Four decades later, we're still haunted by the chilling thousand-yard stare of little Harvey Stephens as Damien in "The Omen."

Released 40 years ago this week (on June 25, 1976), the occult horror film would mark the only significant acting role Stephens ever played, but it had a vast and lasting impact -- it revived Gregory Peck's career, spawned several sequels and remakes (including the cancelled A&E series "Damien"), launched a wave of Antichrist-themed movies, and generated one of the most familiar (and overused) pieces of music in horror-movie history. In honor of the film turning four decades old, here are a few facts you need to know.1. A lot of "Omen" viewers have thought that rhyming-prophecy quotation actually comes from the Bible. It does not; screenwriter David Seltzer made it up. In fact, he claimed he'd never even read the Bible before being commissioned to write the screenplay.

2. For the role of Ambassador Robert Thorn, the filmmakers initially sought biblical-film go-to guy Charlton Heston, but he worried that the result would be cheesy and passed. William Holden also turned down the part, claiming he found the satanic subject matter distasteful. Gregory Peck, whose career had been in such a slump that the 59-year-old was considering retirement, took the role for a fraction of his usual fee -- just $250,000 against 10 percent of the film's gross. When the movie became a smash, it gave Peck the most lucrative payday of his career. Holden, of course, accepted the lead in the 1978 sequel, "Damien: Omen II," while Heston would star in "The Awakening," a 1980 movie with a similar premise.3. Four-year-old Harvey Stephens (above) won the role of Damien during a group audition, when director Richard Donner asked the potential little Antichrists to attack him the way Damien attacks Katherine (Lee Remick) in the church. Stephens went further than the other boys, clawing Donner's face and kicking him in the junk. That won Stephens the part, but Donner still didn't think he was scary enough, so he had the blonde boy's hair dyed black.

4. In the life-imitates-art department, the movie's shoot was beset by so many horrific accidents that the production seemed cursed.

On the first day of the shoot, several crew members were in a car that was involved in a head-on collision. Peck and Seltzer both flew to England on airplanes that were struck by lightning during their flights, just eight hours apart. Producer Mace Neufeld flew to England a week later, and lightning struck his plane, too. In another instance, the production canceled a charter flight on a plane, which then took on new passengers and crashed, killing all on board. Eeriest of all was the accident that happened two months after "The Omen" opened, on Friday the 13th of August, 1976. John Richardson, the special effects designer behind such gruesome "Omen" deaths as the decapitation of Keith Jennings (David Warner) by a stray pane of glass, was in Holland working on the film "A Bridge Too Far" when his BMW crashed. His assistant Liz Moore, who was in the passenger seat, was cut in half. Supposedly, Richardson crawled out of the car and saw a road sign that said he was 66.6 kilometers away from the town of Ommen.5. The baboon attack on the car in the zoo sequence was accomplished by placing a baboon in the car with Lee Remick. At first, zookeepers used a baby baboon, but the other baboons didn't seem to care. Then they put the alpha baboon in the car, and the rest of them went ape. The terror on Remick's face wasn't acting.

6. No goldfish were harmed in the scene where the goldfish bowl shatters. Donner didn't want to kill any fish just for the sake of shooting a movie, so he had dead sardines painted orange.7. To take advantage of the movie's "666" motif, 20th Century Fox held sneak previews on June 6, 1976. When patrons came out of the auditorium, they were shown posters pointing out the 6/6/76 date, and many reportedly freaked out.

8. Composer Jerry Goldsmith wrote some 300 movie and TV scores in his 50-year career, but the only one that earned him an Academy Award was "The Omen." He was also nominated for Best Original Song for "Ave Satani," the bombastic choral piece that's become a staple of occult movie trailers ever since. It's one of the few Best Song nominees in Oscar history whose lyrics aren't in English. Rather, they're in bad Latin. 9. Warner was asked once what became of the prop severed head (pictured) of his ill-fated "Omen" character. He quipped, "I lost it in the divorce."

10. "The Omen" cost $2.8 million to make and another $2.8 million to market. It made back $61 million in North America and became the fifth biggest hit of 1976. Donner has said the film made so much money for Fox, that it enabled the studio to give George Lucas the money he needed to finish "Star Wars" the way he wanted.

The Omen
R1976
In Theaters on June 25th, 1976

Diplomat (Gregory Peck) and wife (Lee Remick) adopt baby Damien, the Antichrist. Read More

categories Movies, Horror, Trivia