Director Dick Donner Just Died; He Was A Lovely, Lovely Man And A Real Pleasure To Work For

Back in the 1990’s, my partner at the time (Gil Adler) and I were hired to take over HBO’s horror anthology “Tales From The Crypt“. That third season was supposed to be the show’s last but Gil and I managed to turn the ship around. We reinvigorated the show but — more importantly — we reinvigorated the Crypt Keeper. That resulted in Tales running for another four seasons (during which time we also produced two “Tales From The Crypt” feature films, “Demon Knight” and my own personal Waterloo, “Bordello Of Blood“. For that entire span of time, I had, in essence four bosses (five if we include HBO who are wonderful to work for because they let you do what they hired you to do!): Walter Hill, Joel Silver, Bob Zemeckis and Dick Donner. Dick died two days ago, aged 91. No cause of death was attributed but, hey — he was 91! And he had a helluva run across those 91 years.

Among the films Dick directed: the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, “Superman” with Christopher Reeve (the movie that revived that franchise seemingly forever) and “The Omen”.

Now, even though I’ve written a lot of horror and produced a fair amount of it too, I am not a horror fan. My idea of a great “horror movie” is Nic Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now”.

But, when I got to work with Dick, his movie “The Omen” had already become a classic horror movie. Dick had a theory as to why it succeeded so well. It starts with the fact that plenty of Americans have “family Bibles” that, while they prize them as possessions, they have never — EVER — cracked them so as to read them. Can anyone blame them? Yet that book (that they hadn’t read) had a perverse hold on them. For the three people who might not know, “The Omen” leans very heavily upon the most possible literal reading of the last book of the canonical NT “The Book Of Revelation”.

Revelation is an example of “apocalyptic literature”. It was not the only such text written; it was the only such text canonized however. The work’s author (he calls himself “John”) relies on all kinds of symbolism that meant certain things to certain people back then but mean nothing to us today — unless you fill those symbols with newer invented meaning. It’s still invented meaning. When most modern people read Revelation without the requisite context, they think they’re reading literal prophecy. What’s worse, they think “literal prophecy” is a thing.

Dick’s theory was a lot of people with unread Bibles in their houses went and saw the movie — and heard all those pointedly prophetic quotes which scared the crap out of them. Or the references to “666”. Then they went home and found those Bibles and opened them to The Book of Revelation — where they found those very same freaky Bible verses including 666 — right there in their own houses!

That, Dick believed, was why “The Omen” was such a smashing success.

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