Film discussion

Throwback 40: Damien: Omen II

Sequels often get a bad rap, due to the simple nature of them. They’re not original. Often, they’re merely echoes of the previous text. Many sequels are misguided by their misinterpretation of what made the first film so appealing. How often do we see a break out character becoming overbearing or the expansion/enlargement of the original set pieces we’ve seen previously? There are some sequels which frustrate purely because there’s a clear feeling that the IP could be a nice little earner for the studio. Who cares that the original creative team is no longer onboard when you have an empty release date to fill.

Such could have been the case with Damien: Omen II. A sequel which tracks the whereabouts of the young antichrist seven years since his adoptive father; Robert Thorne, tried to murder him after finding the truth about his son’s reason of being. The original Omen had a small child as not only a source of evil but an individual which needed protection from those who let’s just say support his father. Here in this continuation, the now adolescent is beginning to understand his place in the world around him and is gradually coming to terms with his impending rise. Of course, there are those on the side of good who are looking to halt his ascendance, but while Damien is more aware of his power, he still needs a little help from his well-wishers.

Omen 2 is a film that welcomes growth. The things that made the original the enjoyable feature in 1976 are still here but opposed to feeling like a diluted re-tread of what occurred before, there’s an organic shifting of dynamics. The ageing of Damien not only allows the film to become a coming of age horror, with the focus truly on its main character, but it also shifts the dynamics, deepening areas which were only lightly touched on previously. The sequel allows a subplot to be placed in which Thorne Industries is seeking to control land in third world countries. Such an operation would allow a great deal of control to be held by the company over a vast volume of people and of course, it’s clear that Damien is still in the will to inherit the business. Some moments of the film are a tad dry, but as the puzzle pieces manoeuvre themselves into position it’s still fun to see how everything looks set to come to together.

The over-elaborate death sequences that made the original film so entertaining to watch, appear again here, much to the joy of some particular horror hounds. Director Don Taylor (along with an uncredited Mike Hodges) deliver more grisly fates for unfortunate souls who discover that something just ain’t right with Damien, and while none of them are as acutely staged as the death sequences put in place the original film, the film does well to craft some original set pieces to keep things on track. The film leans on it’s set pieces quite a bit, thinking that it was only the Rube Goldberg style murders that made the original interesting and not the impending sense of despair and paranoia that flowed through the original story, and yet, the film doesn’t full derail itself, managing to maintain a sizeable amount of unease in the demise of some of the victims as well as the impending inevitability of the chess pieces moving into place.

Looking back at critical writings of The Omen 2, it’s worth noting that some writers appear to straight up reject the film due to its religious premise. Such a dismissal is a little sad as the ability to fall into the film’s religious world does make things all the more interesting. However, this can depend on how willing a viewer is will to escape into the film, as well as how well one thinks the filmmakers put the world together. From a point of view of someone who remembers how they first felt when reading the same passages that Damien reads in the film at a young impressionable age, I think moments still work.

What doesn’t work is the weak portrayal of Damien by Jonathan Scott-Taylor. Performing up against the likes of Lance Henriksen and William Holden, the young actor’s greenness clearly shows. Barring one impressive sequence involving a back and worth between Damien and his history teacher, the portrayal of the central role is nothing to write home about. In addition to this, Taylor refrains from giving us more sequences of the young hellraiser grappling with his birthright. A lengthy jog in the woods midway through the film isn’t particularly impressive.

Despite the child actor’s going to the Joey Tribbiani school of performance, their stilted displays doesn’t deter too much enjoyment from the movie, which gets the most thrills from its Final Destination style murders. The film still holds a particular sense of dread and the films more political subplots cut a little deeper as we see how the Zuckerberg’s and the like swarm over our population. Of course, this is mere coincidence, yet it’s no surprise that every leader of the free world or corporate mogul is considered the Anti-Christ by the sub-sections of the population. Damien: Omen II is at times ludicrous in its storytelling, yet still holds the ability to spark the imagination if allowed.

It’s sometimes hard to remember that larger studios release horror films like this. Grand operatic deaths. Even grander theatrical performances from the films adult performers. There’s an admirable sense of scale in the feature that doesn’t beat the original film, but highlights just how limp wristed the film’s third entry, The Final Conflict, became. Damien is a tad too heavy on the need for elaborate deaths while its final moments are abrupt and don’t hold the same amount of enjoyment as the rest of the film. However, 40 years on, its entertainment value still outshines its modern imitators. Believe me, there are more than enough of them.

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