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Damien: Omen II (1978)
~Review by Grawlix (December 2017)
It’s been seven years since the events of the original Omen. Damien Thorn is now 13, living with his aunt and uncle, and enrolled in a military academy with his same-age cousin. He is well mannered, affable, and surprisingly well adjusted considering the events of the first film. But still he remains a drama magnet, inciting the ire of some people, seemingly because he gives them the creeps, and the fear of others as they conclude that he fits all too well into ancient doomsday prophecies. These people often meet abrupt and gruesome ends, usually under the gaze of the black raven (as opposed to the Rottweiler of the first movie). And occasionally a more sinister figure shuffles out of the shadows to whisper grim tidings to Damien of his being destined for much greater things, though maybe not in the way most people would understand them.
Omen II is of the “same, but bigger” school of sequel making. While Damien’s family was clearly not hurting for cash in the first film, his new guardians are the heads of Thorn Industries, a Lex-Luthorian industrial complex so far reaching that the Thorn logo is on nearly every location featured in the story. Ruins are excavated from Thorn sponsored archeological digs and displayed in the Thorne museum while new agricultural methods are developed at a Thorne chemical plant. With more settings comes more characters which, in turn, translates to more, and more elaborate, kills. This works in the film’s favor somewhat as rarely does too much time pass before someone else gets their ticket punched, and the movie settles into a comfortable pattern of introducing an adversary, having them state their case (convincingly enough for the audience, if not the other characters) and then bumping them off in somewhat contrived but ultimately (barely) plausible ways.
Unfortunately, with so little changed in its basic structure, most of the issues of the first film are also present, and more noticeable, here. For one thing, while Damien is older, he’s still a child, which complicates matters when the would-be heroes, who, from a story perspective are on the right side of theology, insist that he needs to die. These are further undermined by the more brisk pace of the film, compared to the first. Damien’s detractors have little time to establish their motivations, often coming across as hysterical and shrill. Additionally, as with the first film, we’re not given any practical idea of just what Damien’s death is supposed to prevent. His being the Antichrist/Son of the Devil sounds bad, of course, but Damien never directly harms anyone, and the Devil (if indeed that is what’s killing all these people) seems to have little trouble affecting the world on his own. This vague definition of purpose finally manifests itself in the final reel when the movie realizes it has to do something different to bring things to a close. The end result is a finale that, while offering a competent twist, is ultimately unsatisfying.
Though I’m not sure the filmmakers intended it, there’s a lot going on under the surface of Omen II (and, by extension, Omen I), and the question of nature versus nurture loomed large, at least to me. Even if Damien is the literal antichrist, he’s still a model child while he’s among a stable and loving family. It’s only when weird adults start appearing, with their prophecies and revelations and occasional attempted murder that things start to go sideways. Even discounting the events of the first movie, kids on the cusp of puberty are apt to do impulsive and irrational things. When Damien occasionally loses his composure, looks sinister or even gets violent, I couldn’t help but think, “He’s thirteen, of course he’s going to act out occasionally.” If anything, that might be the real tragedy of the story told in the Omen movies. Weird birthmark or not, I couldn’t be optimistic for how any kid who went through what Damien did would turn out.
Final Grade: B-
The Omen movies are pretty unique in the horror canon in that they essentially follow the antagonist like a protagonist, although most of the dirty deeds are done by proxy. The problem is that this approach does handcuff the narrative, and keeping Damien too young bear full responsibility or accept real punishment ultimately waters down the final product. I’m glad the Omen movies exist for their fairly specialized take on horror storytelling. But I’m also glad there aren’t too many of them since there clearly isn’t much room for variation on the theme.
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