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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Damien: Omen II Don Taylor 1978

To the Devil... A Sandwich

Hollywood sequels are a bad idea, plain and simple. Considering how successful or good a film must be for a studio to even consider a sequel (particularly in the olden days), the attempt to rake in as much moolah as possible on a sequel usually becomes a frenzy of Scrooge MacDuckian proportions, with dozens upon dozens of sleazy executives and hungry career-climbers trying to get their fingers in the pie. Usually, mostly due to this clusterfucking of opinionated and money-grubbing slobs trying to have their way with a legacy property, you can expect complete, unmitigated chaos to result. Sometimes the stillborn sequel is simply a soggy retread of the first film (Ginger Snaps Back, Scream 2 and 3). Other times the second story is so spectacularly misaligned with the original that you have to wonder if the creators even saw it (Halloween 3, American Psycho 2, Blair Witch 2, Pirahna 2). And still other sequels are just so dangerously pumped-up with cash and bluster that they can't help but be squashed like grapes under the weight of their own financial ambition (the unwatchable Exorcist 2, Scary Movie 3, or Freddy vs. Jason).

But there is another, infinitely more fabulous category of sequels that I'd like to celebrate here: these are the sequels that while marking a noted departure from the first film, still pack in enough glee, smarts, and audacity to stand alone as thoroughly entertaining cinema. Amityville 2 is one of these sequels, as are Jaws 2 and Friday 6. These films generally double or triple the bodycount, skip over (or outright negate) the events or mythos of the original, and have not a shred of decency or respect for the source material. Unhindered by any sort of reverence for the original idea (hmmm… let's just have another one-in-a-million giant killer shark show up at the same town!), these films free themselves up to careen wildly within their loosely-drawn universes, making casualties of just about everything the first film held up to be important. But if the filmmakers can manage to turn in a series of events that manage to either complement those of the original (Chainsaw 2, a comedic version of the first film) or to eclipse them entirely (Aliens, a nihilistic circle-jerk of unchecked fanboy ambition), you're in for a real treat.

Damien: Omen II is just that: an ambitious, ridiculous exercise in spectacularly bad taste that somehow manages to entertain, shock, and delight despite being nothing more than a series of operatic assassinations and melodramatic arguments. The movie is overblown, pretentious, and tacky, yes - but it's also well-paced, beautifully-shot and so mean spirited that it's impossible not to love. And like a true bitch, I can't help but clasp my grubby little hands in sheer glee when I see Hollywood greats like William Holden, Sylvia Sidney, and Lew Ayres pulled down into the mire by what is essentially a snuff film with a Jerry Goldsmith score (for similar pedestal-toppling antics, see also: The Fan, Eyes of Laura Mars, Visiting Hours, The Graveyard).

The plot is simple to the point of nonexistence, so there's no real point in getting into it here. Of far greater importance is the series of grand guignol set pieces that systematically annihilate every character who has any sort of knowledge relating to Damien (the pasty-cheeked toddler from the original, who has since blossomed into a Jennifer Jason Leigh-looking gamine). Right off the bat it is clearly established that there is no rhyme or reason to the powers of the Beast, who at times apparently needs to send a bird to do his dirty-work or at least observe it, and at others makes no appearance at all. Sometimes Damien uses telepathy to harm others, at other times he's not even around or aware of the murders or the victims. Having established a blissful disregard for pesky things like causality, the filmmakers are then free to concentrate on loading the screen with images of fabulously coiffed women being terrorized by birds and bit players being graphically dismembered, crushed, and otherwise maligned by such things as railroad cars, elevators, semis, frozen ponds, toxic waste, and Lee Grant.

Ah, Lee Grant. I honestly don't know how this woman managed it, but she has appeared in some of the most fabulously trashy movies ever made and somehow emerged with her dignity in tact and her muffin-top hairdo unmussed. Whether she's being stalked by Michael Ironside (while he's wearing her jewelry) in the superbly nasty Visiting Hours or ogling hot young Iowan strippers with Viveca Lindfors in For Ladies Only, Lee has dredged the deepest, murkiest depths of questionable cinema and emerged victorious to direct dozens of Intimate Portraits for the Lifetime Television Network (including, oddly, her own!). Here she shamelessly forces herself into scenes she likely wasn't even written into (watch her bully her mushroom-shaped head into the shot of Mark blowing out his birthday candles), wears enough beige to stock an entire Country Road, and gets to utter one of the most disgusting lines ever written: "Alright, who's up for a hot corned beef sandwich?"

Yes, there's a scene where Sylvia Sidney is given a telepathic coronary by a crow. Yes, there is a scene where a woman in a smart red coat has her eyes plucked out by a bird, stumbles in front of a semi, and after being thrown OVER the cab, is run over by the trailer. Meshach Taylor (pre-Mannequin!) is sliced in half in an elevator for no apparent reason, and Nicholas Pryor is unceremoniously squashed between two cars of a railroad train. In essence, Damien: Omen II has less in common with The Omen than with Final Destination, with a jaw-dropping assortment of elaborate death scenes that are so operatic in tone and grand in scope that they almost make you forget how incredibly crass they are. Do we really need to see middle-aged has-been character actors get eviscerated in gruesome detail? Not particuarly. But it's funny as hell!

I'll leave a few things out for those who haven't seen the film yet (yet...), but let's just say that the ending is chock-full of enough camp fabulousness to give Laura Mars a run for her money ("Damieeeeeeeeeeeennnnnn!"), and the film is littered with enough corpses to keep the proceedings lively and engaging, and the parade of hideous late-seventies fashion is irresistably horrid. If you're a fan of late-seventies ensemble movies, this piece of polished trash is an absolute must-see.

Rating (out of 5):

This made-for-TV movie features a young actor who would later star as a closeted homo in Far From Heaven