Damien: Omen II (1978)

When it’s on: Wednesday, 1 August (11.05 pm)
Channel: Film4
IMDb Link

The best thing about The Omen, Richard Donner’s horror hit from 1976, was its degree of ambiguity. There was always the possibility that the nastiness surrounding Damien Thorn was simply a series of unfortunate events. Perhaps Gregory Peck’s increasingly hysterical pappy just couldn’t deal with any of it, searching for ever fantastical reasons to explain the awful things that had happened. By the sequel, Damien: Omen II, any doubt has been removed. Damien clearly IS the Antichrist, the son of Satan, and just like in the first film he’s moving in powerful American circles with a shady cabal of worshippers smoothing his path to the top.

It’s telling that producer Harvey Bernhard was unconcerned about Donner not returning to helm the sequel, however he felt the film wouldn’t work without Jerry Goldsmith. The original score, an Oscar winner, was plundered for Damien: Omen II, whilst Goldsmith worked in fresh, choir-heavy stylings that sounded just as portentous and doom laden. The music is by some distance the film’s highlight. What it becomes, at its core, is a series of killings committed to celluloid. The level of imagination that went into all those screen deaths – they range in degrees of grisliness – is to be commended. The one that lingers in my mind is the poor bloke who drowns after being trapped under a sheet of ice, but there are demises to meet anyone’s taste, including a rather nasty mutilation by raven, as the bird – depicted as an agent of evil – pecks out a woman’s eyes before she comes off worse from her collision with a juggernaut. It’s no way to go.

The plot surrounds young Master Thorn’s journey of self-discovery. By now a teenager who’s been adopted by William Holden’s wealthy industrialist and is receiving the best military academy education, Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is being groomed for greatness. The deaths continue to mount up around him. Anyone who begins to question his identity is dispatched, either by the devil worshippers aligned around him or by diabolical circumstance. Whilst the boy develops into a naturally charismatic future leader, it’s the revelation of who he really is – drilled home by his mentor, played by Lance Henriksen – that makes for the film’s finest scene. Reading Revelations and realising that he is indeed the Antichrist of prophecy, Damien initially rails against his own destiny, running out into the night and demanding ‘Why me?’ But soon enough, he’s reconciled with his fate and prepared to stop anyone standing in his way. It’s left to Holden, as the ‘Gregory Peck’ of the film, to thwart him, whilst the infernal agents – including those nearest to Holden – close in…

Holden was slated to star in the original, before he bowed out as he wanted nothing to do with a film about Satan. The bottom line must have been a stronger pull, however, as he jumped at the opportunity for the sequel after The Omen’s success. Looking his age (Holden was 60 when the film was released), his character has little to do for much of the running time but remain bemused and unaware as the deaths pile up. Better value by far is Robert Foxworth as the Machiavellian manager of Thorn Industries. Obviously evil, he focuses the business on agriculture and controlling food distribution to the Third World. A shocked Holden reacts by, er, going off on vacation, leaving Foxworth to simply carry on. The narrative prospects offered by Thorn Industries’ infernal direction are interesting enough, but remain unexplored as another demise waits around the corner.

Donner was off making Superman when this project came up, after which Mike Hodges was installed as director. He had walked away within three weeks following a string of arguments concerning resources. The producers then turned to veteran director Don Taylor, who came with a reputation for completing films on time and within budgetary limits. Taylor turned in an efficiently shot piece of work. Goldsmith’s score is more powerful than any of the events taking place on the screen, whilst an original ending in which Damien died was rejected in favour of the inconclusive one used in the finished cut, as the possibilities of a third chapter remained open. Yet without an actual resolution, the film becomes little more than a series of deaths that could have taken place during any time in Damien’s life. It has its moments, particularly revolving around Damien’s moment of discovery and the efforts of the worshippers to propel him to the top of the tree, but on the whole it’s a squalid effort, focusing on lurid gore and offering little hope to anyone standing in his way.

Damien: Omen II: **