Don Taylor, 1978
Starring: William Holden, Lee Grant, Jonathan Scott-Taylor
A week after the Thorns’ funeral, archaeologist Carl Bugenhagen (from The Omen) hopes to send a secret box to Damien’s uncle, the child’s new caregiver, revealing that Damien is the Antichrist and must be destroyed. He asks a friend for help and shows proof by means of Yigael’s wall, which has an ancient painting of Damien as the Antichrist, among other disturbing depictions of the Book of Revelations. Unfortunately they die in a cave in before they can get word back to Thorn.
Flash forward seven years and Damien, now 12, lives happily with his Uncle Richard, Aunt Ann, and cousin Mark. Damien and Mark attend a military academy. A hysterical reporter tries to convince Richard that Damien is the son of Satan and soon after dies in a horrible accident. Other strange things occur. Damien’s elderly aunt, who hates him, also dies, as well as a suspicious doctor, and several others. Meanwhile, Yigael’s Wall has been excavated and is making its way to Chicago with other pieces from the cave as part of an exhibit. Damien’s new instructor at school also knows who the boy is and wants to prepare him for his destiny...
Can you make a successful, well-written movie about a teenage Antichrist? I think so, though Damien is certainly not it. This might seem likely an unlikely example, but J.K. Rowling did a great job with a similar character in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when we learn about a young Voldemort. Damien’s script simply flounders far too much about Damien’s identity and makes the grave mistake of having him be the central character and the only remotely likable character.
I’ve read that The Omen’s writer David Seltzer said that if he had written Damien (he declined the offer), he would pick up the story with Damien growing up in the White House. It’s baffling that the writers didn’t make this choice, as when The Omen ends, the child is with the President and First Lady. So much about the script is baffling. One minute, Damien is innocent, an intelligent, but normal child unaware of the destiny that awaits him. The next minute he’s a budding psychopath smiling knowingly at the satanic violence that surrounds him. Aside from one key murder, the film is unclear about whether or not Damien has directly killed anyone, though many people die around him.
Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Flash Gorden) was hired to direct, but later fired and replaced by Don Taylor (The Final Countdown) due to pacing and budget issues. I can’t say a lot of positive things about the directing or the effects. The deaths attempt to be bigger and better than The Omen, but simply come across as ridiculous. A reporter has her eye clawed out by a crow and is then run over by a truck. Someone falls into an icy lake and drowns. A doctor survives an elevator crash, but is then completely bisected by cables. And so on. One of the main issues is that the score (still by Jerry Goldsmith) is cued in at the most inopportune times. Often when the demonic crow appears on screen, ominous music sounds, and someone dies. Ray Berwick, animal trainer on The Birds, handled the crows here, but I really don’t see why they have a place at all.
The main purpose of the film is confusing and has numerous, uninteresting subplots. It seems like we are waiting for Damien to come into his own, but much of the film is concerning with killing off characters who have a loose idea of who he is. The Whore of Babylon and Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are introduced, but absolutely nothing comes of this. And Damien reads the Book of Revelations to learn who he is and then cries. Seriously.
Though there are some notable actors, such as the wonderful William Holden (Sunset Boulevard) as Uncle Richard, Lee Grant (Valley of the Dolls) as Aunt Ann, Lance Henriksen, and others, none of these actors are able to save a bad script and silly effects. Leo McKern (Ladyhawke) as archaeologist Carl Bugenhagen was the only actor to return from The Omen, however briefly.