AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS Interviews Author Nikolas Schreck USA 2002
Why do films like The Omen have the power to scare the (pardon the pun) bejesus out of us? To find an answer, AMC talked to noted occultist Nikolas Schreck, author of "The Satantic Screen: An Illustrated Guide to the Devil in Cinema."
AMC: How did the idea for "The Satanic Screen" come about?
NS: I think people's ideas of the devil and of Satan in the 20th century have largely been shaped and dictated by imagery from the cinema. I've studied the black arts in history and practice for many decades, and I found that Satanism had been looked at in terms of literature and music but never in terms of cinema.
AMC: In your book you say that the popularity of films like The Omen was a sign of the times.
NS: There was a vast gap between the satanic films of the 1960s and those of the 1970s and I think this mirrors a change in the zeitgeist and in American culture. It reflects political changes. Rosemary's Baby came out in 1968 when the hippies and counterculture were very much going strong, and I think The Exorcist and The Omen represented a swing to the right. Rosemary's Baby had a very subversive radical message that transcended good and evil; the ultimate message was that the devil was a sort of liberatory figure. The Exorcist I see as a backlash to that idea, going back to Catholic mythology and presenting the devil and Regan (Linda Blair's character) as a symbol of unadulterated evil. By the time The Omen came along I think it had been watered down a bit to make that idea much more accessible for mainstream audiences.
AMC: And what about movies of today?
NS: Other than Schwarzenegger's terrible film End of Days, there hasn't been any major statement about the devil in cinema. I think that's largely because science fiction has overwhelmed the supernatural in terms of what American audiences are looking for.
AMC: Why do films like The Omen use of a child as a representation of the devil?
NS: There is the very ancient mythology of the changeling, of the deep suspicion that your child is not your own and was perhaps given to you by the darker side, that goes back to European mythology. Then I think films have always taken images that are the opposite of what one expects - casting against type - to make a point. The idea of an innocent child being the antichrist is given to very powerful imagery. It speaks to a very deep ambiguity of Americans and their children that I think may have had something to do with the '60s that was still fresh in people's minds. Americans were wondering do they really know who their children are and was there something transcendentally evil about that generation? And of course it also is a kind of satanic parallel to the birth of the Christ child; Damien is very much a diabolical double. Considering the very religious undertones of The Omen series, I think that's probably the strongest reason for the innocent child motif.
AMC: Then what about the continued popularity of the name Damien?
NS: It's an ironic thing that in films or popular culture manifestations that try to send across very rigid images of good and evil, audiences are more attracted to the evil. It's very interesting that you have hundreds, maybe thousands, of young Satanists to this day that use the name Damien as a pseudonym - much the way after Rosemary's Baby they used the name Adrian. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that modern audiences find evil rather more compelling than good, which is seen as a bit dull.
AMC: Would you says that's a contributing factor in the continuing popularity of the film?
NS: Yes, I think because it has almost a fairy tale quality, again referring to the changeling idea of "who is your child?" "Who is this stranger that you gave birth to?" I think it's because it plugs into very deep mythic fears.