"Damlen - Omen II" is the latest witness for the prosecution in the ongoing case against slavish sequels. If a movie can be said to snore before your eyes, "Damien" sustains an ungodly, unstimulating buzz.
Coming at the start of a summer film season that boasts titles like "Jaws 2," "The Bad News Bears Go to Japan" and "Revenge of the Pink Panther," "Damien" can't be construed as a good omen. Already one can detect a resounding "No!" to the rhetorical moviegoing question, "Are these sequels really necessary?"
Perhaps they aren't to the public," which traditionally turns out in dwindling numbers for the spinoffs. However, it may be an unavoidable trap for produces and movie companies, especially when a 50 percent fall-off, which appears to be average for most presentable sequels, can still represent formidale profits. (The original "Jaws" has earned over $121 million in North American film rentals, according to Variety, and the original "Omen" close to $28 million). The long-term effects, however, are probably damaging - a reduction in value of the original movie and a waste of talent and resources that might be better employed trying to originate something else.
Harvey Bernhard, the producer of "The Omen" and "Damien," on which he also claims a story credit to his eventual discredit, has threatened to make a career of the anti-christ gimmick. He announced plans for three sequels when "The Omen" was still going strong, and his public statements, full of ominous hints about dark forces at work to sabotage the productions, betray an inevitably self-serving piety.
The sluggish self-imitation of "Damien" may compel Bernhard to hurry up "Armageddon," - the tentative title of the last or maybe next-to-last of this string of sequels. Far from advancing the unsavory premise of the original film, this one doggedly retraces its steps. The result is an inferior copy rather than a narrative continuation. The cast features a new, slightly older Damien, as well as a new set of victims and accomplices, but they're put through identical or only marginally altered motions. It's sleepwalking.
Originally identified as the changelling son of an American diplomat and his wife, Damien gave the audience a triumphant little smirk at the end of "The Omen," having miraculously foiled his crazed father's murder attempt. It also appeared that he had been adopted by the president's family, a detail forgotten in the sequel. Damien doesn't operate from the White House, but he's prominently situated in the household of a Chicago industrialist played by William Holden, supposedly the brother of the unfortunate papa played by Gregory Peck in "The Omen."
The filmmakers also forget that they've signalled Damien's self-awareness to the audience. In the sequel the only whisper of conflict emerges from adolescent Damien's surprise at his monstrous powers. His qualms prove as short-lived as they were unprepared for. Leaving a trail of alternately harmless and ineffectual victims behind him, he rolls homicidally and untouchably along.
The weakness of the premise becomes more apparent the longer it's spum out: There's no contest. If Damien is meant to be taken literally, as a superhuman force of evil, the allegory sorely needs a plausible antagonist. Otherwise the "good" characters begin to resemble so many sitting ducks. It's absurd to take a serious interest in their fates, since they never behave wisely and never stand a chance of neutralizing evil.
When "The Omen" was released, Bernhard and director Richard Donner attempted to defend their sensationalistic exploitation of apocalyptic bibical passages by insisting that the movie was inspiring a resurgence of religious interest. However, it appeared that audiences responded to the movie basically as a gratuitous shocker. The clumsy, nonsensical plot provoked giggles, but people were still thrilled by Donner's big Grand Guignol effects, an impalement and a beheading.
Directed by the indifferent Don Taylor, the sequel perpetuates the vicious nonsense without inventing distinctive new thrills. The jolts are diluted combinations or adaptations of effects from the first movie.
One of the oddities of the show is an unbilled appearance by Leo McKern in a role carried over from the original film. As an archeologist on to the evil doings, he expires during a prologue set in Israel. Required to shout lines like "Forces of evil, goodness will prevail!" while sand and rubble from a collapsing tunnel are dumped on his noggin, McKern exemplifies acting professionalism in the face of extreme silliness. Robert Foxworth is in good form as a business partner of Holden's considered a member of the Devil's shadow cabinet by the filmmakers because he advocates modernized farming in destitute countries, evidently an affront to decency by definition.
The thought processes of people who fabricate movies like "The Omen" and "Damien" are frequently mystifying, unless one assumes that everything is potential grist for the commercial mill. At a glance, one would tend to dismiss such films as conventionally cynical entertainments, who would suspect that producer Bernhood sincerely regarded himself as a tribune in the war against eternal evil? Or that David Seltzer, the writer who dreamed up the premise, which climaxes in adoptive fathers trying to murder adopted devil-sons, is himself the father of two Vietnamese orphans and is considered one of the nicer guys in Holywood? Let's hope that they're plowing the profits back into worthwhile endeavors.