Ave Satani indeed…
Omen IV: The Awakening is my first film of the new year. Unfortunately, I can’t say we’re off to a great start…
The Omen is one of my all-time favourite films. Its script may not be a masterpiece, but its tight execution by Richard Donner, stellar cast, including Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Billie Whitelaw and David Warner, not to mention masterful score by Jerry Goldsmith, conspire to make it a first-rate exercise in horror. Its two sequels, Damien: Omen II and The Final Conflict, demonstrate the law of diminishing returns and, barring a handful of set-piece sequences, are generally not worth bothering with. Still, their flaws pale in comparison to this third sequel, one of the worst and unintentionally funniest films I have ever had the (dis)honour of seeing.
Omen IV: The Awakening eventually made its debut on television in 1991. However, I suspect that it was originally intended for a big screen release, a theory compounded by the fact that the DVD comes with a theatrical trailer, not to mention that the film itself is in a ratio of 1.85:1, which would have been unheard of for American TV in the early 90s. Presumably, the powers that be at 20th Century Fox actually realised that they had, in all likelihood, commissioned a train wreck and opted to let it rot on the small screen rather than risk the end of Western civilisation by subjecting it to moviegoers around the world. And these are the people that deemed Glitter to be releasable.
Can you guess the plot? A married couple (Faye Grant and Michael Woods) adopt an orphaned child from a convent, only for it to emerge fairly quickly that the hapless couple have in fact been lumbered with the spawn of Satan (literally). The child, this time round, is not Damien but Delia (Asia Vieira), but, barring this change of gender, it’s business as usual.
Things begin to go horribly wrong right from the start. “Wait till you see her,” declares a beaming nun, talking on the phone to Delia’s parents-to-be. “She’s a tiny miracle.” Jump cut to a shot of storm clouds accompanied by a thunderclap, then back to the ladies of the cloth, while Mother Superior intones dramatically that “Clouds sweep away the colour. Leaves everything like a black and white photograph.” I don’t know about you, but I’m getting the heebie-jeebies already.
Scene after ridiculous scene unfolds before us. During Delia’s baptism, the child begins to scream and bawl, prompting looks of horror from all and sundry. (I’m not sure why they find this so strange: every baptism I’ve attended has resulted in the victim howling his or her head off. And naturally, for the crime of attempting to indoctrinate the child, Satan strikes the guilty priest down with the sudden onset of a heart attack.) Later, a nanny is pursued by a Rottweiler and then falls backwards through an upper storey window in slow motion. A crowd of carol singers in bad goth make-up lip sync to the “Jesus Christus, Ave Satani” lyrics of the soundtrack. We even have a fervent get-together for born again Christians, in which one of the aforementioned nuns, now welcomed into the bosom of this cult and inexplicably, out of nowhere saddled with a strident Southern accent, hands out snakes to members of the congregation (no, I’m not kidding) and tells them they’ve “got the joy”. Eventually, she predictably ends up being bitten when the snakes turn on her, although the prosthetics work is so bad that it looks as if they are attacking a doll’s legs.
Aaargh! Not the choirboys!
These are actually the high points of the film. The rest of it is so risible that I actually found myself missing The Final Conflict’s hapless assassin priests and their Keystone Kops antics. The absolute worst moment comes about a third of the way in, when Delia gets her revenge on a school bully. In the original film, Damien drove his nanny to suicide with a mere glance. Here, Delia’s ultimate punishment is to cause her tormenter to piss his pants, complete with a tasteful close-up of the urine seeping through his trousers. For a very strange moment, I thought that Delia had somehow wandered on to the set of Problem Child. And I’m not even going to give away the twist ending, which, even though I knew it was coming, had me howling with laughter. Special attention must be given to the phenomenally hammy acting, with Faye Grant taking the prize in the role of the harangued mother. Asia Vieira, meanwhile, has only one tone of delivery - bratty - leaving us convinced that, if she really is the child of the Devil, then Satan really needs to work on his parenting skills and exercise a little discipline.
Of course, given that this is a 90s film, the writer has to throw in nods to non-mainstream “spirituality” in case anyone was feeling a little left out (there’s nothing for the atheists among us, though, I hasten to note). And here’s my problem with this approach: if you’re going to tell a story that presents religion and the supernatural as real, then please do so consistently instead of throwing in this wishy-washy “everyone is spiritual” nonsense. The Omen films ostensibly present Christian doctrine as reality, so why, pray tell, would Delia react with such horror to a “healing crystal” worn around her nanny’s neck, and why would a gaggle of New Age mystics and assorted crackpots, upon seeing her, collectively go wide-eyed and begin opening and closing their mouths like fish out of water? (Incidentally, the healing crystal leads to one of the most hilariously awful moments in the entire film: the nanny reacts in horror as she discovers that the crystal around her neck has turned black, and, hurrying to the bedroom drawer in which she keeps various other trinkets, all of which have turned the same colour. Just in case we don’t understand what has happened, the filmmakers treat us to her exclaiming in voiceover: “They’re all black!” You couldn’t make this stuff up. Still, this is nothing compared to a mystic declaring that Delia’s aura is like “mud and molasses and swirls of red paint”.)
What’s worse, this is effectively little more than a remake of the original film. Barring a handful of minor deviations, the plot is virtually identical, right down to the details. In The Omen, various zoo animals went wild when confronted with Damien; here, Delia drives a crowd of horses to madness. In both films, the mother character ends up pregnant and becomes convinced that Damien/Delia will do everything in his/her power to prevent the child’s birth. We even get photographs of doom, a kooky nanny and a phenomenally badly staged repeat of the iconic decapitation accident. Even the film’s one good element is pilfered: Jonathan Sheffer’s insipid music is augmented by the liberal borrowing of Jerry Goldsmith’s scores for The Omen and The Final Conflict. And, of course, at the end, we’re effectively back where we started, with another Antichrist in the world and the potential for any number of sequels. Thankfully, the decision-makers opted to nip this in the bud rather than let things continue.
I suspect there’s a reason this film was omitted from the initial UK Omen box set, and that’s that, even in comparison with the first two sequels, it’s tragically awful. It is, however, very funny (unintentionally, of course), considerably more entertaining than that dire 2006 remake of the original film, so, oddly enough, I find myself in the position of giving a stronger recommendation to what is, technically, the worse of the two.