Saturday 1 October 2016

Movie Review: Damien: Omen II (1978)

The first sequel in the devil-as-a-child franchise is better than it needed to be. Although Damien: Omen II does descend into a long series of gory deaths, there is enough acting talent and story progression to retain series momentum.

One week after the events of The Omen, the old man Carl Bugenhagen (an uncredited Leo McKern) is killed in Israel, buried in an archaeological dig collapse before he can warn others that the image of the devil's son has been uncovered on an ancient wall. Seven years later, Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is about to turn 13 years old and living with his adopted parents, rich industrialist Richard Thorn (William Holden) and his second wife Ann (Lee Grant), along with their son Mark (Lucas Donat). Richard is the brother of diplomat Robert Thorn from the original story.

With Damien and Mark about to go to cadet school, the elderly aunt Marion (Sylvia Sidney) tries to warn Richard and Ann that Damien is evil; they dismiss her ramblings. The next morning the sudden appearance of a raven at the base of Marion's bed triggers a fatal heart attack. At the military school, Damien is protected by drill Sergeant Daniel Neff (Lance Henriksen) who encourages Damien to read the Bible's Book of Revelations. At Thorn Industries Damien also has an ally in high ranking executive Paul Buher (Robert Foxworth), who has a plan to control vast amounts of the world's food supply. The young boy starts to understand who he is, while gruesome death awaits anyone who tries to stand in his way.

Mechanically directed by Don Taylor, Damien: Omen II is a middling horror film. Without coming close to capturing the Gothic intensity of the original, the sequel finds enough of a plot to move Damien's story along despite an out-of-control death count. Taylor does not demonstrate much patience for establishing mood or creating build-up, so he compensates with some effective short sharp shocks and an increasing volume of gore.

The early deaths carry the bigger impact, as heralded by a spooky raven, and reach an early climax with a reporter meeting a quite messy end on a desolate rural road. Later there is a nightmare-inducing and well-executed trapped-under-ice death, only compromised because it is somewhat unnecessary. As the film progresses the untimely demises multiply, the film unfortunately defaulting to the low road where a kill-everyone mentality prevails. The gore quotient hits the redline with an elevator mishap that befalls a doctor misguidedly trying to understand Damien's strange blood cellular structure.

In amongst the horror, young actor Jonathan Scott-Taylor does a fine job guiding Damien on a journey of discovery. The film is an inflection from abstract horror to Damien understanding and accepting his destiny, and Scott-Taylor masters the cold stare of evil while also exposing the angst of a young man discovering the enormity of his fate. A befuddled William Holden, three years before his death, generally goes through the motions, while Lee Grant is more engaged and enjoys one late scene filled with steely determination.

With another Jerry Goldsmith score dripping with faux satanic chants, Damien: Omen II registers effective moments amidst the mayhem, a cheesy coming of age tale soaked in grisly malevolence.

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