1970s, 2/4, Don Taylor, Horror, Mike Hodges, Review

Damien: Omen II

This is one of those really frustrating franchise films. On the one hand, you can see that someone along the pipeline had exactly the right idea of where a franchise guaranteed at least a couple of sequels should go narratively. On the other, you see the hands of a producer dumbing things down and demanding more of what made the first one, supposedly, popular. I cannot forgive it the latter, but I cannot dismiss the former. What I end up getting is a film that frequently (really frequently) touches upon the potential heights of a series of films about the rise of the Anti-Christ while intentionally dragging itself down to the least interesting mechanics of franchise horror filmmaking at the same time. I so want to like this movie more than I do, but this can happen when your producer fires your director in the first week and replaces him with someone who just wants to finish as soon as possible.

Damien Thorn (Jonathan Scott-Taylor), son of the Devil, is now thirteen years old and living with his industrialist tycoon of an uncle, Richard Thorn (William Holden), aunt, Ann (Lee Grant), and cousin, Mark (Lucas Donat). He is about to go to a military academy with Mark, and we have little to no story for the next hour or so. Essentially, the heart of the problem narratively is that it has no idea who the main character is. Is it Damien, or is it Richard? It takes the time to establish the side characters and separate worlds of each with Damien entering the military academy, coming under the wing (to a certain degree) of Sergeant Naff (Lance Henrikson), and Richard dealing with a young, up and coming executive, Paul Buher (Robert Foxworth), who has a big idea (that remains pretty vague) about purchasing large amounts of farmland that another executive assures Richard will lead to slavery and, perhaps, even famine.

For those paying attention, we have two of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse here, War and Famine. This is why I want to like this movie more than I do. It feels like someone along the line had the thought that in the era of big horror franchises that just kept going, they were going to have room to tell more of Damien’s story in future sequels. So, they wrote in only two of the four horsemen to help guide and influence Damien and prepare for his future leadership role.

The problem becomes that there was seemingly no idea how to actually integrate these two into something resembling a plot. Being a sequel to The Omen, though, there were demands about what kind of things need to happen, and those things are freaky deaths. The first two deaths of the film, Damien’s great-aunt and a reporter, feel completely superfluous to the story. If you hard cut them out of the film, very little would change. The later deaths end up connected to the actual plot of Famine’s effort to consolidate power in Thorn Industries, but other than this effort by Buher to consolidate power, there’s no real plot to weave it all together.

There could have been some kind of story where two of the four horsemen (maybe use Pestilence instead of War, somehow) were working apart in order to ensure that Thorn Industries, led by Damien’s uncle and due to pass in ownership to Mark, gains some great amount of power while, at the same time, putting Richard and Mark into danger so that they can die and leave the company to Damien, setting him up for great power in the next film where we could get the other two horsemen, further building the danger of Damien’s rise.

Instead of this kind of interweaving of two major story elements, they just kind of play out alongside each other. Sergeant Naff encourages patience, knowledge of war, and the ability to control himself through confrontations with other instructors at the academy. Buher takes advantage of the death of a superior executive to push forward on his plans without Thorn’s direct approval. These two things just simply don’t interconnect in any way, and the only reason they come together at all is because Damien goes on a random and unexplained field trip with his class to the bowels of Thorn Industries.

And then, for reasons, Richard decides that he’s convinced that Damien is the Son of the Devil, his brother wasn’t crazy in trying to kill him, and that he’s going to find the daggers that Robert Thorn had tried to kill Damien with at the end of the first film. It’s a sudden confrontation between Damien and Richard that the movie simply wasn’t building up to, and it just kind of happens. It fits in with the idea of what made the first film popular was the crazy deaths and such, but this is a problem with franchise filmmaking. There’s a terror on the part of people putting up millions of dollars as an investment in the film that if its too different from what came before no one will like it. I think it was a silly concern. The film was going to open and with a budget of $6.8 million it should be able to open well enough to break even in a couple of weeks at the most. You have the freedom to pursue different directions, like eschewing the idea of a father figure deciding that Damien is the son of the Devil and going in a new direction.

It almost goes in that new direction, and for that I appreciate it to some degree. There is the beginning of a new idea. There is no follow through, and the film descends into mimicry rather than finding an interesting direction for this story itself. The mimicry is thinly entertaining. It’s never as stupidly gaudy as the first film, the practiced eye of Richard Donner replaced by Mike Hodges and Don Taylor’s more mundane framing, but it has some veneer of entertainment. Still, I seem to appreciate this film for what it could have been more for what it actually was.

Rating: 2/4

12 thoughts on “Damien: Omen II”

      1. True horror should also have the possibility of overcoming the evil, otherwise it’s just fatalism and entering a contest where the loss is already determined. When a story starts on a down note and keeps descending until it ends, what’s the point of it?

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  1. See, now this is trash.

    But I agree, there are elements or a core that could have been a good movie. I agree, going down the ‘slasher’ route was a mistake. The deaths can still happen but they should be used to build tension, to build a feeling of despair and inevitability. There’s a lot to play with here.

    I would have liked them to actually have teenaged Damien have his anti-christ moments of doubt or even rejection of his destiny before choosing to be evil. There’s a hint of that with his interactions with Neff and Mark but I don’t think it’s enough.

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    1. It feels like a movie driven by producer desires. There could have been a situation where a producer simply found the right creative team, but so many producers imagine themselves to be creatives themselves, micromanaging what goes in based on what was successful before. In a film series like James Bond, this can often work, but when you’re trying to actually develop a story, it’s just Kryptonite.

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  2. If you don’t mind a nearly totally off topic comment – I saw the name Don Taylor and I had just looked him up. He directed the Island of Dr. Moreau, the good one, not the weirdo one with Marlon Brando. Very very much a journeyman director, it looks like somehow he got his hands on something he fit or understood or something and delivered one good movie. It’s out there as a freebie on the YouTube movie channel.

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    1. 100 comment rule.

      jk

      It makes sense. He’s an old hand at making movies. If your director quits halfway through production, you get someone who can just walk in and work.

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