The story behind ‘The Omen’s’ chilling final shot

Here's the thing about “The Omen”: it's probably not as good as you remember. There are a few truly scary moments — remember the nanny scene? — but in the realm of '70s horror films it's a “B” at best.

Nevertheless, the film is generally considered a horror classic and holds massive brand appeal, a fact that A&E will be exploiting with their newly-announced ten-episode series “Damien,” which will star Bradley James as the now-adult title character as he comes to terms “with his true destiny — that he is the Antichrist.” Also set to star is the truly terrifying Barbara Hershey as Ann Rutledge, “the world's most powerful woman who has been tasked with making sure Damien fulfills his destiny.” So, herself.

Good luck with this, I guess! I can't imagine people won't watch. That said, nothing in the series will come close to the impact of the original film's scariest moment: the final shot of cherub-faced Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens) smiling devilishly over his shoulder at the camera. At his parents' funeral.

As this director commentary from the film's 2008 Blu-ray release shows, the scene wasn't always supposed to play out this way. In the original version there were actually three caskets at the cemetery, including one for little Damien. It wasn't until then-20th Century Fox president Alan Ladd Jr. asked director Richard Donner to shoot an alternate take of Damien alive (clearly thinking ahead to the sequel) that we got the blood-chilling final shot.

So how did they get such a frightening grin out of six-year-old Harvey? By using one of the oldest tricks in the book: telling him not to smile. As in: Don't you smile, Harvey! Don't you dare smile! etc. Boy, did it work.

Watch the full commentary below (the other voice is editor Stuart Baird).