Monday, November 18, 2019

DAMIEN: OMEN II (1978) Blu-ray Review

Damien: Omen II (1978) d. Don Taylor (USA) (107 min)

Following the demise of his parents, young Damien Thorn (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is adopted by his uncle Richard (William Holden), head of Thorn Industries, and his new wife Ann (Lee Grant). As the lad becomes a teenager, he and his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat) attend an illustrious military academy near Chicago where they are brought under the wing of taskmaster Sergeant Neff (Lance Henriksen). Meanwhile, the ruthless Paul Buher (Robert Foxworth), while also attempting to take Thorn Industries in a radical new direction of acquiring land in the Middle East for pennies and holding the world’s food supply hostage, starts to show a curious interest in Damien. The Antichrist is alive and well, with his key protectors in place to ensure his rise to power.

After The Omen became a surprise smash hit, producer Harvey Bernhard was eager to cash in once again on the devilish proceeds. Despite the underperformance of 1977’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, screenwriter David Seltzer’s rejection of the offer to write a sequel, and original director Richard Donner being unavailable (Superman), Bernhard plunged forward, hiring Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Flash Gordon) to direct and co-write the screenplay with Stanley Mann (The Collector).

Unfortunately, Hodges was fired from the project after only a few weeks for taking too long setting up “artistic” shots, and TV director Don Taylor, who was starting to make a name for himself in features with serviceable gigs such as Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977), was brought aboard to move things along. Hodges and Mann’s script also underwent a number of changes, primarily to spice up the elaborate nature of the many onscreen deaths.

It is here that the film stumbles, because there is no underlying suspense throughout, only a cascade of increasingly violent set-pieces, some of which are spectacular but none possessing the emotional investment of, say, David Warner’s decapitation or Lee Remick’s high-window plummet. The pattern is not only rote this time around, it’s as concerned with offing anyone who is becoming a nuisance to the Antichrist’s assistant’s grand designs as it is with keeping Damien’s true identity under wraps. A character such Thorn executive Bill Atherton (Lew Ayres) is as likely to be targeted for opposing Buher’s business policies as journalist Joan Hart (Elizabeth Shepherd) who has seen Damien’s image on the underground murals.

Basically, the guideline seems to be, “Everyone dies, and dies memorably,” and while this directive is carried out with panache and style, it carries no weight and eventually becomes rather tiresome, believe it or not. Eleven main characters meet their demise before our eyes (as opposed to five in the 1976 original, one of whom was the evil Mrs. Baylock), and while their deaths are – pardon the expression – well-executed, it’s a matter of diminishing returns. Character proves him or herself a threat to Damien, character is killed in short order, usually the very next scene!

As such, the high-profile performers have very little opportunity to make any significant impression outside of their inherent screen presence. Holden (Network) is stalwart and sturdy, Grant (The Mafu Cage) is strong-willed and beautiful, Shepherd (The Tomb of Ligeia) is earnest and frantic, Foxworth (Prophecy) is icy and controlling, and so on. (While fans of Henriksen will be pleased to see him pop up in an early role, he doesn’t have the chance to do anything other than stand and stare malevolently.) Scott-Taylor is given the most opportunity to develop a character as he discovers his lineage and later his own power, but very little is does with it. Whereas the script could have had him struggling against his destiny, he falls in line pretty quickly and is more than happy to see everyone once close to him burn (or be drowned in an icy lake, crushed between train cars, severed by elevator cables, buried alive, run over by a truck, etc.)

Ultimately, the film is less a sequel to its lofty predecessor and more a forerunner to the Final Destination movies, with all manner of outlandish expirations dreamt up for our entertainment. It’s great body-count fun to watch with friends, with lots of ooh and ah and urgh, but leaves no lasting impression.


NEW Audio commentary with special project consultant Scott Michael Bosco

Audio commentary with producer Harvey Bernhard

NEW “Damien’s Guardian” with Lee Grant (16 min)

NEW “The Devil’s CEO” with Robert Foxworth (16 min)

NEW “The Harbinger” with Elizabeth Shepherd (27 min)

NEW Elizabeth Shepherd’s Scrapbook (behind-the-scenes photos, with commentary by Shepherd) (4 min)

Vintage Featurette: “Power and the Devil: The Making of Damien: Omen II” (7 min)

Theatrical Trailer (3 min)

TV Spot

Radio Spot

Still Gallery

Damien: Omen II is available now on Blu-ray as part of Shout! Factory’s The Omen Collection box set (which also includes The Omen (1976), The Final Conflict, Omen IV: The Awakening, and the 2006 remake) and can be ordered HERE:


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