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Armageddon all over again. 

A couple of years ago, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, the ubiquitous face of the religious right, founder of Liberty University, and spokesman for the neo-Neanderthal wing of the Republican party, announced that the world would soon confront the Last Days --- so what else is new? --- and that one element of that event, the Antichrist, was a Jewish man dwelling in the United States. (This insight may have preceded his analysis of the sexual orientation of the Teletubbies.) The comedian Al Franken wondered if the man might be Marvin Hamlisch, though I still hold out for Alan Dershowitz, Falwell's frequent debating opponent. As students of the Bible and of film already knew, of course, the Antichrist and Satan, inextricably confused in the nontheological mind, not only walk the earth, but also appear in horror movies, which have exploited his presence for more than a generation.

Ever since 1968, when Rosemary's Baby appeared, Satan assumed an important place in the horror film, ranking up there with Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and a horde of nameless menaces. With the addition of The Exorcist in 1973 and The Omen in 1976 and the subsequent sequels, remakes, and imitations, the Devil became a star, and now, in the words of the Catholic prayer, roams the earth seeking the ruin of souls. The most recent visitation occurs in the remake of The Omen, which, along with Poseidon, continues the apparent Hollywood compulsion to revisit the past and shovel the snows of yesteryear.

With a few minor variations, the new Omen pretty much follows the pattern of the first movie. As in The DaVinci Code, the Roman Catholic Church again provides the material for exploring the consequences of Satan's latest incarnation, in the form of his spawn, a nasty little kid named Damien Thorn (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). Informed by a priest that his baby was born dead, an American diplomat in Rome, Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber), agrees to deceive his wife and substitute another newborn as if the infant were their own, a deception they all come to regret.

From early childhood Damien exerts his destructive force against anyone who impedes the progress of the Satanic plan. Through some inexplicable mental power he manages an accident that kills the ambassador so that Thorn can succeed him in the post in Great Britain (a bit of nepotism also assists the ascent). Once there, little Damien really comes into his own, influencing his nanny to commit suicide in full public view at his fifth birthday party and contriving that his parents hire a replacement in the form of Mia Farrow, returned from her stint as the mother of Rosemary's Baby, and all too ready to serve Satan once again.

After that spectacular event, a couple of people attempt to warn the ambassador of the danger in his evil child. A crazed priest (Pete Postlethwaite) tells him the true story of Damien's birth, and a tabloid photographer (David Thewlis) notices ominous marks in his pictures of Damien's victims. Naturally Thorn dismisses all the information as insanity and foolishness until the priest dies spectacularly and his pregnant wife suffers a bad fall that kills the potential threat to Damien's power.

The rest of the movie settles into a standard thriller plot, with Thorn and the photographer traveling to Italy to find the truth about Damien's parentage and to Israel to acquire the means to kill the little devil. They learn, of course, about the coming final conflict and Damien's role in Armageddon, which in fact leads them to the location in Israel where the battle will take place. A few more deaths and a series of brief flashes of horror enhance the suspense of their journey and emphasize the power arrayed against them and, consequently, all of humankind.

When it first appeared, The Omen reawakened interest in the Book of Revelations, surely the most puzzling in the Bible, and alerted audiences to the Number of the Beast, the notorious 666. The number accounts for the movie's unusual release on a Tuesday, June 6, a date which, to the disappointment of many, did not signal the end of the world or even the end of bad movies about the end of the world.

The Omen (R), directed by John Moore, is now playing at Culver Ridge 16, Henrietta 18, Webster 12, Tinseltown, Greece Ridge 12, Eastview 13

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