The Omen Trilogy
The Omen (1976)The film opens with Robert Thorn weeping for his still born son somewhere in Rome. Fortunately there is a creepy old priest standing by who offers to perform “the old Switheroo”, replacing Thorn’s natural dead son with a living orphaned kid.
Thorn takes the un-naturally hairy baby in to his lovely but fragile wife, played by Lee Remick.
Cut to 5 years later, and Thorn is now ambassador to the Court of St James. At no time does St James make an appearance however. Things seem to be going well until their son Damien’s 5th birthday party. Lee Remick (“Mom”) takes Damien away from his doting nanny, who then locks eyes with an Evil Dog and promptly hangs herself from the roof of the house, first shouting to Damien that “it’s all for you!” and freaking out all Damien’s guests as well as a clown.
Soon the dead Nanny is replaced by the smoldering hot Mrs. Blaylock (one of the LOL moments in this film is when Mrs B introduces herself to the Thorns. Robert takes one look, grins and tells his wife “I think she’ll work out just fine!”.
Soon events conspire to convince Thorn that all is not as it seems with his son. For one thing, He goes completely BugFuck when the Thorns are driving towards a church to attend a wedding. Damien goes after his “mom” like a crazed Baboon. Later Damien and Mom visit a drive through Zoo where a pack of Baboon’s literally go BugFuck on their car, just from Damien’s presence.
Meanwhile Robert is being stalked by a crazy ass Priest (or Dr Who depending on how you want to view it) who’s first words to Thorn are “we haven’t much time”. Friends, if at any point in your life a total stranger comes up to you and says those words, know that trouble is coming.
The priest assures Thorn that his son is a child of the Devil and must be killed. Strangely, Thorn has doubts, and tells the Priest “I never want to see you again!”. Happily, the priest is soon impaled by a Lightning Rod that is struck by lightening (!) and falls off the roof of a church. I swear the priest waits a full minute while the lightening rod topples then falls, then nails him.
A Hippy Reporter (played by David Warner) has taken snaps of the priest and was also at Damien’s party. When he develops his film he finds a shadow of a noose around the Nanny before she hangs herself, then a shadowy Lightening Rod impaling the priest, days before the real thing hits. The final straw comes when he accidentally takes a picture of himself in mirror, and sees his head being cut off!
Hippy Reporter calls Thorn, shows him the snaps, then takes him to the Crazy Impaled Priest’s apartment (or TARDIS) which is covered by pages of bibles and a journal helpfully explaining the story.
Next thing you know, Thorne and Hippy are in Rome tracking down the Creepy Priest from the beginning of the film, When they find him they discover that he’s “fallen from grace” with a withered eyeball and face, exactly as quoted in the Bible! He can’t speak but he scribbles the name of a Etrusian cemetery where Thorns real son, and Damien’s mother are buried.
Soon the two intrepid adventurers are in said cemetery where they find two clearly marked graves that are exactly 5 years old! This is the creepiest part of the movie: one grave has a poor little baby skeleton with a big hole in the back of its head. The other has the complete, articulated skeleton of a jackal. (AKA Mommy)
Suddenly (and after they’ve uncovered the graves) a pack of Evil Dogs attacks! This is the worst scene in the movie, as the two men are somehow able to fend off 2-3 dogs each with almost no damage (those dogs should have ripped them to pieces, yet they get away almost Scott Free)
Thorn and Hipper Reporter next go to Israel to learn how to kill Damien. There they meet an Exorcist/Archeologist named Bugenhagen who gives 6 knives to Thorn and assures him it’s OK to murder a 5 year old boy because, after all, he’s not really Human.
Thorn is initially repulsed by this, throws the knives into an empty street, and begins to walk away. Hippy Reporter assures him “if you won’t do it, I will!” goes to grab the knives, but gets defenestrated by a traveling pane of glass. (Photographic Prophecy fulfilled!)
While Thorn is gallivanting around the world, Damien is up to typical 5 year old hijinks. Like knocking his mom off a chair, situated over a loooong fall from the second floor to the wooden floor of the living room. Mom has already been having suspicions about Damien (after all, the Baboons don’t like him!) and has been seeing a psychiatrist. This incident tips her over the edge, so to speak. Why attack “mom”? Well, she is pregnant, and we can’t have sibling rivalry with the son of Satan, now can we? The fall aborts the kid, and poor Lee is pretty much crazy by now. But just to get her out of the way completely, Mrs. Blaylock throws here out of the hospital window, pitching her perfectly to hit the exact middle of an ambulance and pretty much destroying it in the process (only thing missing in that scene is the ambulance exploding when she hits it).
Well, now Thorn is pissed. He drives to the house with a clever plan to make Damien into a Human Pincushion. Evil Dog is back but Thorn cleverly lures it into the basement (apparently Evil Dogs have no sense of smell and rely on eyesight and faulty logic to track their prey)
Thorn grabs Damien and decides to give him a haircut, for the final proof that Damien is a no goodnick is a birthmark “666” on his head. Thorn is so damn good he immediately finds the mark, thus sparing Damien the indignity of being killed looking like William Shatner when the lights are out.
Mrs. Blaylock, who earlier promised Damien that she’d protect him, and promised Thorn with her eyes some good loving, now jumps on Thorn’s back like a, well like a crazed Baboon. Here is where we realize that Satan’s minions just aren’t very competent. First that damned dog is led into the basement and locked in, then the Evil Nanny decides that screaming and jumping a man who out weighs her by probably 200 pounds is a smart idea (I mean really, she didn’t think to have a gun? Or even a letter opener?)
Thorn makes short work of Blaylock, marking the most disappointing subplot of the film’s end.
Thorn now grabs Damien, throws him into his car, and races off to a Church (‘cause you can’t just kill the AntiChrist in a Dunkin Donuts or something). But remember, Thorn is a US Official and though he’s been running around with no Secret Service or guards in sight throughout most of the movie, NOW a British patrol car stationed outside his home sees a bloody Thorn race his car into the night and decides something is a bit off.
Thorn gets Damien into a church, up to the altar and is about to plunge the first knife into his heart when the cops rush in, tell him to stop, then (in the coolest scene in the movie) fire a slo-mo bullet, killing Thorn. The movie ends with Damien standing next to the President of the United States, no doubt ready to offer some advice on Middle East Policy. The Final scene is Damien turning to you the viewer and giving you a cheeky grin. I mean an eeeevil grin. Roll Credits.
So what have we learned?Lesson #1: Orphans are not natural and will eventually turn on their parents. Believe it.
Lesson #2 By the mid 1970’s, the 1960’s were over.
This movie was released just as the Hippy kids who rebelled against their parents in the mid 60’s had kids of about Damien’s age. This movie exploits their deep seated anxiety caused by a) getting old and not being teenagers forever b) having kids of their own who would probably rebel and act up and smoke pot and drop out of school and not obey.
Lesson #3 Sincerely believing Christians are crazed fanatics who will gleefully murder children if they believe them to be evil. I mean seriously, it’s like Bill Mahr wrote this script.
Lesson #4 Satan and his minions are incompetent. The Crazy Priest gets his message to Thorn then gets killed. Hippy Reporter’s death convinces Thorn that the whole crazy story is true, The dog can’t even detect a live human being just feet away but like a dumbass goes into the basement to look for him, and Mrs. Blaylock is all bark and little bite. Of course, one could argue that all of these things are meant to happen the way they do so Damien can spend some quality time at the White House.
Lesson #5 A great cast and crew can make the most outlandish plot entertaining and believable. Gregory Peck sells this film. His portrayal of Thorn, his relationship with his wife, his dawning realization of what he really did by exchanging his dead son for a live ringer, and his decent into madness are all portrayed amazingly well. Ditto for Lee Remick ditto for Dave Warner, and Patrick Troughton shines in his brief appearance.
Richard Donner’s direction and William Goldsmith’s score complete the picture.
Damien: Omen II next!
Agreed about the music, too. In fact, the music for whole trilogy is just wonderful. Goldsmith (Hee hee. It's Jerry. ) slowly works his magic in ever increasing dollops over the course of the three installments, culminating in what I consider to be one of his greatest and most accomplished score, THE FINAL CONFLICT (I refuse to call it OMEN III as the Fox dvd wishes it). My god, how anyone can resist the clarion call from the horn section the serves as the adult Damien's theme, or it's irresistible variation in the 'fox hunt' sequence, I'll never know.
The worldview of the films has always fascinated me. The deaths by mechanical mishap and the foreboding animal appearances require a model where God and man are on one side, and nature and technology are clearly on the opposite. Satan already rules the natural world in the series, but he has to jump through all these hoops in order to infiltrate human politics. It seems like such a strangely humanistic and specifically 1970's take on supernatural horror. The script's totally non-symbolic interpretation of Revelations and its rejection of nature and technology seem pretty Fundamentalist, but I don't recall seeing any of the commentary on 20th Century human society that I'd expect from a Fundamentalist parable like the Left Behind series.
Damien: Omen II (1978)This film picks up 8 years after The Omen. Damien is now at the significant age of 13, significant, he is told, because it marks the passage from Boy to Man. And just like most if us, Damien is initiated into manhood by a series of violent murders.
This film also picks up and expands on the themes of Omen I, most notably the theme of Young Vs Old. Every Oldster in this film is a crazed fanatic, a doddering fool, or both. Most of the Young people (defined as less than 75 years old) are cold, ruthless and cruel.
Oh, and the Evil Dog is gone, replaced by Evil Crow. This shows the managerial acumen of The Desolate One. I can picture Satan sitting at the head of the table in the Boardroom of Hell, saying “look, we gave the dog a great chance and he blew it. Let’s give the Crow a shot”. This turns out to be a great move, because that crow kicks all kinds of ass in this film.
The story picks up back in Israel just after the events in The Omen. Bugehagan invites an old (OLD) friend to diner, and let’s drop the news that, contrary to what the papers say, Robert Thorn tried to murder his 5 year old son using 6 daggers that he, Bugenhagen, had given him. Now Bugenhagen insists that his friend deliver a letter and 6 more daggers to Damien’s new guardian, Richard Thorn. For some reason his friend is reluctant, so Bugenhagen insists they go to some old (OLD) ruins and look at some artwork that proves that Damien is the Antichrist. This is some piece of art, lemme tell you. But it’s overshadowed by a large statute of King Ghidorah with a drunken whore on his back, guzzling a goblet of Thunderbird. The two men are soon trapped by a cave-in, then suffocated by sand. See, in this film Satan’s got it together and doesn’t wait for people to deliver the bad news then kill them. By the way, it’s Evil Crow who somehow causes the cave-in, showing us from the get go that Birds of a Feather Do It Better.
Cut to 8 years later: we see Damien at 13, a likely looking lad with a Brit accent living in Chicago. Actually the accent is a dead give away, because as Star Wars (released the same year) tells us, British Accent = Empire = Evil.
Evil Crow’s next victim is Aunt Marion, another one of those damn Christians who hates Damien! Actually it’s not clear that she knows or suspects he is the Antichrist, she just reads the Bible a lot and hates him. At dinner she tells Richard Thorn that she”ll leave all her shares of the Thorn fortune to charity unless they separate Damien from the Thorn’s own son, Mark. Damien and Mark are thick as thieves, and the old biddy can’t stand it. Richard and his second wife (we are constantly reminded of this) tell her to fuck off, which she does.
Everyone in the Thorn family talks about how old, crazy and smelly Aunt Marion is, and that combined with her threat means she is set to be dispatched by the Crow. Crow doesn’t go in for theatrics: no public hangings here; the old lady just gets an Instant Heart Attack courtesy of Satan.
Meanwhile we see Mark and Damien at their military academy. The first shot of Damien in uniform, in formation with a bunch of other cadets, seems to show that he’s already getting away with, ahem, murder. See, he’s got these long 70’s sideburns while the other cadets have short hair cuts. Sadly, this visual cue is promptly discarded, as the rest of the film shows us equally long haired hippy Cadets.
Soon the cadets are introduced to their new boss, Sgt Neff, played by none other than Lance “Millenium” Henriksen.. Coincidence? Neff meets all his boys one by one: when he meets Damien he assures him that he’s there to protect him. But he’s no Mrs. Blaylock, that’s for sure. In fact he really doesn’t do anything other than glower and exchange Meaningful Glances with Paul Buher, a Thorn Corp Executive and fellow Satanist. Obviously Satan is ahead of his time in employing not very closeted gays.
Paul Buher has a plan for the future of Thorn Corp, by the way. “The future lies in Famine!” he exclaims. He wants to buy up farm land all around the world and refuse to feed anyone who gets uppity. As Evil Plans go this one has some flaws. Bill Atherton, another Exec and Old Fart, opposes this brilliant business plan, calling it immoral and illegal, and persuades Richard to nix the project. But don’t worry, Evil Crow is on the case.
Another birthday party, another horrible death. This time it’s Mark’s B-day and a bunch of the Thorn’s friends ( probably bused in from somewhere for the day) and Thorn Execs and Flunkies are out on a frozen lake playing hockey. Guess who falls into a hole in the ice that conveniently opens up? Yep, the Old Fart, Bill Atherton, in one of the best deaths of the series, plunges into the icy waters, and is pulled by the current away from rescue. But the lake is frozen over with ice, see? So everyone can see the poor old (Old) guy desperately trying to break through the ice, while getting pulled by the current. Finally they lose him forever, and now Paul Buher takes over. Guess what his first move will be?
Oh, FYI there is no crazy priest in this movie, but there is a crazy reporter. Joan Hart has some relation to the journalist played by David Warner in the first film (I guess it’s a whole family of journalists). She is very religious, which of course means she’s bugfuck crazy and convinced that Damien must be killed asap. She doesn’t get very far, thanks to Evil Crow.
Her death is an example of Evil Physics at work. After her car stalls out and she gets out to walk to the nearest farm, the Crow divebombs her ass and un does her screaming tight bun, letting her lovely auburn hair fly in the wind. Then he pecks the fuck out of her eyes. Then she stumbles onto the highway where she’s run down by a semi. Although the truck hits her at ground level at 100 miles an hour (that driver wasn’t going to stop for no one), somehow her body instantly back flips over the cab and bounces off the container with a big ole Splat! Exit Joan.
There are some other good kills in this film that follow the basic pattern of: guy finds something weird or evil is going on, gets the chop. There is a great elevator death, and Thorns’ pet Archeologist, who digs up Bugenhagen , the Statue of the Whore of Babylon and King Ghidorah, and the wall that shows the Anitchrist,gets a train car to the crotch.
That wall by the way was painted by a medieval monk who had a vision of Satan, and you can bet he was an old fart too. But the painting is said to show the Antichrist’s rise and fall, leading to two important questions never addressed in this series:
1)Why the fuck would you be a Satanist if you know he’s going to fall in the end? I mean I’m all for rooting for the underdog, but come on
2)Why can’t the Antichrist take one look at that wall and prevent his own downfall?
Ah well. There is a lot more plot and a nice surprise (I can’t really say it is a twist because it plays to that Young/Evil vs. Old/Good but Stupid thing in an obvious way) at the very end of the movie. But I do want to highlight one subplot that makes this a great entry in the series:
So Damien and Mark have been best buds since Damien moved in. But all it takes is one overheard conversation (Mark is listening in when the Pet Archeologist, having read Bugenhagen’s letter and seen the Wall, tries to convince Thorn that his adopted son is really the Devil’s son and needs a full knife set implanted in his chest) and Mark turns on him. Sure, Mark’s seen Damien use his Evil Powers (to bewilder a school bully for example) too, but why not assume Damien is a mutant or from Krypton or something?
Soon Damien is also made aware of his true identity, by non other than Neff (and Buher too). There’s a great scene where Damien runs out to the end of a frozen pier and screams “Why?! Why me?!”. Later Damien confronts Mark, who rejects him THREE TIMES! Damien takes that step into manhood the only way a son of Satan can.
1)Reading a letter and viewing one painting, combined with a literal reading of the Book of Revelations (no one in this series seems to have read anything about “thou shalt not kill”) will turn any sane rational person into a raving lunatic.
2)Between The Omen and Omen II Satan has gotten an MBA, learning about managerial excellence and good business practices.
3)Up until the last part of Omen II, Damien is actually a sympathetic character. His treatment of Mark is the thing that makes us realize that, yeah, the apple didn’t fall from the tree after all.
4)I know I didn’t even call out William Holden or Lee Grants performances in my synopsis. They both do a fine job and it’s a credit to this series that they really did get some great leading actors. I’d also call out Robert Foxworth as Buher and Jonathan Scott-Taylor is great as Damien (there are some great scenes of Scott-Taylor looking evilly at the camera). After this film, the acting slides quickly downhill.
5)These movies are more entertaining than any cheesy movies about the rise of the Antichrist have a right to be
The Final Conflict (Omen III) (1981)You know all those folk stories where some dude makes a deal with the Devil, but the Devil doesn’t quite deliver as promised? Well, The Final Conflict posits that the Devil learned that trick from God!
See, Revelations clearly states that the Antichrist gets 7 years to rule the world, do evil deeds, get dogs and cats living together etc. Then Jesus comes back in triumph, puts down the AntiChrist and ushers in a new Millennium.
But at the beginning of Final Conflict, Damien Thorn tells his chief aid that those 7 years constitute the time he’s been CEO of Thorn Industries. Yes, that’s right. The AntiChrist’s rule on earth really comes down to 7 Annual Board meetings, Dinners with overcooked chicken, and only the occasional skullduggery. What a rip!
(I guess the Apocalypse had to be toned down due to budget considerations)
In fact, Damien’s big moves in this film are 1) getting to be appointed Ambassador to the Court of St James without giving up his CEO Position (good thing Dick Cheney never saw this film!) 2) getting appointed head of the United Nations Youth Council (yawn). OK, Ok, he does get to perform two major acts of Evil, in fact the biggest evil doings in any of the films. His agents blow up the Aswan Dam and pin it on Israel (though Damien tells the President that the Nambla Liberation Front is truly responsible), and he decides on a spate of baby killing in England.
Why the baby killings? Because Damien (and the film) have decided that Revelations is passé, and instead use a never heard-of-before-this-film apocryphal book of the Bible (The Book of Hebron or BabaBooey I think). According to this Book, there will be a miraculous alignment of stars that will point out exactly where the All New Baby Jesus will be born, and preliminary projections show it will be in England.
Now, I am no Bible scholar, but I do not recall any portrayal of the Second Coming of Jesus that includes a birth. He’s always coming back with a sword, as a King, etc. But whatever, it’s a movie, right?
Anyway the alignment happens: 4 stars just up and leave their normal positions (we see an Astronomer placing three sets of transparent photos on top of each other to show the stars accelerating over decades, but really speeding up over the previous few months. This gets maybe one headline in the paper, it’s never referenced again, and it seems the only people who care about four celestial object moving at faster than light speeds are this one Astronomer and 7 monks.
These monks knew that half burnt Priest from Omen I. (Spileto I think). Though the late Father could not speak I guess he spent years scrawling out messages in crayon to the rest of the monks, and of course they believe every word (people are really, really credulous in these movies). The monks recover the 7 (not 6 as in the first two films) Daggers that can kill Damien, and make off to England like the Seven Samurai to defend the Faith.
Well, the first attempt does not go too well. A monk infiltrates a TV studio where Thorn is being interviewed, trips off a catwalk above the studio floor, gets tangled up in cables so he swings into some electrical equipments that promptly explodes, then swings around in fire for a while. Note that no intervention by Damien, his followers, evil animals or the Devil is needed. The dumb ass trips!
By the way, the most effective Evil Animal in the series (the Crow) is gone, replaced by a new species of Evil Dog. This time around the Dog gets it right. He gets two kills in this movie: one the US Ambassador to the UK (he needs to go so Damien can take his place) and later he convinces the wife of Damien’s chief acolyte to kill her baby (the birth happened during the window of time that New Jesus was born), and then the acolyte. That last is pretty gruesome event. The Evil Dog puts a whammy on the wife, staring into her eyes through the window. The wife then looks at her new born son in his crib, and sees a burnt baby swiveling his head to stare at her! Creepy! She then moves in a trance to pick up a hot steam iron, and dispatches baby and husband. This is the first and only time we get an indication that the victims of Thorn are seeing visions: they always act like they are under mind control. Which in turn brings up a lot of questions about Free Will. But, whatever…
A word on that Chief Acolyte. He’s the most interesting character in the movie, because though he’s been working for Damien for years and probably seen all kinds of special effects, you get the sense that he doesn’t quite believe that Damien is the AntiChrist. There is no explicit dialogue to prove this assertion; it’s just how the actor reads his lines. I find that weird. Of course, the apostles witnesses miracles over many months, and as soon as Jesus was killed they immediately expressed doubts about his divinity too, so…
There are a few sequences where Damien kills of all but one of the remaining monks which are pretty cool. Also we see a scene where Damien speaks to a huge crowd of Devil Worshippers, telling him about his sudden dislike of babies.
Oh, and Damien gets involved with a reporter with Big 80’s Hair and her son. She is having a good love making session with Damien, until the later suddenly stops and realizes that, hey, he’s the Devil’s Son, at which point he flips her around and fucks her up the ass (this may be the first instance in film of something Devin pointed out in a recent Podcast: when a movie character “turns Dark” he fucks his girlfriend up the ass).
So, Damien and his followers kill a lot of babies, but LOL they miss the one Baby they are really looking for. We never learn who the lucky parents of the New Baby Jesus are. In fact we never actually see a Baby version of Jesus at all! Damien confronts the final Monk in a ruined Church, and is confronted in turn by a fully adult, Giant Glowing Jesus. “You haven’t won anything” Damien says petulantly, and that’s it.
The final scene of the film is of Jesus walking up to the Reporter Woman cradling her dead (?) 12 year old son in his arms (yeah I skipped that subplot, go rent the movie if you want to find out what happens)
What have we learned?1)While this movie is very entertaining, it’s completely empty and vapid. The first two movies really use the idea that Revelations will be Coming True Soon. Using a fake book of the Bible along with stars zooming around does not have the same resonance.
2)Sam Neil sustains this film on his capable shoulders. Unlike the previous films, Neil is pretty much on his own acting wise. I blame the script; there just isn’t much for anyone to do except for Damien.
3)In this film we get to hear Damien’s point of view about Jesus and Christianity. Mostly it’s not too interesting except for one line where Damien states that Jesus has had the last 2,000 years to rule Mankind and now it’s his turn. What? We’ve really been living under Jesus all this time?
4)Damien states that every day that New Baby Jesus lives his (Damien’s ) powers will grow weaker. This is a Manichean view; that the forces of Good and Evil are equally matched and in some way depend on each other.
5)Even though Damien is the Son of Satan, he has a chapel with a big statue of Jesus in his home (no altar though). He likes to go to this chapel at night and berate the statue about what a bad ass he is how things will be different when he’s in charge blah blah blah. This is an interesting idea, Damien as a Job like figure, demanding an answer from God/Jesus but getting silence (even at the end Jesus doesn’t even say hello)
6)A lot of the underlying themes of the first two movies are mostly absent here. Apart from that Youth Council thing, and Damien bonding with the Reporter Chick’s son, there is no allusion to the Old=Bad and/or incompetent vs. Young=Cruel/smart/competent thing.
7)I bet you could parse out the demographics of the first two films thusly: people over 40, and people with young kids who cut their teeth in the mid 60’s. The third movie seems to appeal to people who liked the first two; there is no wider appeal to a broad based audience (in my opinion)
8)I know there was a made for TV sequel to this film where the devil is a little girl , but I’ve only seen 10 minutes of that one and it was so bad that I’ve stricken it from me memory. I leave it to my fellow Chewers to take up the mantle and write up the subsequent films!
9)Oh yes, the Soundtrack to this film is amazing
Cylon Baby, did one of these movies feature a kill where the doberman gets into a truck and drives it over a guy, or did I just dream about a better version of these movies?
The fourth film was throwaway crap made for prime time TV. The adopted little girl is revealed to be Damien's secret biological daughter, she conceives Damien 2.0 miraculously, and the final scene shows her cradling him and his "666" birthmark while ominous music plays. The franchise lives on! Except that it didn't.
Cylon Baby, did one of these movies feature a kill where the doberman gets into a truck and drives it over a guy, or did I just dream about a better version of these movies?
Rossano Brazzi's Father DeCarlo is the clearest signal this film can give that it's essentially a b-movie with a more healthy budget than usual. His borderline caricature priest comes from a long line cinematic evil-combatting apostles; saintly, determined and courageous. Yet, the fact that he appears to have black-holed in from the film FRANCIS OF ASSISI strikes the chord of b matinee trope. The "Trinity Alignment" sequences add a distinct 50s sci-fi vibe. Of course, despite all that, the music is so damned sumptuous, it's easy to be swept away by the silly earnestness of it all. The Second Coming cue is nothing short of a glorious consumation of the soaring delirium of Newman and Rosza's bible epic sound! Hallelujah!
And it's real fortunate for the Nazarene that the reporter is a little more clever than your average monastic assassin. These guys were about as prepared as a showy military op in Somalia.
Beyond that, I don't think it's hard to understand how seeing this as a wee twelve year old when it first hit HBO, cemented me as a lifelong Sam Neill fan.
The brief closeup of the middle aged clown consoling the child after the first nanny hangs herself should have been the poster. "A film so fucked up, you will run to a clown for comfort." The movie is still handsomely-made schlock, and the Gregory Peck and David Warner buddy Indiana Jones interlude is still the best material.
I have seen DAMIEN: OMEN II once, never saw the rest, and certainly not the shitty-looking remake. I do remember the drowning-under-ice kill being pretty effective.
In fact, Damien’s big moves in this film are 1) getting to be appointed Ambassador to the Court of St James without giving up his CEO Position (good thing Dick Cheney never saw this film!) 2) getting appointed head of the United Nations Youth Council (yawn). OK, Ok, he does get to perform two major acts of Evil, in fact the biggest evil doings in any of the films. His agents blow up the Aswan Dam and pin it on Israel (though Damien tells the President that the Nambla Liberation Front is truly responsible),
The North American Man Boy Love Association? I'm starting to think those guys are just no good.
The Absence of God in The Exocist and The Omen
One of the more popular cinematic trends of the 1970s was the Religious Horror Film. Born as a reaction to the turbulent state of the world during this time, the modern day interpretations of ancient beliefs both terrified and fascinated viewers across the world. What's interesting about these films and their latter-day progeny is the idea that evil is both alive and well, but for all the Biblical "truths" that modern society is willing to reaccept via the filmic medium, the supreme power in the universe--God Himself--is conspicuously absent within the narrative.
The two most popular religious-based horror films of the era, The Exorcist and The Omen, present the notion that Satan is at work in our advanced and seemingly civilized world, but God, on the other hand, is nowhere to be found in either tale except as an invisible (and apparently impotent) entity.
The Exorcist deals with the spectre of religion on a personal level. Adapted for the screen from his novel, William Peter Blatty tells us the story of 12 year-old Regan MacNeil and her possession by a diabolical entity. After much head-spinning, urination, vomiting, and masturbation with a crucifix, her movie star mother, Chris MacNeil, recruits the Catholic Church in the form of exorcists Damien Karras and Lankester Merrin. During the ritual, Merrin dies of heart failure, forcing Karras to take the demon into his own body and banish it by hurling himself from the girl's window, tumbling to his death down a long flight of stone steps.
What's particularly interesting about this film is that the invading spirit (who claims to be Satan himself) is very much a leading character, speaking and interacting with our protagonists; yet God remains distant and removed from the narrative. One questions where the forces of Good are hiding while the girl is beaten, tortured, and held captive by an unseen adversary who wears her body like organic clothing. One could argue that Divine Intervention was impossible until Regan or her mother specifically requested it, but even once Chris MacNeil seeks spiritual aid, this doesn't happen--at least not directly.
What we do see is highly disturbing. Aside from the horrible disfigurement and molestation of an innocent child, we also witness traumatic incidents in the lives of those who come into contact with her. Burke Dennings, the director of the film Chris is shooting in Georgetown, receives a broken neck and is thrown from Regan's bedroom window. This prompts Lieutenant Kinderman to nose about the MacNeil residence to accumulate evidence that may result in the girl's incarceration.  Throughout this nightmarish ordeal, the MacNeil family (the mother, daughter, governess, and two servants) is torn apart by the inexplicable madness dwelling in the upstairs bedroom. At length, Father Merrin arrives, an exorcist who we are led to believe has encountered this demon many times before and always vanquished--and yet he dies too, but whether it's his failing heart or demonic influence remains a mystery. Essentially, everything has been planned from the beginning, and our protagonists are being drawn into a web from which they cannot escape.
One would think that a compassionate God would intervene of his own accord, and that the need for a stylized ritual would be irrelevant in light of the supernatural horrors occurring before us. Nevertheless, we see no sign of God, and the exorcism begins. Even more interesting is that for all the heart and soul Merrin and Karras put into the proceedings, they serve no purpose: the demon continues to vomit, hurl obscenities, and levitate above the room. "Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto thee," implore the exorcists, but the only response comes from the demon in the form of vicious taunts.
In the end, Karras is forced to sacrifice his own life in order to save the girl, surrendering his body and taking a leap (of Faith?) to his death. Rather than intervening, God allows two of his soldiers to perish, leaving us to wonder whether the demon would have been victorious had Karras simply aborted the exorcism following Merrin's death. One might argue that God works through man, and that Karras' final decision was determined or guided by a power greater than he, but we're left with the disturbing idea that God would rather kill his own children or allow them to suffer than to become directly involved. Conversely, demonic powers openly move throughout the universe.  In the end, no one can argue that the exorcism itself is useless, and that it's Karras' desperate actions that lead to a resolution of the conflict.
What's interesting about the failure of the ritual per se is that it clearly indicates that God was nowhere to be found during the film's third act (to say nothing of the first two), not even in the form of our heroic priests. Theoretically, the exorcist "becomes" the physical embodiment of Christ, as if the spirit of Jesus Himself were in the room with the possessed. While this would seem to support the notion that Divine Intervention occurs through the actions of mortals here on Earth, it raises more questions than it answers. If Christ (the very first exorcist) were channeled through Merrin, then wouldn't the demon be rendered powerless and be forced to leave its host immediately? Instead, the malevolent spirit actually kills Merrin, whether directly or indirectly, forcing Karras to channel Christ yet a second time, but through an act of Free Will and concious descision-making rather than spiritual empowerment. Armed only with Faith in an entity that is conspicuously absent, the exorcists are rendered powerless against a force much greater than themselves.
If the message of The Exorcist is that there's good in the world to counter evil, it's a rather uneven statement. The good, it seems, exists in the hearts of those who are willing to die for another, but that goodness seems strikingly terrestrial. By the end of the film, we see a splintered family that goes their seperate ways, unable to face one another after the horrors that have occurred. Two priests are dead. A dear friend of Chris MacNeil is murdered by the latter's own daughter. A successful Hollywood career may never recover from the scandal that will undoubtedly taint it. Most importantly, though, a young girl has been symbolically (and physically) raped and tortured.  Anything positive that has transpired has done so because of the direct action of Man rather than Deity.
We're presented fairly early on with the notion that Chris MacNeil is an atheist, and that she has no reason to believe in a force of Good in the universe. During this era of Vietnam, Watergate and Woodstock, the traditional morals and values of the country were changing rapidly, and Chris' fairly jaded outlook is in many ways a look in a contemporaneous cultural mirror. If The Exorcist was meant to show turbulant changes, both at home and abroad, through the metaphor of the abduction and deliverance of a pubescent child--a child her own mother could no longer control or recognize--then it succeeded on a sociological level. If Blatty and director William Friedkin's intent was to show viewers that God was still there for us in this time era of social and political conflict, then one has to question that message. Chris MacNeil doesn't appear to have found God in the end, but she's certainly found the Devil.
The formula was repeated again in 1976 with Richard Donner's The Omen, a story similar to The Exorcist in terms of the breakdown of the family unit. The Omen takes things a step further and expands upon the ideas of its predecessor, looking at the effects of Satanic power from a worldview. The Devil, it seems, is no longer interested in hiding inside a child. This time, he is the child.
While The Exorcist tackles Biblical issues on a decidedly personal level, The Omen examines the Book of Revelations, determining that we have come to the end of times and that a creature of supreme darkness is rising unnoticed. Rather than watching a small group of characters suffer in private, we see the initial stages of a spiritual Holocaust in which millions will suffer, and eventually die. Whenever Satan is crossed, his vengeance is swift; yet we see nothing of his heavenly foe.
The Antichrist, we're told, is born into this world and adopted by Richard Thorn, the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. Little Damien seems good-natured enough, but sinister agents manipulating events behind the scenes surround the Thorn family. Their goal is to allow Damien to rise within the world of politics, inheriting all his adoptive father's wealth and power so that he might eventually rule the nations. Thorn discovers this once Damien attempts matricide, and grief-stricken, follows a trail of clues that leads him to Jerusalem and a set of daggers created specifically to dispose of the fabled Antichrist. In the end, Thorn is killed before he can finish his son off, and Damien is sent to live with his father's good friend, the unnamed President of the United States. Basically, it turns out that the Book of Revelations was all about politics, and that the "Eternal Sea" is forever in turmoil, creating armies on either shore.
The problem with predicting the rise of the Antichrist thusly exists on two basic levels. On the one hand, it is foretold in the Book of Revelations that this will indeed come to pass, prompting one to consider that this is a preordained event falling in with God's greater scheme. How we are supposed to rationalize the purpose of Armageddon and the suffering of millions is open to interpretation, but it begs the question of why He would allow it to transpire as depicted in The Omen. Even if the end result is the dominion of Christ, why must so many persih in order for others to prosper?
On the other hand, if the rise of the Antichrist is not something of which He approves, then why does He remain silent throughout the film? Like The Exorcist before it, The Omen gives us a Satan who is actively involved with everything that transpires. When Father Brennan, the former Satanist who delivered Damien at birth, tries to warn Thorn of what his son truly is, he is impaled by a falling steeple (which, of course, reinforces the paradox of God's dubious stance). When Thorn's wife, Kathy, begins to suspect that Damien isn't her natural son, she suffers two falls, the second of which claims her life. When Keith Jennings, the photographer who accompanies Thorn to Jerusalem, takes the daggers of Meggido into his possession, he is beheaded by a sheet of glass. Ultimately, Thorn himself dies trying to slay Damien upon a church altar, killed by the same governement agents who routinely protect him. 
It's saying something when God fails to intervene with the murders of those who wish to promote His own cause, but unlike The Exorcist, we're given no reason to believe that Free Will will allow our protagonists to achieve what God will not. Everything has been foretold in advance. In fact, Jennings discovers the unsettling fact that the targets of Damien's protectors display evidence of their impending doom in photographs taken shortly before their deaths. This causes the viewer to wonder whether God has lost interest in His universe, or if the dominion of Satan is His plan. The situation is disturbing in both cases. 
Most appalling is the fate of Baby Thorn, the natural child of Kathy and Richard, who, we are told early on, died during childbirth, making way for the adoption of Damien from the hospital in Rome. It's late in the film that we discover that the Thorns' child was murdered during its final moments on Earth and then unceremoniously dumped in a shallow grave beside Damien's mother (a jackal). When Thorn himself discovers the grave and pries it open, and we see the mummified remains of his true son, its skull broken, its skeleton tiny and frail, we realize at last that the most heinous crime has been committed here, off-screen. Hidden away in an ancient, unhallowed Etruscan cemetary, Baby Thorn is as far from God as can be imagined.
And what of these clues left for sharp-eyed investigators and theologians to follow? The photographic evidence, the physical markings on Damien's scalp (a triumverate of sixes)? Why do they exist? They certainly aren't there to help our protagonists conquer the evil that surrounds them, as some might suggest. All who behold such clues are killed outright. Even the daggers of Meggido, a potential deus ex machina, are unusable. No one stands a chance against the Devil. To try is to fail.
The Omen never tries to be anything more than it is: a good, scary movie. It succeeds. Where The Exorcist fails is in its insistance that God is a being of hope and strength that will never fail those whose Faith is unwavering, but The Omen jettisons the spiritual messages in favor of "jump moments" and stylish death sequences. Both films are meant to frighten, and both succeed in doing so. One can't delve too deeply for Faith-affirming (or even Faith-negating) messages in works of popular entertainment.
Nevertheless, our society moves further and further from God as time passes, and it's a fact that becomes apparent while watching movies of this sort. Perhaps the absence of God in these films reflects our absence in Him.
Or perhaps it's because God is invisible, but we can see The Devil everywhere we look.
 Besides the murder of Dennings, Kinderman also suspects Regan of desecrating the altar of a Church at the university where Karras serves as psychiatrist. It seems strange that an All-Powerful God would allow His earthly house to be treated in such a way, particularly when one considers that each new demonic occurence moves Regan one step closer to full-blown possession.
 The argument that the spirit of God is working through Karras becomes hollow when the viewer takes into account the events of Blatty's directorial effort, The Exorcist III, in which we learn that Karras never actually died, but was possessed by a serial killer (!) and buried alive. His body, freed of its coffin and wandering the streets of Georgetown, is locked away in a mental ward for nearly fifteen years, with Karras himself concious and trapped inside. While it's a sequel and wouldn't typically be considered canon, The Exorcist III comes from the mind of Blatty himself; and if his reason for sacrificing Karras was to demonstrate the influence of God upon Man, then why does God allow Karras to suffer for so long after his noble death...?
 In the 2000 re-release, The Version You've Never Seen, a new scene is added during which Merrin and Karras break during the exorcism and talk quietly about the purpose of possession. The target isn't Regan, Merrin says, but rather everyone around her, including the priests themselves. When one examines the effects of the possession on the very people the demon intended to psychologically attack, whether through death or despair, one has to wonder whether or not the demon really lost.
 One of the things the Omen series is best known for is its creative killings of characters that "know the truth." As the series progresses, these sequences become more and more outlandish (as well as entertaining). By the end of the fourth film (generally considered a seperate entity from its predecessors), the body count is high, but we never see a near-death, or an occasion where Divine Intervention has saved a victim. The basic message of the series is simple: mess with The Devil and lose.
 In The Final Conflict, the concluding chapter of the series, Damien is at last dispatched by the agents of God, and as the Antichrist dies, Jesus is resurrected upon Earth. While it would make sense to some that everything leading up to this moment "happened for a reason," one need only review the trilogy as a whole to realize that none of the events of any of the films played a part in paving the road to the Second Coming. Countless individuals die, and yet their deaths are meaningless. When Christ finally appears, it's almost an afterthought, prompting the viewer to wonder why He took his time getting here.
I slot both THE OMEN and THE EXORCIST (and THE MEPHISTO WALTZ and THE OTHER) as part of the crop of occult movies that the 70s spawned as a reaction to the success of ROSEMARY'S BABY. The best of those (THE OTHER and THE EXORCIST) lean less heavily on the supernatural, but the campier ones are still fun.
Some may contest classifying THE EXORCIST as an occult film, a term which I use generically, but Regan after all summoned the demon with an Ouija board.
The AV Club mentioned a podcast called My Neighbors Are Dead, an improvised comedy podcast in which tertiary characters from horror movies are interviewed about their experiences. The most recent ep is an interview with the caterer at Damien's birthday party - https://player.fm/series/my-neighbors-are-dead/8-the-omen-with-alan-linic
That's a really interesting read. I've always attributed the apparent reluctance of God and his angels to intervene directly in these movies to what I perceived as a strain of Catholic thought in the script. God intervenes through His clergy, presumably to protect privileged social institutions that claim to derive their authority from Him, while the Devil and his demons don't impose similar limitations on themselves.
I'm as amused by the way The Omen pits God, Man, and the ruling political class against Nature, Technology, and Satan as I was when I mentioned it in the 2009 post near the top of the page. You can't trust an elevator or a gas main not to kill you whenever you get in Satan's way, but you can be sure that the Capitalists are pristine! Look how hard the Devil has to work in order to insert his agent into politics! I love the Omen movies. They're so politically conservative that they accidentally became satire.
Reasor I think you've got it mostly right, but to take it further: the Priest in Exorcist is literally taking on the mantle of Christ, assuming the "sins" AKA the Demon afflicting mankind. And giving up his life echoes the central idea that Christ takes on ALL the sins of mankind.
Re; Max Von Sydow being killed by the Demon: it's not spelled out but it is possible that he was so worn down by the many horrible atrocities he's seen that the Demon has undermined his faith to some degree. Or, he's just old.
That central concept in Christianity, that the Good has a much harder time in the world that the Bad, is also present in Stephen King's (who was I think raised as a Baptist) novels. His characters tend to pay a steep price in their battles with supernatural forces. Roland gets maimed, the Doctor (can't recall the character's name) in Salem's Lot gets multiple stabs in a trap set by Barlow etc.
There is also that old chestnut of Free Will: if Regan, Richard Thorne etc can call up an Angel at will to fight the demons/Satan's son like King Kong vs Godzilla, there's no stakes.
That's interesting. What strikes me is that all of the mayhem in THE OMEN is allowed to happen because Gregory Peck doesn't have the orbs to tell his wife the truth. Wes Craven makes the point that Peck seems to view the death of his biological child as a problem to be solved on his wife's behalf, which could be commentary in and of itself.
One day somebody will have to explain to me the significance of the baboon scene, though. Baboons are fucking psychos; you can't blame the antichrist for that one.