Welcome to Freaky Fridays, when you’re lulled you into reading about some forgotten horror novel from the past so that your guard is lowered right before I stab you in the back with the Seventh Sacred Dagger of Megiddo.
Novelizations were an essential part of the mediascape until home video and people forgetting how to read pretty much killed them off, or at least reduced them to the status of giant pandas. But back in the day, novelizations were bestsellers in their own right, and none sold better than 1976’s The Omen which spewed 3.5 million copies of itself all over an unsuspecting public who, as a result, started giving their children sidelong looks, wondering if their barely-tolerated, ankle biters were, in fact, the Anthichrist. In which case they could kill him.
Venture into almost any used bookstore and a copy of this slim (202 pages, including 8 photo pages of Gregory Peck looking concerned) will probably bonk you in the head. But The Omen didn’t just spawn Damien, the Antichrist. It also spawned two sequels and four novelizations. Work out the math in your head, I’ll wait. brief pause Get it? There are two books that have nothing to do with the movie. And they take place in the future. And in one of them, the Antichrist get—SHOCKING! DARING! TRUE!—born out of a butt.
They don’t call him “The Abomination” for nothing.
The first novelization, The Omen, is written by the movie’s screenwriter, David Seltzer, who made uncredited contributions to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and went on to direct the Melanie Griffith WW II spy drama, Shining Through (’92), and write the Billy Crystal comedy, My Giant (’98). He also wrote Eighties fave, Lucas (’86). His novelization of The Omen is actually quite good.
Everything you expect from the movie is in place and he even adds in a bunch of details such as the gutter journalist Keith Jennings being so lonely he creates a friend by sticking a cooked chicken on a root beer bottle and making it dance. Later, he bathes his penis in his own urine in order to avoid VD (Jennings, not Seltzer). There’s some backstory in which one of the priests selected to kill Damien was once forced to watch his lover eat his own testicles as punishment. And we learn that Damien’s evil nanny probably poops in the woods. You could say these details build character maybe? But Seltzer is a good writer and this is actually one of the better movie novelizations out there. It makes sense that it sold so many copies: great concept, based on a hit film, well-executed, comes with photos of Gregory Peck, and someone eats a pair of balls.
Unlike David Seltzer, poor Joseph Howard doesn’t get his name on the cover of the Damien: Omen II (1978) novelization. He had nothing to do with the screenplay and turns in a book that’s not terrible, but that pales in comparison to the original. Like the first book, it hews pretty closely to the events of the film, with no additional dancing chickens or urine baths, but it’s full of awkward writing like the moment Joan Hart, intrepid reporter, sees pre-teen Damien playing football, “She backed away in horror. Her lovely face, now twisted and stricken, reflected the expression of a person who believes implicitly in the existence of the Devil and who has just seen Him in human form.” I spent an hour in front of the mirror trying to replicate that expression. No luck.
The book is full of silliness, like annoying devil crows who show up as omens of Damien’s approach, eight pages of Damien reciting Attila the Hun trivia, and the CEO of Thorn Industries, the world’s largest company that controls the global food supply, lounging about in bed with his wife on a workday, chatting and reading the papers. People recite long passages from Revelations and they mostly communicate by saying hello to each other, then instantly shouting, “Your child is the Antichrist! He must be destroyed!” only to be answered by equally loud shouts of “You’re a religious maniac! I’m going to kill you!” Nevertheless, it sold about 1.5 million copies.
Book three of the novelizations, Omen III: The Final Conflict (1980) is written by Gordon McGill, who actually gets his name on the cover, but who had nothing to do with the screenplay. McGill took over the Omen novelization franchise and, probably based on the fact that he’d done the novelization for Amityville III…in 3-D! he was allowed a lot of leeway (later he’d novelize Spies Like Us – this man can do anything!).
Damien’s character is all over the place in this one, talking at times in colloquial American English, then suddenly sounding like he’s straight out of German military academy (“Pleased to meet you, Miss Reynolds. You are the Barbara Walters of the BBC, perhaps?”), then he starts shouting in death metal lyrics (“Birth is pain. Death is pain. Beauty is pain. Pain conquers all things!”), before going on about flaccid bosoms and vaginas or, as he so charmingly puts it, “the gaping wound of a woman.” A bunch of priests who hate wearing pants because they’re too tight around their groins go on a holy suicide mission to stab the now-adult Damien to death with the Seven Sacred Daggers of Megiddo, which all must be inserted in the pattern of the cross to truly destroy the Antichrist. After Damien makes love to the Barbara Walters of the BBC they manage to get one of the magic knives in his back and that seems to be enough to kill Satan.
Not so fast! In 1982, McGill returned to write Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 which opens with a scene of rectal childbirth as the “Barbara Walters of the BBC” ushers Damien’s son, Damien Jr., into existence through her butt. Then she dies (probably of shame). Cut to, 17 years later, in the year 2000, as Thorn Industries is run by Paul Buher, a relatively minor character from the series (he doesn’t even appear in the first or third movies) who keeps 17-year-old Damien Jr. isolated on the grand old family estate, Pereford, where Damien Jr. keeps his dad’s corpse embalmed and standing up like a mannequin in his black chapel, where he goes and kneels in front of it and kisses its dead, waxy hands.
This book revolves around yet another attempt to retrieve the Seven Sacred Daggers of Megiddo which are, by now, the most easily lost and found cutlery in Christendom, and insert them into the Grandson of Satan. This is attempted by Philip Brennan, the American Ambassador, who is also overseeing Arab Israeli peace talks. But during the talks an Israeli politician clocks a Syrian representative in the mouth with an ashtray, then Brennan is betrayed at the last minute by his devil-worshipping wife, who stabs him before he can stab Damien, and as a nuclear war breaks out, Damien is stabbed by Buher and his death ends the nuclear exchange.
Omen V: The Abomination (1985) picks up after the Armageddon and it starts by listing the 31 characters slaughtered in the series so far. In it, Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Paul Mason and his intrepid researcher, Anna, look into writing a book about the Thorn family and how their friends die a lot. Turns out the nuclear war was pretty much limited to the Middle East and who cares about them anyways? It’s just resulted in some bad weather for good old England, and they’re used to that. Meanwhile, the recovered Damien Jr. becomes head of the Thorn Corporation and starts engineering the apocalypse again. Anna gets trapped (in a scene that’s actually kind of harrowing) and brainwashed into becoming a slave of Damien Jr. shortly after she interviews Philip Brennan’s backstabbing wife who has now taken a knife to her vagina and mutilated it in penance for her betrayal. She’s also insane.
The book ends with everyone converging on Pereford (again) and having a Satanic orgy in its ruined chapel, Anna betrays Paul Mason, who tries to kill Damien Jr., and the whole series is finally brought to an end when Damien Jr. is crushed by a massive falling crucifix ridden by Margaret, Philip Brennan’s mad wife, who lands on him crotch-first and we’re informed that the last sight Damien Jr. sees is “the mutilation of Margaret Brennan.” Seven daggers are inserted into D Jr. and THE END.
Or is it? Because in an epilogue, Paul Mason sits down to write this whole incredible story and he begins to type and he writes out…the first lines of the very first Omen novelization by David Seltzer. And that’s the most chilling thought of all. One of horror’s first major franchises teaches other franchises that they can sustain themselves through the death of their lead characters, through rectal childbirth, through nuclear war, and keep turning out new iterations and copies of themselves as long as it’s lucrative, and even beyond, forever, and ever, and ever, and ever…
Grady Hendrix has written for publications ranging from Playboy to World Literature Today; his previous novel was Horrorstör, about a haunted IKEA, and his latest novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, just came out this past Tuesday. It’s basically Beaches meets The Exorcist.