Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Recent Watches: Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)

The second “Omen” movie was not the blockbuster success of the original but money was obviously still made. Or maybe producer Harvey Bernhard was just that determined to see this story through to its conclusion. Either way, the final chapter of “The Omen” series rolled into theaters in 1981. Theatrically presented as “The Final Conflict,” but known ever since as “Omen III: The Final Conflict,” the film was the feature debut of director Graham Baker. It was also an early leading role for Sam Neill. The two combined attempted to make the conclusion to this demonic story feel as epic as possible. Whether or not they succeeded is another issue.

Damien Thorn, the Antichrist, is ready to seize power. As the CEO of Thorn Industries, he’s pushed the company into every corner of the world, having its fingers in every resource. After orchestrating the death of the previous U.S. ambassador to the U.K., Damien assumes that position as well. A literal sign in the stars signals that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent. Damien, using the vast resources at his disposal, intends to murder the Christ Child before he can rise. An order of monks seek to stop him, stabbing him with the magical daggers that can destroy his body and soul. Meanwhile, Damien manipulates a female reporter and her young son, furthering his quest to plunge the world into Hell.

“The Final Conflict” has one major attribute in its favor. Sam Neill plays Damien. His steely, cold eyes are perfectly suited to the character. Neill calibrates every line of dialogue for the maximum sinister quality. He carries himself with a stiff posture, like a statue sprung to life. By this point, Damien has embraced his destiny as the Prince of Darkness. Neill executes orders – including the mass genocide of infant boys – with total conviction. Long scenes in “Omen III” are devoted to Neill monologing against a statue of Christ. He refers to Jesus condescendingly as the Nazarene, refusing to acknowledge his rival’s status as the Savior of humanity. He makes his case against God, believing fully that his cause is superior, purer, more beneficial to mankind. Neill is chilling in the part. If “The Final Conflict” works at all, it’s because of him.

By 1981, the horror genre was more grisly then it was in 1976. The novelty of “The Omen’s” elaborate death scenes had worn out. “The Final Conflict,” perhaps smartly, focuses less on the blood and gore seen in “Omen II.” The first death scene has the ambassador graphically blowing his brains out with a hidden pistol. Beyond that, the explicit gore is dialed back. This is a two edge sword though, as it also causes “The Final Conflict” to lack the visceral impact of the other films. A man, wrapped in plastic, and swinging through a fire is kind of cool. However, some avenging priest locked in an outside cellar or a guy chomped by adorable hunting dogs lacks that power. Instead of embracing the disturbing oppretunity to murder hundreds of babies, “The Final Conflict” reels back into goofiness. For example, a baby appears as a cartoonish corpse, in order to convince the mother to smother it with a hot iron. Mass infanticide shouldn’t produce unintentional laughter.

“The Final Conflict” pushes Damien in a new direction as a character: It gives him a girlfriend. Lisa Harrow plays Kate, the reporter that gets charmed by Damien. Despite the audience obviously knowing Damien is evil, Harrow and Neill still have better then expected chemistry. That connection is even enough to get the audience through the bizarre sex/anal rape scene the two share. Don Gordon plays Damien’s main henchmen and gives a decent performance. I like how he treats working for the Antichrist the same way a typical office toadie would treat his job. Rossano Brazzi plays the priest that challenges Damien. Despite actually being Italian, his Italian accent sounds incredibly fake.

“The Final Conflict” attempts to build an epic conclusion to this story. The return of Christ is signaled by an astral phenomenon. One scene has Damien meeting with an entire valley full of Satanists, making them promise allegiance to him. Despite being about the potential end of the world, “Omen III’s” stakes still don’t feel high enough. Damien’s explicitly psychic powers come off as awfully silly, especially since his influence is usually signaled with a cuddly Rottweiler. Despite being well read in his Biblical verses and his global reach, Damien still isn’t smart enough to know that Christ will return as an adult, not a baby. “The Final Conflict” also doesn’t seem to grasp its own series’ mythology. If it did, it would know that one of the Megiddo daggers only kills Damien’s body. All seven are required to kill his soul. Of course, the movie doesn’t seem to grasp Christian theology either. Otherwise, it would know Christ’s reappearance on Earth begins the Apocalypse. Not exactly an event worth celebrating.

Despite Sam Neill’s creepy performance, “The Final Conflict” has too many flaws to ignore. Goofy or lame death scenes, a lack of tension, and a script that undersells important concepts slots the sequel fully into the mediocre zone. If only for Neill, I’m probably more likely to rewatch this one over “Damien: Omen II.” It feels slightly less slapdash then that first sequel. As it is, “The Omen” franchise sputtered to an underwhelming conclusion. Perhaps this proves that hearing about the Antichrist bringing about the Apocalypse is probably scarier then actually seeing a movie about it? [6/10]

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