I went on a rollercoaster of appreciation for the third Omen movie. There was even a moment, about halfway through, when I wondered if this was going to be my favorite of the series. And then it pretty steadily and completely fell apart. It was never great, juggling a couple too many subplots, but the clear-eyed approach to demonic horror hit a real high point, and then the film had no idea what to do with it after that. When looking ahead through the series, I was mostly excited about discovering this one as well because of the presence of Sam Neill as Damien, but even he ended up a bit of a disappointment in his first American role. The final thirty to forty minutes of the film was just a steady decline into disappointment at what had managed to be, up to that point, a fairly engaging sequel.
Damien Thorn (Neill) is now thirty-two years old, head of Thorn Industries, and using his position of power to prepare for his domination over humanity. There’s a tiny subplot that gets introduced in these opening moments between Damien and his advisor Harvey Dean (Don Gordon), who knows that Damien is the Antichrist and is an acolyte, where the pair discuss a small conflagration in the Middle East involving Israel and Egypt that could break into larger conflict. It only gets mentioning in passing a few times throughout the film, but if kind of feels like it should be the center of the film. I think that Damien had organized a destructive action and laid evidence to frame Israel for it which should lead to a larger war. This film ends up having a similar problem as the second that undermines this part of the story.
You see, this is an Omen movie. You don’t make an Omen movie without people trying to stick Damien Thorn with very specific pointy sticks. It’s just not possible. Except that it would be eminently possible. This complex the writers, producers, and directors of this series have with including it no matter what just keeps hobbling the films. Do we really need seven priests finding the seven daggers from the first film and plotting to assassinate Damien? The only reason these daggers are that important is because of dialogue in the first film, but that dialogue also includes information that all seven have to be used. If the films are going to be retconning things, retcon the requirement of the daggers in general. The movies never establish that he’s impervious to regular methods of injury like bullets, fire, or bludgeoning. I complain, but this subplot is responsible for the single best sequence in the whole series up to this point.
Anyway, the suicide of the American ambassador in England prompts the president to call upon the young Thorn and appoint him as the new ambassador to the Court of Saint James. This is just another step on his rise to power for, as he states, he can only take the position for two years when he’ll run for the Senate. Similar to the second film, I think that this should have been the meat of the film, Damien’s further rise to power. There’s also talk of Damien’s control over a youth movement and the president’s assignment of Damien as the head of the Youth Council at the United Nations that ends up wildly underdeveloped and underexplained. It manifests in a small way later, but his influence over the masses really needed more developing early.
These are stumbling blocks early that any film could overcome if given the time and attention, but the movie largely sidesteps that in favor of the seven Italian priests going after Damien with the pointy sticks. Now, for all my griping about how an Omen movie doesn’t need to be this, this is actually where the film is at its best. It’s just straight up thriller stuff, and it starts kind of ridiculous with Damien appearing on a British talk show hosted by Kate Reynolds (Lisa Harrow) where one of the priests shows up and ends up swinging around the place by his foot, catching on fire, and dying. It’s the right kind of audacious silliness couched in ominous tones that made the first film that special kind of entertaining trash. Damien leads three more to their deaths in a remote, abandoned church, and then we get the highlight of the film, an outright great sequence around a fox hunt.
The fox hunt is wonderfully, brightly, and cleanly filmed and edited, showing Damien at the head of a large party, just behind the dogs, and riding over the countryside. One of the remaining priests has an extra fox, tracks down the fox they’re hunting first, shoots it, sends another on another direction, and then drags the dead fox behind him on a horse which ends up sending Damien after the replacement fox while the rest of the hunting party goes after the dead one. Sure, it’s overly complicated and partly unnecessary, but at least no one explains it and it just happens visually. Then we get this confrontation with Damien at the center of a bridge, surrounding by his dog pack, and cut off on either side by two of the last three priests. Wielding their magic pointy sticks, they begin to move in on him, but Damien uses his power of animals to turn the tide. This sequence is great to look at, creepy, mostly dialogue free, and kind of thrilling. I was so on board this movie at this point. It wasn’t going in the direction I thought the film should go, but it was doing its own thing well.
And then…it just seems to run out of steam completely. An alignment of a trilogy of stars announces the birth of the new Christ child to counter Damien. There’s only one priest left, and he approaches Kate with his information about the sudden rash of deaths of infant boys in the country as well as his proof that Damien is the Antichrist. This action that dominates the third act, with Kate learning about Damien’s true nature about halfway through, essentially restarting the film on new grounds with the effort to wipe out the rebirth of Christ. I really would have preferred if the film would have been able to refocus on the Middle East bit, Damien having come out of his brushes with the Italian priests and their magical pointy sticks stronger than ever and ready to take his place as the leader that will usher in the Apocalypse. Instead, the mandate seemed to be to end the series, so it gets smaller instead of bigger.
The conflict ends up being Kate, pairing up with the final priest, up against Damien, who has brought Kate’s son, Peter (Barnaby Holm), under his wing. The slow nature of the final act, instead of feeling like ramping up to some epic conclusion, feels like a sad progression of events that just suddenly decides to end. The deaths are without impact. The resolution is confused. I didn’t expect some great special effects extravaganza to end this relatively cheap horror franchise, but I could expect an ending with a larger implied scope and potential impact. This is where the film’s inability, or unwillingness, to do anything with the Israel-Egyptian war becomes such a large issue. It should have been the background of the whole ending. Instead, it’s forgotten in favor of the baby stuff.
I’m also disappointed that the four horsemen, partially introduced in the second film, are completely dropped here. They represent the breadth of the potential story that could have been approached, but the film decides to go small instead. I’m also somewhat disappointed in Neill. As the cornerstone on which the film as a whole is built, and recalling his performances in things like John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness and Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession, Neill is surprisingly stilted and subdued as Damien Thorn. He has one scene, in his attic with a rather gruesome crucifix, that allows him to stretch himself, but he still comes across as stiff rather than emotive. He went on to do much better things, but this wasn’t a great introduction to American movie audiences for him.
As directed by Graham Baker and written by Andrew Birkin, Omen III: The Final Conflict is a confused film that doesn’t know what story it wants to tell, how it really wants to approach the material, or how to capture the large scale such a tale screams for. While I still love the fox hunt sequence, the movie simply collapses into dully restarting with a new story afterwards. It just gets to the point where my midway point enthusiasm descends into complete boredom.