Friday, 30 November 2012


Sam Neill (Damien Thorn), Lisa Harrow (Kate Reynolds), Rosanno Brazzi (Father De Carlo), Don Gordon (Harvey Dean), Barnaby Holm (Peter Reynolds), Lekeen Willoughby (Barbara Dean)

Director: Graham Baker, Screenplay: Andrew Birkin, Producers: Harvey Bernhard & Mace Neufeld, Photography: Robert Paynter, Music: Jerry Goldsmith, Special Effects: Ian Wingrove, Makeup: Fred Williamson, Production Design: Herbert Westbrook. Production Company:Mace Neufeld/20th Century Fox. USA. 1981.

It is 1982 and a 32 year-old Damien Thorn, now the head of the Thorn Corporation, is offered the post of Ambassador to Britain that was once held by his father after the current ambassador commits suicide. Meanwhile, the seven daggers of Meggido make their way into the hands of a group of priests. The priests come to England to kill Damien but fail in their attempts as the demonic powers protecting Damien arrange spectacular accidents. A new Star of Bethlehem, heralding the Second Coming of Christ, appears. Astronomical triangulation shows the new Christ to have been born in England. Damien, drained in strength by the baby’s presence, orders his minions to kill every baby born on the night of the star’s appearance. 

General opinion holds The Final Conflict, the third film in the series that began with The Omen (1976), to be the worst of the four. To the contrary though, I found The Final Conflict in some ways to be the most interesting of all the Omen films. To be fair to its critics, The Final Conflict has a wealth of problems, mostly in the screenplay. As with the previous sequel, Damien: Omen II (1978), it fails to pick up the grand conceptual challenge of imagining the Biblical end of the world and keeps up delivering a conveyor belt of novelty deaths. The set-piece killings become more contrived than ever – the most ludicrous being one where a priest falls from a gantry in a tv studio, gets caught upside-down with his leg in a cable, and is the set on fire as he swings over a shorting  wire.

Moreover, the final denouement, which merely has Damien stabbed in a church, is a wimpy disappointment that lacks any of the grandly promised confrontation between good and evil – if the producers had splashed out a little more money and filmed the Book of Revelations as written they could have made Star Wars (1977) as a 60s LSD exploitation film and blown everyone’s minds. Indeed, the script here is so shabbily slung together it has not even done its Biblical reading and has to invent non-existent books of the Apocrypha to deliver prophetic quotes from.  

Continuity with the other films is lacking too – the first film established Damien as being born on June 6th, 1966, but The Final Conflict has him at the age of 32 in 1982. Similarly, the first film established that it is necessary to have all the seven daggers placed in the shape of a cross to kill Damien; this one has the monks using them one apiece.  

On the other hand, The Final Conflict has a good deal on its plus side – there is another fine Jerry Goldsmith score and the film is directed with cleanly elegant visual flair by Graham Baker. Best of all, this entry gives the character of Damien stature, placing him centre stage. In fact, the film does so too successfully – the representatives of good seem a bunch of complete no-hopers. Sam Neill, in his first Hollywood starring role, plays Damien with dark shining charisma, lacing the evil with a seductive persuasion. The script gives Sam Neill some magnificent soliloquies on the power and purity of evil, which come across with a disturbing sympathy.  

The other Omen films are:– The Omen (1976), Damien: Omen II (1978) and Omen IV: The Awakening (1991). The Omen (2006) was a remake of the original. 

The Final Conflict was the directorial debut of British director Graham Baker who has gone onto make a handful of other films within the genre:– Impulse (1984), a fine little-seen drama about a biospill inducing mass insanity in a small town; the human-alien buddy cop film Alien Nation (1988); and Beowulf (1999), based on the classic legend.  

Source: Richard Scheib
Images: Marcus Brooks



Saturday, 24 November 2012


Derren Nesbitt, Harry Andrews, Glynn Edwards, Yootha Joyce, Fran├žoise Pascal, Yutte Stensgaard, Robin Hawdon, Alan Tucker, Dee Shenderey, Joan Carol, Paul Greaves, David Pugh, James Hayter, Thomas Heathcoate, Duncan Lamont, Katya Wyeth, Bob Todd, Reg Lye

Edinburgh in the 1820s and two ne'erdowells, Burke (Derren Nesbitt) and Hare (Glynn Edwards), are living in squalor with their wives when they hear of a way of making easy money. When an elderly man in the boarding house they stay in expires, they are given the job of taking the body to the undertaker, but Burke has an idea, to take the corpse to the city's medical college. This is because the doctors there pay a handsome fee for fresh bodies for dissection and study, and their students can use them as well, so after making an enquiry the two men have successfully completed a transaction - not for the last time.
The story of Burke and Hare is, for some reason, a remarkably popular one in film and television, with a version of the true, 19th century events popping up on screens large and small almost every decade. The best of these is undoubtedly the Val Lewton B-movie The Body Snatcher, but is it significant that this one sticks least closely to the facts? Compare it with this 1972 account, which adheres to the basic storyline as it happened, but to lesser effect, neither as witty or as atmospheric as the previous 1940s classic, perhaps because here the goal is to make a comedy horror.
With the result that this Burke and Hare is more like a British sex comedy strain of the tale, as half the running time seems to be taken up with the comings and goings in a local brothel, a great opportunity, so the filmmakers apparently thought, to spice up their production with plentiful female nudity. Most of that nakedness is courtesy of imported French star Fran├žoise Pascal as a whore who finds love with a naive medical student and leads, we eventually find out, to the bad guys' downfall, although imported Danish star Yutte Stensgaard takes off her clothes as well.
Every Burke and Hare needs their Doctor Knox, or they would be out of business, so step forward Harry Andrews sporting a pair of spectacles with one black lens and a Scottish accent to cover that role. There are quite a few dodgy accents here, actually, from Nesbitt's sing-song Irish to Stensgaard's broad burr, although to be fair she might have been dubbed, just not dubbed by anybody from Edinburgh, or indeed Britain by the sounds of it. Pascal gets to keep her French accent, however, even if her real life equivalent was presumably from Scotland.
Anyway, Knox is only too happy to hand over cash to the evildoers without asking any questions, and this is to their benefit as this is one of the only renderings of their story that sees them as significantly financially better off after their misdeeds allow the pounds, shillings and pence to flow into their pockets. The idea that this is all a bit of a giggle is somewhat at odds with a film that portrays wifebeating and murder, and they don't sit too comfortably with the tarnished charm of the bodysnatchers. If you know anything of the actual events, you can spot the references to them, but it needn't harm your enjoyment if you don't as this does have a certain energy about its dodgy dealings that help it through its lame humour and bloodless nastiness. Also, the theme song is by The Scaffold of "Lily the Pink" fame, which sounds more like Chas and Dave: why sing a song about this famous Scottish crime spree in a Cockney accent? Particularly when they're from Liverpool?


William Holden (Richard Thorn), Lee Grant (Ann Thorn), Jonathan Scott-Taylor (Damien Thorn), Robert Foxworth (Paul Buher), Elizabeth Shepherd (Joan Hart), Lance Henriksen (Sergeant Neff), Lew Ayres (Bill Atherton), Lucas Donat (Mark Thorn), Nicholas Pryor (Charles Warren), Alan Arbus (Passarian), Sylvia Sidney (Aunt Marrion), Leo McKern (Bugenhagen) 

Director – Don Taylor, Screenplay – Michael Hodges & Stanley Mann, Story – Harvey Bernhard, Producer – Harvey Bernhard & Mace Neufeld, Photography – Bill Butler, Music – Jerry Goldsmith, Special Effects – Ira Anderson Jr, Makeup – Robert Dawn & Lillian Toth, Production Design – Fred Harpman & Philip M. Jeffries. Production Company – 20th Century Fox.

Considering how ubiquitous the term “Damien” is when describing an ill-tempered or problematic child, it’s quite surprising that before The Omen in 1976, that term had no satanic significance. Nothing Biblical, no urban legend, nothing. It’s a testament to that film’s lasting impression that that term has endured when even “Regan” from The Exorcist, the movie The Omen is forever indebted to, is a word few know or remember. Damien proved so popular, in fact, that they simply used the name to title the sequel (a similar case would happen a decade later with Rambo). While the demonic possession sub-genre was already showing its seams in 1978 (aggravated by the venomous response to Exorcist II the year before), Damien: Omen II still brought in enough bank and proved successful enough to spawn a second sequel a few years later. Before he ran for office, though, Damien went to military school. What’s in a name? Let’s find out!
A week after the climactic tragedy of the first film, Damien jumps to an archeological dig in Israel, where archeologist Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern) frantically rushes to the side of colleague Michael Morgan (Ian Hendry). He’s got a box intended for the guardian of Damien Thorn, whom Carl claims to be the anti-Christ. Since Morgan is still understandably unconvinced, Carl takes him down into an excavation site where, scrolled on the ruin of Yigael’s wall is the anti-Christ with a stunning resemblance to Damien. Before either of them can get the word out, the two are buried alive by an earthquake.
The movie picks up seven years later, where Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is now twelve and living with his adoptive uncle and owner of the multinational Thorn Industries, Richard Thorn (William Holden). He seems to be getting along great with Richard, his wife Ann (Lee Grant) and their son Mark (Lucas Donat). He’s quiet, polite, intelligent and mild mannered. Not so nice are the animals that seemingly follow him around, from a hypnotic Rottweiler to a perching raven. Wherever those animals go, bad things seem to happen, be it cracked ice on a hockey pond or a burst pipe at Thorn Industries. It’s all part of Satan’s plan to take over the world, and Damien’s still in the dark.
After enrolling in military school, Damien finds himself top of the class and under close watch by Sgt. Neff (a young Lance Henriksen), who knows Damien’s destiny and instructs him to read Revelation, chapter 13. Damien learns his fate, and quickly after finds his powers growing. He’s able to control minds or will the environment. He’s also got some help from inside Thorn Industries, too, as manager Paul Buher (Robert Foxworth) tries to push a controversial business strategy that will see Thorn Industries becoming a major global business by buying up third-world land. As people who threaten Damien or Buher start dying, Richard starts to become more skeptical until ultimately he aims to complete what his brother couldn’t: kill the anti-Christ.
While The Omen director, Richard Donner was off making Superman and his cinematographer was off shooting Star Wars, series producer Harvey Bernhard was able to still wrangle up talent for the sequel in the form of Don Taylor (The Final Countdown, Island of Dr. Moreau) and cinematographer Bill Butler (Jaws, The Conversation). Perhaps the key ingredient was securing Jerry Goldsmith behind the podium once more, hot off his Oscar for his ominous, chanting score for The Omen. Lee Grant was fresh from an Oscar, too (for Shampoo), and casting William Holden was about as close to Gregory Peck as you could get (and indeed, Holden was Bernhard’s first choice for Peck’s part in the original). With all the elements in place, it’s no surprise, then, that Damien: Omen II is nearly as distinguished and professional as the original. At the same time, that’s part of the problem.
While professionally made, Damien offers little new to the series, instead rehashing the same basic arc of the first film, right down to the music and deaths. Looking at the way people die in this movie, it’s almost as if the producers had a checklist from the first film and tried to follow it verbatim. The setup is all around the elevator eviscerating, which is no surprise given all the fuss about the sheet glass beheading in the original. Then there are those shots of animals getting humans to do fatal things, or the zoom ins on Damien as he wills people to kill themselves. You’ve got Holden running around doing the same thing as Peck in the first movie, Lee Grant doing the same distressed mother shtick as Lee Remick in the first, and Lance Henriksen serving as Damien’s protector the same way his nanny was in the first. From the archeological dig at the start to the downbeat finale, Damien does every single thing the first film did. It does it well, but the same thing can be said for cover bands.
Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity in the film is that it does not effectively explore Damien’s consciousness of his destiny. The film tries to follow an arc where Damien slowly learns of his power and begins to comfort in using it by the conclusion, but really, Damien shows his command of the power early on when he nearly Scanners-izes a bully’s head and doesn’t do much more other than that by the end of the movie, either. Partly to blame is Taylor’s portrayal of the anti-Christ, making him too nice and proper, never having that hint of malice that little Harvey Stephens was able to do as a boy in The Omen. You get the sense that Damien doesn’t really care what’s happening either way, so long as he’s keeping up in school and minding his manners. But most of the blame falls on the screenwriters for not allowing Damien’s growing maturity alter the course of his development.
The other major fault in advancing the story forward, is that the movie conveniently switches from animals and disciples doing Damien’s bidding to Damien himself. Sometimes it’s the force of Satan that kills Damien’s adversaries, while other times it’s Damien. What decides either depends on what is easier at the time to ensure the bodycount remains high and consistent. It’s tough to feel any real threat towards Damien since no matter what, there’s some force that’s going to protect him. If Satan’s force can just do away with anyone that stands in his way, what does he need Damien for, anyway? You’d think with the devil so much in control that there would never even be close to the conflict that there is in the film, and that’s why any altercation seems forced, because really an omnipresent force should be so much more powerful. As good as the narrative setup was in the first film, this sequel wastefully uses story merely as a device to get us from one death scene to the next.
Of course, the fun is all in the death scenes, and to the film’s credit, they are orchestrated rather well. The drowning under the ice is expertly covered from all angles, while other scenes, like when a wire cuts a torso in half or a raven picks out the eyes of a nosy reporter, are particularly gruesome. For a film that has a pedigree as a serious faith-based thriller in lines of The Exorcist, Damien is surprisingly able to cater to the B-movie crowds as well with it’s grand, violent death scenes. Before Savini’s gory reign of terror starting in 1980, Damien represents one of the most gruesome death parades of the late-seventies.
It’s a shame it isn’t more than it is, but Damien is still a proficient thriller with A-list talent across the board serving a B-grade script. The story’s a rehash, but the death scenes are big enough and bad enough to still give the film purpose. Would the story finally grow up with Damien for the third film?

Friday, 23 November 2012


The DR WHO TELEVISION SERIES celebrates it's 49th BIRTHDAY today. Peter played the... 'non canon'...Dr Who in both film versions of the popular BBC television character in 'Dr Who and The Daleks' ( 1965) and 'Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD' (1966) Both films are coming to blu ray in the Spring next year.


British horror brand Hammer is taking its first steps into the world of live theatre in a new stage adaptation of The Turn of the Screw. Rebecca Lenkiewicz's play, based on the classic ghost tale by Henry James, opens in January at London's Almeida theatre. Hammer Theatre of Horror has a co-production credit for the first time. Hammer boss Simon Oakes said it was a "toe in the water" and the company was keen to explore more theatre projects.

Earlier this year Hammer production The Woman In Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe, became the highest-grossing British horror film of the past 20 years.

As well as films, the brand has also branched out into book publishing with recent titles from Jeanette Winterson and Helen Dunmore. Oakes said the new version of The Turn of the Screw was ideal for Hammer Theatre of Horror's inaugural project.

Simon Oakes CEO, Hammer "It's very much at the creative centre of what we're trying to do in the rebooted Hammer," he told the BBC. "It's really a toe in the water. The Hammer name is there as a co-producer [with Act Productions] - it wasn't a project we developed ourselves. "For us it's about understanding the dynamics. The long-term idea is to create shows that can then become content for our film business as well."The Turn of the Screw tells the story of a governess who arrives at a remote estate to care for a nephew and niece after the death of their parents. Published in 1898, the story has been adapted for film, TV, radio and the stage on numerous occasions. The best-known film version is 1961's The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr and Michael Redgrave.

The cast for the Almeida production, announced on Friday, includes Gemma Jones as the housekeeper Mrs Grose and Anna Madeley as 'The Governess'. The production will be directed by Lindsay Posner, whose recent credits include Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre, Abigail's Party for the Menier Chocolate Factory and Noises Off for the Old Vic.

Hammer was founded in the 1930s, though it was not until the 1950s that its name became synonymous with the horror genre. Its run of monster movies included Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein, which made stars of such British actors as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

After lying dormant since the 1980s, the company and its back catalogue were bought in 2007 by a consortium with Simon Oakes as CEO.

The Turn of the Screw runs at the Almeida from 18 January to 16 March 2013.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012




Gregory Peck (Robert Thorn), Lee Remick (Katharine Thorn), David Warner (Haber Jennings), Harvey Stephens (Damien Thorn), Billie Whitelaw (Mrs Baylock), Patrick Troughton (Father Brennan), Leo McKern (Bugenhagen)

Director – Richard Donner, Screenplay – David Seltzer, Producer – Harvey Bernhard, Photography – Gilbert Taylor, Music – Jerry Goldsmith, Special Effects – John Richardson, Makeup – Stuart Freeborn, Art Direction – Carmen Dillon. PC – A Mace Neufeld-Harvey Bernhard Production. USA. 1976.  

Moments after his son is born in Rome, ambassador Robert Thorn is approached by a priest and told that the baby is dead but that a replacement can be offered. Thorn accepts the offer with the conditions that he not tell his wife. Soon afterwards, Thorn is appointed as US ambassador to England. As the child Damien grows up, he is surrounded by a series of strange deaths. A priest comes to Thorn, telling him that Damien is a son of the Devil and the anti-Christ. Thorn has him thrown out but shortly after the priest is bizarrely killed. Soon, events force Thorn to confront what the priest says as truth. He and a journalist set out on an international quest to find a means of killing Damien.

The Omen was a groundbreaking film and one of the big box-office hits of the 1970s. The film came with a wonderfully catchy promotion campaign – of a poster featuring the silhouette of the child in black, which melded into an inverted crucifix against a scarlet red background and the tagline “Good morning. You are one day closer to the end of the world.” All of which served to make The Omen a big hit. Like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973) before it, The Omen tapped into a 1970s fascination with the occult, evil children and a pre-millennial harbinging about the end of the world. The Omen was made around the same time that quasi-apocalyptic disaster movies such as The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974) were hitting big and tapped into an undeniable fascination fed by Vietnam and Watergate that the world was falling in and nearing the end. Around the same time, Christian author Hal Lindsey broached the best-seller lists with his work of Biblical non-fiction The Late, Great Planet Earth (1970) where he interpreted the Book of Revelations and prophesied the signs as being right for the Biblical End of the World and the coming of the Anti-Christ.  

Despite the presence of two religious advisors listed on the credits, The Omen is Sunday tabloid Christianity. It works in the same way that Erich Von Daniken and his Chariots of the Gods bunkum reads – as sensationalised science, archaeology and history for those who only have a smattering of knowledge about either. That said, on a level of pure entertainment there is an inspired ingenuity to screenwriter David Seltzer’s reworking of Hal Lindsey’s End Times prophecies and in turning all the Book of Revelations symbolism into an A-budget B movie. Unlike almost every one of the numerous films that sought to imitate The Omen, David Seltzer has gone to The Bible and read up on his source material. (Many of the imitators have not even done that – the third Omen film The Final Conflict, for example, quotes from non-existent books of The Apocrypha). 

Out of it all, David Seltzer creates a busy plot on a large international stage and Richard Donner directs with a slick commercial polish. The novelty of The Omen was as much its End Times sensationalism as it was the way that supporting characters were dispatched with spectacular ingenuity – Patrick Troughton vertically impaled by a pole, Lee Remick thrown out of a hospital window to bounce through the roof of a passing ambulance and, best of all – the scene that was the talking point of the film at the time – David Warner’s famous decapitation by a sheet of glass. 

There does seem a certain silliness to it – if the Devil is out to kill all those in opposition, why does he not do so before they deliver their message or manage to help those on the side of good? The story also needs someone less wooden than Gregory Peck to enervate it – the most expression he ever seems to give at the thought of the Biblical End of the World and having to murder his son is a worried narrowing of the eyes. Lee Remick is equally blank, although good support does come from David Warner and especially the wonderfully sinister Billie Whitelaw who leaves a suggestion of surliness lurking beneath her mannered politeness. The twist ending does sustain a sinister and sardonic note. Also of complement is Jerry Goldsmith’s much imitated, superlatively sinister score. The Omen was listed by the Medved Brothers in The 50 Worst Movies of All Time (1977) but certainly is not that bad. It is highly entertaining hokum.


There were three sequels to The Omen:– Damien: Omen II (1978), The Final Conflict (1981) and Omen IV: The Awakening (1991). The Omen (2006) was a remake. The Omen (1995) was a tv pilot that had Richard Donner’s name attached, although is unrelated to the films in any way. The Omen Legacy (2001) was a documentary about the film series. 

There were a host of cheap, usually Italian-made, horror films that came out exploiting The Omen, copying its novelty deaths and making spurious Biblical connections. Two of the more interestingly serious-minded and original Biblical End Times films were The Seventh Sign (1988) and The Rapture (1991). Recent years have seen a number of films revisiting the End Times Prophecies genre but made from a Christian perspective with the likes of The Omega Code (1999) and Gone (2003), a mini-genre has been plumbed with almost obsessive regularity by the Toronto-based Lalonde Brothers and their Cloud Ten Productions in their tetraology Armageddon (1998), Revelation (1999), Tribulation (2000) and Judgment (2001), and a further series beginning with Left Behind (2000).

The Omen was an assured breakthrough for director Richard Donner. Richard Donner had debuted with the little-seen Space Age film X-15 (1961) and thereafter spent a decade directing television, including classic series such as The Twilight Zone, The Wild, Wild West, Gilligan’s Island, The Fugitive, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Get Smart, The Six Million Dollar Man, as well as the award-winning tv movie Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975). Donner subsequently went on to considerable success as a mainstream director. He has made a number of other genre films – Superman (1978) based on the comic-book superhero, the fine Mediaeval romantic fantasy Ladyhawke (1985), the updated Dickens tale Scrooged (1988), the interestingly dark children’s film Radio Flyer (1992), the dud conspiracy comedy Conspiracy Theory (1997) and the dull Michael Crichton time travel film Timeline (2003). By the late 1990s, Richard Donner seemed to be a spent force, turning out endless sequels to his Mel Gibson hit Lethal Weapon (1987) and flops like Assassins (1995), which seem interested in registering more as insipid light comedy than action. Donner has also produced The Lost Boys (1987), the horror anthology tv series Tales from the Crypt (1989-96) and its two film spinoffs Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight (1995) and Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood (1996), Delirious (1991) about a writer trapped inside his own soap opera, the monster hunter film Matthew Blackheart (2002), and the comic-book adaptations X-Men (2000), Constantine (2005), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and X: First Class (2011). 

Screenwriter David Seltzer went on to write other mainstream films such as Punchline (1988) and Bird on a Wire (1990). Seltzer returned to genre material with his scripts for Prophecy (1979) about a pollution-mutated bear, the ghost story Dragonfly (2002) and then went back to Biblical End Times themes for The Eighteenth Angel (1998), the 6-episode mini-series Revelations (2005) and the 2006 remake of The Omen.

Review: Richard Schieb
Images: Marcus Brooks
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