Looking Back At OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Tony’s number’s up.

There are ways in which The Omen III – The Final Conflict is the perfect third part of an odd horror phenomenon. And then there are ways in which, rewatched forty years on, it feels very oddly thin.

For those just joining us on the Omen journey – you’re really going to go back and watch the first two. Sure, you can more or less get by in The Final Conflict if you haven’t seen them, but very little will make enough sense to give you a satisfying experience. For that, you need the full trilogy.

Basically, Satan – your actual, Biblical Big Bad – has decided the time is right for the big throw-down of Armageddon (see…well, most of Revelation, to be fair. Except possibly the bit with the creatures with all the eyes, that’s just freaking weird). To get his Armageddon on, he has created an Antichrist in the image of man. Movie #1 saw the abominable toddler placed in the household of a leading American diplomat. It also saw an increasingly grisly set of deaths as those who discovered the identity of the Hellchild were unceremoniously removed from the equation. Movie #2 gave us a reasonably elegant puberty parallel as the Devil’s son – now living with his business mogul ‘uncle’ – ploughs through another slew of would-be enemies or obstacles on the way to assuming his full powers.

And movie #3, The Final Conflict, takes the developmental reins off, and shows us the Antichrist – Damien Thorn – at the full height of his adult powers, getting involved in politics himself, en route eventually, the film hints, to a run for the Presidency of the United States.

Throughout the trilogy, there have been invaluable MacGuffins that endanger the Antichrist and give us some peril and plot. The only one to feature in all three films though is a set of daggers – the daggers of Megiddo – which can extinguish life from the Antichrist. They’re pretty much the only things on the planet that can do so.

In the first movie, they were given to the diplomat who ‘raised’ the boy Damien (no less a heavyweight than Gregory Peck starring as Robert Thorn), leading to a furious struggle between man and child. In the second movie – despite the distraction of an ancient wall on which the various faces of the Antichrist throughout his life appeared as a secondary MacGuffin – the daggers were fundamental to clearing Damien’s path of obstacles.

And movie #3 wastes no time in showing what happened to them next. The Final Conflict opens with a montage that sees them transferred from excavated rubble, hand to hand to hand, to an order of monks in Italy who know who the Antichrist is. As the phrase has it, as the third instalment kicks off, they have the tools, and they have the talent.

Damien in his grown-up persona is played by the then-relatively unknown Sam Neill (later of Jurassic Park and a whole host of other things). Neill dances his Antichrist on a performance knife-edge, which means if you come to it in the wrong mood, it will feel schlocky. Appreciate it as an evolution of the character from the first two movies though, and it stands up better. Damien in the first movie is mostly non-verbal (beyond occasional squeaks and screams). That was a production decision to disguise child actor Harvey Spencer Stephens’ broad London accent, but it added a sense of innate power to the junior Antichrist’s actions. In the second movie, he’s genuinely clueless of his power for most of the film, but once he finally accepts his nature and comes into his powers, the previously pleasant, if privileged, youngster (this time played by Jonathan Scott-Taylor), gains a sense of real injured entitlement. It adds a grandiosity to his speech, both alone and when talking to people who know who he is, that helps channel the mythological Satan into a very human performance.

Neill is all about carrying on that work. He has deprecating smiles and eye-twinkles to spare, but Damien in the years we’ve missed has clearly grown to love the sound of his own voice, using highly florid monologues to ‘talk’ to Christ as an equal, via a life-sized crucifix in the attic. Come to this in the wrong mood, and it could be distracting and over-theatrical. Taken as part of the character’s development though, Neill makes it not only believable – the pride of Satan, schooling Christ on the fundamental nature of Man – but compelling whenever he launches into one of these tirades.

And while the monks with their daggers are one strong thread of narrative in the third movie, to make it a final conflict, it was given a ticking clock. So, while the monks set about trying to stab Damien, with, it must be said, an almost comical ineptitude, another strong thread is provided by the Second Coming. Yep – the return of Christ, signalled by a solar alignment. From the moment the Christ-child is reborn, Damien’s power begins to weaken. There’s no logical reason why it should do so, of course, but then, logic is not really the Omen-watcher’s friend at any point.

While dodging monks with daggers, he also embarks on a frankly panicky final solution – a Herod-like slaughter of the innocents. All the baby boys born within a certain time window in England must be killed.

Between them, these two threads give you what most Omen-fans demand – a series of set pieces leading to horrific deaths. And while Damien’s pet rottweiler comes more into its own in this movie as a changer of perceptions (an American ambassador stages a ghastly, convoluted suicide after being growled at, some monks see Thorn where he isn’t, and stab an innocent to death after being growled at, and a new mother…erm…irons both her baby and her husband to death after a visit from the dog), there’s at least an attempt here to maintain the duality of religious horror and social anxiety.

In the first movie, there’s a mental health thread – is there a giant conspiracy, or is Robert Thorn simply going progressively out of his mind, to the point where he believes his son must die?

The second film focuses in on the grandiosity of puberty. Teenagers often feel like the world revolves around them and their lives. In giving us a teen Antichrist, the film confronts that sense of both power and crushing responsibility when Damien becomes aware of his destiny.

The Final Conflict returns us to ideas of paranoia, conspiracy and social division, as Damien’s followers include nurses, priests, boy scouts and the like – specifically chosen figures of innocence or authority - and when he gives them the command to kill the children, we see them set about it. His grandiose speaking style, while it seems florid in an otherwise empty attic, comes into its own when he addresses large crowds of followers, an emperor beyond borders.

The paranoia is on a level with classic B-movie sci-fi tropes about ‘alien invaders,’ and possibly has even more resonance in the Britain and America of today than it did forty years ago, after the Brexit vote and the Trump administration. People who voted the other way from you look like everyone else, and mostly act like everyone else, except in one regard, where they depart from you, and do something you regard as heinous. We’d never conflate any of the sides with followers of Thorn, but the sense of paranoia the movie generates still ripples down your spine viewed four decades on.

To bring all this together, there’s a third story strand, which might be thought of as the Last Temptation of the Antichrist. Damien falls into something as close to love as he can manage with British journalist Kate Reynolds, and her son falls utterly under the spell of the Antichrist. In fact, there’s something darkly erotic about their relationship. After Damien can only consummate his relationship with Kate (Lisa Harrow) by turning a willing act of lovemaking into a painful and aggressive violation, Kate becomes a lynchpin in the battle between the Antichrist and the stab-happy clerics.

This final section of The Final Conflict feels intensely rushed and basic compared to the rest of the almost three movies that have led up to it. It shows Damien still swaggering, still looking out only for himself, and his friends and acolytes fleeing from him as he goes beyond the pale. Given that both the previous movies had pretty standout endings, the degree to which the actual ‘final conflict’ feels like a rush to finish gives the movie a genuinely dud note. Given that the Omen movies broke ground on dark and nerve-jangling choral music like Ave Satani, it also feels like a weird pitch-change to switch to bright, optimistic music at the end of the movie too.

Ultimately, there are a couple of fatal flaws which have seen The Final Conflict handed a consolation prize among the Omen movies. The first is probably a budget issue which led to a notable drop-off in big names and practiced script-helpers for the third instalment.

The first Omen movie starred Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as Damien’s human parents, but didn’t stop there. It also included Billie Whitelaw, David Warner, Patrick Troughton, and Leo McKern to bolster an idea which, unless taken seriously could easily become ridiculous. And it succeeded.

The second movie brought William Holden, Lee Grant, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Foxworth and Lance Henriksen in to support the pubescent Antichrist on his journey, as well as bringing back McKern for a cameo.

The third movie…

Didn’t do that. It brought Italian legend Rossana Brazzi in to play Father DeCarlo, the priest who controlled the dagger-wielders, and these days, you get points if you spot an uncredited Ruby Wax among the cast, but in terms of big hitters to nail the drama to your eyeballs, the third movie’s very much poorer than either of its predecessors.

As much as, or more than that though, in a movie sequence which had always made a lot out of relatively little, effects-wise, The Final Conflict promises a lot, and tries to get away with ultimately delivering very little. The final conflict between the avatars of good and evil at the end is just chronically underpowered and under-shown, resulting in an ending that makes even hardcore fans shrug.

In fact, the ending is so underwhelming and odd, Omen-fans around the world took a perverse comfort from Damien Thorn’s last words in the film, which, without spoilering you, suggest the story might not be over yet. So much so, the movie spawned novels of a fourth and fifth instalment, and, along the same lines but significantly less well-realised, a fourth, more made-for-TV movie.

The Final Conflict, forty years on, still manages to deliver a movie you can enjoy, either as a newcomer or a popcorn-chewing connoisseur of outré cinematic deaths and paranoiac prophecy-horror. It’s just sad to know that in another universe somewhere, they can still watch the higher-budget version, crammed with hardcore acting talent in supporting roles to give Dam Neill’s impressive performance as much help as it needs.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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