Sunday, June 26, 2016

Movies That Suck/Franchises: The Omen. Omen IV: The Awakening (1991)

Do us all a favor and go back to sleep!
Let me tell you right now just how dedicated I am to this little pastime of mine. Before now, my experience with The Omen ended with The Final Conflict. For me, that was the end of the story and nothing else mattered. Plus, the nature of this movie (a rehash of the first film only with a little girl) never interested me, especially when you put it into context with the series as a whole, and, as the years went on, everything I heard about the movie pegged it as a truly horrendous piece of shit that never should have been made. It came across to me like one of those rare "bastard child" films that certain franchises have, in that they're so abysmal that fans try to act like they never existed to begin with. In fact, when I think back, it reminds me a lot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation in that nearly every official source of information I ever read (books, websites, etc.) talked about the original trilogy and didn't acknowledge this film. The only reason why I even knew there was a fourth Omen film was because I read a listing for it in an October 1999 issue of a TV guide sort of magazine that we got for the satellite we had at the time (because of the little description that came with the listing, I got my first hint that there was more to this franchise than it just being about an evil little kid) and because of the Omen Legacy documentary. What's more, AMC must have had the same viewpoint on the franchise that I would later develop because they only ever showed the original trilogy. So, I was content to never see Omen IV, or the 2006 remake, for that matter, and leave it at The Final Conflict... and then, I began this blog and quickly realized that, in order to avoid a lot of complaining and make it more complete, I would have to seek out and watch various sequels that I never intended to see or even acknowledge, like the aforementioned Next Generation or Beware! The Blob (or Son of the Blob, if you will) or this film. Now, I had intended to simply find a place online to watch both this and the remake but, while I was successful with the latter, I couldn't find a single place that had Omen IV to watch for free and in English! So, guess what I did? I ordered the bitch. I went to Amazon, found the cheapest copy of it that I could (less than six dollars), and ordered it. That, my friends, is how dedicated I am to this. Maybe I care a little too much but I pride myself on being an, at least, decent reviewer, damn it! I got it, I watched it twice for this review, which is how I always do things, and guess what? It sucks. Lordy, lordy, lord, does it suck! The Final Conflict is anticlimactic bore and the remake, which we'll get to next, is just pointless in how it's a virtual Xerox of the original, but this is by far the worst of the series. It's an uninspired, poorly-constructed, badly-acted, stupid TV movie (although it got a theatrical release in other parts of the world) that should have never been made and I thank God did nothing in terms of ratings so we didn't get more tripe like this.

(Like The Final Conflict, this is a film where I had a surprising amount of difficulty finding really good and relevant images. There were some characters I only found mediocre images of, some none at all, and I found no images of the actual deaths whatsoever, only of the build-ups and aftermaths. So, I apologize in advance for this review not being as well as illustrated as I thought it would be. It must be the Omen curse!)

Gene and Karen York, a politically-connected, Virginia couple, adopt a baby girl from an orphanage operated by a sisterhood of nuns and name her Delia. Right from the beginning, strange things begin to happen, like the head nun dying of a heart attack after the adoption, one of the nuns leaving the orphanage shortly afterward, and a priest who attempts to baptize the baby suddenly dying of a heart attack. Some time afterward, after a congressman is severely slandered when his perverse private life is exposed, Gene runs for his position and manages to get it. Seven years later, eight-year old Delia is beginning to develop a very cruel, violent, and manipulative personality towards everyone but her parents and after a couple of altercations with a boy at her school who constantly picks on her, his father is killed in a sudden and horrific freak accident. When she's injured after a horse she tries to ride becomes frightened and bucks her off, it's revealed that she's already menstruating even though she's only eight. The Yorks hire Jo, a practitioner of New Age spirituality, as a nanny for Delia but she immediately senses that there's something strange about her when all of her healing crystals turn black around her. When her friend, Noah, an aura reader, senses a lot of negative energy coming from her, Jo takes Delia to a psychic fair, where her presence alarms the psychics and when an aura photograph of her is taken, the picture reveals dark, sepia tone colors around her. A mysterious fire destroys the fair and kills some of the psychics but, despite warnings from Noah to leave, Jo stays behind in order to try to help Delia deal with her negative energy, only to be shoved through the window by Delia's dog, Ryder. Karen discovers that she's become pregnant and, as her fear towards Delia's menacing behavior deepens, she turns to a local preacher in trying to make sense of what Jo discovered about Delia, which is where she learns of the Antichrist. She eventually hires private detective Earl Knight to track down Delia's biological parents as well as Sister Yvonne, the nun who left the orphanage after Delia's adoption. What Knight uncovers, before he's killed in another freak accident, ties Delia to Damien Thorn, who Karen learns was not only the Antichrist but also Delia's father. Even more horrific, Karen's recently born son, Alexander, whose embryo Delia was carrying inside her body before it was implanted into Karen, is also Damien's seed and destined to become the new Antichrist. Now, Karen must kill her own baby boy in order to prevent the prophecy of the Book of Revelations from coming to pass.

Before we go further into this, let's address the biggest sticking point as to why this movie shouldn't even exist: The Final Conflict ended with the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus came back, Damien died, and the entire world was cleansed of all the evil that he'd caused as the Messiah began his eternal, peaceful reign. So, how could this story possibly be taking place? Why are we suddenly thrown back into a world where everything's going downhill and the red carpet for the Antichrist is basically being rolled out, as the character of Father Mattson puts it? Plus, said character talks about how he feels that the Antichrist will come and cause great suffering in the world and the whole time, I'm sitting there, thinking to myself, "He already did and was defeated!" They do, at least, acknowledge Damien's death but seem to retcon the Second Coming, instead saying that his followers have been waiting for the opportunity to continue his legacy, which they now have with his children. So, when you also take Mattson's warning into account, does it all mean that, in this alternate reality (which is what I feel it is), Damien was merely a precursor and father to the real Antichrist, who is actually baby Alexander? Wow, way to rob the previous films of their impact, especially the original, as if I already didn't have enough reasons to hate this movie. But, of course, the real reason why this film exists, despite what came before, is because the people behind the Fox Television Network saw The Omen as one of many properties that the studio had that they could make part of a series of low budget, movies of the week that they were doing at that time and didn't care what they had to do in order to make it work.

Like Damien: Omen II, Omen IV was ultimately shot by two directors by the time it was completed. The first director, who shot most of the film, was Dominique Othenin-Girard, a French/Swiss filmmaker who's notorious among horror fans for directing Halloween 5, one of the least popular entries in that franchise (and if you've seen my review on it, you'd know that it's not a film I'm very fond of, either), as well as for coming across as completely clueless and full of it in interviews and on that commentary he did for Halloween 5. Like Mike Hodges before him, Othenin-Girard's rather slow filming methods didn't jive well with producer Harvey Bernhard, who said that he was in absolute agony during filming. I'm not sure if Othenin-Girard was fired or if he just quit (IMDB says that he quit but I would really like to think he was fired since I think the guy's a complete idiot) but, whatever the case, about a week before filming wrapped, he was gone and he hasn't done much theatrical work in the years since, spending most of his time doing TV work back in Europe. His last theatrical movie over here was a 1995 movie called Beyond Desire with William Forsythe and he wouldn't direct another real movie until 2008 when he did a Swiss film called Dirty Money - Undercover. His replacement was Jorge Montesi, a Chile-born director of television, as well as actor, who, up to that point, had done stuff like episodes of 21 Jump Street, an episode of the 1980's revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and an episode of the War of the Worlds TV show. Like Don Taylor on the second film, he was brought in because they needed somebody who get the film back on schedule and budget and he was known for working quickly with very low budgets. I sincerely doubt he gave much of a crap about The Omen given the circumstances. His directing career continued throughout the 90's as he directed episodes of Forever Knight, the Highlander television series, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, NYPD Blue, The Outer Limits, and Jake 2.0, as well as numerous TV movies and even a couple of theatrical ones, like 1994's Soft Deceit and Outside the Law with Cynthia Rothrock in 2002. His last credit on IMDB is a 2007 TV movie called Cleaverville.

Since it's a TV movie, it's not surprising that Omen IV, for the most part, doesn't have the best acting but even then, there are some performances and line-reading here that are truly horrendous. Faye Grant gives a passable enough performance as Karen York but still, it could have been a lot better. Karen's character is actually kind of a mixture of both Kathy and Robert Thorn from the original in how she's not only the mother but, like Robert, she also begins to grow suspicious of her child's nature, herself wondering why Delia has never been sick a day in her life, and decides to investigate her past through the help of the private detective. Like Kathy, she starts to fear her own child, especially when she becomes pregnant again since she thinks Delia will try to harm the baby, and like Robert, learns of the Antichrist and begins to suspect that Delia may have some connection to it. A big difference between her and Kathy, though, is that, despite becoming paranoid and obsessed about the possibility of the Antichrist, she never has a mental breakdown and is able to remain rational, seeing how Delia is acts different towards other people than she does with her and her husband, who is completely blind to what's going on. Unfortunately, Grant doesn't have much important stuff to do in her role until the third act where, after receiving the information that Earl Knight uncovered about Damien Thorn before he died, she forces Dr. Hastings to confirm that Damien was the Antichrist, that Delia is his daughter, and that her newborn son, Alexander, was planted inside her as an embryo and is meant to be the new Antichrist. Much like Robert Thorn did, she decides to save the world by killing her own child but the big difference is that, while Robert died trying, Karen ends up killing herself, either due to the influence of Delia and Alexander or because she couldn't bring herself to do it and decided she'd rather be dead. Either way, I will admit that Karen's character arc during the film is kind of sad given how happy she is to have a baby at the beginning, especially since she couldn't become pregnant no matter how much she and Gene tried, and the good times you see her spending with little Delia during the montage of her early childhood, as well as the concern and love she showed for Alexander, but it still doesn't affect me nearly as much as what happened to Robert and Kathy in the original.

Gene calling Jake out... with a dopey look on his face.
While I can give Faye Grant a little bit of leeway in her performance, I can't do the same for Michael Woods as her husband, Gene. His performance is absolutely wooden and lacking in any personality and his character is Robert Thorn if he was an oblivious moron. Like Robert, he starts in a fairly important political position and, after adopting the child, finds himself elected to a much higher one (in this case, it's Congressman), but unlike Robert, Delia's behavior and the bizarre occurrences and deaths happening around her never strike him as particularly odd. He believes everything that Delia says and never considers that she might not be telling the truth, always coming up with some excuse as to why that's not the case. Actually, I began to wonder if he was acting like this because he was a Satanist himself, as Karen momentarily suspects, but it turns out that's not the case and he's just an ignorant pawn in the Satanists' plot to help Alexander rise to power (although, he does suggest out of nowhere that they go to Rome, which is where the Antichrist is prophesized to rise from). The only moment I can think of where Gene showed any conviction is when he confronted his friend and colleague Jake Maddison (Don S. Davis) about his plan to pave over wooded areas for urban infrastructure, saying that having a friend like him on Capital Hill has gone to his head and he's become what they used to hate, and even then, Woods' acting is so bland that it's nothing less than cringe-inducing. Surprisingly, though, Woods still gets TV work to this day, so what do I know?

Since she's eight years old rather than five, Delia (Asia Vieira) has much more to say and is more of a character than Damien in the original film. She may act all sweet and innocent towards her parents but to everyone else, she's a violent and cruel child who is instantly hostile towards anyone she doesn't like and makes anybody who messes with her in any way, shape, or form pay. She beats on this kid who picks on her with her lunchbox and follows that up by making it look like it was all him to most of the adults by allowing him to punch her, leaving a bleeding lip, and tricking him onto a high ladder, causing him to wet his pants in fear. She's also not at all fond of her family new nanny, Jo, becoming especially nasty towards her new-age type of spirituality that involves healing crystals and the like. That leads into something else about Delia: from the beginning, she knows who she is and where she comes from, which explains her aversion to anything that has to do purity and religion. Even as a baby, she looked evil in some shots, and later on when she's an eight-year old, she uses her power to kill those who she feels threaten her in some way, like the father of the boy she beat on, the psychics at the fair, and Jo, whom she unleashes her Rottweiler, Ryder, on. Exactly how much she knows about the conspiracy of Satanists around her, like Dr. Hastings and Lisa Roselli, the nanny who replaces Jo, and whether she's actually jealous of baby Alexander is speculative (although the latter mentions having had a "talk" with Delia) but, regardless, by the end of the film, she knows who her brother is and is acting as his protector, telling Karen to, "See him. Really see him." She's obviously going to continue acting as his protector during his rise to power as well. If nothing else, Delia is at least more than just a gender-switched version of Damien from the original but I still find the mystery surrounding him to be much more interesting than anything that has to do with her.

The one glimmer in this wretched cesspool of a movie is Michael Lerner as Earl Knight, the private detective who Karen hires to find Delia's real parents and is the one who enabled Gene to become Congressman when he exposed his predecessor as a sleazeball. Lerner absolutely rocks in this role, demonstrating an ability to make even the lowest form of scripting and characterization work reasonably well. He has a great charisma to him, coming across as somebody who loves taking down people who deserve it, and is also quite witty in his detecting methods, like when he's trying to get some information out of a bartender and when the guy refuses to say anything since he's an ex-cop rather than a real one, he slips him a $20 bill and asks, "What does twenty bucks get me, Vanna?" The bartender responds, "A vowel. Maybe a consonant," and Earl goes, "Ooh, tough guy." It's a great little moment for him, as is the moment where he shows Karen the names of the people who hired him to take down Gene's predecessor and when she sees Jake Maddison's name among them, he notices her reaction and asks, "Smell a rat?" He also comes across as a compassionate guy too, taking pity on Karen when she becomes distraught over the things that have happened to her family over the years since they adopted Delia and helping her to her car when she has something akin to an early contraction in his office. Above everything else, Earl proves to be a really good and resourceful PI, hiring some clowns to create a distraction at the orphanage while he searches through their records on Delia (which turn out to be bogus in regards to her parents) and manages to get enough information from that bartender to track Sister Yvonne down to North Carolina, where she's established a new identity (I like his line, "Figured I'd go down and share a vision with her,"). Granted, he does do something shitty in showing her a picture of Delia that frightens and distracts her to where she gets bitten by a bunch of rattlesnakes, leading to her death, but he's still a great character and I wish he were the lead of this movie rather than really getting involved in the story at almost an hour in. I would have loved to have known more about him, like why he quit his previous job as a cop and why he's so quick to emphasize that he is an ex-cop, but no, he's just a character who comes in to brighten up the movie a little bit before he gets killed for his meddling.

One character who really can't take the hint that Delia is an evil child until it's too late is Jo Thueson (Ann Hearn), the nanny that the Yorks hire. Despite everything that happens after she meets Delia, like her healing crystals turning black from her presence, the negativity both she and her friend, Noah (Jim Byrnes), sense from her, the ominous aura surrounding her in the picture Noah takes of the two of them (not to mention that it's undulating towards her head!), the deadly fire that breaks out at the psychic fair afterward, and Delia's overall dislike of her and her beliefs, Jo refuses to leave even when Noah warns her to, stupidly saying, "She's just a little girl," and that she wants to help her. Well, she learns too late just how dangerous this "little girl" she's trying to help is when she tries to meditate with her and senses more evil within her before she ends up getting spit on and attacked by Ryder, who kills her when she tries to warn Karen of what she's discovered. Noah is definitely the smarter one of the two in that he knows from the start just how dark and negative Delia is from what he senses, almost becoming sick by merely being in her presence, and when he sees the dark aura surrounding her in the picture of her and Jo, which precedes the sudden fire that destroys the fair, he tries to warn Jo to get away from Delia. According to Earl Knight, after Jo's death, Noah simply disappeared and is never heard from again, making it unclear as to whether he simply put enough space between himself and Delia as he could or if he was killed offscreen for what he discovered.

At first, I thought Sister Yvonne (Megan Leitch) and the other nuns, especially the Mother Superior (Susan Chapple), were Satanists in disguise who goad an unsuspecting couple into adopting a demonic child, like Father Spiletto did to Robert Thorn, but upon my second viewing, I found that the case is actually that they couldn't bring themselves to kill a child, even an evil one like Delia. In any case, Sister Yvonne is not at all happy with what pushed onto the Yorks and while the Mother Superior is at first comforting towards her, she later physically punishes her for her continuing breakdown about it, especially when she says that Delia should have never been born. When the Mother Superior suddenly dies of a heart attack while slapping her, and after she experiences some menacing paranormal activity herself, Yvonne quits the sisterhood and, after a couple of failed attempts to warn the Yorks of the truth (making her this film's equivalent to Father Brennan), she disappears completely. Through Earl's investigation, you learn that she became a prostitute for a time before finding some new type of faith, becoming a strange prophet under the name of Felicity after relocating to North Carolina, where she demonstrates the power of her faith by stepping into a container filled with rattlesnakes and picking them up. Like I said earlier, Earl ends up getting her killed when he shows her a picture of her holding baby Delia with Karen and, in her fear, becomes distracted and gets bitten many times by the snakes. Before she dies, Felicity warns Earl of Delia's nature and at her trailer, he finds information that she's gathered about Gene over the years and, most significantly, information about Damien Thorn.

This is hardly the best image of Hastings but it was the only
one I could find that wasn't of his death scene.
Like the other films, you have members of a Satanic cult who work in different positions, arranging the coming of the new Antichrist, an opportunity they've been waiting for ever since Damien's death. Chief among them is Dr. Hastings (Madison Mason), the York family doctor, who sees to it that Karen becomes the mother of the Antichrist by extracting his embryo from Delia's body when she comes in after her attempt at horseback riding goes awry and implants it inside of Karen when she's brought after she faints when Jo falls to her death right in front of her. Karen makes him spill the beans using the very painful method of stabbing his hand to his desk with a scalpel (a surprisingly bloody effect for an early 90's TV movie) and once he's told her everything, saying that Alexander is going to create a new world, he attempts to keep her silent by taking a gun out of his desk drawer but she stabs him to death before he can shoot. Like I mentioned earlier, Gene's friend Jake Madison is also involved since he was a member of the committee that arranged for one of the Congressmen to be publicly humiliated in a scandal so Gene could take his place and after it happened, he really pushed for him to run for it. It seems like he's doing this simply out of a want for wealth and power, which Gene calls him out on when he discovers his urban infrastructure project. You even have a brief Mrs. Baylock equivalent in the form of Lisa Roselli (Andrea Mann), the nanny who replaces Jo after her death, although she's killed quite easily by Karen before she can pose any threat. Really, the only person who shares what Karen slowly begins to believe is Father Mattson (Duncan Fraser), the priest who she goes to in order to make sense of the connections between certain aspects of Jo's beliefs and the Bible, which is where the Antichrist is brought up. Mattson tells her all about the Antichrist, what he'll do, how he'll deceive people, and makes a comment about how most of humanity is unwittingly in league with Satan due to the current state of the world, saying, "Our hell is his paradise." One line he says that I do like is when Karen asks him if the Antichrist can be stopped and he says, "If there wasn't, I'd pack it in right now." He's also the one who suggests that the Antichrist could possibly be a female, although that turns out to not be the case.

One of the aspects of Omen IV that strikes me is just how bland and generic the film looks. I don't know what it is about Canada but whenever a movie is filmed up there, as this was, 99% of the time it ends up having a very cheap, uninspired look and that's certainly the case here, to the point where it's also the weakest film in the series from a stylistic point. I don't care much for the overdone visuals of the 2006 remake but at least that is memorable in a way; this is just, "bleh," and Lifetime TV-ish (I know that's to be expected, given that it is a TV movie, but that's not something you want in an Omen movie. The only scene in the film that I find kind of visually appealing is the one that takes place in the snow in broad daylight and even that borders a bit on cheap; everything else can only be described as drab and unremarkable, even in a scene in a church where you see a bunch of multicolored candles. As for atmosphere, forget about it. There is none to be found here, especially when you add in the film's highly inappropriate original music score. Let's put it this way: Damien: Omen II had more of an ominous feeling to it than this thing ever does! What's more, the film is sometimes edited in a very clich├ęd and chaotically abrupt way. For instance, the scene where Earl Knight is shown taking photographs of the original Congressman with a prostitute comes straight out of nowhere and ends just as abruptly, with the film cutting right to another scene when he hits the ground after falling off the ladder he was standing on. It's so fast that the first time I saw it, my brain almost got whiplash! There are other instances like that in the film but that's the one that stood out to me the most. The first major death scene is also filmed with a slow-motion method that makes it look very cheap and cheesy, like what you'd expect from a TV movie made around this time. And while the moments leading up to Earl's death are done in an interesting manner, the death itself and the telegraphing of it that occurs throughout the scene are cringe-inducing and give the impression that both the filmmakers and the editor didn't know what they were doing or how to build suspense. But for me, the biggest failure of the editing is the fact that often, I realize that a lot of time has meant to have passed between cuts but I had clue that was the case until I heard someone mention it. For instance, Karen is first informed that she's pregnant, then in the next couple of scenes, she's four months along and then, in like the next cut, she's six months along. It's so clumsily done that, by the time she goes into labor, I didn't realize that much time had passed since she first hired Earl to find Delia's real parents, or that Gene was now trying to get re-elected. It also doesn't help that a lot of the movie takes place in early-to-mid winter, making it even harder to realize how long you're in one year of the movie's timeline. In fact, this poorly-executed passage of time reminds me a lot of The Crater Lake Monster, that horrible 1977 flick where, a good ways into the film, you're suddenly told that it's been six months since the story began, although there had been nothing in the editing (dissolves, fades to black, etc.) that would have let you know that was the case. Thank God this movie at least had a little bit of montage showing Delia's early childhood or I would have really been thrown when she went from a baby to a toddler in a cut! (And before anyone says anything, I'm aware that there is a cut like that in the original Omen but otherwise, that film was edited far better and more sensibly than this.)

This is the first Omen movie to deal with other types of spirituality besides Christianity, one of which is part of Native American culture: the idea of healing crystals, which Jo Thueson brings into the York household and unintentionally repels Delia with, later seeing that all of her crystals have turned black from either being touched by or simply being in the girl's presence. There's also the notion of auras, which Jo's friend, Noah, is able to both sense and take photographs of, which result in more evidence that there is a lot of negativity surrounding Delia, and there are even psychics, who all become uneasy and full of dread when Delia is nearby and are themselves quite frightened when they see her disturbing aura photograph. Jo, being a New Age practitioner, tries to use meditation to get to the bottom of Delia's condition and ends up learning just how evil she is before she's killed, although she did manage to point Karen towards the book she practices from, which eventually leads her to the Bible and the prophecies of the Antichrist. This stuff is kind of interesting but, even though there is a connection between it and Christianity that's eventually revealed, it takes up such a small section of the film that it ultimately proves to have been meaningless to introduce it in the first place. What's more, I'm not entirely sure why Delia is so repelled by the healing crystals and why she angrily denounces Jo's beliefs when they're not the same as Christianity, which is what she should fear. Maybe she knows that there's some kind of connection but it still comes across as rather random. And I don't know what's up with the stuff that Sister Yvonne takes part in when she becomes Felicity in North Carolina. It's clearly some strange iteration of Christianity, as she tries to prove the power of her faith with those rattlesnakes, which I'm assuming are meant to represent the devil, but whether or not it stems from anything in reality is not something I'm aware of, although I wouldn't be surprised if there were something like this out there.

Given that this is an early 90's TV movie, you shouldn't go into it expecting some really gruesome and bloody death scenes like those in the previous films. In fact, the first two deaths in the movie, the Mother Superior and the priest who attempts to baptize Delia, are nothing more than sudden heart attacks, with the latter happening after the priest senses a menacing presence in the church, as shown when the candles in the room are blown out by a gust of air after he drops dead in front of an altar of Christ. The first really major death is of the father of the boy who picked on Delia and ended up getting beaten up by her as a result. Following the scene where she tricks the boy into climbing a ladder after her, causing him to wet himself in fear, his father has an angry confrontation with Karen York outside of the school and makes it known that this isn't going to be the last she hears from him. As he leaves, he stomps over to Karen's van in an attempt to do something but backs off when he sees Delia sitting inside. She watches as he walks back to his car, gets inside, and swerves around to drive out of the parking lot, but he's not watching what he's doing and is unable to stop in time to avoid a truck that's backing up perpendicular to his car, with its sharp, tailgate open. The tailgate slashes right through the windshield, at the guy's head, and while you don't see it, you get the impression that it decapitated him. The next major scene after that is when Jo makes the mistake of taking Delia to the psychic fair to have her aura photographed. She's already causing havoc when she arrives at the fair as the psychics become alarmed by her presence but things really get bad when she becomes enraged after the photograph is taken. A gust of wind blows through the fairground, knocking over an oil lamp that catches fire to the tapestry hanging from its table and igniting the right sleeve on its would-be seller's sweater. As Jo tries to catch up with Delia, she accidentally knocks another lady into a table, causing her to push over a lit candelabra there and ignite a fire near a blind psychic who's pulled out of the way by another person. One guy watching someone who's juggling some burning objects isn't as lucky, however, as the juggler suddenly drops them at his feet and he's set ablaze, stumbling into another booth. An explosion rips through a tent, causing a massive fire that spreads throughout the fairground and causes everyone to panic as they try to escape, all while Delia looks back, smiling evilly as the fair burns to the ground while she walks away with Jo.

Speaking of Jo, she gets hers next when she tries to meditate with Delia in order to find the source of her negative energy, only for Delia to lose her patience and give her a cryptic message about her real father before spitting in her face. Shocked by what she just did, Jo stumbles out of Delia's room and into the hallway, where she comes face to face with Delia's Rottweiler, Ryder (who became her pet when he appeared out of nowhere and saved her from getting hit by a truck when she was a few years younger) and is hit in the face by some wind. When she turns around and sees that Delia is following her, she runs upstairs into her own room, closing and locking the door behind her, with Delia following her movements on the floor below. Jo tries to get Karen's attention in the yard below but, just when she happens to look up and see her, Ryder smashes through the door and leaps at Jo, sending her flying through the window and causing her to land on top of Delia's little merry-go-round, right in front of Karen, who lets out a scream before fainting out of fear and shock. Another death doesn't happen until the middle of the third act, which, except for the scenes involving Earl Knight, makes the movie all the more boring to sit through (not that the deaths elevated it that much, though). When Earl tracks down Sister Yvonne in North Carolina where she has a new life as Felicity, he sneaks into the church during the demonstration of her faith with the rattlesnakes and gets in line with a bunch of other people who are asking her to pray for them. Everything's going fine, as she reassures everyone that the snakes' venom can't hurt them, but when Earl hands her a picture of herself standing next to Karen holding baby Delia, it goes south immediately. She becomes afraid and throws away the picture, distracting her long enough for the rattlesnake that she's holding to bite her on the cheek, prompting her to throw it to her right. The other snakes in the container she's standing in then attack, with one biting at her leg and when Earl tries to help her, he gets bitten on the hand. Felicity gets bitten several more times on the leg and collapses on the stage, yelling in pain. In the next cut, she's taken to the hospital, gasping for air as the venom begins to take its toll on her. Earl receives some anti-venom for his snakebite and is told that he's going to be fine, whereas Felicity is probably not going to make it. Before Earl leaves the hospital, he goes in to see Felicity, who is now serious condition, hemorrhaging internally and around her mouth (the makeup effects are on her do make you go, "Ugh,"). She's only able to weakly whisper something about "the Beast" to Earl before he leaves, after which a window opens by itself and projects a shadow that resembles an inverted cross on the wall above her bed. She then coughs a little bit and tries to yell something before finally expiring.

Earl's own death comes next. Stuck in North Carolina and unable to get back to Virginia because of the weather, he mails his findings to the Yorks and then just mills around the town for a little bit, smiling at a nearby choir singing Christmas hymns and looking through a toy store's window, where he sees an automated, toy construction crane (foreshadowing of what's to come). He walks down to another shop and looks through its window a little manger display, only for the figures, including the baby Jesus, to turn discolored and demonic as he looks at them. Freaked out by this, he backs into a woman behind him and then stumbles down the sidewalk as it begins to rain, only to run into a demonic version of the choir, who happen to singing the Ave Satani song (the version originally heard in the sequence leading up to Father Brennan's death in the first film). Horrified by this, and clutching his chest, Earl falls to the ground before getting back to his feet and running off, as we're shown what's about to happen as a nearby construction crane begins operating by itself, hoisting a wrecking ball up into the air. After running for a little while longer, Earl eventually crosses a street and stops in front of the construction office, appearing relieved as he thinks he's escaped from the danger he felt he was in. It doesn't last long, though, as the wrecking ball smashes straight through the office and heads right towards him, with him only able to watch in shock before it slams into him and impales him with the hook on its bottom. The shot of the ball going through the construction office and the effect of it reflected in his eye before it hits him look pretty good but the actual effect of him getting rammed by it is clearly a dummy.

I don't know if I'd say the climax here is worse than The Final Conflict or not because that was an anticlimactic letdown when it should have been glorious, whereas there are no such expectations with this, but, regardless, it begins when Karen confronts Dr. Hastings. After stabbing his hand to the desk with a scalpel, she forces him to tell her all about Damien Thorn, Delia, and how Alexander is meant to be the Antichrist who'll usher in a new world. He pulls a pistol out of his drawer and swings around to try to shoot her but she stabs him in the chest with the scalpel before he can. Taking his gun with her, Karen heads back home, where she's confronted by Delia's new nanny, Lisa Roselli, and kills her very easily when Roselli, even though Karen's pointing the gun right at her, charges at her and tries to struggle with her. After shooting her and sending her tumbling down the stairs, Karen goes into Alexander's room to find Delia there, holding her baby brother. Karen says she wants to see her son and Delia tells her, "See him. Really see him." That's when Karen sees the "666" on Alexander's right palm (not only is it a crappy-looking effect but that's going to be a lot harder to hide than Damien's birthmark under his hair) and attempts to shoot both him and Delia but, either through the children's power or because she can't bring herself to do it, she turns the gun on herself and commits suicide offscreen. The movie ends with Karen's funeral, with the last shot being Gene walking with Delia and Alexander, down a path in the cemetery that looks like an inverted cross (subtle).

The film shamelessly borrows some of the themes that Jerry Goldsmith composed for both The Omen and The Final Conflict and when you hear the original music, composed by Jonathan Sheffer, you understand why because it seems like either that guy knew this was a bad film and didn't even try or is a talentless hack. The latter actually could be true because he mainly works as a conductor and hasn't worked on many projects as an actual composer. Most of the stuff he has composed music for consists of more television work, short films, and documentaries, with his theatrical films being little known flicks like On Valentine's Day, In a Shallow Grave (with Michael Biehn), Bloodhounds of Broadway (which has an acting role by Madonna), Pure Luck (with Martin Short and Danny Glover), and, the title that really caught my attention, a 1988 movie called Zits. Judging from the plot synopsis, it's not really a movie about pimples but I'm just like, "They got a guy who scored a movie called Zits to do an Omen movie?" It's not fair to judge a person's work based on the name of the movie they did music for, I know, but I wouldn't be giving him so much crap if his score for Omen IV didn't suck so bad. So, what's so bad about it, you might ask? It's goofy as hell and sounds like something you'd expect to hear in a Looney Tunes cartoon, that's what! His music involving the family moments between the Yorks and baby Delia is okay but it's like he doesn't know how to score scenes that are supposed to be ominous, suspenseful, or scary. You hear music during the opening titles that sounds far too whimsical for a movie about the devil's child, the scene where Delia tricks that kid into climbing that ladder is scored like an old Disney cartoon, and during the scene at the fair, you hear music that sounds like what Danny Elfman would do if he were on speed and had all of his talent sucked out. Even worse, when you mix in Goldsmith's masterful and genuinely menacing music, it sounds as if there are two completely different movies here battling for dominance and the sucky one is winning. For instance, the ending scene at the funeral has Goldsmith's original Ave Satani, which leads into the ending credits, and it does paint a grim picture of an uncertain future as Delia and the newborn Antichrist head off with their unsuspecting father... and then it's completely ruined once the theme ends because it goes back into Sheffer's silly music. Fortunately, they end with his family theme, which works a little better as it reminds you of the happiness Karen had with her adopted daughter and how it's all been shattered in the most tragic way possible, but the damage is already done by that point. It's truly amazing what a train-wreck this score is and it's one of the major things that kills the movie for me since, personally, music can often make or break it.

There are no two ways about it: Omen IV: The Awakening sucks and sucks hard. Other than Michael Lerner's likable performance, a little bit to do with Faye Grant, and some occasional okay effects, there is nothing to recommend the movie: it's a poorly-made, uninspired, boring, pointless movie with bad acting, uninteresting characters, zero suspense and atmosphere, death scenes that are hindered by their being in a TV movie, a bland, generic look, confusing editing that makes it hard to remember where you are in the story's timeline, and an atrociously inappropriate music score that, when combined with Jerry Goldsmith's original themes, makes you want to be watching the other movies instead all the more. I really wish that I hadn't wasted my time with this piece of junk because it was pretty miserable to do this review but, for completion's sake, I did it and I hope everyone enjoys it. And if I got some things about the story wrong, I apologize but this is one instance where I'm not that broken up about it if that's the case, because I'm never watching this damn movie ever again!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Franchises: The Omen. (Omen III:)* The Final Conflict (1981)

*The film's actual title is simply The Final Conflict but nowadays, all home video editions put Omen III in front of it in order to ensure that people realize it is part of this franchise. So as to avoid any confusion, as well as simply to include the alternate title, I follow suit.

What intrigued me the most about this film was that Sam Neill played the now adult Damien because, in case you don't know, I've always associated him with one of my favorite movies of all time: Jurassic Park. I'm pretty sure that I knew that fact before I even saw any footage of the film for the first time on the Omen Legacy documentary due to reviews that I had read, notably in John Stanley's Creature Features book. As I said in my review of the second film, I ended up seeing this before that one when I found it on VHS in early 2003 (I was still buying VHS's along with DVDs at that time) and, despite the mixed critical reception concerning it that I had read up on, as well as having seen where the story went and how it ended in that documentary, I was looking forward to watching it since it was my first Omen sequel. But, when I finally did see it, to say that I was underwhelmed is an understatement. I've always felt that the movie should be re-titled, The Anti-Climax, because no other term describes this thoroughly disappointing and lackluster attempt at a cap on a trilogy. Like Damien: Omen II, it has some good notes to it but, also like it's predecessor, it's not a patch on the original 1976 film. Not only is not creepy or scary in the slightest but its biggest failing is that it does not deliver on what its very title promises. Since we're talking about the Second Coming of Christ and Damien's last attempt to prevail and take control of the world, you would expect for this to feature one last, great battle between good and evil, as you would expect anyway from a film series about the rise of the Antichrist; instead, we get a stiff, plodding story that, while it has some interesting and, in some instances, disturbing ideas behind it, at the end of the day feels tired and falls apart during its second half and doesn't lead to anything. Looking at the film, it's a shame that this is where creepy story that begin in the original led and, for all intents and purposes, ended.

The Seven Daggers of Megiddo are recovered from the old ruins of the Thorn Museum in Chicago and are sold at an auction to a priest who, after researching them, sends them to a monastery in Subiaco, Italy. Meanwhile, Damien Thorn is now 32 years old and has been the head of Thorn Industries for seven years, which is now very prosperous and has a tight grip on much of the globe thanks to its control of the food supply for many countries and its relief efforts that gain publicity by helping with catastrophes that Damien himself engineers. Knowing that the Second Coming of Christ, which is prophesized to occur in England, is drawing near, Damien uses his power to make the current U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain commit suicide so he can take his place. It isn't long after his appointment to the position that astronomers begin to see signs of an unusual and oncoming constellation of stars and Father DeCarlo, the head of the monastery in Subiaco, which is the same place where Father Spiletto spent his final days, realizes it the imminent sign of the Second Coming. Also having learned from Spiletto many years ago that Damien is the Antichrist, DeCarlo and six other priests plan to use the daggers to kill him before the Second Coming takes place. In England, Damien has become the cream of English high society thanks to his new position and attracts the attention of TV journalist, Kate Reynolds, who begins spending time with him along with her orphaned son, Peter. The priests' first assassination attempt occurs during a televised interview on Reynolds' television show but it goes awry and ends in the priest's death, as well as in Damien discovering that someone who knows who he is has the daggers in their possession. Shortly afterward, the constellation, which creates something along the lines of a second Star of Bethlehem, comes to pass, heralding the rebirth of Christ, which Damien himself senses. After another attempt on his life by three more of the priests, Damien, determined to prevent the prophesy from coming true, orders his legion of loyal followers to murder every baby boy born between midnight and dawn on the eve of the Rebirth. As the death toll rises, and with Peter now thoroughly seduced by Damien, DeCarlo must convince Reynolds that the man she's fallen for is the son of Satan before he finds the Christ child and dooms mankind to being ruled by evil forever.

Richard Donner almost returned to the director's chair for this film but, due to the massive legal hurdles that he was involved in due to the Salkinds' canning him from finishing Superman II, he was only able to serve as executive producer, so the producers instead hired an unknown, British filmmaker named Graham Baker, who at that time had only directed the short film, Leaving Lilly, and episodes of a couple of television series. Like Don Taylor before him, Baker proved that he was able to make a really good-looking, polished film, but his ability to tell a really interesting, creepy story was severely lacking, not helped in any way by the script. His directing career never really went anywhere after The Final Conflict. He directed the 1984 movie, Impulse, with Tim Matheson and Meg Tilly, an episode of Amazing Stories, and, most notably, the 1988 science fiction cult classic, Alien Nation. He directed three films in the 90's: The Recruit, which IMDB has no information on at all, Born to Ride, with John Stamos and John Stockwell, and Beowulf with Christopher Lambert, after which he never directed again until 2016 with With Love From... Suffolk, a British film that currently has an 8.0 rating on IMDB! Okay, it's only from 21 users, but still, damn! And in case you're wondering, no, I was unable to find any image of Baker whatsoever. Believe me, I tried since, thanks to The Omen Legacy, I know what he looks like from a photo they showed (at the time, he had long hair and his face was kind of odd) but I came up empty-handed. In fact, I had a hard time finding images throughout the writing of this and really struggled in finding relevant ones for certain scenes, so be prepared for that.

Despite its many flaws, acting-wise, the movie has no problems, and nowhere is that clearer than in Sam Neill's performance as Damien. Neill is a good actor anyway and here, he gives an almost Shakespearean and, at the same time, often surprisingly subtle performance as the now adult Antichrist. In this film, not only is Damien truly the main character but he's also fully realized in that there's no longer any doubt, hesitation, or reluctance in him: he's fully embraced his unholy lineage and is determined to fulfill his destiny, intending to prevent the Second Coming from happening any way that he can. He's already the head of a very powerful corporation which has a tight grip on much of the world due to its control over food supplies and its relief efforts for catastrophes that Damien himself engineers (particularly the destruction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt, which he blames on an organization that doesn't exist, causing more unrest) but he sees to it that he becomes Ambassador to Great Britain, to ensure that he'll be ready for the Second Coming when it occurs, and he also makes it clear that he intends to run for the U.S. Senate in a couple of years. Once he becomes Ambassador, Damien becomes the darling of the British social scene and begins influencing others, including Kate Reynolds' son, Peter, whose mind he seduces in order to make him one of his many disciples. This is part of an overall plan to influence children across the world, whom he sees as the "future," which is why, when he accepts the position, he also sees to it that he becomes president of the United Nations Youth Council. When Jesus Christ is reborn, Damien orders his legions of followers to kill every baby boy born between midnight and dawn on March 24th, leading to a horrifying series of child deaths that occur over the following week. This determination to kill Jesus Christ, whom he refers to as, "the Nazarene," is not just to stop the Second Coming but also because Damien has grown to truly despise him and sees his purpose as one of saving mankind from someone he considers to be a bringer of false hope and lies. There are a couple of scenes where he speaks to this statue of a crucified Jesus as if he were really talking to him, using it to vent his hatred for him. The speeches that he gives to the statue are what come across as Shakespearean and classic: "Nazarene, charlatan, what can you offer humanity? Since the hour you vomited forth from the gaping wound of a woman, you have done nothing but drown man's soaring desires in a deluge of sanctimonious morality. You've inflamed the pubertal mind of youth with your repellent dogma of original sin. And now you absolve in denying them the ultimate joy beyond death by destroying me ? But you will fail, Nazarene, as you have always failed." And near the end of the movie after so many baby boys have been killed, Damien scolds Jesus for doing nothing to stop him, telling him, "'Suffer the little children to come unto me.' Your words, Nazarene, not mine." Even when he's fatally stabbed at the end, Damien remains defiant to the last, with his final words being, "Nazarene, you have won... nothing." Another motivation for Damien is to avenge his father, whom he feels suffered the agony that Jesus felt on the cross a hundred times over and who he refers to as the one who, "Mankind reviles yet aches to embrace." He becomes to enraged thinking about it that he tries to push the crown of thorns deeper into the Jesus statue's head, causing him to cut his hand and bleed on it, and says, "Satan, I will avenge thy torment by destroying the Christ forever."

Even though he's plotting to take over the world, Damien does take time to strike up a relationship with popular British TV journalist, Kate Reynolds, and while this mostly comes out of his twisting her son's mind to do his bidding, he does take enough interest in her to eventually have sex with her. Given who he is, it's unlikely that Damien actually felt anything for her, particularly since it seems like he tried to kill her beforehand by tricking her into falling into some rushing rapids and then, when they were in the middle of sex, he got very rough and basically raped her, as well as scratched up her back, not to mention that none of his interactions with her gave him second thoughts about what he was doing to her and her son. I'm guessing that even the Antichrist has needs and he was just killing time in the midst of all the evil he was doing. The only complaint I have about Damien, other than there being no actual final conflict between him and the reborn Jesus Christ (unless you count those scenes between him and that statue that I described), is how easily he's killed at the end. At this point, he should be at the peak of his power, which we do get a sense of given how everything evil that happens is most definitely being caused by him, as opposed to the previous films where it was Satan himself trying to protect his son, and yet, he's killed by being stabbed in the back by only one of the Daggers of Megiddo. In fact, those priests each tried to kill him with one of the daggers, whereas before, you had to use all seven and you had to do it on holy ground on top of that. That does not feel right at all considering how Damien is now fully realized. Plus, I feel that it should have been Jesus Christ who struck him down, rather than his being killed by Kate or, for that matter, anyone with those daggers. I think it would have been much more epic and, most importantly, made more dramatic sense if it had been revealed all along that those previous attempts to kill Damien with those daggers were always doomed to fail because only the son of God could destroy the son of Satan, per the prophesy in the Book of Revelations. At least that would have made it feel more epic than what we got, in my opinion.

As Damien's love interest, Kate Reynolds, Lisa Harrow (who began an offscreen relationship with Sam Neill that resulted in a son) gives a decent performance despite the fact that she really doesn't have much to do until the third act. She's immediately interested in Damien when she sees him at a societal gathering and, because of his high profile and how much he's accomplished at the young age of 32, she talks with him about doing an interview for her weekly television show. They begin spending time together, which is how Damien is introduced to her son, Peter, and that's possibly when her eventual infatuation with him really begins. As a result, as well as due to her own personal, cynical point of view that keeps her from believing in God, let alone the devil, she initially writes off Father DeCarlo's claims that Damien is the Antichrist as ridiculous but, as he goes on and talks about his own personal connection with Damien, she does listen to him, particularly when he tells her of the "666" birthmark under Damien's hair. After that meeting, Kate does contact Damien again, maybe to try to verify DeCarlo's claims for herself, but whatever her initial intentions were, they take a momentary backseat when she falls into the rapids and after Damien rescues her, the two of them have sex that turns quite violent. It's after that encounter when Kate learns that what DeCarlo said is the truth when she checks under his hair while he's sleeping and finds the birthmark, which both horrifies and devastates her because of the feelings that she did have for him, despite the violent sex. When confronted about this by DeCarlo, Kate initially feigns ignorance and also refuses to believe his claims that Peter has become a follower of Damien, until she discovers that he's not at home where he should be. Now sure that what DeCarlo said must be true, she goes to Damien's mansion just as he's about to truly make the boy one of his followers and, in exchange for Peter, agrees to take him to the place where the reborn Jesus Christ has been hidden. At first, I assumed that this was a part of a trap for Damien that she and DeCarlo came up with since he asked for her to let him come with her back to her house but, given how she gave him away when he tried to jump Damien and stab him with one of the daggers, it seems more like she really was about to lead him to Jesus and doom humanity just so she could have her son back. But, when Damien uses Peter as a shield and he ends up getting stabbed, this enrages Kate to the point where she herself kills Damien with the dagger, saving mankind and causing her to gain faith in God, as can be seen as she's kneeling and praying in the penultimate shot of the movie (she'd asked Christ for help before leading Damien to the location).

Kate's son, Peter (Barnaby Holm), is taken with Damien from their first scene together, seeing him as both a friend and a father figure since his own father has been dead for some time and becomes completely seduced by him as the story progresses. For me, the moment where he really starts to fall under his control is when, after the foxhunt, Damien smears the blood from one of the priests who tried to kill him on his face, which is parallel to a tradition in foxhunting only here, it's a blood rite that initiates Peter into Damien's, "Disciples of the Watch." From then on, Peter is loyal to Damien to a fault, doing whatever he says as well as anything he can to help him, most significantly finding out who Father DeCarlo is from an address he gives to Kate and keeping tabs on him, learning that he visits the home of Damien's private secretary, Harvey Dean. It's never made clear as to whether or not Peter took part in the murders of all the baby boys born in England in the early hours of March 24th but, regardless, by the time the third act enters its last few minutes, Peter is just steps away from becoming a full fledged disciple of Satan, with Kate managing to stop him before he can finish the commandment Damien asks him to repeat. So seduced is Peter by this point that he shields himself behind Damien from his own mother and warns him that her claim that she'll lead him to the location of the reborn Jesus Christ if he gives her son back to her could be a trick. However, as Damien demonstrated at the end of the previous film when he killed his aunt, Peter's loyalty means only so much to him as he uses him as a human shield when DeCarlo comes at him with the dagger, resulting in the boy getting fatally stabbed. Despite this, though, after Damien dies and Jesus Christ returns fully, he seems to resurrect Peter as he hands him over to his mother.

With no father figure to attempt to destroy Damien upon learning of his true nature this time around, we instead have Father DeCarlo (Rossano Brazzi), an Italian priest from the monastery in Subiaco who has known Damien's true identity ever since the events of the first film because Father Spiletto confessed it to him before he passed away. Over the years, he's watched Damien's rise to power from afar, waiting for an opportunity to destroy him himself, and now that his brotherhood has received the Daggers of Megiddo and with the Second Coming of Christ at hand, DeCarlo decides it's now or never. He and a group of other priests travel to England to attempt to kill Damien before the rebirth but, when that attempt fails, they decide that they must locate the Christ child and keep him safe while continuing to try to kill Damien. But, these attempts also fail, resulting in the deaths of all the other priests (less because of Damien and more because these priests come across as incompetent idiots, as I'll get into later), and when DeCarlo then hears Kate Reynolds' news report about a sudden increase in infant deaths, he realizes that she's the only person he can turn to now who might listen to his claims about what's going on. After giving her evidence that proves that all of the victims were born between midnight and dawn on March 24th and appealing to her logic that this mass killing is actually an attempt to get to one baby in particular. When she dismisses his claim that the person behind these killings is the Antichrist and that it's Damien Thorn, he reassures her by telling her of the commandment of not bearing "false witness" and that if he had any doubt about Damien whatsoever, he wouldn't say anything. He also asks her, "You know Thorn the man. Do you know his soul?", and leaves her the research that he and his brotherhood have gathered about Damien so she can make up her own mind about what the truth is, as well as informs her of the birthmark on the back of his head. After his talk with Kate, DeCarlo warns the wife of Damien's private secretary about what's happening, prompting her to find proof that convinces her, and then, after finding and securing the Christ child offscreen, goes back to Kate, who now knows the truth but feigns ignorance about it, finding it hard to accept. That's when he warns her about Damien's control over Peter and tells her that in order to save him, they must kill Damien. This leads to the last scene, where DeCarlo attempts to stab Damien after Kate brings him and Peter to the location where the Christ child can be found but ends up stabbing Peter instead due to Kate's dumb move of yelling, "No!" I'm not sure if Damien kills DeCarlo or just chokes him out and throws him to the ground but, whatever the case, he's not seen again.

I've always been rather curious about Damien's private secretary, Harvey Dean (Don Gordon), and just how he came to acquire this position, especially since he knows he's the Antichrist and helps him in his goal in taking over the world. I once thought that it went something like Harvey either stumbled across it or Damien out and out told him and then said, "Want to be my private secretary and share in my domination?" But, on the other hand, he could have been one of the many Satanists who've been helping and protecting Damien all along and just happened to acquire this position. Whatever the case, despite having a wife and a newborn son, Dean is very loyal to Damien and willing to do anything he asks, including helping him in creating chaos around the globe so he can send in their relief efforts and tighten his grip on humanity further, finding out how the Daggers of Megiddo found their way to Subiaco, Italy, and even organizing the deaths of some of the baby boys who become Damien's targets, angrily telling one guy who doesn't like the idea, "Listen, Peterson, I don't give a shit how you feel about this! Just do the job!" It seems like nothing can shaken his loyalty, including when his wife, Barbara (Leueen Willoughby), finds out the truth and angrily confronts him with it, as he reacts by coldly telling her, "You don't know what you've done." However, there are instances where you do see some humanity, like when he's surprised when Damien says that the President is going to offer him the position of Ambassador to Great Britain and asks about the current Ambassador, his growing frustration with Damien as he becomes more and more concerned about dealing with the reborn Jesus Christ than what's going on with his company abroad, as well as the shocked expression he has when Damien reveals his plan to kill all of the baby boys born on the same date as the Messiah. This is mainly due to concern for his own son, whom it's eventually revealed was born during that same time period despite what he told Damien, and when Damien out-and-out orders him to kill his son or face death himself, Dean decides he's had enough and runs back home to escape with Barbara and the baby. Unfortunately for him, Damien now has Barbara under his control and she murders him after having done the same to their son.

Mason Adams has one scene early on as the unnamed President of the United States who appoints Damien as the new Ambassador to Great Britain after the suicide of the current one. He also looks to Damien for help in diffusing the situation going on in Egypt following the destruction of the Aswan Dam, with Damien feeding him the lie about the "Nubian Liberation Front" being responsible rather than Israel, which Egypt is blaming. When it comes to getting Damien to "accept" the position, the President offers to bend the law and allow him to continue being head of Thorn Industries while he's Ambassador, and reluctantly makes him president of the United Nations Youth Council, which was one of the terms of his taking it up even though it had already been promised to someone else. There seems to be something of a close relationship between the two of them given how much the President respects him and is willing to do for him and while the specifics are never made clear, there's a very slight hint that he may have known Robert Thorn, since he says that he would have been very proud of his son for taking the position.

Atmosphere-wise, The Final Conflict does remind me more of the first film than Damien: Omen II, mainly because we're back in England for the entirety of the story, whereas the second one was set in America save for the opening, and it has that same classy, foreign feel to it. It's certainly not as creepy or foreboding as the original but there is something about the British countryside, with its constant overcast skies, old-fashioned buildings and ruins, and the overall flavor of the nation that suits this kind of story well. Like the others, the film is shot very well, with the landscapes ranging from beautiful to ominous, and the tone gets pretty dark at points, due to some of the deaths being more gruesome than anything in the previous films and also as a result of some aspects of the story, particularly the section where Damien's followers begin killing every baby boy in the country. Fortunately, they don't get overly graphic and tasteless with those child deaths but they're still cringe-inducing regardless, delving into a level of evil that the other films didn't touch and giving the movie more of a dark edge than the second one. The scene where Damien has a meeting with all of his followers and instructs them to kill the baby Jesus is also rather unsettling, both because you see how far and diverse his influence has become by this point (not only do you have priests and nurses but even little kids!) and how utterly devoted they are to him, the scene ending with them chanting, "We hear! We hear!" over and over again, adding even more power to the sequence dealing with the child killings. And yet, in spite of the very dark moments, you also have a parallel feeling of hope for the first time in the entire series, with the feeling that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent and the true dread that it inspires in Damien. The scene where the three stars come together to signal the rebirth is a truly awe-inspiring, beautiful moment, with incredibly holy music and the juxtaposition of Damien's horrified realization and Father DeCarlo and the others rejoicing, with one crossing himself when it happens. This is only a prelude to the ending, where Damien is finally defeated and the Second Coming happens in earnest, with mighty shafts of light, vocalizing voices singing in a majestic and triumphant feel, and passages from the Bible getting across the idea that the Antichrist's reign of terror is over and now, nothing but peace and happiness awaits mankind.

There are a number of other ties between this film and the original than just the setting. Again, you have an already powerful figure becoming the new Ambassador to the Court of St. James, something that was never mentioned or dealt with in the second film; a scene where Damien is hounded by reporters when he arrives at his office one morning; a reporter being a member of the main cast (what's even more significant is that Kate Reynolds kills Damien, which is what Keith Jennings had intended to do before he got decapitated); evil being personified in the form of a Rottweiler, as opposed to the raven in the previous film; a reference to Father Spiletto, the priest who engineered Damien's adoption in the original; somebody close to Damien being warned by a priest that he's the Antichrist and said person not believing it until they find the "666" on the back of his head; and another person who's very close to Damien being a member of the Satanic cult that worships him. Plus, there's also the fact that, even though he didn't direct the film, Richard Donner was involved with it in some capacity, which wasn't the case with the second one.

This film is set in the 1980's, either 1981 or 1982 since Damien mentions his intention to run for the U.S. Senate in 1984 and, because of that, he makes the President agree to allow him to serve as Ambassador for only two years, which means, given that his age here is 32, The Omen and Damien: Omen II were actually set in the 50's and 60's respectively. You might think that this would cause serious continuity problems but, surprisingly, not really. If you go back and look at this movie, there are instances where the vehicles and hair-styles do scream 1970's but, for the most part, Richard Donner and Don Taylor were quite successful in making their films feel very, very timeless. Specifically, no specific dates are given in either film, with The Omen only saying that the story began five years before and Damien: Omen II saying nothing more than it's been seven years since the events of the first film. What's more, I don't remember seeing any clothes that were specific to the 70's (except for maybe that bright red dress Joan Hart wore in the second film), with everyone wearing suits and dresses that could belong to any time. Even the lack of or the very mild profanity, with the original having none at all and the sequel having some instances of "damn" and "hell," makes it easy for me to believe that those films take place in the 50's and 60's (even though I know in reality, strong swear words have existed since long before then), whereas this, being set in the 80's, has the strongest profanity, with "shit" and "sons of bitches" being uttered. It might not have been their intention when they made those two previous films but the filmmakers behind these movies ended up catching a very easy break when they decided to suddenly retcon the given timeline with this one... that is, until they put in an off-camera line that I don't think many catch. As Damien is about to be interviewed by Kate Reynolds, she gives her viewers some background history on him and mentions that he took over Thorn Industries in 1971, a position that he's held for seven years, which would mean that this would actually have to be 1978. Oops. They almost got away with it!

Death-wise, the film begins with what has to be the goriest and most brutal kill in the entire series. The current U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain (Robert Arden) is taking a walk through a park back to his car when he runs into Damien's Rottweiler, who seems to have some sort of hypnotic power over people. After looking into his eyes, the Ambassador walks away in an apparent trance, ignoring his chauffeur, walking through the street without paying any attention to the cars that almost hit him, and heads back to his office at the embassy, where he seems to momentarily recover after splashing his face with water, only to be inexplicably horrified when he looks at himself in the mirror. He then asks for a press conference at 3:00 in his office and creates some kind of set-up using his umbrella holder and a strip from his tape recorder, which he ties around the inside doorknobs. He takes something out of his desk drawer and places it underneath and then sits down and waits calmly for the press to arrive. When they walk up to the door and knock, he tells them to come in, and when they open the door, the tape strip pulls the trigger on a gun angled right at his head. The gun blasts right through his mouth and out the back of his head, covering the wall behind him with blood and utterly horrifying everybody who's witness to it. To make things even more cringe-inducing,  his left foot spasms a little bit and knocks against the side of the desk a few times, which is what really gets me.

The build-up to the second death, that of the first priest who tries to assassinate Damien with one of the daggers while he's being interviewed by Kate Reynolds on her news show, has a couple of moments I've always found kind of interesting. One is a brief moment where, as he's getting his makeup put on, Damien jerks a bit when the woman goes to comb his hair, likely in fear that she'll find the "666," and tells her he'll do it himself, which he does. And then, when he and Harvey Dean are walking to the set, Dean notices a woman who walks past them and tells Damien, "Did you see that woman? It's not a woman. It's a guy! It's a faggot!" Damien simply responds, "They're all God's children, Harvey," and Dean laughs out loud. Besides Damien's making a comment that many Christians would find insulting, I've always thought that moment was just random and didn't contribute much of anything. In any case, the death of the would-be assassin highlights another flaw with the film: these priests suck at what they're trying to do and come across as incompetent with a capital "I." Take this one for example: when he gets caught lurking behind the scenes, he climbs up onto the walkways and rafters above the studio, sneaking into position on a very shaky section of scaffolding right above where Damien is being interviewed. He takes out the dagger in his position, and that makes me wonder what exactly he was planning on doing. Was he going to throw at Damien from up there and just hope that it hit its mark? And when he was hiding behind the scenes, was he planning to rush the stage and stab Damien, getting arrested for murder in order to save the world? Furthermore, I know they were strapped for a suitable attempt to kill him, but wouldn't attempting it in a public place like this be just as risky as trying to kill him at his home or at the embassy? In any case, right before the guy can get it done, he's spotted by Dean, who warns Damien, and loses his balance, falling off the scaffolding and getting his leg caught up in a cable. He's swung through the set, knocking over a lighting apparatus that starts a fire amidst a punch of paint cans, and is then swung into some burning, hanging sheets of plastic, which he gets tangled up in, and is slowly burned to death until the fire is put out by some technicians. That was clumsiness on his part, rather than anything that Damien did. And what's more, Damien finds his dagger, tipping him off that somebody who knows he's the Antichrist is gunning for him. Nice job, dumbass.

The group of deaths is rather confusing. One of the priests "lures" Damien to these ruins out in the middle of the English countryside, where two others are waiting to ambush him with their daggers. The weather starts to grow progressively worse and more ominous as they approach, letting you know that something's about to happen, and as the other two priests get into position, Damien's presence is signaled by some nearby sheep becoming spooked. He then walks into the ruin, and you can clearly see that it is Damien, and the priests pounce on him, one throwing a sack over him and the other grabbing and subduing him, allowing them to stab him repeatedly. They think they've done it, only for them to remove the sack and reveal that they just killed the priest that was supposed to lure Damien there. This is a major WTF? moment since this is the first time Damien has managed to do anything as mind-bending as this. The one priest remarks, "We're possessed!", which only adds to the confusion. Possessed by what? Damien? Is he somehow controlling them? I know he's the Antichrist and he can do whatever he wants but there was a consistency to his powers before this, which feels out of left-field. Anyway, when they've realized the grisly mistake they made, the priests try to flee from the ruins when a Satanic lightning storm kicks up around them but they run into the Rottweiler. Desperate to escape, they think they can do so through an old drainage hole but once they jump in, they see that it's been blocked off. The grating then slides shut on its own, trapping them inside, where I'm guessing they eventually die of starvation.

The deaths of the two remaining priests (not counting Father DeCarlo) occur during the foxhunt, where they use a combination of live and dead foxes to lure the hounds that Damien is following onto a bridge, away from everyone else. Trapping him on either side, they both move in with their daggers, but Damien spooks the horse that one is riding towards him (you'd think they would know by now that animals are frightened of him) and it rears up, trying to get away, eventually bucking him over the side of the bridge and he falls to his death in the shallow creek below. The other priest tries to do what his ally couldn't but, as he approaches, it quickly becomes clear that Damien is controlling the minds of the dogs, as they stare right at him and growl quietly. Damien calmly says, "Take him," and they charge the priest, who tries to run back to his truck. The dogs reach him before he can open the door and they swarm him, dragging him to the ground and ripping him to pieces off-camera, with Damien taking some of his blood and later using it to initiate Peter into his circle.

Like I said before, the section of the movie that's the most upsetting is when Damien's followers from all walks of life begin murdering baby boys across England. Again, none of the murders are shown in any graphic detail but just the thought of what's going on and how wide-spread it is, as well as what little you do see, is disturbing enough as it is. In fact, according to the Omen Legacy documentary, trying to come up with so many different deaths was so troubling that director Graham Baker supposedly paid Barnaby Holm, who plays Peter, money for any horrific idea he could come up with. The sequence begins with Harvey Dean orchestrating several deaths from his house while Barbara is off shopping with a friend of hers, with both of them taking their baby boys. When Barbara's friend heads for home, she's hit by a ball thrown by a couple of Damien's youngest followers and the stroller goes careening down the sidewalk, with the baby crying as his mother rushes after him. But, she's unable to stop him before he rolls into the street and gets hit by an oncoming car. Elsewhere, a priest follower of Damien's "baptizes" baby Alexander-David, killing him either by smothering or strangling him (the sounds of the life being choked out of the baby make me cringe). Even the freaking Boy Scouts are in on it, as two show up at a woman's apartment, intending to do their "good deed for the day." And at a hospital, a nurse turns the oxygen for some of the babies in the maternity ward. This sequence culminates in a scene near the end of the movie where Barbara, after having discovered the truth about Damien and her husband's involvement with him, is at home with her baby when the Rottweiler suddenly shows up at the window and snarls at her. After chasing the dog off, Barbara turns and sees a pretty horrific vision of her son in a mummified state, prompting her to back away in terror, but when the camera pans back down to the baby, it shows that he's just fine. However, Barbara is now under Damien's control and picks up the iron she's been using and approaches the baby with murderous intent. After a dissolve, Dean arrives home to attempt to flee the country with his family, only to find the aftermath of what's happened. He's then attacked by Barbara, who has a very unsettling, maniacal look on her face, and gets a hot iron stabbed into his left eye, killing him instantly.

As I said at the beginning, a more appropriate title for this movie would be The Anti-Climax because, if you go into this expecting a final, epic faceoff between good and evil, you're going to be very, very disappointed. This series is known for more ethereal, less blatant displays of evil (i.e. deaths being caused by unseen, supernatural forces and Damien's control over people rather than shooting beams of evil energy out of his eyes and the like) so you probably shouldn't expect a big battle between the reborn Messiah and the Antichrist like something you'd see in a comic book but, still, they should have tried to end Damien's story on a more satisfying note than this. Throughout the film, it does feel like there's going to be a confrontation at the end between Damien and Jesus Christ, who escapes the Antichrist's attempt to destroy him and is hidden away in an old ruin until he's ready to take back the world. When Kate is forced to lead Damien to the spot in exchange for Peter, and the boy ends up stabbed while Father DeCarlo is choked out, you are anticipating something as Damien runs into the ruins, shouting, "I'm here, Nazarene! Where are you?! Come out and face me!", and then closes in on the building where Jesus obviously is. And then, Kate stabs him in the back with the last dagger, prompting him to let out a loud mixture of deep bellowing and animal cries before he stumbles into the ruin, is faced with a glowing vision of Jesus, and gives one last bit of defiance before dying. What a weak way to end the trilogy. Again, you shouldn't be expecting an over the top, comic book-like battle, but you should get more than that, like Jesus himself striking Damien down, which would have been a great payoff to how much of a threat he was supposed to be towards Damien, as we were told throughout the entire movie. Plus, it would have made Jesus' rebirth seem vital to saving the world from Damien, as he was the one who was prophesized to do it while everybody else was always fated to fail, daggers or no daggers. By having Kate kill him, it severely hurts the impact and importance of the Second Coming and makes Damien seem weak, as, apparently, anybody could have killed him if they had the chance. It's so frustrating when you see potential like that in something that, as it played out in actuality, is a massive missed opportunity.

Unlike his score for Damien: Omen II, here Jerry Goldsmith composed completely original music and never made any references back to the score of the first film, including Ave Satani, or the second, for that matter. Here, the main theme for Damien himself, while still involving a chorus singing in Latin, is less ominous and horrific overall and takes a much more grand, sweeping approach since he's now at his full power. It's still an evil theme all-around but is less about menace and more about how the world is now mostly under the control of the Antichrist without their even realizing it. It's a very memorable, well-done piece and is re-orchestrated in many different ways throughout the film, purely through music in those cases. However, you still do have the trademark unsettling, distant chanting in some scenes like the buildups to or during some of the kills, such as the suicide of the first Ambassador, where you hear Latin singing that gets louder and louder as the reporters approach the door to his office, stopping right before they open it, and when the first priest dies his gruesome death while trying to assassinate Damien. It's during the sequence involving the deaths of the babies, however, where Goldsmith pulls out the stops in regards to music that makes your hair stand on end. The loud, sudden cries when the Boy Scouts show up at one woman's apartment and the nightmarish bit that you hear when Barbara sees that vision of her infant mummified in particular make those scenes all the more unsettling. Not every piece in this film's score has clouds hanging over it, though. In fact, Goldsmith took advantage of this film's more hopeful moments regarding the Second Coming and scored some of the most beautiful music in the entire series, next to his love theme for Robert and Kathy Thorn in the original. The piece for the scene where the stars come together to signal the rebirth of Christ builds and builds until it happens and the music climaxes with a glorious bit of vocalizing, but like the scene itself, this is only a precursor to the film's ending. Once Damien keels over in front of Christ, the most beautiful hymn you've ever heard in your life begins, with joyous singing and incredible music that, when combined with the images and the Bible passages heralding Jesus' triumphant return to Earth, makes it feel like nothing else than a wondrous celebration, that all of the evil that Damien has caused has really been swept away forever. As you can tell, I really enjoy the score for this film and feel that it's one of its best aspects, without a doubt. It's definitely a step up from his score for the second film, with an interesting note being that, like the film itself in its story, he returned to England to compose the score, just like he had for the original. Coincidence?

Like all of the films in the series, The Final Conflict isn't without any merits at all. Sam Neill gives a good performance as the adult Damien, the other actors, no matter how limited their individual roles may be, do fine as well, the return to England, as well as other elements in the story, gives it a bit of the same feel as the original, a couple of the death scenes are among the grisliest in the entire franchise, the section involving the mass murder of baby boys gives it a dark edge that not even the first film had, and the music is nothing short of phenomenal, making up for the rather lackluster score of the second film. However, the film's pace is mind-numbingly slow at points, some of the deaths are a bit too mind-bending and confusing, the priests who are attempting to kill Damien come across as clumsy and incompetent in the ways some of them die, and, most unforgiveable of all, the film's ending is very disappointing and is a missed opportunity in so many ways. I still stand by my decision in putting this film on the list I did of the worst and most disappointing sequels because, despite the good I do see in it, it's very uninspiring and not one I watch that often. In fact, Damien himself described it best when he was giving his thoughts on the new Thorn Industries commercial at the beginning: "Trite. Rhetorical. Cliched. Inane."