Omen III: The Final Conflict Review

It would be nice to claim that The Final Conflict, third of the Omen films, is a misunderstood masterpiece, but such a statement would be stretching the truth almost as thin as the film's plot. It's not nearly as bad as some critics would have you believe but nor is it particularly good.

Sam Neill, in a commanding performance that is among his best work, plays the now grown-up Damien Thorn; as you may remember, Damien is the product of Satan's dalliance with a jackal, was adopted by the US Ambassador to Britain and has spent his formative years cutting a swathe through the list of Hollywood veterans. Now, he is the head of a global company and getting ever closer to becoming the most powerful man in the world. There is a small problem however. A group of monks, headed by Rossano Brazzi - late of South Pacific and presumably reaching the nadir of his career - have formed a secret society dedicated to getting rid of him with the daggers of Megido, recovered from the inferno which destroyed the Thorn Museum at the end of part two. Luckily for them, Damien suddenly receives the job of US Ambassador to England and becomes a considerably more public figure and thus, one might think, an easier target. But as you know very well, getting rid of the son of Satan is easier said than done...

The film starts rather well with Jerry Goldsmith's pounding choral main theme playing over scenes of the recovery of the daggers and then one of the best exploding heads in film history - for exploding head connoisseurs, it's nearly up there with Dick Smith's work on Scanners and on a par with Tom Savini's in Maniac. The head, incidentally, belongs to Robert Arden, known to film buffs as the star of Welles' Mr Arkadin.

But then the plot begins and the viewer suddenly realises that a lot of time is going to be spent on a tedious romance between Damien and TV reporter Lisa Harrow and that the amusingly bizarre killings are to be few and far between. Damien Omen 2, the best of the sequels, understood that the only purpose of the films is to be entertainingly melodramatic and very gory and delivered the goods in spades, but The Final Conflict demonstrates a lack of imagination. There's a pretty good death by fire and plastic wrap but then we're left with stabbing, burial alive and death by pack of hounds. Come on guys, even the average Friday the 13th instalment manages better than that. The second half largely consists of an astonishingly tasteless series of baby killings as Damien tries to smoke out the "Second Coming" of Christ, some of them apparently played for laughs in an appalling misjudgement on the part of the director. There's also the protracted realisation by the incredibly dim TV journalist that Damien might not be Mr Right after all, but you can safely fast-forward all of that as it leads to one of the most laughable and inconsistent endings in the history of horror films.

What makes it worth watching is the excellence of Sam Neill.

He's an actor whose sheer presence can energise even the most turgid film and he makes Damien both charming enough to be convincing as a successful politician and sinister enough to persuade you of the evil in his soul. None of the rest of the cast are in his league; Don Gordon is particularly weak as his henchman and you keep expecting Rossano Brazzi to begin a rendition of "Some Enchanting Evening". Lisa Harrow isn't bad but has little to do until the last third of the film. As her son, Barnaby Holm is almost as annoying as the blonde moppet in Fulci's House By The Cemetery but, thankfully, doesn't have much dialogue.

The biggest problem with the film is the somnolent direction by Graham Baker. He doesn't seem to have any idea of pacing and he makes a mess of the set-piece deaths because he forgets to include any suspense or dramatic tension. One scene, in which the daffy disciples try to kill Damien and end up murdering one of their colleagues is farcical, and even the more inventive moments like the death in the TV studio lack any real edge of horror. Baker shows us horrible mutilation but there's no real attempt to shock or disturb. In this respect we should be grateful to the superb music score for any residual excitement that the film contains.

To be fair, the film looks very nice with some very atmospheric images of the British countryside, although even these pale beside the similar scenes in Witchfinder General or Straw Dogs - as a Yorkshireman, it pains me to say this because some of the film was shot at the magnificent Fountains Abbey near my home town. There's also some very obvious use of day for night in scenes which might have been better achieved in the studio. The only moment when things seem to come together as they should do - and did in the two previous films in the series - is the impressive scene where Damien addresses the "Disciples of the Watch"; powerfully written and good enough to suggest that the whole movie could have been a hell of a lot better. Andrew Birkin, the screenwriter responsible for this mess, wrote three excellent TV plays about J.M.Barrie called The Lost Boys so it's fair to suggest that either the script was re-written or that 1980 was a particularly bad year for him.

Since most of you who get this film will be receiving it as part of Fox's dubiously monickered Omen Pentology, there's not much point in either recommending it or slating it. It's diverting enough to kill a couple of hours as long as you are in a very undemanding mood but as the culmination of the story of Damien, it's as big a disappointment as it was on its release back in 1981.

The Disc

The transfer on The Final Conflict is generally very good and looks identical to the one previously released by Fox in the UK.

Presented in anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1, the film looks rather better than it deserves. The colours are gorgeous, there is plenty of detail and although there are occasional artifacts during the very dark sequences, I can't find a great deal to complain about. The Dolby Stereo soundtrack is also very effective and I recommend that you turn the volume up loud so as to make the most of the majestic music score.

The only feature carried over from the earlier DVD release is an audio commentary from Graham Baker. Listening to this again, I warmed to it a little and began to enjoy his dry sense of humour. But his comments are few and far between and you won't find out much about the film which you couldn't glean from watching it. Perhaps putting him with an interviewer or someone else associated with the production might have been a good idea.

The two new documentaries are both brief. The 19 minute "Omen Legacy" featurette professes to look at the making of the film but is so heavily laden with clips that there's precious little space to include any information. We get some interesting observations from Lisa Harrow but Harvey Bernhard looks bored out of his skull and the old Omen Curse story is wheeled out once again on the slenderest of evidence. The second documentary is a nine minute examination of how a scene from the 2006 remake was devised and shot. I didn't find this particularly worthwhile but then I've seen the awful film - and if you've sat through it, then you might understand where I'm coming from.

English subtitles are provided for both the film and, in a nice touch, for the audio commentary.

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