Is it a bad 'Omen'? Damien's devilish return on 6/6/6

The original chronicled the life and devilish intentions of Satan's offspring and gained an instant cult status when it hit cinemas in 1976. Now, thirty years later, Damien is back.

The much-anticipated remake of The Omen will be released tomorrow, on the symbolic date of 6 June, 2006, neatly echoing the Biblical sign of the antichrist - 666. The new version is set in the present day, containing allusions to US President George Bush and the war on terror.

The movie tells the story of the childhood of Damien Thorn - played in the remake by the first-time actor Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick - a demonic child who was switched at birth with the murdered offspring of a wealthy American diplomat and his wife- Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles. It has had a cult following since the 70s, spawning sequels and a number copycat films.

The original version of The Omen featured Hollywood's first decapitation scene, as well as one of the most iconic images of the horror genre as a character hanged herself at a birthday party.

According to urban legend, the production was plagued with a series of curses, which some crew members suggested were a result of supernatural forces trying to prevent filming. The plane of the scriptwriter, David Seltzer, was struck by lightning; the director, Richard Donner, survived an IRA bomb at his hotel; and Gregory Peck, who starred as the diplomat in the original, chartered a plane which crashed, killing all on board.

The decision to remake the film has not been universally welcomed. Victor Stock, the Dean of Guildford Cathedral, which was featured in the original, has spoken out against the remake, which was directed by John Moore and includes Michael Gambon and Pete Postlethwaite in its cast. Rev Stock said that the film should never have been produced and has urged audiences to stay away.

Its return to the big screen coincides with the launch of Britain's first master's degree course in cult film and television this September, at Brunel University in west London. The new course reflects a revival of cult 1960s and 1970s films and television series that have recently been modernised, includingDoctor Who and Star Wars.

Both the original Omen and the remake are likely to be central to the course, which is being led by Xavier Mendik, director of the Cult Film Archive at Brunel University, which holds thousands of films and interviews with film-makers.

Mr Mendik describes himself as "a child of the video generation" and recalls watching films such as The Omen, Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "There was something beyond the shock value that intrigued me," he explains. He added that he believes the course will provide an "ideal stepping-stone into the industry".

Students will be able to immerse themselves in theories about some of the most unusual films from around the world and why they became popular.

The masters can be taken in one year full-time, or in two part-time. Students will have to study underground, European, Asian and retro cinema and television series. Doctor Who and The Prisoner are on the syllabus, as is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The course will include master classes taken by cult film-makers and figures from the industry.

Stories retold

* KING KONG

Peter Jackson's big budget remake of the original 1933 sci-fi hit about a giant gorilla who takes a shine to Fay Wray was a box-office hit last year. (2005)

* THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

The gory remake of the 1974 slasher film about a group of teenagers who stumble across a chainsaw wielding killer was regarded as far inferior to the chilling original, but fared well at the box office. (2003)

* THE EXORCIST

The 1974 Academy Award-winning film about a priest's efforts to exorcise a girl apparently possessed by demonic forces was remade and subtitled The Version You've Never Seen. It included scenes that had been cut from the 1970s original and was favourably received on the whole. (2000)

* PSYCHO

The remake of the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece about Norman Bates' hotel may have been directed by the acclaimed Gus Van Sant but it was regarded as a disappointment when compared to the original film, starring Anthony Perkins. (1998)

* BREATHLESS

Jean Luc Godard's film, A Bout de Souffle was heralded as a classic of French New Wave cinema in 1960. The remake, starring Richard Gere, below, and relocated to California, was panned on its release but has since found its own cult following. (1983)

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