Damien: Omen II (1978)

*. From where we sit, a sequel to a super-profitable film like The Omen seems obvious. At the time, however, this was before the onset of modern franchise filmmaking and all those horror brands of the early 1980s. Before Star Wars even, a movie that was partially made possible by the profits from The Omen.
*. According to producer Harvey Bernhard on the DVD commentary for this film, a trilogy had already been suggested sometime after The Omen had finished filming but before it was released. The studio “wanted a second picture fast.” David Seltzer was asked to write the follow-up but said he didn’t want to do a sequel. Meanwhile, Richard Donner was working on Superman. About the only people who came back were Jerry Goldsmith and Leo McKern (uncredited, despite having a fairly significant part).
*. I started off my notes on The Omen by talking about how important it was to land a star like Gregory Peck to play the lead role. Actually, William Holden had been offered that part but turned it down because he didn’t want to be in a movie about the devil. After The Omen turned into a huge box office hit he apparently had a change of heart. Plus he’d also been very ill. So we get another heavyweight here, and one right off an Academy Award nomination for Network. And Lee Grant, his co-star, had just won an Oscar for Shampoo.
*. The stars help to establish the same incongruous Masterpiece Theater sense of dignity and decorum used to wrap up a story that is just as silly as the original. It has a good premise though, with Damien being unaware of his true identity at the beginning of the film. When he does find out he even has his moment in the garden (a dock in this version), asking “Why me?” Being the son of the devil turns out to be no more fun than being the son of God.
*. I like that angle, and think it works well. It also helps that Jonathan Scott-Taylor is very good in the part. The series got lucky (or cast well) when it came to finding actors to play Damien. I liked Harvey Stephens in the original and Sam Neill in The Final Conflict.
*. So Omen II has a lot going for it. It doesn’t measure up to The Omen though. That movie was built around a number of signature kills. Something similar is attempted here but the kills aren’t as good. Some of this is due to their not being very interesting. Things kick off with an old lady having a heart attack in her bedroom when she sees a crow (this movie’s replacement for the Rottweilers in the original). Not scary. Then later in the movie there is an industrial accident that doesn’t register at all. These kinds of things happen all the time.
*. But even where the kills are better conceived the execution fails. There is a scene where a woman is attacked by a single crow, has her eyes plucked out, and then is run over by a truck. This is an obvious reference to The Birds, and indeed the bird wrangler was the same guy who worked on Hitchcock’s movie, but how can you go back and do The Birds with a single crow and hope that anyone would take it seriously? Then there’s a scene where someone falls through the ice on a frozen river that might have worked but doesn’t. And finally a spectacular elevator kill that sets itself up so obviously and takes so long to get to its payoff that it can’t meet expectations.
*. My guess is that director Don Taylor (Mike Hodges had been fired in the early going for taking so long) just didn’t have much of a feel for this kind of thing. It seems to me that some of the film should have worked, but really none of it does.
*. One way you can tell the kills aren’t working is the way Goldsmith’s score is ramped up to introduce them. I’m all for bravura horror scoring, but when it comes on this heavy you’re right to suspect it’s trying to compensate.
*. These movies don’t really play fair with the warnings people receive. “You have been warned” was a tag line from the original, but warned by who? A priest who looks even crazier than he sounds (and he sounds plenty crazy)? Or in this movie a journalist who starts ranting right away, while wearing a shocking red dress. Bernhard really hated that dress. “Why would anybody wear a dress like that? I mean, as a newspaper reporter it’s not in her character. It’s ostentatious. It’s ridiculous.” It was also a choice made by Mike Hodges. Another reason for firing him, I guess.
*. There’s one particularly interesting direction I wish they’d gone in. A hint of it comes in the scene in the trainyards, when it seems as though a shipping container is about to get dropped on someone. Bernhard mentions this as an obvious red herring. The thing is, we’re so attuned to the notion of people dying in crazy ways by this point it’s almost like we’re watching one of the Final Destination movies. We’re primed for another suspicious “accident.” But nothing happens. At least yet.
*. Such paranoia fits in well with the sense of Damien as part of a whole sinister conspiracy. He certainly has enough enablers floating around, waiting for him to come of age. So Omen II might have taken its place alongside the classics of ’70s conspiracy thrillers quite comfortably, and been better for it. Instead of this, however, we get a movie that, while decent enough, basically follows in The Omen‘s footsteps without being as good in any way.

3 thoughts on “Damien: Omen II (1978)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Yup, I think this is the hidden secret fore-runner of Final Destination, specifically the lift scene; the use of red herrings also suggest that these elaborate stunt-deaths were the reason d’etre of the series at this point.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      You really can see this series as being ahead of its time in a number of ways. And also better than a lot of what came after. It’s not that they invented the “good kill,” but as you say they sort of moved these into the foreground.

      Reply

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