While the eternal battle between good and evil has been constant in art and literature, probably the greatest and most entertaining period of Satanic Panic had to be the ‘70s, when a perfect storm of horror novels and experimental music met with real-life invocations of the Dark Ones, be it the sly provocations of Anton LaVey or the paranoid delusions of parents watching KISS performances. And theatres were full of dance invites for the Devil, with box office blockbusters being eagerly mimicked by hungry imitators, all with their own variations on how the End of Days would be initiated. And on the forboding dates of Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th, we’re pairing up an established hit with a clever European knockoff, presenting two upright titans of Hollywood each faced with their own come-to-Jesus crises. Maybe “All in the Family” was the big show on TV, but on these nights, there’s Pall in the Family at the New Beverly!
The Omen from 1976 has become an embedded ingredient of the world’s cultural lexicon. People who have never seen the film certainly know its iconography: the seven daggers of Megiddo, the 666 birthmark, the jackal’s grave, the chilling Jerry Goldsmith music that won the composer Academy Awards for both Best Original Score and Best Original Song, and the then-shocking concept of Gregory Peck, the man who was Atticus Finch, being in the position of potentially killing a child. And with three sequels, the 2006 remake, plus the recent “Damien” TV series in its wake, we have been living with Damien Thorn for decades. A tremendous impact for an idea that came from a lunchtime conversation between producer Harvey Bernhard and one of his friends in 1973; the budding producer, who previously shepherded the Max Julien films The Mack and Thomasine & Bushrod, reportedly cut the lunch short and immediately went home to draft an outline, which he assigned to writer David Seltzer to script. Each of these men found a safe haven in dark fantasy for years after, with Bernhard producing Omen sequels and The Lost Boys, while Seltzer would write Prophecy, The Eighteenth Angel, and Dragonfly with Kevin Costner.
Easily the biggest winner from The Omen, however, is not Old Scratch but genial producer/director Richard Donner. Donner had directed plenty of television, including the “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode of “The Twilight Zone,” but only three theatrical films, and none since 1969, before helming this film in 1975. Its tremendous success, grossing over $60 million on a $2.8 million budget and becoming the fifth highest-grossing film of 1976, led to an even bigger assignment: directing the game-changing 1978 Superman. And from there Donner has become one of the most reliable and entertaining genre directors of the latter 20th century, responsible for generation-spanning favorites Lethal Weapon, The Goonies, and Scrooged, as well as producing HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” and the initial X-Men feature adaptation. Also coming out of this firefight with momentum was Gregory Peck, who went on from here to a two-year streak of Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in a Drama, for MacArthur and The Boys from Brazil. Both of those films would also be scored by Jerry Goldsmith.
Naturally, the success of this film inspired imitation, and Italian director Alberto De Martino, who had already quickly mimicked The Exorcist with The Tempter aka Antichristo in 1974, followed in short order with Holocaust 2000 in 1977. While using a similar template of an affluent and otherwise religiously detached American as a protagonist, an extra element of environmentalism is thrown into the cauldron. Recently widowed industrialist Robert Caine (Kirk Douglas) has ambitious plans for a nuclear plant in the Middle East that he believes could lift thousands out of poverty. But he begins to have second thoughts as he observes peculiar tragedies befalling those who oppose the construction, the erratic behavior of his new young girlfriend Sara (Agostina Belli), and his own terrifying nightmare of Biblical bloodshed. Caine realizes that he is fostering a prime opportunity for Armageddon, and the beneficiary is in his own home – but is it his paramour’s unborn child, or his adult son and corporate right-hand-man Angel (Simon Ward)?
A former child actor and law student, Alberto De Martino never saw a hit film he didn’t feel confident enough to pluck from and make his own variation on. Besides the aforementioned The Tempter, he also freely nicked from Django for Django Shoots First, The Killers for Carnal Circuit, Dirty Harry for Blazing Magnums aka Strange Shadows in an Empty Room, and most amusingly, cast Sean Connery’s sibling Neil and several 007 alumnae for his spy riff Operation Kid Brother aka O.K. Connery.
De Martino conceived the story with collaborator Sergio Donati, who has contributed to genre favorites as diverse as The Good The Bad and the Ugly, Orca: the Killer Whale, and Raw Deal with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Father-and-son producers Edmondo and Maurizio Amati were behind many Italian-backed grindhouse hits, such as Lucio Fulci’s One on Top of the Other, Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse, and Umberto Lenzi’s epic From Hell to Victory, which played the Bev this past January. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi cut several Lucio Fulci films, including Zombie, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and The New York Ripper. Ennio Morricone provides an appropriately lush and operatic score.
Holocaust 2000 was released in American theatres in 1978 by AIP under the title The Chosen, but later had its original title restored for its 1985 home video release by Vestron, likely to help prevent confusion with the 1981 Jeremy Kagan adaptation of Chaim Potok’s novel about Orthodox Jewish friends starring Robby Benson and Barry Miller. More recently, Lionsgate released the film on DVD under another title, Rain of Fire. It should be noted their DVD has a different ending than the one released by AIP, so this screening is a rare opportunity to experience the film as audiences did during its initial stateside run. We wouldn’t want you to have any surprises spoiled before you come to the show, but if you’re curious about the differences between the American and European edits, you can read about them here.
Spend an evening being scared by these Antichrists, and we guarantee you’ll come out feeling anti-cross! So let the New Beverly shock your senses with these ‘70s screamers, and feel safe in knowing the only Devil you’ll deal with is on our screen and not in our details.