Monday, October 28, 2019

Ten Days of Terror!: Damien: Omen II

Film: Damien: Omen II
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the more interesting aspects of certain horror movie franchises is when there are respected actors involved. When The Omen was made, the married couple in charge of the Antichrist Damien were played by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick and features actors like David Warner. The sequel has a cast list that I still can’t quite get my head around. And it’s for a sequel that happened two years after the first movie, but takes place seven years later. I’m completely staggered by this. There are multiple Oscar winners and nominees in this and I can’t figure out why.

Damien: Omen II temporarily picks up immediately after the conclusion of the first movie. Archaeologist Carl Bugenhagen (an uncredited Leo McKern) has learned of the survival of Damien Thorn (played eventually in this film by Jonathan Scott-Taylor) and has become convinced of his identity as the Antichrist. The main reason for this is the existence of Yigael’s Wall, a mural allegedly drawn by an insane monk who had visions of the Antichrist at various points in his life, including as a child. Bugenhagen shows his friend Michael Morgan (an also-uncredited Ian Hendry) the wall, but such is the power of the Satanic forces at work that the tunnel they are in collapses and kills them both.

We jump ahead seven years (so technically we are in the future) and Damien Thorn is now 12 years old and attending a military academy with his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat). The care and custody of Damien has gone to his uncle Richard (William Holden) and Richard’s wife Ann (Lee Grant). Perhaps for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, Richard’s aunt Marion (Sylvia Sidney) hates and mistrusts Damien, and threatens to remove the family from her will and leave her fortune to charity if Mark is not freed from Damien’s influence. Again, the power of the Antichrist comes into play and Marion dies the night that the boys head back to their military school, allegedly of a heart attack but actually through the power of Satan.

This is a theme that we are going to see over and over again. Journalist Joan Hart (Elizabeth Shephard) gets a look at both Yigael’s Wall and Damien and reaches the same conclusion as Bugenhagen. Shortly thereafter, her car stalls on a deserted road and she has her eyes pecked out by a raven before she is flattened by a semi. A higher-up in Thorn’s company named Bill Atherton (Lew Ayres) seems to stand in the way of the company performing in certain ways and the next day he dies in a freak drowning accident. We’ll get surprise poisonings killing off a Thorn Industry scientist (Allan Arbus) and a detached elevator cable bisecting a doctor (Meshach Taylor) who discovers that Damien has the blood of a jackal.

There are a couple of great moments in Damien: Omen II. The truly great moment is when Damien discovers who he is. He doesn’t know his own power or why things happen until his new commander at his school (Lance Henriksen) hints at his parentage and suggests he read a part of the Book of Revelation. When Damien discovers his particular birthmark, his reaction is priceless, realistic, and ultimately pretty terrifying with how quickly he comes to terms with being the embodiment of pure evil.

But really, that’s about it. What was almost certainly the selling point in 1978 is the crazy ways that people die in the film—in no small part, beyond the whole “son of Satan” aspect of the story it was what made the first film interesting as well. Hell, it’s the reason that people kept going to see movies in the Final Destination series. “How are they going to top David Warner getting his head cut off by a plate glass window or a priest getting impaled by a lightning rod?” Well, we’ve got a guy impaled by connecting train cars and a doctor sliced in half by a whipping elevator cable.

Other than that, the pull here is the amazing cast. Seriously, Lee Grant, William Holden, Lew Ayres, Lance Henriksen, Allan Arbus, Leo McKern, and Meshach Taylor? This is a damn horror movie that hit the damn jackpot when it comes to who wanted to be in it, and I have no idea why this is the case. Then again, as I said at the top, the first one had enough going on to get Gregory Peck.

Damien: Omen II isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s also not a great one. It’s entirely serviceable, but once you realize that all of the excitement is going to go into watching people die in freak accidents, there’s not a hell of a lot to see here, especially when you realize that this was conceived as a trilogy so you’re not going to get any real resolution.

Why to watch Damien: Omen II: Holy crap, that cast list!
Why not to watch: It falls into a very specific pattern.

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