The October horror viewings don't stop.
DAMIEN: OMEN II (1978)
In 1976, director Richard Donner and screenwriter David Seltzer teamed up to make The Omen, a film which examined the early years in the life of the Biblically prophesied Antichrist, presented in their story as the adopted child of Robert Thorn, the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. The strange and tragic events occurring around and to his family led Robert to discovering the true identity of his son Damien. Being just five years old, Damien wasn't even conscious of his own evil yet, but Robert still attempted to take drastic action to stop the prophecies from coming true. He failed, and the film ended with Damien smiling at the double funeral of his adoptive parents.
The Omen was a huge hit and a great film, instantly becoming a horror classic that endures to this day, nearly forty years later. It was so successful that a sequel was quickly made, reaching theatres just short of two years after its predecessor.
Directed by Don Taylor from a story by producer Harvey Bernhard and screenplay by Stanley Mann and Michael Hodges (who was the film's director when production began but was quickly replaced by Taylor), Omen II opens with a sequence, set one week after the end of part 1, that largely exists to catch the audience up on the events of the first movie and establish that Damien is now in the custody of Robert's brother Richard - even though Donner and Seltzer had actually intended him to end up in the care of the U.S. President.
Archaeologist Carl Bugenhagen, a minor character from the first film, spills all of this information to a friend he desperately wants to convince that Damien Thorn is the Antichrist, a fact which can be proven by the recently unearthed archaeological find Yigael's Wall, which features artwork by a 13th century monk/exorcist who claimed he was visited by Satan and then painted images of the Antichrist on his rise to power. Damien Thorn is identical to Yigael's depiction of the Antichrist as a child, except for the fact that he doesn't have snakes for hair. Bugenhagen shows his friend Yigael's Wall to prove his point. Then the whole place collapses in on them, making them the first two of many characters who will die over the course of the film.
Jump ahead seven years and 12-year-old Damien Thorn (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is living in Chicago, being raised by his millionaire industrialist uncle Richard (William Holden, who had been offered the role of Robert before Gregory Peck signed on) and Richard's wife Ann (Lee Grant). Still unaware of his true lineage, Damien seems be a decent kid. He's close friends with Richard's son Mark and attends military school.
As much as many people seem to be drawn to Damien, there are also those who take a strong disliking to him. Any time someone seems like they may expose Damien's identity or in some way hinder his ascension to power, that character is dispatched by some kind of freak accident, much like Bugenhagen and his pal dying in the cave-in.
The first Omen didn't have very many deaths in it, but the ones it did have were jaw-dropping moments, one of the most famous being when a character was decapitated by a pane of glass in slow motion. The makers of Omen II latched onto the popularity of that element and ran with it. The sequel is a body count film, the deaths just keep on coming, and Taylor went big with several of them. A woman is hit by a semi truck, a man is smashed between train cars, people are taken out by fire and chemical fumes. My favorite of the bunch is when a man is split in half by an elevator cable.
In Scream 2, the horror-loving character Randy mentions that horror sequels tend to up the body count and have "more blood, more gore, carnage candy". This is true, especially when it comes to slashers, but for some reason Omen II has always been the movie I have most associated with that line. Maybe I had just recently watched Omen II when Scream 2 was coming out, but the deaths in the film certainly do qualify as carnage candy.
In the midst of the mayhem, it is also a very good, smart sequel. It does a great job of showing how everything comes together to lead Damien on the path of becoming the Antichrist of the Bible. The support system and business deals that pave the way for him to become a wealthy and influential person, and the change happening inside him. As he nears puberty, Damien's supernatural powers are becoming more evident to him, and the Satanists that have inserted themselves into his life are becoming more obvious. Halfway into the film, a Sergeant at the military school (a character played by Lance Henriksen) tells Damien who his real father is. Damien finds the 666 birthmark on his scalp... and seems to embrace his purpose in life.
Like his brother before him, Richard figures out who the child he's raising is and attempts to take action, but it may be too late.
It would have been just fine, and maybe preferable, if The Omen had never gotten a sequel, but the first sequel that was made does it justice. Omen II isn't quite as good as The Omen, but it's not far off, either.
BABY BLUES (2013)
The third movie to be featured in the Final Girl blog's SHOCKtober fest, Baby Blues looks like cheap television despite having received a 3D theatrical release in its native China. Sometimes it looks like a subpar thriller, other times like a sitcom, other times like a soap opera. Rarely does the horror film actually look like a horror film, nor is it particularly effective as one.
The story introduces a young married couple - songwriter Hao and blogger Tian - as they move into a new home. While they close the deal, Tian chooses to keep a strange little doll from a box of the former owner's belongings. Soon this doll proves to be a supernatural force that can make strange, dangerous things happen. For example, just by falling on a keyboard it inspires Hao to write a song that can induce vomiting (like many modern pop songs do) and almost causes a singer to kill herself.
47 minutes into the film, more than halfway through, its title gains meaning when Tian loses one of the couple's twin sons during delivery and begins to suffer postpartum depression, imagining the doll is her second child. The symptoms of her depression enhanced by the evil force of the doll, Tian slips further and further into madness while things around the couple get stranger and stranger. To save Tian, Hao and his wife's sister have to get to the bottom of what's going on with this doll...
Baby Blues is not a very good movie, only enjoyable if you find its type of weirdness appealing. Most of it I found a slog to sit through, but there were flashes of insanity that livened things up. My favorite moment is when Hao gets home late one night and his sister-in-law ambushes him in the garage with martial arts moves. It was one of the most random martial arts attacks to show up in a film since the slasher Pieces in 1982.
The film chosen for SHOCKtober Day 4 is one I won't say much about at the moment because I'll be writing more about it in the future: Wes Craven's New Nightmare. One of the best horror movies of the '90s, New Nightmare is a very smart and incredibly well made companion piece to Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Director Marc Carreté's Asmodexia, which he co-wrote with Mike Hostench, is a movie I had never heard of before it reached the SHOCKtober schedule. In fact, I had never even heard the word Asmodexia before. I'm not sure it is a word, but it appears to have been inspired by the legendary "king of demons" Asmodeus, and this film does deal with demonic possession.
The story centers on an elderly man and his teenage granddaughter as they make their way around the Spain countryside, performing exorcisms. Although the grandfather presents himself as a wise and pure man, this family has a dark past, and it has something to do with the woman in the mental asylum that the movie keeps cutting away to. While all this is going on, the "day of resurrection" is approaching, a day which is the same December 2012 date that some thought would be the end of the world.
Asmodexia is a very interesting horror tale shot in some stunning, and some creepy, locations. I was never quite sure just where things were headed, which kept me intrigued throughout. It was a good, twisty time, and I recommend that horror fans get in a viewing of this one before the month is over.
I was surprised to see that this was Carreté's feature directorial debut. He handled it very well, and I'm interested in seeing where his career goes from here.
THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981)
SHOCKtober, Day 6.
You would expect a film series that follows the life of the Antichrist to become an epic one. This is a character who is prophesied to gain a lot of power in the world and oversee a large scale war. If you ever expected the Omen movies to tell that story, you'll find the trilogy capper The Final Conflict to be a major disappointment, because things really fall apart for Damien Thorn in this one.
Things are going good for Damien when the film begins. He's 32, the head of a business that publicly presents itself as wanting to save the world from the brink of self-destruction, and he becomes the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, the same job his adoptive father Robert Thorn had in the first film. But Damien, as played here by Sam Neill, has apparently grown up to be one of those fellows who can only focus on the negative. Reading every religious tome he can get his hands on, he has found a prophecy that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is right around the corner, and in a repeat of the scenario in the New Testament he's going to be born again. Damien doesn't want Jesus to grow up to thwart his reign, so he sets out to have any infant who might be Jesus killed. Just like King Herod did.
Meanwhile, a group of priests are plotting to take Damien down even earlier than prophesied.
In my religious studies, I was always taught that Jesus wouldn't be born into the world again for the Second Coming, so 10 minutes in and this movie was already straying way off course from what I knew. And who decided that basing a movie around infanticide would be a good idea?
Apparently two people who thought it would be a good idea are director Graham Baker and screenwriter Andrew Birkin, a pairing that delivered a film that is alternately extremely unpleasant to watch and extremely dull to watch. While I always enjoyed the first two Omen movies, I have never liked this one at all. It's a good thing they intended it to be the end of the Damien Thorn series, because they were 100% effective at killing it.
The mere existence of Damien had very creepy implications in The Omen and Damien: Omen II. Those movies ended on perfect notes, all the terrible things we know the Antichrist is supposed to do were ahead of that young boy. The end of the world was drawing near. It should have been left on that note. If you watch The Final Conflict, you'll find out that Damien's existence didn't mean all that much after all, because the guy is a total failure of an Antichrist. It's best to just ignore this movie and stick with the first one or two.
SHOCKtober will continue next week!