Welcome to my column, "Misunderstood Monsters", in which I'm taking up the torch for sequels that are trashed, beaten, stabbed, and set on fire by angry mobs, and attempt to defend their bloody honor...
...The Omen franchise first had us all screaming "hail, Satan" when Richard Donner's The Omen released in 1976. A tale about a politician (played by Gregory Peck, with a rare step into the horror genre) who takes in a son that is not his own and later realizes he may be the Anti-Christ. The film shocked audiences around the globe and was a massive hit for Twentieth Century Fox. Damien: Omen II (1978) then saw a young Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) as a boy at a military academy, where a creepy Lance Henriksen helps him to realize he is, in fact, the son of Satan.
Both were fairly successful films. And then came what was at the time supposed to be the final film in the trilogy, Omen III: The Final Conflict. In it, Damien is now a grown adult played by the always excellent Sam Neill (Event Horizon, Jurassic Park), who, knowing what he is, has ascended to power in the government. Once he learns that Christ has once again been born, he sets out on a mission to destroy the child, all while an ancient order hunts Damien and seeks to end his terror.
For lack of a better term, it would become the bastard spawn of the three, and to this day still remains the least popular of the original trilogy.
Though I agree it's the weakest, Omen III actually has quite a bit going for it that makes it a quality film which commits less sins than it gets credit for.
The god-tier Presence of Sam Neill
An actor from the South Island of New Zealand, I, like many other horror kids of my generation, first discovered Sam Neill in a film that is still hotly debated as to whether or not it’s horror (it is), Jurassic Park. A lot of you also probably know him from the superbly creepy Event Horizon (1997). But Neill had actually been taking part in the genre long before that, one of his first major roles of his career being that of playing Damien Thorn in Omen III: The Final Conflict.
And goddamn if he isn’t perfect for the role.
Throw Neill in anything and he’s going to own it, but still young and dabbling in his more malicious side, Neill steps into the shoes of the malevolent Anti-Christ and brings just the right amount of devilish slimeball to the part. Think Jared Kushner meets, well, Jared Kushner. No offense to Neill, but Neill’s Damien has a somewhat similar appearance to the world’s biggest tool, Kushner, with both sporting the sort of haircut that screams “I’m an evil turd coated in pale human flesh”. But unlike Kushner, Neill brings a ton of charm to the ultimate daddy’s boy character. There’s just something sexy about the way Neill grins right before he horribly betrays someone. Or maybe that’s just my love of bad boys.
Either way, Neill carries Omen III and is a big part of what makes this sequel so watchable.
Arguably the Most Bold of the Trilogy
If there’s one thing that Omen III: The Final Conflict has over its predecessors, it’s that it almost certainly wouldn’t be able to get made today, at least not like its current form. The Omen has itself already been adapted as a shot for shot remake in 2006 (bleh), and there isn’t much in Damien: Omen II that might be deemed too taboo, but Omen III has something neither of those films has: baby killing. A whole lot of it.
To be clear, this is not a condoning of said mass infanticide, but simply pointing out just how hardcore Omen III really is.
When Damien senses that Christ, aka, the “Nazarene”, has been reborn, he gathers his swarm of obedient worshippers and sends them out like carnivorous locusts to kill every male child born on the morning of March 24th. The order itself is plainly horrific, but instead of implying that this is happening, director Graham Baker chooses not to shy away from the atrocity, and instead presents multiple scenes in which babies are crushed in carriages, suffocated, and in one instance, a mother even takes a hot iron to her child after seeing it’s face transformed into a horrifying, burnt husk. Thankfully, we don’t actually see any of this violence, but we see enough to make it some deeply disturbing shit. Adding to the horror is the fact that cultist kids are the one’s seen doing most of the killing.
The Omen franchise has flirted with taboo elements from the beginning, but Omen III sinks so deep into the muck away from what is generally accepted as “okay” that it stands as a testament to the time it was made, for better or worse.
Damien at His Most Devilish
In the first Omen, Damien himself was more of a non-character, an obnoxious kid in the background that the audience kind of hated and kind of hoped would be offed by Gregory Peck in the end. No such luck. Damien: Omen II shifted the focus to the title character, taking us on a horrific journey with Damien as he discovered his one true purpose. While that sequel is perhaps the most interesting in terms of character development, Omen III is the first time we ever get to see Damien at his true potential, and Neill relishes in portraying the darkest sides of the character.
In Omen III, Damien lives up to everything that’s expected of the most evil man in the world. His cruelty cannot be contained. Damien has no love for anyone, and all are at his disposal. Unlike previous entries, where those who get in the way of Damien’s success are picked off by supernatural occurrences unbeknownst to Damien, this time around, Damien is willing each and every death, and is often on the scene when it happens, grinning ear to ear. And let’s not forget the fact that he orders the death of multiple babies, including the son of his most loyal servant, Harvey (Don Gordon).
Damien’s evil has no bounds in Omen III. There is no remorse in him, just darkness. That may make his development less intriguing than in the other films, but for those of us who enjoy watching villains be bad for the sake of bad, Omen III is where it’s at in the series.
Damien's Cult is Eerily More Relevant than Ever
How many of you who have seen Omen III constantly found yourself thinking of it during Trump’s time in office? I know I did. Watergate occurred just a little under ten years before Omen III released, so it’s hard to imagine that the government corruption prevalent all throughout the film wasn’t at least a little inspired by Nixon’s “I am not a crook” tour, but even writer Andrew Birkin couldn’t have imagined just how true to life his story would become decades later.
Omen III is all about the rise of evil to power, predicated on a long history of seeing the worst of men do so, whether it was Hitler, Putin, or Trump. At one point, Omen III and the idea of the devil invading the White House might have seemed like a novel idea, but Trump smashed the fantasy of it and made it real before our eyes. The disgraced ex-president may not actually be the devil—though I’m not writing that off just yet until his eventual autopsy assures that there is not, in fact, a 666 birthmark hiding somewhere—but throughout the Trump years, we watched the corruption typically hidden in the shadows brought to life before our eyes. “Russia, are you listening,” was a call to action for another government to interfere with our elections, and it happened on National TV. With Trump we saw cruelty in the United States erupt, and a strange fanaticism spreading through Trump voters that still feels like it could only be explained as a supernatural occurrence.
Like the loyal Satanists serving Damien, Trump’s followers heeded every word without question, even when heeding his words meant violence (the capitol, anyone?). If you haven’t seen Omen III in a while, give it another watch. The parallels between the film and present day are simply frightening.
Creepiest Kids in the Series
One of the more odd yet effective choices in Omen III is to not just have adult Satan worshippers, but kids, too. It makes sense. The series relies heavily on the “creepy kid” trope, and most fucked up parents convert their kids into following their fucked up beliefs, so it isn’t hard to imagine that there would be kiddo cultists in the Omen universe. What’s strange though is how the film has kids that just seem to find their way to Satan without any outside influence at all, one of them being Peter (Barnaby Holm), son of Damien’s love interest, Kate (Lisa Harrow).
There’s something a little off about the overly quiet Peter from the beginning, but hey, I was a quiet kid too and I turned out all right! Right? Tongue-tied as he is, it still comes as a shock that Peter actually ends up being a worshipper of Damien’s, revealed through the espionage he does for him, and, I don’t know, letting Damien wipe a man’s blood all over his face! The tradition of getting “blooded” during a fox hunt is absurd enough, but the urgent and overly satisfied look on Peter’s face as Damien casually and, ahem, slightly erotically (?), smears blood on his lips sends the coldest of shivers down the spine. For a franchise that made its buck on creepy kids, Peter and the other tykes in Omen III are by far the creepiest.
The Godfather of the Omen movies, or at Least Godfather Part III
Okay, so calling Omen III “The Godfather of the Omen” movies may be a bit much—it’s not anywhere near the level of quality of Coppola’s 1972 crime drama—but I wouldn’t be surprised if Andrew Birkin was at least partially inspired by the tragedy of the Corleone’s. Damien himself is a lot like Michael Corleone, a boy who could once be considered “good” before embracing his role in the family legacy. But the similarities go much deeper than that.
For one, both The Godfather and Omen are about a young man corrupted by power. Whether Damien was always evil or turned evil is debatable, but the result is the same: he becomes the cold-blooded killer he is by Omen III, just like Michael Corleone by the end of The Godfather. Omen III is also the most political and crime-driven of the bunch, with Damien bringing us into the darker sides of government as he makes “offers that cannot be refused”. Omen III is missing the eerie mystery of the first two films, but what it does have is plenty of intrigue in watching Damien pick off his enemies and climb up the political ladder. But perhaps most striking in similarities is the way in which the destruction of said enemies occurs. Each and every Godfather film features a sequence in which multiple oppositions are picked off by Corleone’s henchmen, and that exact thing occurs with Damien’s order of the murder of newborns, in which cultists all over the world eliminate babies who potentially pose a threat to Damien.
Take out the supernatural elements, and The Omen and The Godfather are essentially the same series. So, say what you want about Omen III, but the plot took the most logical step forward, indulging in the criminal evil of Damien.
An Unforgettable Head Explosion
Few things are as wonderful in horror as a good head explosion, and Omen III has arguably one of the better ones.
In his attempt to gain power, Damien and his manipulative daddy mind-warp a fellow politician into committing an unnecessarily elaborate suicide in which he ties the trigger of a gun to his office doorknob so that it can go off as a group of people enter, resulting in one of the bloodier head pops of the 80s, and a wall in serious need of brain bit removal. It’s one of the few moments of the film that unleashes the gore and goes all out in shocking the audience, one that none of the other kills in Omen III matches.
Scanners and The Fury stand on a level all their own in the head-exploding department, but Omen III is one of those in a fight for the crown at the second tier.
Quadruple the Number of Evil Pups
Part of the brilliance of the original Omen was in creating multiple protectors for Damien, all of whom reveal their true intentions and attempt to intervene with Gregory Peck once he discovers who his son really is. One of those was a satanic Rottweiler, and Peck’s showdown with it is one of the most intense scenes of the movie. Now, Omen III may not have a singular pup as memorable as that, but you know what it does have? A whole horde of evil puppers! And who doesn't love dogs?
During a scene in which Damien is out on a fox hunt, he and a pack of hungry foxhounds find themselves trapped on a bridge by a couple of religious do-gooders intent on introducing Damien to their ancient, Anti-Christ killing daggers. Unfortunately for them, they’re pretty ignorant for guys who are supposed to be experts on the Devil, and they don’t take into account that Damien has a way with animals. The way in which the hounds turn towards one of the men, licking their chops and eyes salivating over the kill…it’s unnerving stuff. It’s also one of the few times we see Damien willingly take control of animals and unleash them on his enemies, giving a small taste of how powerful—and truly frightening—he really is.
Jerry Goldsmith’s Triumphant Score
Even though it hardly ever gets the credit it deserves, the music in a film often has a lot to do with whether a movie is successful, or a box office sin. Luckily for The Omen franchise, the series had the compositions of the late Jerry Goldsmith to up the eerie atmosphere surrounding Damien’s quest for power. With over two-hundred credits to his name, including Alien, Poltergeist, Gremlins, and of course, the first two Omen films, Goldsmith is one of if not the greatest composers in film history, and his score for Omen III brings the film to another level.
While the first two films feature a score that is arguably eerier and more centered around the almost cacophonic sounds of a choir, Goldsmith seemed to understand the grander scale of Omen III, and the score reflects that. Not better but also not worse, the Omen III score is less spooky and more triumphant, bringing to the surface the epic quality of the good vs. evil nature of the story, with a bit more of a gothic fantasy flare. Omen III is allowed to feel like the grand finale it is thanks in large part to Goldsmith’s score. The man truly was a master, and Omen III is all the better for his contributions.
Sam Neill vs. A Statue
Okay, so this is actually a knock on the film, but it’s a knock of love, and an element of absurdity that makes Omen III more endearing than not.
At some point, we learn that Damien keeps a statue of Christ in his home. Not as some decoration to show off at cocktail parties—as if anyone would be impressed—but existing solely as Damien’s punching bag for him to take all of his frustration out on. We all have our stress balls, video games, whatever it is you use to relieve stress, but for Damien, his stress-reliever is a statue of Christ on the cross that he whispers whiny insults into the ear of. There’s simply no other reason for it to exist. It does not contain Christ. He certainly doesn’t admire it. It is there only for him to say angry things too, like when you practice telling off a bully in the mirror. Omen III is all about the epic battle of good vs evil, but this has to be one of the most unintentionally silly portrayals of that in cinema, and for that, it makes Omen III all the more memorable.
By Matt Konopka
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