Damien: Omen II (1978) ***1/2
D: Don Taylor
C: William Holden, Lee Grant, Jonathan Scott-Taylor, Lucas Donat, Lew Ayres, Leo McKern, Lance Henriksen, Nicholas Pryor, Robert Foxworth, Sylvia Sidney, Elizabeth Shephard, Meshach Taylor
Plot Synopsis: Damien, the Antichrist, now thirteen years old, finally learns of his destiny under the guidance of an unholy disciple of Satan. Meanwhile, dark forces begin to eliminate all those who suspect the child's true identity.
Review: Damien, the modern day Antichrist, is now a twelve year old on the verge of puberty. As another assortment of characters discover his facade, they are dispatched of by the forces of evil in gruesome detail.
On the surface, this seems like a re-do, of the original, as it employs another larger then life score by Jerry Goldsmith. Cast in the lead roles are an assortment of A list stars such as William Holden (Network), Lee Grant (Shampoo) & Lew Ayres (All Quiet on the Western Front), two of whom won acting Oscars. There's intricately staged death sequences that employ effective gore effects. All of this is surrounded by a sense of grandeur from the locations & sets, to the camera work, to the dazzling production values.
While these elements don't retain the freshness of the original, they still make for a powerful viewing experience, a power rarely seen in most horror movies, as they're forcefully executed. However, what makes this something more then an attempt to cash in, on the success of the previous entry, and what gives it unexpected depth & dimension, not seen in the first, is that they place Damien, front & center, as a human character.
Damien isn't a mere caricature that gives evil side glances or stands in an ominous manner when called upon. In the beginning, Damien is shown as a normal pre-teen who's chanced upon extraordinary circumstances and a cloud of suspicion. As he approaches puberty, Damien senses that there's something more to him then being a normal kid, something much bigger then he could possibly imagine. Damien struggles with being torn between family and accepting his place, in the world, as someone meant for great things, but also capable of great evil. This speaks to the quintessential crisis that all teens & young adults face, of not being sure of their identity and where they fit in.
Giving this an interesting juxtaposition is seeing a personal story unfold against large scale settings. The search for identity might seem small, to those around us, but the way it affects someone is far larger then most can comprehend. Bringing this to life is Johnathan Scott-Taylor as Damien. His appearance evokes a golden child quality, but also conveys evil without it being an overtly obvious take on duality.
Performance wise, Scott-Taylor vividly shows how Damien struggles with who he could be vs what he chooses to be. In the most powerfully realized scene, Scott-Taylor is confronted by a cousin who's figured out that Damien is the Anti-Christ. How this confrontation resolves itself provides for a truly harrowing moment. It symbolizes how one moment, one decision, in our early years, can shape us into who we become. It also speaks to something larger, in that, even though evil surrounds us and can manipulate circumstances, ultimately, the conscious decisions that we make (or, in this case, that Damien makes) are what causes evil to manifest.
Damien is a fully realized character in that we see who once was, what he decides to become and then stepping out, into the world, to make that happen. It's isn't Satan that we should be fearing. It's each other.
Damien: Omen II has style, for days, but it also has substance and even food for thought. [R] 107 minutes.
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