Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Omen (1995 Pilot)

The Omen franchise had a lot of success on the big screen, but its TV history is spottier. The made-for-TV Omen IV: The Awakening does not have many champions, whereas the A&E-produced Damien was not bad, but short-lived. A lot of fans missed the first attempt at an Omen series, because the pilot was not picked up for a full series. (It is also dismissed as non-canonical and related in name only.) Yet, because it was produced in the 1990s, NBC aired it anyway, because the networks took their viewers for granted back then. Nevertheless, it was indeed broadcasted, so it technically counts as a “vintage episode.” With The First Omen releasing this week, it is a fine time to look back at the 1995 pilot for The Omen, if you don’t mind searching for a grainy internet version.

Dr. Linus is about to find his missing colleague, strung-up dead, in a ritualistic manner. Tragically, it was most likely of his friend’s own doing, to prevent an evil parasite from devouring another victim. Of course, Linus inadvertently releases it back into the world.

Being a man of science, he is not sure what to make of what he saw, even when he is visited by Aaron Rainier, a self-described “hunter,” who dedicated his life to fighting the all-consuming entity. However, photojournalist Jack Mann has become a believer, after watching the viral-like demon possess and destroy his pregnant wife. He will follow its trail to a Boston hospital, where Dr. Linus has been called in to consult on an inexplicable contamination afflicting Annalisse Summer, a nurse who contracted it from late sister.

In a way, the viral hot-zone-like aspect of the 1995 pilot is a lot like the
Star War prequels demystifying the Force with scientistic Midi-chlorians, except it is much more interesting. Although there is more science to explain the ancient entity’s powers, it still directly addresses issues of good and evil.

According to Rainier, most people burn themselves out trying to fight the evil virus, or whatever, which rather implies most people are inherently good. However, when it lands in an evil host, they develop a symbiotic relationship, in which the human accepts its presence, in return for power. At the end of the pilot, we learn the unseen force is heading west, as if it is searching for something. Could that have been a nasty little boy named Damien Thorn?

Unfortunately, we will never know, but the pilot holds up okay as a stand-alone. The pacing is quite snappy, which makes sense, since it was directed by Jack Sholder, who also helmed
Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and The Hidden (which also features an unearthly entity hopping from person to person). There are a lot of big genre names involved, starting with Richard Donner, the director of the original film, who was on-board as an executive producer according to IMDb (but his name was not included in the broadcast credits).

William Sadler (who played the Grim Reaper in both
Tales from the Crypt and Bill & Ted) is convincingly brainy and resourceful as Dr. Linus. It is too bad he and Brent Cullen (as Mann) did not have an extended opportunity to portray good guys for a change. Steven Williams (who played Mulder’s least trusted source, Mr. X, on The X-Files) brings further genre cred as the Boston hospital’s secretive Dr. Cornelius.

Norman Lloyd, former member of Welles’s Mercury Theatre, is terrific as the Van Helsing-ish Rainier. Chelsea Field and Julie Carmen as also quite good as Summer and Mann’s long-suffering editor, Rita. They both had scores of guest-starring gigs during the 1980s and 1990s, but never landed a solid series regular role. It is a shame
The Omen did not become that opportunity for them.

Hulu is promoting their “complete”
Omen collection, but they do not have this pilot. Someone ought to buy it and re-master it, because it is a surprisingly entertaining one-off—and the name obviously has value. Frankly, it raises a lot of questions that are fun to speculate over. Recommended for fans of the franchise (broadly defined) and vintage genre TV, the 1995 Omen pilot is sort of out there, if you look for it.