That Damned Kid
As a service to the Internet public, The Flick Filosopher presents some handy tips for determining whether your child is the Antichrist:
- Was he born on June 6 at 6am, resulting in a confluence of three sixes, or 666, the sign of the Devil?
- Did the creepy priest who told you that “on this night, God has given you a son” not sound like he really meant it?
- Does a glance from the kid’s nanny in your direction make you want to kill yourself? (Please see Flick Filosopher Public Service Document #666.01: “Signs Your Nanny Is a Handmaiden of Satan” for more info.)
- Does he spook the animals at the zoo?
- Is he named Damien?
Princeling of darkness
Based on the best-selling Book of Revelation, 1976’s The Omen is one spooky flick. Preposterous, sure. But as Apocalyptic religious fantasy, it’s far more chills-inducing than, say, the hilariously earnest The Omega Code or even the convoluted and incomprehensible source material itself. Yup, this is one example of the movie that turned out better than the book.
After a sneaky baby-switcheroo at a Rome hospital that fateful June 6 morning, American diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck: Moby Dick, Gentleman’s Agreement) and his wife, Katherine (Lee Remick), take home not their own child but one who will grow into a preschooler who hangs around with menacing black Rottweilers and telepathically convinces his first governess to hang herself at his own birthday party. Way to ruin a little guy’s fun, is how the grownups see it. But he’s got a plan, one that includes getting the slithering Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw: Quills) on the family payroll as his new nanny and then basically surviving childhood, undetected as the son of Satan and not that of the Thorns at all, until he can rise up to rule the world. Say what you will about Damien (Harvey Stephens), but most kindergartners rarely follow through in their early life-plans of being ballerinas and astronauts. Damien is committed.
Signs that all is not right with Damien begin to haunt Robert Thorn. Now the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, he’s probably fending off psychos all the time, so he doesn’t pay too much heed to the mysterious priest, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton: Hamlet), who comes to him with an ooga-booga story about the kid’s birth and how Thorn should “drink the blood of Christ.” But then there’s the photographer, Jennings (David Warner: Horatio Hornblower: Mutiny, Wing Commander), who shows Thorn the prophetic photos he takes of people’s forthcoming deaths, and a Holy Land archeologist (Leo McKern) who intones ominously, in a strange accent, “Dis is not a human child.” The parents of most kids, especially 6-year-old boys, have probably suspected as much half the time, but when you keep hearing the same thing, it has to make you wonder. It’s like when little Billy’s first-grade teacher and soccer coach and the other car-pool moms all tell you that your sweet Billy is biting the other kids: finally, the preponderance of evidence makes accepting the truth unavoidable.
The Thorns have only themselves to blame, though. Mrs. Baylock tries to keep the Thorns from taking Damien with them to a wedding, for she knows how the kid will react to being in or even near a church — indeed, he starts screaming his head off before the Thorns can even get out of the car. Fair enough — it seems likely that Satan Jr. would be uncomfortable surrounded by stained glass and holy water. But wait just a second here. The kid is 6 years old and has never even been near a church before? (If he had, Mom and Dad would have experienced this bizarre behavior from their son previously.) Heathens! No wonder they got lumbered with the Devil’s spawn.
Robert ends up trying to kill the little monster by stabbing him to death with ritual knives on a church altar. Can you imagine the scandal that would surround an American politician who killed his son in a bizarre exorcism ritual? It’d put Gary Condit to shame.
The boy ain’t right
Fortunately for Damien and the forces of evil, he survives to return in the sequel, 1978’s Damien: Omen II.
More things to watch for in a potentially satanic child:
- Though born in 1976, he is 12 years old by 1978.
- All sorts of fatal “accidents” happen around the kid.
- Everybody around you is reading the last chapters of the Bible.
Even though Damien is really just more of the same as The Omen — anyone who gets too close to discovering Damien’s secret identity gets offed for their trouble — and features an “ominous” score that mostly sounds like belching, this is still a fairly creepy movie, in that kitschy, watch- it- in- the- dark, you- laugh- yet- you- huddle- deeper- into- the- sofa kind of way.
Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor, whom I bet turned into a real cutie once he hit puberty) is now at military school in Chicago, with his blond and non-evil cousin, Mark (Lucas Donat). Damien is a ward of his father’s brother, Richard Thorn (William Holden: The Bridge on the River Kwai) and his wife, Ann (Lee Grant: Mulholland Drive), and they all live like Kennedys, with an army of servants in gray uniforms, and endless snowmobiling, football, winter barbecues, and fireworks to celebrate birthdays. Except for the crows: the Kennedys probably don’t have black crows hanging around as harbingers of — and sometimes bringers of — death. Or are they ravens? Is there a difference? Anyway, large ominous black birds with wicked beaks hover about people like Aunt Marian, who loves Mark and hates Damien (doh!); and journalist Joan Hart (Elizabeth Shepherd), who’s the Patrick Troughton of Damien, there to make forbidding warnings and die hideously.
There’s scant attempt to turn Damien’s impending puberty into a metaphor for the discovery of the dark talents he possesses and the demonic destiny that is his by birthright, but the Sex = Evil equation goes without saying, doesn’t it? There’s also something going on about “10 keys” and the Whore of Babylon, which sounds cool but kinda gets forgotten. Even the attempt to work in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse peters out — the film can only work up the enthusiasm for two. There’s Paul Buher (Robert Foxworth), an executive at Thorn Industries (which Damien’s uncle runs), who has a plan for the company to make a profit off famine: he’s Famine. And then there’s Sergeant Neff (a young, skinny Lance Henriksen: Tarzan), a teacher at Damien’s military academy, who could be War, but only because he exchanges secret glances with Buher. So even that’s a stretch. Maybe he was just flirting with Buher.
Perhaps needless to say, Damien kills off everyone who threatened to out him, which leaves him free and clear to advance to:
Seven knives for seven monks
At this point, the only people left watching should be die-hard Sam Neill fans, who can see him looking really gorgeous in one scene, dressed for the hunt, with the white jabot and the black riding coat and the whole yummy outfit; and in another scene, pretending to have rough sex — and what other kind would the Prince of Darkness indulge? — with the actress who would later become the mother of his child. How do you explain that to a kid? “Sometimes, when two actors love each other very much…”
Yet more signs that the child you are raising as your own is a bad seed:
- Though born in 1976, he is 32 years old by 1981 and talking of a Senate run in ’84, and no one notices.
- He has a personal, private chapel to Satan in his home.
- The demonically mesmerizing Rottweilers are back.
The Final Conflict, from 1981, is really quite a bad movie, not actually awful enough to ever have achieved cult status, but still one that affords some good laughs. Damien (Sam Neill: Jurassic Park III, The Horse Whisperer) is now head of Thorn Industries and has just been appointed U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, following in his (adoptive) father’s footsteps in what must be record time: only 5 years after his father was shot to death by police as he tried to kill 6-year-old Damien. Also, Damien has been named head of the UN Youth Council, and, as we all know, UN = New World Order = Sign of the Apocalypse.
However, those Seven Sacred Knives of Megiddo that Gregory Peck utterly failed in using to kill Damien have resurfaced in Chicago. This was, I believe, foretold in the Book of Revelation — “In a middling great city by a big lake, wherein shall be found the losing Cubs of the ball of bases, it shall be discovered the weapons to bring down the Antichrist.” I think that’s an accurate quote. They fall into the hands of seven weird Italian monks, to whom the knives are doled out so they can each separately attempt to assassinate Damien using one knife before he can thwart the Second Coming, which has nothing to do with the aforementioned rough sex and everything to do with the big J.C. making a reappearance. Never mind that Leo McKern told us in the first movie that you had to use all seven knives at once, pounding them into the shape of a cross on Damien’s chest, if you’re to have any hope of killing the guy: this is the era before home video, so no one could’ve gone back to check this against The Omen in 1981.
That’s kinda funny, but much funnier is the bad late-70s, early-80s fashion: the enormous shirt collars, the hideous ties, the appalling haircuts, even for billionaires. More amusing yet is the character of Harvey Dean (Don Gordon), Damien’s private secretary who is apparently in on the whole impending Apocalypse, Antichrist, end-of-the-world thing, and is fine with it. He and his wife even just had a baby, and you don’t happily bring a kid into the world, as they do, when you’ve got a bad feeling about how things might turn out. Most hilarious is the scene in which Harvey thanks the Antichrist for the flowers he sent his wife. Think about that: Harvey very calmly and quite politely thanks Satan for flowers, which is weird enough. But the Prince of Darkness sent flowers? How… nice of him.
Sam Neill gets to pray to Satan, in one scene, for a forthcoming “paradise of pain,” while he caresses the life-size statue of the crucified Jesus, upon which he cuts his hand on the thorns on Christ’s head. Get it? Thorn? What a hoot this must have been for Sam. What a hoot it is for his fans, too.
viewed at home on a small screen
Damien: Omen II
viewed at home on a small screen
The Final Conflict
viewed at home on a small screen