Monday, October 10, 2011

31 Days of '81 Horror: The Final Conflict (Graham Baker)

Damien Thorn, the little scamp from The Omen who turned out to be anti-Christ (kids these days!) and survived a murder attempt by his dad, Atticus Finch, is back, now thirty-two years old and a successful corporate CEO and the US Ambassador to England with a promising political future. Thorn in ’84! However, the stars have aligned, and as prophesized, a baby child who will become the second coming of Jesus Christ is to be born, an anti-anti-Christ if you will, and thwart his plan of world domination. Damien also has to deal with a hit squad of seven Italian monks who have recovered the Israeli daggers that are the only means of killing him. Good thing that Satan guy’s got his back, because Team Satan comes with tons of cool mind control tricks!

I should mention here that I have not seen the second film in the Omen trilogy (we’ll pay no heed to the fourth made-for-FOX T V movie or 2006 remake of the original) since high school, the same time I last saw this one, which I frankly remembered nothing from. From my recent viewing, I think only a familiarity with the first film is required, although I don’t quite remember or know how the head of the Italian monastery knows with certainty that Damien is the anti-christ.

The first film and the third film show an interesting contrast in expectations of a major studio produced horror film in the 1970s versus 1981. In 1976, thanks to big hits like Jaws and The Exorcist, FOX poured a lot of money into the budget of The Omen, and even secured acting legend Gregory Peck in a lead role. Even, the second film had William Holden still hot off of Network. The Final Conflict , however, is cast mainly with character actors and new faces, and oddly, a completely foreign (to the US at least) affair, with a Brit, Graham Baker helming, New Zealand actor Sam Neil (making his US film debut) as Damien and shoot entirely in England. This contrast between the decades results in a tonal struggle where the film’s A picture roots and B picture sizzle scenes never fully mesh.

Baker gives the film a very cinematic look and The Final Conflict has a grand scope. Jerry Goldsmith, the composer of the original, provides an operatic, if too bombastic and disruptive score. But it’s a little boring when it tries to put on airs. However, when Sam Neil, who also gives a gonzo performance in another film I’ll discuss this month, Possession, is finally let loose, in a scene where he prays to his savior in front of a reverse crucified Jesus statue, the film hits a gear of ridiculousness that is quite fun. This is a film comprised of a hit squad of seven monks, all who fail hilariously (unintentionally) and find themselves either self-immolated, tossed off of a large bridge or eaten by a pack of dogs as well as a montage of Damien’s followers or the parents themselves murdering newborn children, though just below frame, to prevent the second coming of Jesus.

Ultimately, it feels like a film whose screenplay (credited to Andrew Birkin) needed another draft or two. I kept inventing cooler scenarios in my head while watching the film, like why not embrace the “men on a mission” aspect of the monks, and make it a Dirty Dozen type recruitment, training and plan implementation outline. Or what if Damien is having self-doubts about his fate, since he’s been amongst humans for three plus decades? The film makes a big to-do about the second coming of Christ, and implies heavily that he’s the son of one of Damien’s closest aides, but that is pretty much pushed aside, and we’re just told, “hey don’t worry about it, Christ 2.0 is safe and good”. And if Damien is losing powers all the time new Christ is around, why is that never really reflected in his actions? Would a power losing anti-christ still be able to convince a mother to charbroil her new son’s face with an iron? Cause if so, and I were Damien, I wouldn’t worry all that much. The Final Conflict has flourishes of a great “what the fuck” horror movie that goes to uncomfortable places, but it never fully embraces this side, and we’re left with a halfhearted film and not one, but two pre-end credit bible verse quotes to let us know it will all be okay, especially disappointing considering the wickedly disturbing final scene of the original.


le0pard13 said...

Fun look at this one, Colonel. Sam Neill's debut was entertaining (and he's usually in things I've enjoyed: DEAD CALM, JURASSIC PARK, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, etc.), though the film isn't that great. It does have its moments, but not enough to come close to the first THE OMEN. Thanks.

Mummbles said...

I have only seen the original The Omen and knew of the sequels, have to check them out. Thanks for the write up.

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