Omen III: The Final Conflict (Graham Baker,1981)
Having eased (with a few well-chosen casualties along the way) into the prophesized ‘sea that constantly rages’ — namely the world of politics — the now 32 year-old Damien Thorn (Sam Neil), already the head CEO of the international conglomerate inherited from his father (his second adopted human one that is… we all know who his real pappy is – think red tail, horns, trident and a home on a lake of burning fire and you’ll be sniffing brimstone in the right direction), and now newly appointed as US Ambassador to Great Britain (after a terrible… misfortune… befalls the previous ambassador, but more on that later), has understandably grown more than a bit obsessed with preventing the foretold Second Coming of the Majestic One’s son himself, sent to Earth to destroy him, even if it means – as King Herod supposedly did to all the male babies in Bethlehem – he has to destroy every newborn boy in England with the forecast birth date; meanwhile, a group of priests, armed with the Seven Daggers of Megiddo (if you don’t know what those are by this point, let’s just forget it) set about on the biblically assigned task of destroying the Antichrist forever.
With a fabulous extended opening credits montage following the seven daggers from excavated construction site (having been buried in the destroyed ruins of the Thorn museum in Chicago at the explosive finale of Omen II), sold to a pawn shop, on into an auction, and finally finding their way to Antichrist-aware Father DeCarlo (Rossano Brazzi) — the wordless imagery playing out before a revised, perhaps lesser, yet still devilishly fun, chanting Goldsmith theme — this latest “Omen” sure starts off with a bang… which quickly turns quite literal with what has to be the most straight-out shocking (though not the best, or most clever) splatter-y death sequence in the series (think of the infamous video footage of ol’ politician Budd Dwyer boldly making his final statement before a group of horrified reporters if you want to get an idea where this one goes) involving a US Ambassador who, unlike Mr Dwyer (though who can really be sure?), receives his marching orders via mind whammy from the menacing stare of a black devil doggie (with accompanying Goldsmith musical cue, naturally) during the politician’s morning stroll in the park (announcing early to us that, while the rottweiler might have temporarily been replaced by the eye-gouging crow for Omen II, he’s back full force in the Satanic sidekick seat for this “Conflict”).
Sandwiched between this momentum-gathering opening credit sequence and the crazy murder set-piece to follow (the only one in the “Omen” series so far where I questioned whether my daughter should be watching with me… eh… too late), however, is a couple of quick scenes introducing the calculating, well-aware-he’s-the-Antichrist Damien and his right-hand man (wily vet Don Gordon), giving us a gander at Damien’s cold-hearted machinations, as he guides the huge corporate entity he runs into enabling, then exploiting, world-wide catastrophes (providing a nicely prescient glimpse at today’s now commonplace practice of neoliberal disaster capitalism, coined by political author and activist Naomi Klein, as corporate ‘Shock Therapy’… otherwise known as the main cause of the mass extinction the planet is currently hurling towards).
I mean… this all sounds like really good, promising stuff. And it is. However, as effective as Damien’s opening is captured, it also ends up revealing some of the weaknesses that become more and more apparent as the film plays out, and begins faltering from that original excitement. Where the initial The Omen‘s dramatic center came from the struggle of that first Thorn family, grappling with the unbelievable reality that they might in fact be raising the (gulp) Devil’s kiddo (original director Richard Donner claims that he — and he had his actors — imagine as if it was all in their minds, that they succumb to a shared mental illness, and that the kid was absolutely not the Antichrist – to which I say, with all those crazed baboons, attacking nannies and beheadings – come on, Dick, talk about denial!), and the second effectively dealt with Damien’s move into adolescence, playing as an imaginative, tension-filled coming-of-age body count film, The Final Conflict, on the other hand, struggles with finding its dramatic core.
At this point Damien is well aware who he is and what his goals are, reciting them directly to us through his slightly dopy confidant and, I mean, as much as I have always loved the late Don Gordon (hell, not only did he become a cool counterculture dude, having hung with wild man Dennis Hopper late in life, but he had guest stints on episodes of both the original The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits – what’s not to love?), they have him playing this part in really confused fashion, with his thick-lensed glasses, willing to take part in hideous acts of violence to ‘stop the Second Coming’, yet clearly having no idea what Damien is rambling on about with his doom-laden biblical quotations (not to be ageist, but you’d think Damien could muster up a bit of a more intellectually engaged assistant).
As interesting a performer I think Sam Neil is, he’s wooden in the lead role; though I don’t entirely blame that on him. He doesn’t really have much to do, as he’s mostly telling others, like his dog, or his troops, to do all the dirty work.
As hard as Goldsmith’s stirring score works to raise the stakes (as well as that recurring nice shot of the helicopter on the orange-sun drenched horizon) into something epic this go-round, with the film seeming to want to play as a kind of R-rated Harry Potter bloody adventure, the makers clearly didn’t have the full vision to pull it off. The priests sent out to kill him are wildly inept (how that one thought he was going to stab Damien with one of the daggers from up in the tv studio rafters remains a forever mystery to me, but at least it led to a juicy death scene), are easily fooled and dispatched with barely a struggle. And the appearance of the saviour at the end is woefully underwhelming, as he’s been merely a bystander (we don’t even ever learn how he was protected when Damien sent out his baby-killing crew).
Saying that, the film is slickly shot and looks great, reminding me, added in with the suddenly gruesome murder set-pieces (especially the one of Gordon’s character’s wife turning mind-controlled, crazy-eyed killer with the steaming iron) of a lesser, bit lazy, though still entertaining, John Carpenter film. As limited as it all is, and as weakly the battle between Christ and Antichrist plays out, there is a nice perverse feeling that drips over the film that keeps it all colorful.
Nowhere near as good as the first two films that got it here, the concluding chapter in the trilogy might be a comedown and not the send-off the series deserved, it’s still got just enough grizzly little bits and bobs (such as the bloody fox hunting scene, and montage of baby deaths) to keep it attention-worthy, I say. And, hell, a trilogy of films following the plight of the Antichrist? How can you not like that?
And maybe it’s just me, but… I was kinda rooting for the Devil to win…