The First Omen – fans of the original 1976 film will finally learn how Damien came into existence


20th Century Studios’ psychological horror film The First Omen is a prequel to the classic horror film franchise. It is set in 1971 and follows Margaret, a young American woman who is sent to Rome to begin a life of service to the church. There, she encounters a darkness that causes her to question her own faith and uncovers a terrifying conspiracy that hopes to bring about the birth of evil incarnate.

“’The First Omen’ is a prequel to the 1976 version,” says Arkasha Stevenson who has directed episodes of “Legion” and “Briarpatch,” makes her feature film directorial debut, resulting in a vibrant and stylishly terrifying new vision. Based on characters created by David Seltzer, the story was created by Ben Jacoby and the screenplay crafted by Tim Smith & Arkasha Stevenson and Keith Thomas.

Director/co-screenwriter Stevenson was initially drawn to the project because of the character of Margaret. “I am a big Alan Pakula fan, and one of my favorite movies ever is ‘Klute,” she explains. “I love that film because you could call it a horror movie, but first and foremost it is a character study. We truly get to know and care about Jane Fonda’s character, so when horrible things begin to happen to her, that is where the horror stems from. And that is true, grounded horror, I think, when it is character driven.”

(L-R) Arkasha Stevenson and Lee Remick in 1976’s “The Omen”

Stevenson and her producing and writing partner Tim Smith, with whom she has worked on projects for AMC, Hulu, Amazon and Syfy, developed the script together, overseeing the project from start to finish. Smith also serves as an executive producer on “The First Omen.”

“We’ve always been so influenced by paranoid thrillers and psychological horror films from the seventies, so the opportunity to dive into the world of ‘The Omen’ was so exciting for us,” says Smith. “The ’76 ‘Omen’ is such a seminal film that elevated the genre and tapped into the fears of its time. It rendered the otherworldly so disturbingly familiar and tactile, which is the kind of horror that really gets under my skin and stays with me.”

Smith continues, “With ‘The First Omen’ we set out to create the pervasive feeling of distrust and threat around every corner that characterizes films like ‘The Parallax View’ and ‘Repulsion.’ To do that, we knew we needed to anchor the film in Margaret’s subjectivity, tracing a psyche that becomes fractured and ultimately undone. More than anything, we wanted to delve into horrors that resonated with us and the turmoil of the time that we’re living in, while doing justice to Damien’s origins.”

When a young American woman is sent to Rome to begin a life of service to the church, she encounters a darkness that causes her to question her own faith and uncovers a terrifying conspiracy that hopes to bring about the birth of evil incarnate.

It was 1976 when Richard Donner directed the first chapter of The Omen, in which Damien, a very young progeny of the Devil, was presented to the public for the first time. The film was a huge commercial success, grossing over $60 million theatrically in the U.S. Two other films soon followed: “Damien: Omen II” (1978), and “The Final Conflict” (1981), both of which detailed the rise of Damien into his teenage and adult years.

The Omen was followed by three sequels: Damien: Omen II (1978), Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981), and Omen IV: The Awakening (1991). A remake of the same title was released in 2006.

In 1991’s Omen IV: The Awakening, which debuted on Fox Television, a young girl becomes the new Antichrist. And John Moore directed a remake, The Omen, which opened in theaters in 2006 and was a financial success, grossing over $120 million on a $25 million budget. In 2016, the television series Damien, created by Glen Mazzara, debuted on the A&E network.

© 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Producer David S. Goyer (“Hellraiser”) says, “I always wondered where Damien came from–how that baby managed to find its way into the arms of Robert and Katherine Thorn. The desire was to create an elevated horror film that was both timeless and topical. Something that would point to the past, but also our present. Elevated genre films work best when they function as dark mirrors reflecting our contemporary anxieties back at us.”

Goyer continues, “My producing partner Keith Levine and I dove into the development process with gusto. Our desire was to find a talented writer-director that would put their own, deeply personal spin on the story–and with Arkasha Stevenson, we struck horror gold. Arkasha elevated the film in every conceivable way. She made something that is artful, relevant, and completely terrifying. Under Arkasha’s steady hand we were also able to attract the kind of quality cast that I feel puts us on par with the original film.”

“In addition to many other things, we are an origin story of baby Damien, who obviously is one of the iconic characters from the original film, directed by Richard Donner,” says producer Keith Levine (“The Night House”). “So, we very much take place before that movie, and I think when viewers see this film, they will instantly see how we connect, but will also realize that there is potential for the universe to widen a bit more.”

Levine continues, “Fans of ‘The Omen’ get to see a new, untold story in the ‘Omen’ universe, that can tee up the original film in a different way. Audiences can then get excited about going on another journey within the universe and follow new characters beyond just the Damien character. It shines a light on some of the stuff you already know, and then introduces you to some stuff that you didn’t know.”

Bill Nighy as Lawrence in 20th Century Studios’ THE FIRST OMEN. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

“Fans of ‘The Omen’ will have a field day,” says Bill Nighy, who plays Cardinal Lawrence, “because there are so many references they will pick up on and know. It will be intriguing for them to know how certain characters develop, what happens, knowing their future, et cetera. There are plenty of thrills, horror, and suspense, but they will be able to trace, from this movie, the futures into the later four parts of the story, which is especially exciting.”

“I feel like the fans of ‘The Omen’ will love this movie because we are giving a reason for ‘The Omen’ to happen,” says Maria Caballero, who plays Luz. “We are given the background, we are given a why, and we are given a purpose for the Antichrist to be born. I feel that is interesting because when you watch ‘The Omen,’ you don’t know why everything is happening. We’re giving it a reason, and we’re grounding it in such a powerful world with the church and all these ideas that are lying in the background of the movie.”

(L-R): Sonia Braga as Silvia and Nell Tiger Free as Margaret in 20th Century Studios’ THE FIRST OMEN. Photo by Moris Puccio. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

“We are definitely a prequel,” reiterates Nell Tiger Free, who plays Margaret Daino, “so we’re at the beginning of ‘The Omen’ universe. Technically, we are the most important part. We are the origin story of how certain things in ‘The Omen’ came to be, so audiences will finally have answers as to what happened before, and how this story came to be, and who are the other people behind Damien.”

When “The First Omen” hits theaters, fans of the original 1976 film will finally learn how Damien came into existence. “What we’re really doing is playing a lot of horror beats, but we’re skinning them with a topicality that is going to elevate it for viewers who want to dig a little deeper and find a bit more,” says producer Keith Levine. “And for us that’s really fun because we get to evoke a response from the audience, and they get to have a fright. But they also get to think a little bit.”

“It has been fun to work on the film because everybody seems to be on the side of the angels. Actually, virtually nobody is,” laughs Bill Nighy. “Therefore, it’s a slow realization that these people, who are well meaning, their intentions are, broadly speaking, good. Nevertheless, they are also plainly on the side of the Devil.

Therefore, what is scary is that everything seems super nice. Then very gradually you discover that’s not the case. There will be moments when even seasoned horror fans might want to look away because there is real horror. There is real blood. By the end of the film, you will be exhausted.”

Levine continues, “The fact that people or institutions with power would do horrible things, supported by what they think are amazing ideas and well intentioned, is really creepy. Here we get to see how those ideas of religious fundamentalists could lead to horrible things, all with the purpose of keeping their power or, in their eyes, making the world a better place.”

“I’m really proud of this film because I think we take a lot of big swings when it comes to horror,” says director/co-screenwriter Arkasha Stevenson. “And I do think that a lot of those are particular to the female experience and the female perspective, and the fact that we had a whole film production who was in support of that and ready to take that big jump with me is a really cool feeling.”

Adds co-screenwriter/executive producer Tim Smith, “There was such an incredible feeling of camaraderie on this project. Everyone really came together in support of Arkasha’s vision for the film, and elevated the finished product beyond what we could have ever imagined. From the beginning we have always viewed this film as a descent from heaven to hell. A dream that curdles into a nightmare through the lens of our protagonist, Margaret. We can’t wait for fans of the franchise and newcomers to go on that journey.”

ARKASHA STEVENSON (Director/Co-Screenwriter) and TIM SMITH (Co-Screenwriter/Executive Producer) first worked together on the short film “Pineapple,” which debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, which Stevenson wrote and directed, and Smith produced. They later sold the concept as a TV series to AMC, for which they both wrote the pilot. Together they have also written original projects for Hulu and Amazon, and both co-executive produced “Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block” for Syfy, on which Stevenson directed every episode. They continued their collaboration with Nick Antosca on “Brand New Cherry Flavor” at Netflix, with Stevenson directing the pilot and Smith serving as co-producer. Stevenson has also directed episodes of FX’s “Legion” and USA’s “Briarpatch.” Prior to entertainment, Stevenson was a photojournalist for the Los Angeles Times, while Smith worked on “Duck Butter” and “Searching” as a production supervisor.