Lee’s getting scary today…
I read a book in college, The Thirteenth Generation, that said Hollywood produced a glut of anti-child horror movies during the nineteen-seventies as a way of telling Gen-Xers we weren’t wanted. Rosemary’s Baby. Children Of the Corn. It’s Alive. Poltergeist. All featuring evil murderous poppets who annihilate anyone standing in their way. In the midst of the decade also came the Omen films, which could easily be titled Antichrist: The Early Years. Lovely, no? For the purposes of this blogathon, we’re going to focus on the second film, 1978’s Damien, Omen II, the only one of the three to feature our Ms. Grant. Her part is not too substantial, just briefly useful.
We start out with an older guy, Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern) driving a Jeep at breakneck speed through some coastal Israeli city. He plops down in front of his friend, archaeologist Morgan (Ian Hendry) and shows him a newspaper with a giant picture of a boy who he says is the Antichrist. That would be Damien (Jason Scott-Taylor), and for those who remember the first Omen film, it will probably make more sense. Since he’s lost his parents he’s now staying with an aunt and uncle.
Morgan is a little tough to convince, but Carl is adamantly urgent about what he knows. He shows Morgan a box containing the Seven Daggars of Megiddo, which he says are the only way to kill Damien. Damien’s aunt and uncle are in danger and need to have the daggars as soon as possible.
To offer Morgan further proof, Carl takes him out to some ruins where interesting artifacts have just been unearthed. As they’re walking through the ruins to the dig, a raven lights near them on a scaffold and creepy music plays. The two don’t think anything about it and go inside, where Morgan shows Carl a statue of the Whore of Babylon riding the beast mentioned in Revelation 13. Even scarier is a mural called Yigael’s Wall, which contains Damien’s face.
Morgan’s finally on board, but just as he and Carl are making plans, sand pours through the bricks in the roof, burying both them, the mural, and the Whore of Babylon sculpture.
Fast-forward seven years. Damien is now almost thirteen and his destiny looms even closer. Or maybe it’s already upon him. He and his cousin, Mark (Lucas Donat) are departing for their next term of military school, and they’re full of vim and vigor. The Thorns are nice people who live in an expansive mansion outside of Chicago, and everything looks very normal. Mom Ann (Lee Grant) sends the kids off with cookies and kisses, and Dad Richard (William Holden) gives them extra pocket money for emergencies.
It’s not as serene as it seems, of course. After dinner, Great-aunt Mabel (Sylvia Sydney) says Damien is a bad influence on Mark, and she even goes so far as to say if they’re not separated she’ll cut the Thorns out of her will. Ann and Richard take great offense, but what really drives them over the edge is when Aunt Mabel asks Richard to say why his brother tried to kill Damien. Ann is especially incensed, and kicks Aunt Mabel out. She doesn’t have to kick hard, though, because Mabel’s equally angry.
Observing this warm and friendly family palaver is Charles Warren (Nicholas Pryor), the curator of the Thorn Museum. After Aunt Mabel storms upstairs, Charles shows Ann and Richard slides of the sculptures the museum has acquired. Surprise, surprise, it’s the Whore of Babylon and Yigael’s Wall.
Unbeknownst to them, a raven has flown in Aunt Mabel’s window and lights at the end of her bed. Naturally, she tells it to shoo, but the creepy music swells, and Aunt Mabel starts having chest pains. She falls to the floor in agony and dies, and Ann finds her the next morning.
Meanwhile, at the military school, the cadets are in formation when Damien and Mark’s unit learn they’re going to have a new sergeant in command. Neff (Lance Henriksen) is very tough and no-nonsense, but seems to be fair. He wants to get to know each of his cadets one on one, so he schedules office time to meet with each of them in turn. One of the cadets, Teddy (John J. Newcombe) starts beating up on Mark while Damien is in the office, and when he comes out, Damien stares at him. Teddy bashes into the door and then falls to the floor, swatting at an unseen foe.
Back in Chicago, a reporter, Joan Hart (Elizabeth Shepherd), runs up to Richard and asks for an interview. On the way to the airport, she talks about Carl Bugenhagen and wants to know if Richard knew him. He’d only heard of him, but Joan presses on anyway, and tells him Bugenhagen knew Richard’s brother. Richard is aghast, and Joan warns him that he’s in great danger. Just as Ann did with Aunt Mabel, Richard is so mad he has Joan removed from the car.
Joan next heads to the Thorn Museum, where Ann and Charles are talking about the sculptures he was showing them the other night. She tells Ann a little about her talk with Richard, and asks about Damien. And then, almost hysterically, she says she’s seen Yigael’s Wall.
Desperate to know the truth, Joan goes to the military academy, where Damien and some other cadets are at football practice. She sees Damien’s face, and a chill comes over her when he meets her eyes and she recognizes him. Joan can’t get away fast enough. She’s driving down the road reciting the Lord’s Prayer when her car suddenly quits. Joan sees a nearby farm and is about to go over there to ask for help, but the raven appears. Then the creepy music. Then it gouges her eyes out, and she’s hit by a semi.
Yeah. That’s par for the course with this film. See the bird. Hear the creepy music. Then someone dies. Joan is not the last one to meet this fate, either. Anytime someone catches on to who Damien is, they’ve sealed their doom.
Damien feels that he’s somehow different, but he doesn’t understand why. Others bring it to his attention as well. One of them, Paul Buher (Richard Foxworth), is senior vice president of Richard’s company, and he talks to Damien at Mark’s thirteenth birthday party about approaching destiny. It seems benign, except that Buher is secretly a Satanist. So is Sergeant Neff, who tells Damien he needs to read Revelation 13 because it is meant for him personally.
When Damien does so, he’s shocked, particularly at the part about the Mark of the Beast. He examines his scalp with a pocket mirror and finds “666” burned into it. Horrified, he runs to the lake, crying, finally collapsing at the very end of the dock.
Damien accepts his destiny pretty quickly, but life is far from sedate. More people will become suspicious about him, and more will die, with or without the raven heralding their demise.
Paul and Sergeant Neff aren’t the only Satanists keeping tabs on Damien, either. There is another, and she will be called into play when more and more people close to Damien figure out who they’re dealing with. Funny thing, though, those who make deals with evil are always pawns in the end. Once their usefulness is spent, they’re eliminated.
Damien definitely has its wobbly spots. Besides the usual fake-looking effects, the title character seems a bit wishy-washy. Namely, if Damien is really disturbed by finding out he’s the Antichrist, then why does he continue to kill people? It might be his destiny, but if it bugs him, wouldn’t he fight against it? Seeing as he got back to business as usual so quickly, a Kanye shrug might have been more fitting than the tearful run to the lake. It’s just weak character development, plain and simple.
The other thing is that the film implies we are slaves to our own destiny, that we bear no personal responsibility for anything we do. This runs contrary to what the Bible teaches, namely that all, including Satan and the Antichrist, will be held accountable for their actions. Then again, the movie is supposed to be about the very early stages of the Antichrist, so consequences aren’t meted out yet.
Lee Grant’s performance is quietly subtle. Besides mothering Mark and Damien, her one other job in the film seems to be to defend Damien from anyone questioning who he is, and it’s the only time she’s ever really passionate. It sets the film up for a blindside later, only it’s not at all shocking, given the film’s high body count.
I’ll be honest: I went into the movie knowing almost nothing about the original Omen franchise, and I found Damien to be pretty creepy. Not that the film itself is especially frightening, but its subject matter is not what I would classify as entertainment. As a Christian, I believe what the Bible teaches about the Antichrist. There have been many throughout history, there will be many more right up until the ultimate one, and he’ll be known by his deeds. I don’t see someone’s idea of the Antichrist as being something I can casually eat popcorn to, since it has a grain of realism, but hindsight and all that. If Gill and Chris ever bring back this blogathon, I’m going to pick something happier.
That does it for my part in the Lovely Lee Grant Blogathon, and more Lee can be found at Realweegiemidget Reviews and Angelman’s Place. Thanks for hosting, Gill and Chris! It’s always good to broaden one’s horizons. Hope to see everyone on Friday with our fourth Atomic Age post, and thanks for reading…