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John Moore!!!
Icons Of Fright were lucky enough to catch up with John Moore, the director behind the new remake of the horror classic 'THE OMEN'. John has handled big productions in the past (Behind Enemy Lines) with even bigger actors (Gene Hackman!?), but how'd he handle remaking one of his all time favorite horror films? Read on and see for yourself! - by Robg. 6/06
Hey, John! How are you doing?

Good. Exhausted though! Good to see ya.

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? Do you remember the first movie to really scare and have an impact on you?

The first movie to really scare me wasn't a horror genre picture, it was "Jaws". The first time I really got scared witless was when I saw "The Omen". "Night of the Hunter" and "Freaks" really disturbed me too.
Can you give us a brief synopsis on where you went to school to learn about film and how that experience may have helped/hindered you?

I went to a small technical collage in Dublin - The Dublin Institute of Technology- and it was great - we had film and video equipment and constantly cranked stuff out. I don't think I would have made it into the business without it.

How'd you get the gig to direct a new update of 'THE OMEN' and were you skeptical at first at taking it on? Or did you know right off the bat that you could deliver your vision for 'THE OMEN'?

Fox, who I have made 2 other films with called me about the Omen and I said yes straight away. Some might think it was foolish/weird doing another remake straight away but I didn't give a dam - it's the Omen for God's sake! I wasn't skeptical, but I was a little nervous , but once we actually got into the nuts and bolts of making the film, that subsided.

Do you remember your initial reactions when you saw the original ‘OMEN’ and the impact it had on you?

Very much so. I saw it broadcast on television in Ireland in 1979, so I would’ve been 9 years old. And I thought I was too old to be scared of the dark anymore, but after that film, it regressed me a couple of years! (laughs) I was terrified! I really thought that they killed David Warner. This is before the era before video where you could slow it down and see how they did it. And I had no concept of how they must have done that. So, I thought “Fuckin’ hell! This is why no one wanted me to see this! Because they kill a man in the movie.” So, yea, you could say I was profoundly affected.

Well, let’s talk about that scene in the new version for a minute with David Thewlis. (spoiler) How’d you arrive at the way that death played out in the new movie? I assume you didn’t want to do exactly what was done in the original, and instead mix it up a bit?

I struggled, because all the set pieces in the original are just so damned good. They all follow an excellent rule of perceived coincidence. It’s interesting with all the killings in ‘THE OMEN’. When you break it down from a structural point of view, it is about a series of set pieces, of deaths. What I thought was very clever about the deaths in the original is that they all follow a rule that you could say are primeval methods. A beheading, an impaling, you have a hanging. In the new movie, you have an emulation, a guy setting on fire. I didn’t want to “teck” up the killings. And I could have and gone super-fucking cheesy. “Killed by computer!” (laughs) Know what I mean?

But the truth is, the ancient nature of the killings, not only are they more macabre, but they also echoed the notion that this has been going on for eons. Because they have a midevil sensibility. So, you see the original and think “Fuck. Donner’s cracked it! He’s done ‘em all. What can we do?” For the longest time, I struggled with how to re-invent the beheading, because it is a signature moment. Coming along the time line in the movie where it does, it became absolutely crucial that we re-invent it a bit. Because the film is faithful to the original, no doubt, and I think fans of the original would have seen it coming a mile away. Whereas, I think and hope, we found a way to just wrong foot you. Because you’ll start to think “Wait a minute?! Where’s the beheading?”

That was favorite kill from the original, so I was really paying attention for it, and I think you topped it.

Thank you. What’s fun about it is we did use a little bit of technology to help enhance it. If you look, Thewlis blinks a milli-second before he’s beheaded. And because we could use a green screen behind him, just before we replace him with a dummy head, (because it’s all old-school). It is a dummy head but because we can green screen his own head, you’re not on the dummy head long, whereas they had to for the original. They had to set up the dummy and cut it’s head off. This way we could have David stand up, blink and have the head come off, and then we put a green screen hood on a stuntman and he falls downstairs… headless. (laughs) Which again. Gives it real life, because he’s still kind of alive as he falls.

It really punctuated that moment.

Yea. I think David (Thewlis) is in the Guiness World Book of Records as the most beheaded actor in history. He’s been beheaded on film 4 times! Guess who did one of his last beheadings? Dick Donner in ‘Timeline. How ironic is that? So, I sent him his head, he’s now got two of them. (laughs) (end spoiler)

Speaking of, did you at any point get to talk to Richard Donner about ‘THE OMEN’?

Yea. I just showed the film to Richard on Monday night (May 2006). I wasn’t there, but the report was that he was very pleased. Look… I wrote a letter to the man, saying “This is a mark of respect. It’s very much a hats off to you.”

I wanted to direct because of ‘Superman’! I couldn’t figure out how they made him fly and it drove me fucking bananas! This was before “How they did that?” comes out 5 minutes after a movie comes out! When Star Wars did it first, it was a whole event. “We’re going to go behind the curtain!” But for ‘Superman’ it drove me crazy. I’m 11 years old, and I know he’s not flying! So, to me, Donner’s always been a hero of mine. So, I wrote to him and asked, “With the greatest of respect, please have a look at this and let me know what you think.” He said that he hadn’t been frightened that way in a long time, so I think he enjoyed it.

How difficult was it to pull off a lot of the special effects shots in ‘THE OMEN’? And how’d you decide that you wanted to do a lot of it practically as opposed to CGI, which… I don’t think I noticed any CGI in your version?

There is one CGI shot in the movie. And believe me, I know the effects world. I’m from commercials and I did two previous movies that were very heavy on CGI. And I was crapping myself doing it the old fashioned way! It was almost as if we’d forgotten the skill set required to do this old school. Everyone was nervous. The producers were nervous. “What do you mean we’re going to do it real? No, we’re not! We’re going to do it in Santa Monica on a bunch of hard drives.”

Our make-up designer Fiona Cannon had worked with Matt Mungle before from WN creations. Mungle’s one of the last great sculptor effects artists. We went to Matthew and said, “Look. We’re thinking of doing this old-school. Do you think you can pull it off?” We knew that everything had to be top-notch, or we’d be laughed at. But Matthew was brilliant and he did a great job. He made everything. He made the baby and the jackal. The impaling piece with all the glass and obviously the beheading.

A lot of remakes lately seem to be toned down and made into these PG-13 films. But ‘THE OMEN’ was a hard R. You didn’t shy away from any of the dark material in the original. Was there ever any pressure against making this version of the movie or was there little interference?

I happen to have a very good relationship with the studio I work with. But there’s no doubt that there was pressure at some point to consider a PG-13, because movies these days are an expensive proposition. This one wasn’t particularly expensive, considering mega-budgets. But to have an R, there’s something bad going on in this country about that. An R is going to become as rare as an NC-17 before long if this keeps up, because the rules are so destructively prohibited. I don’t know if people commonly would know this, but even if the trailer of ‘THE OMEN’ was a shot of a tweedy bird sitting on a tree in a summer day for 30 seconds and said ‘THE OMEN’ at the end, I can’t show THAT trailer with any PG-13 movies.

You can only show that trailer with R rated movies. There’s a watershed cut off, where you can’t advertise your movie with a lot of the bigger programs before 9 o’clock. So, there are draconian rules about advertising R rated movies, and the reason I say it’s very amendable, it’s a first amendment issue. They’re supposed to judge on content! Not on perception. So, if I have a tweedy bird sitting on a tree, you’re supposed to look at that and say “That’s not offensive.” Why can’t I advertise before that time slot! There’s a classic example in the movie. In one of the nightmare sequences, Father Spiletto drops a baby covered in blood. It’s a toy!

It’s a doll dipped in red paint, so it poses the ultimate perception question to the MPAA. Because they went back and said “It’s a hard R, because you’ve got a dead baby.” It’s not a dead baby, it’s a toy painted red. But it’s the perception of it. Then you get into the whole debate. Once you have humans telling other humans what’s appropriate, it’ll always be about personal taste and perception. And that’s where the rating system sucks. (laughs)

But at the moment, there’s so many successful Rated R movies, like the ‘SAW’ films, ‘HOSTEL’, and ‘THE HILLS HAVE EYES’; maybe there’s proof that these films can be successful with that rating?

They’re cynical. I think those movies are lamentable in many ways. They’re what I call rip off movies. It should be half price. You should pay $5 bucks to see those movies instead of $10 because they’re not really serious. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t have fun, but now with SAW 2 and SAW 3, it’s getting pretty cynical. Now, of course, THIS is rich coming from a guy who just remade a horror classic. (laughs) BUT, I think I’ll give you your $10 bucks worth. The story is so good. That’s why we remade it.

The cast for the film is fantastic. How'd you manage to get everyone from Liev to Julia to Mia involved, and what can you say about your working experiences with them on 'THE OMEN'?

The cast really are the film - if it's good it's because of them. I really enjoyed working with them all, Mia especially  - she is such a smart , engaging woman. I think they all got involved because the story is so damn good.

Can you tell us anything about your next project 'The Last Mission'?

Still rewriting that one...don't know if it will go this year.

You directed 'Behind Enemy Lines'... so, who's the bigger bad ass!? Gene Hackman or Owen Wilson?!

I'd have to say Gene! Owen's more of a lover not a fighter.

What are among some of your all time favorite horror movies?

Definitely "The Omen", the ones I listed above ...and I used to love the Hammer films we were allowed watch on Saturday night , though some were a little campy. I would love to see M. Night Shyamalan do a straight out horror flick. 

Thanks to Dave Bourgeois, Dave Basner & Chris Steible for fielding questions.
Special thanks to Danny W. for help with the images.


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