9.02.2012

[SEQUEL SEPTEMBER] Damien: Omen II (1978)

DIRECTED BY
Don Taylor
Mike Hodges [
some shots]

STARRING
William Holden - Richard Thorn
Lee Grant - Ann Thorn
Jonathan Scott-Taylor - Damien Thorn
Lucas Donat - Mark Thorn
Nicholas Pryor - Charles Warren
Robert Foxworth - Paul Buher
Lance Henriksen - Sergeant Neff
Elizabeth Shepherd - Joan Hart
Lew Ayres - Bill Atherton
Sylvia Sidney - Aunt Marion
Leo McKern - Bugenhagen


Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Satan

Running Time - 107 Minutes


PLOT
Just a week after the events of the first OMEN, archeologist Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern) takes a colleague to an excavation site where a resemblance to young Damien [which snakes in his hair] has been painted on a wall. Bugenhagen, holding something for Damien's guardian, wants to warn whoever is taking care of him about who Damien really is. But before any of them can do that, an earthquake hits and both archeologists are buried alive within the cave.


Seven years later, Damien Thorn (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is now thirteen-year-old. He's living with his adoptive uncle and owner of Thorn Industries, Richard Thorn (William Holden), and his wife Ann (Lee Grant). Along with his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat), Damien feels a strong bond with his new family and gets along with each one of them. Damien and Mark have been enrolled together at a military school, under close watch by a Sergeant Neff (Lance Henriksen) - who seems more interested in Damien than he is in Mark. Neff wants to guide Damien to his true destiny, leading him towards the Book of Revelations and making him accept his fate that he's really the Anti-Christ. Damien struggles with this knowledge, although his powers now start to make sense and are continuously growing.

Damien also has an ally in Paul Buher (
Robert Foxworth) - a manager at Thorn Industries who has an agenda in that he wants to take over the business to keep it in place for Damien's time to run it. Paul wants Thorn Industries to buy up third-world countries in order to exploit them and become a major global business - which creates a ton of controversy and conflict between him and Richard.

However, Richard is more distracted by all the sudden deaths that continue to surround him, slowly realizing that what's being said about Damien being evil may be the truth. Knowing that the evil must be stopped before Damien is able to rise up and take over the world, Richard plans to succeed in what his brother had failed in doing: murdering Damien.





REVIEW




HITS

- The acting. DAMIEN: OMEN II doesn't live up to the original in any way, but it does get points for trying to craft a logical continuation to the Damien Thorn story. The acting, just like in the first film, is pretty strong and make something of their roles that you wouldn't see on paper. William Holden, who had turned down the Gregory Peck role from the original THE OMEN due to its religious context, accepted the role as Richard Thorn after the first film was a financial success. Holden is a very good actor and comes across as likeable in the uncle role. I think Peck has more of a screen presence, but Holden was a worthy successor. Lee Grant is also very good as Damien's aunt, Ann. It's not a surprise since Grant is an Academy Award winning actress. She's likeable in the film as well. Jonathan Scott-Taylor looks like an older Damien and has a unique delivery and presence that I liked. I bought his evil moments, his confusion, and his anguish. I wish the script had played with these things more, but Scott-Taylor makes the most of it. Lance Henriksen, looking very young in this film, is also a presence in the small role of Seregeant Neff. He's very memorable in what should have been a bland role. We also get solid performances by Lucas Donat as Marc, Nicholas Pryor as Charles, and Robert Foxworth [looking like Robert Reed from The Brady Bunch] as Paul. I wish the script was better, but the actors take their roles seriously and make the film watchable.

- The death scenes. The highlight of this sequel, in my opinion, are the bigger and more elaborate deaths. We get a cave burying people. We get some eyes being pecked out by a raven. We get a heart attack, thanks to a raven. We get a few stabbings. We get some fire. And my favorite of all - someone getting split right in half by an elevator cable in sweet fashion. That was a thing of beauty. I think the deaths were more effective in the first film, only because we knew those characters more. But I still thought they were pretty cool in this installment.


- Jerry Goldsmith's score. A lot of people seemed annoyed by the music in this film, probably due to the score that accompanies the raven each time it appears. But I dug it and thought it was a pretty nifty score. The use of strings and Latin phrases in the background really build some tension and mood. And "Ava Santani" is used every once in a while, but Goldsmith makes the sequel sound different from the original to give it its own identity. I thought it set the tone for the film really well.


- Some of the film's narrative themes. While how the narrative plays out is flawed, the themes within the narrative are interesting and welcomed. For example, I really enjoyed the family aspect in DAMIEN: OMEN II. Unlike the first film, where you felt a disconnect amongst Damien and his adopted parents [even between the Thorns themselves], you get a sense of camaraderie between the Thorns here. Richard was proud of Damien and Marc. Ann showed both boys a lot of love. And Damien and Mark had a brotherly relationship where you can tell each boy cared for the other. In fact, even when Damien realizes his destiny, he begs Marc to join him and be his right hand man as he takes over the world. Whenever someone, like Aunt Marion, or Charles, would claim that Damien was evil, the family stuck by him - even as the truth started to unravel. It made the Thorns really likeable here, even if they were a bit gullible and naive.


I also liked how the focus was less on politics [like the first film] and more on big business. The evil here wasn't getting closer to the top of world politics. It's the idea of taking a proud, genuine business and using it to take over poor countries so they could be exploited to make the company more of a global force. Richard Thorn is totally against this expansion, feeling it would hurt the company's repetition as its everything he's against. But it's definitely something that happens in the real world - the idea of the evil corporation - and it still fits in well as a theme today as it does back in 1978. It also fits in well with the idea of The Four Horsemen theory that pops up in this sequel, but I'll give my thoughts about that later.


Still, I thought that the screenplay tried to be a bit deep and somewhat thought-provoking in terms of the different faces of evil. It could have completely copied the original film [which it does for the most part], but at least there's something that separates the sequel from the original.



MISSES

- The screenplay. Here's where DAMIEN: OMEN II falters. For one, the sequel uses the exact same template as the original film. Of course, this is expected and I'm not against using familiar territory to continue an earlier story. But a lot of the beats and the way things happen, and are revealed, play out too similarly, Also, they're very repetitive. Damien is happy. Someone says Damien is evil. They die. Damien is happy. Someone says Damien is evil. They die. For much of the running time, this pattern continues - being less effective each time. It's also less effective when we already know that Damien is the Anti-Christ, losing all the mystique of the original film. That's not the sequel's fault, but the storytelling could have been stronger by taking a different route from the original film.

Also, the characters aren't as developed in this film like they were in the first film. This is due to more characters being a part of the story [although most of them don't really add a whole lot besides the body count] and a focus more on Damien Thorn than anything. In fact, Damien's character development is pretty good, but more could have been done with the character. He shows great intelligence. He obviously has strong powers, killing people with just his mind. He's also capable of loving people, even though he's born evil. But it's confusing because I always believed he knew what he was capable of, if we're judging the last shot from the original OMEN. Little Damien smiling at the end pretty much proves the kid knew what he was doing the entire time. Yet in this film, he doesn't seem to have that knowledge and is surprised by what he finds out about himself. It's a great moment when he finally understands his destiny and is conflicted about it, but I think it would have been more fun to see him embrace it from the beginning and be a bastard to the people he's surrounded by. Or have him be more conflicted by who he is, giving viewers a real deep story and a three-dimensional character. The fact that he's conflicted in one scene, and then totally fine with it in the next is a lost opportunity. It would have been great to see more conflict between Damien and Mark, as both cousins love each other, but have different destinies. But Mark is pretty much just 'there' while Damien gets all the fun. It's pretty generic and predictable to see how things go down. And while watching Damien and his raven murder people is fun, most of the victims are barely developed for their deaths to mean anything. No one is a serious threat to Damien, which makes the narrative extremely one-sided.


I also felt several subplots were introduced, but never explored enough to resonate once the film was over. The Whore of Babylon is mentioned, but the issue never goes beyond that. I guess the twist at the end explains who the Whore of Babylon was in context with the story, but it's never treated as more than just a twist [which you could see coming, but whatever]. Also, I loved the idea of The Four Horsemen in terms of helping Damien. While it's never said, it's implied that Sergeant Neff represents War, Paul represents Famine, and Damien and/or the raven helping him represent Death. But there's no Pestilence in the film at all. So what's the point? And the whole issue seems to be forgotten as the film goes along anyway. I felt these would have been great additions to the story if they were given attention and depth.


I will say that while the screenplay does have serious issues, at least it's not totally terrible and won't steer you down an unwelcome path. It's just a pale imitation on the original film and doesn't take advantage of using Damien's adolescence as a metaphor for his destiny as the Anti-Christ. There's a good film in this script. It just needed more edits to get there.


- The direction. Before I get into why I'm not the biggest fan of how the film is visually presented, I want to share some background about the direction for DAMIEN: OMEN II. The producers wanted to bring back Richard Donner [who had directed the first film] to come back for the sequel. However, Donner was shooting SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and was unable to fit this film into his schedule. So, the producers hired Mike Hodges for the project. He accepted and worked on some of the film's scenes [I believe the factory scene and the final scene are all him]. However due to creative differences, Hodges left the project while keeping story credit. Television director, Don Taylor, came on board to complete the film and directed most of the finished product.


That being said, the visual presentation is pretty dull. It's competent, sure. And it does have moments, especially the death scenes [although I do feel these scenes linger longer than they ought to]. But overall, there's not much tension going on in this film. There's no mystique. The snowy setting doesn't really work [besides the trapped under ice moment], as the European gothic setting really elevated the first film. The cinematography is pretty flat and many of the shots aren't all that interesting. It's not bad direction. It's just not anything memorable. It's pretty much a point-and-shoot affair, which compared to Donner's work on the original, seems like a downgrade.



THE FINAL HOWL

DAMIEN: OMEN II is pretty much your typical average sequel. The death sequences are cool, the acting is pretty A-list, the score is memorable, and some of the narrative's themes are interesting and worth exploring. However, the direction is flat and the screenplay doesn't take advantage of the story it needs to tell, instead settling in with what's expected. DAMIEN: OMEN II is a pedestrian sequel that's worth a look if you're a fan of the franchise. But you don't need to read the Book of Revelations to figure out that this sequel is really nothing special.


SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4



6 comments:

  1. I love this whole series, the 3rd is my fav.

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    Replies
    1. Haven't seen the third one in many years. But I think I did enjoy that one a bit more than this one.

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  2. A very fair assessment of a movie I've watched several times. I saw it nearly every tine it aired the month it premiered on Showtime back in the day. I think I was drawn in by the class of the production and cast mixing with the horror and gore. This was no low budget indie with a cast of nobodies for dang sure! I haven't seen it in years - so I can't speak to your issues with the movie. But the flick (and the novelisation) were both creepy fun when I was a kid.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I'm surprised anybody wanted to make a sequel for a never seen indie film with these amateur actors. Psh!

      Seriously, this is a film I enjoyed a lot more as a kid. Back then, I didn't really care about the themes or the subplots that were never explored. But as an adult, this film is pretty flawed in terms of the screenplay. It's just an inferior rehash of the first film really. That's not a bad thing, but it doesn't really offer anything all that different. And I thought the direction was just 'there'. Nothing really special about it.

      I would love to read the novelization.

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  3. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on Part III!
    Sam Neill is awesome! When I first saw the movie, I had no idea he was adult Damien!

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    Replies
    1. I'll review III one of these days. Maybe before 2012 is done. Sam Neill is pretty awesome though and he's good in that sequel.

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