The immense success of The Exorcist both at the box office and winning two Oscars, albeit for Best Screenplay and Sound and nominated in eight other categories, meant the studios quickly started looking at religiously themed horrors with 20th Century Fox, who desperately needed a hit film, then headed up by legendary studio boss Alan Ladd Jr who starting to turn the studio around. The script in question was The Omen where the American ambassador to Britain would find mysterious deaths occurring to people close to him only to find that his new born son was the Antichrist. The project was greenlit partly due to the enthusiasm of its director, the late great Richard Donner, an experienced TV director whose first film this would be.
There’s a number of memorably gruesome deaths that occur throughout the film all of which deserve their own Story behind the Shot feature but it’s the final shot of the film which lingers.
The original ending to the film had the entire family dead with Peck, Remick & their Satanic offspring buried at the cemetery but it was Alan Ladd Jr having watched a cut of the film who suggested letting Damien survive. Whether it was with an eye to a sequel is not known.
The cemetery scene had already been shot but with a small crew to do some pick up shots Damien with back to camera turns and looks straight at the audience with Donner out of shot directing child actor Harvey Stephens who had been cast as Damian. ‘Don’t you smile! I won’t be your friend anymore! Don’t you smile!’ shouted Donner The temptation was too great and Stephens grins at us knowingly. Alan Ladd Jr loved it. The shot stayed in and a sequel was assured if the film was a success. And it was a huge success earning $60m money that the studio then used to finance a little known sci-fi film called Star Wars.