Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #409
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: June 9, 1978
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $26,518,355
Running Time: 107 minutes
Director: Don Taylor, Mike Hodges (uncredited)
Producer: Harvey Bernhard
Screenplay: Stanley Mann, Mike Hodges
Story: Harvey Bernhard
Based on characters created by David Seltzer
Special Effects: Ira Anderson Jr.
Cinematography: Bill Butler
Score: Jerry Goldsmith
Editing: Robert Brown
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Mace Neufeld Productions
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: William Holden, Lee Grant, Jonathan Scott-Taylor, Robert Foxworth, Nicholas Pryor, Lew Ayres, Sylvia Sidney, Lance Henriksen, Elizabeth Shepherd, Lucas Donat, Allan Arbus, Fritz Ford, Meshach Taylor, John J. Newcombe, John Charles Burns, Paul Cook, Diane Daniels
Suggested Audio Candy
Jerry Goldsmith “Main Title”
The Omen is commonly regarded as one of the finest horror films of the 1970’s. Despite generally receiving praise however, it did come under fire from certain quarters for being overblown and pretentious. Thus, when its inevitable sequel surfaced two years later, it had its work cut out for it. On one hand, the doubters of Richard Donner’s film had their knives drawn at the ready, whereas fans harbored grave concerns as to whether its success could be replicated. First time out it had the distinct advantage of mystery at its disposal. We all shared the hunch that Damien Thorne was a rotten egg but none of us could prove such until Gregory Peck finally conceded that he was indeed the son of Satan and gave him a short back and sides before whisking him off to the altar for his long-overdue communion. The sequel wasn’t blessed with such ambiguity.
20th Century Fox made no secret that they wanted Donner to direct a second time although a conflicting schedule prevented him returning. Original screenwriter David Seltzer was also on the studios wish list although he flat declined the moment it was proposed. However they did manage to procure the talents of Jerry Goldsmith once more, which was the height of their priorities, after his composition bagged him massive plaudits a shiny academy award for his efforts. British director Mike Hodges was originally tasked with directorial duties but was later fired during shooting with creative differences cited as the reason for his excision from the project. While Don Taylor was drafted in as eleventh hour replacement, the few scenes already shot by Hodges still made the final cut, although he still remains uncredited to this day. Evidently it wasn’t all plain sailing for the sequel.
Having said that, a much more generous budget was available after The Omen went on to become the fifth highest grossing movie of 1976. This would prove necessary as any lingering doubts as to whether the infant was evil to the pulp as was suggested had long since been wiped out so the focus was now on ramping up the excess and providing more of those horrifying ‘accidents’ which punctuated the suspense so effectively in Donner’s predecessor. It willingly provided but was still met by a luke-warm response although, despite being markedly less profitable at the box office, the studio’s decision was justified by over $25m in receipts. Nearly forty years have passed since the great Damien: Omen II debate and further reflection has seen many of its critics softening. Keeper isn’t one of them as I knew exactly how decent it was the moment it unspooled without the need for time apart.
Seven years had passed since the Thornes received their reality check and Damien was now on the cusp of adolescence. He had been taken in by his uncle and surrogate father, Richard (William Holden) and his wife, Ann (Lee Grant) and there seemed no reason to question whether he was just a regular twelve-year old boy at this point. Richard’s aunt, Marion (Sylvia Sidney) is less convinced and sees him as an unwholesome influence on his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat), but the two got on famously and were as thick as thieves as they became enrolled in military academy. All appeared to be going swimmingly until loose lips from the past began sticking their noses in and this was where Damien: Omen II kicked into second gear and the ships started sinking with startling regularity.
Even the spawn of Beelzebub himself needed a B-team and Mrs. Baylock and her hounds of hell had already been sent packing so Damien found himself a new Disciple of The Watch in the form of brooding academy instructor Sergent Daniel Neff (Lance Henriksen) and a particularly inhospitable raven. Talk about inspired casting, if you can name me a film where Henriksen has failed to pull his weight, then I shall reveal my third testicle. As for our feathered foe, the bible had already labelled it a ‘wrong-un’ way back during the Old Testament and prophecized this harbinger of sorrow to be there or thereabouts once judgement day arrived, so it seemed like the thinking man’s choice in its role as beady-eyed heavy. Cinema-goers were still nestling into their seats when it justified its inclusion and, by the close of the first act, folk were rushing home to dismantle their bird baths.
Damien: Omen II knew each of its strengths and nurtured them willingly but it was also aware of its weaknesses. Any intrigue was effectively null and void so overt scares and increasingly elaborate dispatches were shoehorned in at every turn; allowing for a far brisker pace than previously. However, the real rabbit in the sleeve was the beguiling Jonathan Scott-Taylor who was ideally suited as the kid who never got invited to sleepovers. Uncannily similar in appearance to Harvey Spencer Stephens, with eyes that seared through your soul and the same winning smile which protests his innocence, Scout-Taylor was an inspired choice and took the hefty burden of such an undertaking squarely on his young shoulders. While the two films are distinctly different in tone, this afforded continuity and, once again, we began to question our own beliefs. Could it have been an outlandish coincidence? Hell no, those seductive peepers didn’t have me fooled for a second. But kudos for the old college try Jonathan.
Granted, this could never hope to repeat the feat of its forerunner, and I would never suggest the two films to be on-par. However, there was still an underlying dread, we still weren’t entirely sure who we could trust, and numerous well-staged set pieces, complimented by another inspired composition by Goldsmith and Scout Taylor’s stunning turn as Damien, still kept us nailed to our seats for the duration. In the history of sequels, Damien: Omen II is a lesser evil; sometimes more is less but, on this occasion, it was only marginally less. I could try to pick fault but the stark reality is that, should I see a black raven perched on a fence post giving me the one over, I’m the first one to wind up my window.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Allow me to pose a question. How does one improve on perfection? The sight of Jennings’ spinning top in mid-revolution atop that glass guillotine blade while the rest of his body stood bemused in its own reflection could never be bettered but, if they came up short, then it wasn’t for lack of trying. Eyes were pecked callously from their sockets with passing juggernauts decimating their bewildered owners, elevators malfunctioned causing electrical cables to run amok and dissect hapless messengers, but in actuality the true stand-outs were entirely bloodless. The instance whereby Damien begrudgingly cuts ties with his best friend via providing his pal with an involuntary aneurysm showed a rare chink in his armor and, dare I say, a vague humanity. But the real pièce de résistance explains why Keeper never particularly dug the whole figure-skating scene and came at the expense of one very sorry do-gooder as he became ensnared in a cruel current and carried away beneath the ice in tortuously drawn-out fashion. This served as an ideal reminder of why less is so often more.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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