THE FINAL CONFLICT

 

 

THE FINAL CONFLICT. Damien’s all grown up

 

 

Far too often, horror franchises follow a tired formula, where the monster returns in sequel after sequel simply to slay the next group of anonymous teens.  Even though these franchises progress in number, the Jasons and Freddys of the world dish up absolutely no character development at all;  each movie in the series serves as just another reason to find new ways to kill.  Here is where THE OMEN trilogy is a giant cut above the rest.  Instead of offering up a static character, the franchise follows the arc of Damien Thorn, from his childhood through his adolescence, and concludes with his adulthood as his devilish promise comes to full bloom like an evil rose.  THE FINAL CONFLICT, the completion of the trilogy, succeeds in paying off for both the character and the trilogy.

 

 

 

Neill is frightening and seductive as Damien

 

 

The film begins with an expertly edited scene that follows the seven daggers of Megiddo, as workers excavate them from the ruins of the Thorn Museum in Chicago, which exploded at the end of DAMIEN: OMEN II.  The knives eventually travel to auction, where a secret order of priests, led by Father DeCarlo, buys them in order to end Damien Thorn.  The blades are a nice touch, as they connect this film not only to its immediate predecessor, but to the first film, where mankind’s trouble began.  And mankind’s trouble is in full swing, as the next scene shows.  The world’s hunger problem has increased to devastating levels, and Thorn Industries is promoting itself as the savior.  Enter Damien Thorn himself, at 33 a powerful man with plenty of prestige and influence, not only economically, but politically.  Damien soon takes over the position of American Ambassador to the Court of St. James (another nice nod to the first film, as it is the position that his father Robert held), as he prepares to take control of the entire world and bring about Hell on Earth.

 

 

 

Father DeCarlo presides over the blades of Meggido

 

 

The film establishes several different angles, and follows through well on each of them.  As Damien rises, the priests try to put an end to him at various points throughout the film.  But Damien always has the upper hand, and the tone throughout the film suggests that, as in the previous films in the series, evil will rule at the end of the day.  Along the way, Damien also starts a romance with a British reporter (a skewed mirror to the beautiful romance of Robert and Katherine Thorn that anchored the first film), whose teenage son Damien appears to be grooming as his successor.  The movie suggests another child may be in play here, as a comet is on the move, echoing the celestial event that signaled the birth of Damien.  Could this be the second coming of the Christ?  Damien sees it that way, and in a move reminiscent of King Herod’s biblical murder of the innocents, sends his disciples on a murder spree of all the newborns in England.  The ultimate battle between Good and Evil is at hand, and only one will survive the fight.  With these forces in play, the film concludes with a definitive victory that caps off the trilogy.

 

 

 

An ill-fitting ending to a great trilogy

 

 

That ending is the most disappointing point of an otherwise solid film.  Instead of following through on the notion that the daggers of Megiddo are the only way to destroy Damien—a notion, by the way, carried out in all three films—THE FINAL CONFLICT instead induces a deus ex machina that removes all the power from Damien’s adversaries and thrusts it into the hands of the New Christ.  The technique is generally regarded in literature as a weak way to end a story; its place in this movie serves a perfect example of why.  God’s arrival to try and tidy things up is frustrating, and always led me to ask, why didn’t He just do this when Damien was 5?  This ending may be part of the explanation for why THE FINAL CONFLICT was the least financially successful of the Omen trilogy, especially in light of how it’s actually a better film than DAMIEN: OMEN II.

 

 

 

The fox hunt is about to get ugly

 

 

I wouldn’t suggest that you let the ending stop you from seeing the film, though, as the conclusion is the only real flaw in an otherwise solid outing.  As with the first two entries, THE FINAL CONFLICT has captivating direction, editing and cinematography, and another powerful score by Jerry Goldsmith (the way Goldsmith weaves his themes from the first film into the new material is flawless;  watching the OMEN trilogy again reminds me of just how sad it is that this master composer is no longer with us, and with film).  All of these give the film a consistency with the rest of the franchise, and offer a polish and class not generally associated with the horror genre.  Also consistent are the creative death scenes, including a nasty “accident” in a news studio, and two deaths during a fox hunt.  Surprisingly, they’re quite a bit gorier than they were in the first few films.  I wonder if the recent release of FRIDAY THE 13TH and an onslaught of slashers dictated bloodier kills.  Director Graham Baker puts the set pieces to good use, as he does the rest of the script, which sets a tone that is steadily horrifying and foreboding;  it never lets the audience forget that if Damien succeeds, our world as we know it is over.

 

 

 

Even Damien’s smile is evil

 

 

The most compelling element of the film is Sam Neill’s performance as Damien.  The film would ride or sink on his acting, and he imbues the Antichrist with a dark charisma that is both frightening and seductive, exactly the way the Bible portrays Satan.  Witness the scene where he holds discussion with a life sized statue of the crucified Jesus for his mastery of the role.  For those who know him solely as the grumpy paleontologist in the JURASSIC PARK films or the unhinged reporter in John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, you’ll be surprised at just how good he is at playing the villain.  In lesser hands, the adult Damien might not have been effective; Neill’s portrayal is pitch perfect.

 

 

 

Grooming evil

 

 

As with DAMIEN: OMEN II, the disc boasts few extras.  There are trailers for this and other Fox flicks, but the only real special feature of note is the commentary by director Baker.  He distills some decent information about casting, plotting and shooting the film, but there are far too many dead spots;  whole scenes go by without Graham uttering a single word.  He probably would have fared better with a moderator, as Harvey Bernhard did on his OMEN II track;  or if he were a little more charismatic.  Baker’s silence is so prominent that fans can skip the track without really losing much.  Any fan who wishes to seek out information about THE FINAL CONFLICT is almost better off watching THE OMEN LEGACY, a documentary which chronicles the entire series, than spending two hours for what amounts to maybe 20 minutes of commentary.

With THE FINAL CONFLICT, THE OMEN trilogy came to a proper end, a solid effort that is sullied only by an uncharacteristically weak final few minutes.  Ten years later, Fox Studios would return to The Omen with an abomination of a fourth effort for television that does not even include Damien (just one of its many failures;  and they wonder why it flopped?), and then a remake of the first film that seemed made only to capitalize on the release date of June 6, 2006.  But for hardcore Omen fans, the series ended powerfully with the original trilogy.  Looking back on these three films recently, I remember exactly why I fell so in love with them at an early age, and why THE OMEN is still my favorite horror flick:  they’re superbly made movies that simultaneously manage to satisfy genre fans as they rise above the genre in following the character arc of a demonic child right through his adulthood.  Any horror fan with a true appreciation of great movies should enjoy all three.

 

–Phil Fasso

 

 

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