This is what the Bible has to say on the subject of ravens: "an abomination" (Leviticus 12-21). While according to Isiah (34, 8-11), on the day of the Lord's scorched-earth policy, our feathered pals will fill their blackened bellies with the crispy flesh of the damned. So it's appropriate this much maligned bird, intelligent and music-loving, should feature so heavily in Damien: Omen II as a demonic fixer for teenage Antichrist Damien Thorn (Scott-Taylor).
With hell boy still largely unaware of his destiny, it's the raven who's responsible for much of the murdering, usually by just perching up and belching along to an undulating Jerry Goldsmith choir. That's something those Old Testament prophets neglected to mention; the 'Father of Omens' has a habit of introducing itself with a loud, beak-smacking gut-honk. Not only will it pop your eyes like fried eggs, it'll burp in your face for an aperitif.
Set some 7 years after the events of The Omen, the troubled sequel finds the little devil living the high life with uncle Richard (Holden), Richard's second wife Ann (Grant), and gormless cousin Mark (Donat). Damien's turned out marvellously considering his first adopted father was gunned down while trying to turn him into a colander. Charming, cheeky, insouciant and savvy, he's Holden Caulfield with a helmet haircut. And like most boys on the verge of their thirteenth birthday ("considered by many cultures to have initiation rites"), Damien's going through some startling changes. If only pubic hair and frenzied masturbation were the extent of it.
Shorn of Satanic nannies and hell-hounds, but with the burping raven on constant call, facilitating his rise to badness are a bunch of well-appointed acolytes and corporate thugs, smoothing his entry into the obscenely rich and powerful Thorn Industries, which plans to control - or withhold - food distribution in famine-afflicted territories (good business say some, 'unethical' think others - and horribly familiar we say, from the vantage point of the 21st century). Meanwhile, anybody who gets in Damien's way is slaughtered, and which teen hasn't fantasised about that?
Following the trajectory of many future captains of industry, Damien is packed off to military school, where brooding academy sergeant Daniel Neff (Henriksen) informs him of his true nature. "Why?" he howls despairingly. "Why me?" A playful riff on the traumas of puberty, it's the one truly affecting scene because it's so honest. The remainder can be fed to the flames.
If The Omen had a certain vaudevillian grandeur, the sequel feels like a cheap, made-for-TV slasher. More reliable than buses, you can set your watch by the slayings, including a damn good pecking, a deadly plunge under the ice (the most effective set-piece) and death by lift cable, featuring a technician chopped in half width-ways; if the film was aiming to trounce the original's straightforward decapitation, it's just not half as effective in its execution.
It makes one wonder what original director Mike Hodges could have done with it, before fleeing production three weeks into the shoot. As Hodges told the 'Guardian' in 2003, during a row about the design budget the apoplectic producer placed a handgun on the table. "I said, 'Is that loaded?' And he said, 'Yes.' And then we just looked at each other for a bit." Hodges retains a credit (unlike Leo McKern and Ian Hendry, drowned by sand in the first 10 minutes), but the script might have been so different: 'You're a big man, but in you're in bad shape. Now sit down and behave yourself before I summon Baal and Lilith to play conkers with your b****cks."
With the exception of Henriksen, and the beguiling Scott-Taylor, the acting is uniformly stilted, and a quick buck for Holden who was originally pencilled in to play Robert Thorn, but passed as he didn't want to star in a film about the devil. Having seen The Omen clean up, he wasted no time hopping on board for the sequel. More pertinently, the original film was shot with an alternative ending in which Damien died but Alan Ladd Jnr, sniffing bucks, nixed the idea. All of which proves once and for all that the love of sequels is actually the root of all evil.
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