Richard Donner's original The Omen is held in sort of a bizarre esteem as far as horror films go. Certainly it's of questionable actual quality, but part of its charm is how Goddamn seriously it takes itself, to the point of pretention, while being delightfully, deliciously pulpy. It's a hell of a lot of fun, but it plays itself too straight while being a bit too goofy in parts, and that keeps it out of the pantheon of genre-defining work inhabited by films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and more modern work like Se7en and Ring.
Of course, it also had David Warner. I'll watch him in anything (see: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.)
Damien: Omen II has no shortage of pretense, and as I've mentioned in other reviews, sometimes the joy of the film can be in how straight it plays things. Damien really believes in itself and all the crap it spouts. It also contains Lance Henriksen.
In a way, that's what makes it work, however unintentionally. It's well written enough, I suppose, and it's certainly well acted enough, but it requires a bit of forced and flagrant stupidity on the parts of its main characters to work. Damien's uncle, for example, can't wrap his head around the idea that his son might be the antichrist, despite the fact that freak fatal accidents keep occurring to people who suggest that...hey...Damien might be the antichrist. And because this is a horror movie, some of the shit that happens is hilariously contrived and utterly devoid of realism. Which basically turns the film into an ourobouros tonally: it's totally serious about itself, but Damien's uncle treats these insane, Final Destination-style deaths as though they're just misfortune.
And then I go cross-eyed.
But mostly I laugh.
It's this bizarre conflict in tone that makes the movie so fucking fun, and what really pushes it over the top is the score by Jerry Goldsmith. It was a big deal to get him back to score this film after the first one, and he even gets his own copyright notice in the opening credits. Just for him! Most horror movie soundtracks telegraph a scare. Jerry isn't satisfied with that. While the scare is happening, his soundtrack elevates to this kind of delirious fever pitch that oozes pretense and cheese. Oh my God! Look at Damien's eyes! CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC!!! It needs to be seen to be believed.
Damien: Omen II can be regarded as more or less a dismal failure as a horror movie, but a very delightful comedy. I have no trouble recommending it and it does follow soundly in its predecessor's footsteps, advancing the story. The young actor playing Damien in this film is also pretty talented, which after watching the first half of Omen III: The Final Conflict (or as I like to call it, "Sam Neill vs. Baby Jesus") I can say is an earmark of the series; talented actors playing Damien give the films at least some kind of anchor. Since they're all about him, it's good that the actors are fun to watch.
I can tell you I was rarely if ever bored during this film. I found it strangely, consistently comical and ludicrous, and I admired that intense devotion to pretense and the deathly seriousness that pervades it, despite how God damn hilariously contrived parts of it were. Unfortunately, though, those contrivances, along with the willingness to target the casual horror fan, are exactly what's keeping these movies from being regarded in the same high esteem as work like The Exorcist and its - in my humble opinion - superior sequel, The Exorcist III.
Still. This movie is fucking funny.
- Dustin Sklavos