Damien; Omen 2 (1978)
Cast: William Holden, Lee Grant, Robert Foxworth, Jonathan Scott Taylor
Director: Don Taylor
Nutshell: Entertaining and devilishly silly follow up to the hugely successful The Omen with another cracker of a score by Jerry Goldsmith.
A thoroughly distraught Archeologist cum Bible expert Carl Bugenhagen, the only survivor other than Damien from the first Omen film, drives furiously through the streets of the Holy lands clearly a gravely disturbed man with a pressing matter on his hands; the end of the world beckons as Damien, the spawn of Satan is set to assume the highest power on earth. Bugenhagen is the only man who possesses the knowledge to stop him, but time is against them. He must convince his friend, a skeptic, by showing him the face etched on Yigael’s Wall of the spawn of Satan for time is against them and the devil gaining power with every passing hour. Will Satan inherit the earth or can the forces of good somehow derail the impending doom?
The Omen from 1976 was a runaway box office smash worldwide but received with a mixed and wildly varying response from the critics. For some it was a slickly mounted, white knuckle successor to Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist while others found it worthy of a mention as one of the “world’s worst ever films”. The critics were largely ignored as the public responded emphatically and the film turned into the shock box office hit of the season. Modestly priced, featuring stars of yesteryear Gregory Peck and Lee Remick the film has made a significant mark on the horror movie palette, and a lasting one. Firstly, the Oscar winning soundtrack provided a brilliant aural accompaniment to the visuals on screen, elevating what may have seemed a little over the top into something delectable to the senses. Jerry Goldsmiths legendary score swept you away into this swirling world of evil and it was his score that breathed a thrilling satanic menace that was not part of the script. The film could have died an immediate death had it a typical 70s TV style soundtrack but instead Jerry Goldsmith provided a score that has become the template for all things satanic ever since.
The second memorable feature of The Omen was its emphasis on the “creative visual death” and to our memory this is the first ever mainstream horror film to literally serve up set pieces of visually sumptuous death designed to set itself apart from the rest of the horror crowd and to this extent it succeeded in a huge way.
The Omen paved the way for the “creative death” in films to come and was a torchbearer in this element of horror cinema upon which an entire sub-genre was built. Films such as the Final Destination series are direct descendants of this particular sub-genre of mainstream horror carved out by The Omen; the orchestrated, creative death by accident caused by the unseen hand of Satan.
Finally, the marketing campaign that used the number “666” so brilliantly crafted a campaign that completely caught the public’s imagination. The publicity for the film was superbly crafted and insanely successful in capturing the public’s imagination perfectly and by the time the film arrived on screens people’s anticipation was honed to extreme levels. The film’s marketing and publicity was unique and brilliant and is worthy of being studied by students in the marketing field such was its effectiveness.
So, armed with these elements, a fine director in Richard Donner as well as a seasoned and stellar cast, it wasn’t difficult to see exactly why this film hit the bull’s eye with the public back in 1976, despite its hokey plot-line.
Back in the late 70s was when Hollywood was wisening up to the relatively easy money that a hit franchise could provide and it didn’t take long for The Omen 2 to be announced for production but David Seltzer, the original scriptwriter was moving on and so it was left to the producers to come up with a story outline which was then developed into the movies script. The first person and the most crucial element upon whose participation the films entire production hinged was Jerry Goldsmith the composer. Once he was signed up, the rest of the impressive cast fell into place with the role of Damien going to a Brazilian born English actor Jonathan Scott-Taylor as a teenaged Damien, 7 years on from when the first movie ended.
Damien makes his first appearance symbolically striding through a foreground of flames. Since the first movie he has been taken in by super industrialist Robert Thorn, a man tipped for the presidency of the country in days to come.
Damien’s grand Aunt Marion, a crotchety, nervous old lady with significant stakes in the Thorn empire is visiting her nephew and is insistent upon Mark and Damien being sent to separate schools because she senses the evil in the adopted sibling and mentions that his father was intentionally trying to kill Damien when he was shot dead by the police. She has that sixth sense about Damien, a sense that inevitably leads to her downfall. The rule is, anyone who is a potential obstacle to Damien’s ascent to his throne is struck down by supernatural forces in spectacular style. This is basically what The Omen films are about and dressed up in significant amounts of preposterous but fun drama a whole lot of visual flair and let’s not forget Jerry Goldsmith’s contribution.
Old Aunt Marion has an unexpected and most unwanted visitor at night and the accidental deaths start to mount steadily with the best set piece being reserved for an excessively pushy reporter who is attacked by a raven trained by the same man who trained the wonderful birds of The Birds all those years ago. The raven has a terrific peck at her but the worst is yet to come. At this stage the movie is moving along rather well and the deaths are certainly not unimpressive but this is pretty much as good as it gets and things start heading south hereafter.
The satanic disciples in Omen 2 have none of the character that exuded from Mrs. Baylock of the first installment. Neither the academy instructor Sergeant Neff nor the company executive is remotely interesting and the film begins to lose steam. There is a crucial scene of Damien being told to “stop his childish interests” and learn about exactly who he is and what his responsibilities are. This leads to a coming of age/evil scene that is supposed to transform Damien from a dorky adolescent to the personification of evil. As Damien realizes his power and his destiny, instead of invoking increased fear he evokes sympathy as he exclaims “why me” in the realization that his world of happy go lucky normality is to change forever more. Like Dracula he is to be tortured to be an outcast by his destiny as the chosen one; miserable and alone and pathetic despite his power.
The body count continues as the film lurches towards its conclusion with a few twists and surprises along the way that fail to elevate a rather tame conclusion. The film runs out of ideas and relies increasingly on the spectacular deaths as well as Damien’s increasingly satanic behavior neither of which are overly convincing. However, the film continues the overwrought silliness of the initial Omen movie and carries the tale forward adequately and entertainingly enough for the first half of the sequel but that is where things start to falter and rather than build to an effective climax, the film rushes headlong to a conclusion that is unsatisfying and hurried. However, it has its good moments even if Damien’s accent is as terribly shaky and his evil, menacing looks not particularly chilling. The film is entertaining enough for at least half its running time thought it peters out tamely after a solid first hour or so. As far as sequels are concerned, it certainly isn’t the worst and well worth a look in for fans of The Omen. There is also another magnificent score by Jerry Goldsmith which is arguably even superior to his masterful Oscar winning soundtrack for The Omen. For horror soundtrack listeners (yes, there are a few of us here and there), this Goldsmith soundtrack ranks along the sublime brilliance of Pino Donaggio’s compositions for Brian De Palma’s classic horror films; Carrie, Dressed to Kill and the superb non De Palma score for Tourist Trap (1979).
Damien: Omen II is clunky and really rather silly but entertaining enough even if the film was witnessed initially at London’s notorious Biograph cinema in Victoria where most of the punters were not remotely interested in the cinema but more about the possibilities provided by a cover of darkness! Read Below for a little revisit to the cinema…
Anybody remember The Biograph cinema in London? Watched Damien: Omen 2 there but the cinema was evidently NOT the main attraction. Not by far. It was like entering a surreal scene from William Friedkin’s “Cruising” and from an unusually large audience (for a dud horror flick) in the cinema I reckon we were the only three people even aware that a movie was being screened! It was a perpetual movement of men walking slowly up and down the aisles, changing seats like a game of musical chairs. Lots of leather and rubber creaking and the bathroom was experiencing some serious “rush hour” traffic – A whole new world altogether. A total fleapit and dive yet they did have some excellent programming even if it was a different kind of entertainment that the cinema was thriving on!! A truly unique experience and that too in pristine London during the Thatcher years. However this review was based upon a screening on a 4K big screen TV with an up-scaled to 4k Blu-Ray version that looked pretty damn great!