’t combine in individuals’s heads with fierce and ferocious and highly effective, and simply that juxtaposition could be very confronting for individuals. So she simply knocked it out of the park, and he or she solely did two takes. I stated, “Do you wish to discuss it? Do you wish to play music?” And he or she was like, “No, I simply wish to do it.” And man, she did it. I don’t know if our crew totally knew what sort of film we have been capturing, however they undoubtedly knew after Nell did that shot.

Nell Tiger Free as Margaret in THE FIRST OMEN

twentieth Century Studios

At any time when Margeret is mendacity down, you organize her hair in a creepily particular manner. Was that meant to additional the spider motif?

Sure, there’s a whole lot of completely different ideas in that, and thanks a lot for noticing. I received very obsessive about spiders throughout this movie. Spiders are form of like these palms, and everyone is at all times touching Margaret. So we needed these little palms at all times on Margaret’s mind or her face. After which, finally, as her psyche begins to shatter, it’s like each errant pressure is one among these little spider legs. 

Additionally, in fascinated by alternative ways to {photograph} this sort of physique horror, my mother shared a whole lot of work of John [William] Waterhouse, and I noticed these girls drowning with their hair flowing throughout them. So, to make Margaret’s hair appear to be she’s drowning was one thing that I actually needed to strive in these very susceptible, scary moments.

Sonia Braga as Sister Silva in twentieth Century Studios’ THE FIRST OMEN.

Courtesy of twentieth Century Studios

I believe The Omen’s Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw) is without doubt one of the most memorable villains ever placed on display screen. I suppose we are able to assume that she has ties to this orphanage, however how far did these conversations go on whether or not to make use of her or not?

I love that character, and I don’t know in case you can recreate that character. There are different faces that we additionally needed to convey again [or did bring back], like Father Spiletto. After all, everyone wants Gregory Peck of their life, and that was essential to have the ability to see his face not directly on display screen. However I do love the spirit of Baylock being with us in Sonia Braga and all these different nuns which can be on the orphanage, and questioning what the lineage is there. 

I did notice the resemblance there. 

Yeah. (Laughs.)

The ending units up one other story if this one does properly, commercially. Is {that a} story you’d be desirous about telling if the celebrities align?

After all. It was so good attending to work on this undertaking as a result of I fell in love not solely with our solid, but in addition with these characters. And whereas the large query of how Damien got here into the world was answered, so many different questions popped up for me as an Omen fan. So having the ability to discover this universe [some more], there’s simply so many various avenues you would take.

Simply out of curiosity, was the coda shot throughout principal or extra pictures?

That was shot throughout principal pictures. It was actually necessary for us to not solely present [which characters] survived the whole lot, but in addition that they have been actually thriving collectively and recouping over this shared trauma. In order that was at all times a part of the plan.

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The First Omen opens in theaters on April 5.

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