Damien: Omen II
[Damien: Omen II is currently only available as part of the Omen Trilogy boxset. This review contains spoilers for The Omen.]
After the death of his adoptive parents at the end of The Omen, Damien is being brought up by his uncle Richard Thorn (William Holden) and aunt Ann (Lee Grant). Damien (now played by Jonathan Scott-Taylor) now goes to military academy. As a number of people around him die in mysterious and bizarre circumstances, Damien slowly becomes aware of who he is and what his powers are…
As soon as 20th Century Fox executives saw a rough cut of The Omen, they decided that they would make two sequels, with Damien first as a teenager and finally as an adult. Damien is the first sequel. It was a troubled production, with the original director Mike Hodges leaving (he retains a screenplay credit) and Don Taylor taking over. The film has a nice subversive idea at its centre (the Antichrist going to military academy) but is a bland shadow of its predecessor. It’s fashionable to knock The Omen as a glossy, bourgeois horror film, but at least it’s well made and has some genuinely tense and atmospheric scenes. Damien isn’t scary at all, and soon falls into a pattern of one colourful death per twenty minutes, like some upmarket slasher movie. We get death by crow (blinded victim stumbles into the path of a truck), death by lift cable and in the best-staged scene, death under ice.
Leo McKern, uncredited again, is the only returning castmember from the first film, in a prologue set in Israel. William Holden, in his only horror film and only a few years away from his death, is clearly not in wonderful health but does his best with the lines he’s given. The rest of quite an impressive cast of veterans aren’t given a lot to do. Jonathan Scott-Taylor can’t do a great deal with an underwritten role. Arguably, Damien is an impossible role to play once he starts having dialogue to deliver, though Sam Neill does make an effort in The Final Conflict.
Filmed on a (then) healthy budget of $4 million, Damien certainly looks good, with nice Scope photography from Bill Butler (Gilbert Taylor returned to shoot the Israeli prologue) and Jerry Goldsmith’s score is as always a plus. Damien: Omen II is certainly worth a look, but is ultimately forgettable.
This DVD is only currently available as part of a boxset with The Omen and The Final Conflict. The disc is encoded for Regions 2 and 4 and has fifteen chapter stops.
The transfer is in the correct ratio of 2.35:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. In terms of colours and shadow detail it’s fine. Quite a few scenes are a little soft, though that may be intentional, given the age of many of the principal cast. The colours are somewhat over-saturated in a way that’s not fashionable today, but this does reflect prevailing filmmaking styles from a quarter of a century ago.
Dolby Stereo had barely taken hold in 1978. so Damien: Omen II was shown in cinemas in mono. That’s the soundtrack you get on this DVD. Personally I’d rather have the original mix rather than an inferior 5.1 remix, but this isn’t one you’ll want to use as a demo disc. (The packaging claims the soundtrack is Dolby Surround, but it isn't.)
The Omen DVD had quite a few extras; this one has fewer. The main one is an audio commentary with producer Harvey Bernhard. Actually, it’s a conversation between Bernhard and DVD producer J.C. Kenny. There are a few pauses and Bernhard is not above describing the on-screen action. Bernhard also has his luvvyish moments, particularly about Leo McKern earlier on, and he seems over-exercised by Elizabeth Shepherd’s red dress which admittedly does stand out. However, it’s a solid if not outstanding commentary.
The only other extras on this disc are trailers for all three films, all of them non-anamorphic. Since this film itself is effectively an extra to the first one, as part of this boxset, that’s not unacceptable. You do have to wonder though if the film will ever get a separate DVD release.
Michael Mackenzie’s review of The Omen may be read here.
Mike Sutton’s review of The Final Conflict may be read here.