For a film that was big news back in the playground chat of the late 70’s, Damien; Omen II has largely been forgotten; there’s plenty of other brand horror sequels to choose from. But back in the day, Omen II was a regular STV choice for bank-holiday evening viewings; what could be more fun for all the family that watching the devil incarnate subjecting an aging and/or anonymous cast to gory Final Destination-style stunt deaths? Started by Mike Hodges, finished by Don Taylor, and impressing small children staying up late for sure, Damien: Omen II is quite a strange watch in 2021, but has a few points of interest.
Recently ressurected by Sean Penn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, classic Hollywood star William Holden regretted turning down The Omen, and made sure he was first in line to play the adoptive step-father of Damien (now Jonathan Scott-Taylor). Having killed his parents in the first film, Damien has a fresh set of obstacles in the Thorn family and business, and starts methodically working his way through the cast with the help of dogs, crows, trucks, trains, elevator cables and all kind of complex Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg contraptions. These action scenes have a certain amusing power, largely derived from Jerry Goldsmith’s choral score, but when it’s not killer, Damien: Omen II really is all filler, with remarkably bald, boring scenes between ancient stars (Lew Ayers, Sylvia Sydney) as they painfully try and figure out something the audience knew long before they started watching; Damien is a little devil.
With none of the original cast returning, continuity is established with an opening scene in which an unbilled Leo McKern and Ian Hendry sort out the plot points from the previous movie, and it’s just enough to make it regrettable that the Omen movies never explored the theological issues behind Damien’s backstory. While the third, but not final entry The Final Conflict screwed up the continuity royally (Damien ages twenty years in two), it also cut out much of the information about how the Antichrist might function; in Omen II, he’s really just a very naughty boy protected by supernatural forces.
Omen II has a cult following, and deservedly; there’s something very 1978 about the mix of exhausted, desperate actors, wintry landscapes and anonymous business locations. Lance Hendriksen makes an impression as a military school protector, and the infamous lift scene has a ferocious power and a grisly pay-off. Hodges is a director I’m always keen to see more of, and it would have been interesting to see whether he could have made more of this, but sadly there’s no director’s cut; he was abruptly replaced by Taylor’s rather anonymous vision of this pulpy story of Satanic panic.