The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Damien: Omen II

So I love the original The Omen. Everybody cool with that? Yeah, I'm not a horror fan, but there's a sick, disturbing appeal -- for me at least -- for movies dealing with Satan, pure evil, and in this case, the Antichrist. A big success in 1976, The Omen spawned two sequels, a TV movie, and a remake that I just reviewed recently. I've seen the sequels, but it's been years so thanks to an AMC mini-marathon, here we are with 1978's Damien: Omen II.

It's been seven years since young Damien Thorn barely survived an attack from his father who was trying to murder the five-year old boy. Now, Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is 12 years old and living in the Chicago suburbs with his uncle, Richard (William Holden), and aunt, Ann (Lee Grant). Richard is the C.E.O. of Thorn Industries, a company on the verge of some major, lucrative developments. Damien is heading to military school with his cousin, Mark (Lucas Donat), as he heads into his teenage years. His past is his past though, and he's moved on, but now he's starting to have odd feelings, weird sensations (and it ain't puberty!). What is going on? What's behind it all? Certain people keep telling Damien that big changes are coming and that he should fully embrace it. Others are willing to risk their lives to stop him from embracing his future.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can be wishy-washy when it comes to sequels. I typically think sequels are pretty dumb...until I like them. That's the beauty of it all here. If you look at the original The Omen, it's a perfect self-contained movie. The ending is slightly open-ended, but there is a creepy resolution including that great creepy final shot. But what happens to Damien? Where does he go from there? And that's where the sequels enter, letting Damien grow up. Director Don Taylor does a solid job developing the story of Damien and letting it breathe. The jump in time forward seven years was a cool choice -- the Antichrist as a teenager, gasp!?! -- and it keeps that incredibly creepy, underplayed vibe. Even composer Jerry Goldsmith tweaks his musical score, not the same score as the original but still perfectly sinister.

This isn't necessarily a smart horror movie, but it is a really good one. Creepy kids are a fixture in the genre, and Damien (here and in the original) is near or at the top of that list. But what about a creepy kid coming of age story? As cheesy and after-school special as that sounds, that's what this movie is. What Damien did in the original flick was never purely evil. Here....yeah, he's starting to realize who he is, what he's capable of, and what he can aspire to. When that aspiration is potentially ruling the world through evil? Sorta terrifying. Scott-Taylor does an excellent job playing Damien, a charming, smart young man. He's got that icy, steely look in his eyes and it is a terrifying premise as we see what is capable in this young man, especially when certain people around him are doing their best to protect him. A solid performance, a solid and interesting character.

As for the rest of the cast, there isn't a ton of star power. William Holden is obviously the biggest name here, and he does a solid, workmanlike job as Richard Thorn, a businessman who knows at least part of his family's past but maybe not the whole thing. His chemistry with Grant is believable, and just by being here, he legitimizes the whole proceedings. Also look for Lew Ayres (in his last role), Robert Foxworth and Nicholas Pryor as Thorn co-workers, all around for different reasons. Lance Henriksen is nicely cast as Sergeant Neff, Damien's platoon leader at military school while Sylvia Sidney and Elizabeth Shepherd play two women who may know the truth about Damien's background and possible future. In a cool connection to the original Omen, Leo McKern returns in a startling open scene as Bugenhagen, an exorcist and archeologist who knows the truth, with Ian Hendry as a friend and possible believer.

I read a topic at the IMDB message board for 'Damien' that cracked me up. It complained about a lack of plot with a reliance of "Hey, Damien is evil!....Ah, I'm dead" scenes. It's actually pretty spot-on. This isn't a plot-driven movie with more of a focus on the character. Now that said, the deaths are pretty gruesome -- if not graphic -- as some sort of evil power seemingly protects Damien wherever and whenever needed. There's some memorable deaths, the scenes full of impending doom and danger with Goldsmith's score doing its thing. Also worth mentioning, 'Damien' was partially filmed on-location in Chicago with some shots on LaSalle Street and some key scenes at the Field Museum including a great surprise ending.

A very solid sequel, one I was glad I could catch up with, especially during the Halloween season. Worth checking out for sure, especially for original Omen fans and horror fans in general.

Damien: Omen II (1978): ***/****

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