Damien: Omen II (1978)
“The first time was only a warning.”
Director: Don Taylor
Cast: William Holden, Lee Grant, Jonathan Scott-Taylor
Synopsis: Damien the Antichrist, now thirteen years old, finally learns of his destiny under the guidance of an unholy disciple of Satan. Meanwhile dark forces begin to eliminate all those who suspect the child’s true identity.
As far as horror sequels go, Damien: Omen II, the sequel to 1976’s The Omen, is pretty good, even though it does little to distinguish itself from the original, other than to have the deaths of anyone who comes close to discovering the true identity of Damien Thorn (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) revolve around a boy on the edge of puberty rather than a creepy doe-eyed boy of five. Given the success of the first movie, and the public’s continuing appetite for possession horror movies, it was inevitable that a sequel would follow, and it would have been easy for corners to have been cut in order to cash in on that popularity. However, while sticking close to the template of the original, writer David Seltzer still managed to give Damien: Omen II some surprisingly effective horror moments while deftly avoiding the sensationalism to which so many sequels succumb.
The sequel opens in Israel with a prologue that takes place one week after the end of the first movie. Archaeologist Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern, reprising his uncredited role from the first movie) races his jeep through the narrow streets of Jerusalem to deliver a box to his friend Michael Morgan (Ian Hendry). Bugenhagen is in a highly agitated state, which is understandable given the fact that he’s just seen an ancient depiction of the Antichrist on the wall of a recently discovered catacomb, who is the spitting image of Damien Thorn, whose face is plastered all over the newspapers following the high-profile deaths of his parents. The box contains a written warning and the daggers with which Damien’s adoptive father tried — and failed — to kill him, and Bugenhagen wants his friend to deliver them to Richard Thorn (William Holden), the brother of Damien’s father who has now taken over guardianship of the boy. When Morgan proves sceptical, Bugenhagen takes him to the catacombs to see the image for himself, but before they can depart, the roof caves in, killing them both.
Fast forward seven years, and Damien is now a typically boisterous 12-year-old, attending a military academy with his cousin, Mark (Lucas Donat), and living with Uncle Richard and his wife, Ann (Lee Grant). Life seems good, but the boy’s Aunt Marion (Sylvia Sydney) makes no secret of the fact that she things there’s something strange about Damien, and is so worried that he will be a bad influence on Mark that she even goes so far as to threaten to leave all her money to charity rather than to Richard if he doesn’t separate the boys and send Damien to a different school. However, before the old girl can follow through on her threat she receives a visit in her bedroom from a raven just moments before suffering a fatal heart attack.
A short while later, Richard is approached by journalist Joan Hart (Elizabeth Shephard) who tries to warn him about the image of the Antichrist in Jerusalem and all the deaths surrounding Damien. Richard obviously refuses to believe her, and when Hart then approaches Dr Charles Warren (Nicholas Pryor) and Ann, she suddenly becomes uncertain about whether the face on the wall in Israel is the same as Damien’s. To reassure herself, she travels to Damien’s academy to confirm that she is right, and just one glimpse of the boy instantly reassures her. However, driving away from the academy on a remote country road, Hart’s car unaccountably dies, and when she climbs out of it she is viciously attacked by a raven which pecks out her eyes before leaving her to blindly stumble into the path of a lorry.
Up until now, Damien has been blithely unaware of his own real identity, but the Academy’s new commander, Sgt Dan Neff (Lance Henricksen), who is also an agent of the Devil assigned to watch over Damien, urges him to read Revelations, Chapter 13 to find out who he is. After reading the aforementioned passage and learning about the number of the beast, Damien grabs a mirror and visits the nearest toilet where he positions the mirror so that he can see the crown of his head and, underneath his hair, he sees a small circle consisting of three sixes. Understandably distraught at this unexpected discovery — and let’s face it, who wouldn’t be? — Damien runs off to be alone and shout at a lake. The discovery, however, seems to trigger something in him, and not only does he quickly accept his lot in life, but he quickly comes to revel in it. Meanwhile, the deaths of those who come to suspect that there’s something not quite right about the boy continue to pile up.
Damien: Omen II’s set-pieces are easily of a quality that matches — if not surpasses — those found in the first movie, even though at least one of them is essentially a reworking of that infamous David Warner/sheet of glass interface. One character’s death, trapped in a fast-moving river beneath a thick sheet of ice through which he is able to see his would-be rescuers’ futile attempts to save him, is a particularly memorable — and rightfully famous — moment. These deaths come along at regular intervals so that the pace of the movie never drags for a second, but by the final reel it does feel like there are just a few too many of those bodies piling up, and you’re left wondering just why so few people seem to make the connection between all these bizarre or unexplainable deaths and the single unifying factor that connects them all. It certainly seems like Satan has all the chips stacked in his favour, and there’s no force of equal strength to oppose him.
The movie also boasts an impressive cast, which features a trio of vintage Hollywood artists. Lew Ayres, in his final feature movie appearance, lends a calm authority to the role of an executive in Thorn’s corporation who unknowingly locks horns with another of Damien’s satanic guardians (Robert Foxworth) who’s posing as a fellow executive, while Sylvia Sydney gives an energetic performance as the family matriarch whose forthright opinions earn her a visit from that feathered harbinger of death (who unaccountably disappears from the movie halfway through). Chief old timer, though, is William Holden, whose career stretched back to Hollywood’s golden era of the 1930s, who cuts an imposing figure as the head of a multi-million dollar conglomerate while also revealing a soft core as the loving father of two boys. Holden actually turned down the Gregory Peck role in The Omen, but snapped up the opportunity to appear in the sequel following the success of the first movie, and delivers the kind of multi-faceted performance Peck never could.
(Reviewed 16th November 2013)