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Saturday
Apr022016

TV @ The Movies: "Damien" Flashes Back

Though I know not why it's so, considering I prefer original material in nearly all mediums to rehashes, I sample nearly every TV series that's based on a movie. Not that the interest tends to last. So it was that I binge watched the first four episodes of A&E's new series Damen.  The Omen (1976) was the first horror film I ever watched that didn't involve vampires (I was really into vampires for some reason as a little boy, even though I was never a horror film aficianado). I snuck watched The Omen one night during one of its television airings in the early 80s. The wee Antichrist's birthdate was June 6th in the original movie (6/6 natch) which is also my birthday. Little me actually ran to the bathroom to make sure there was no mark of the beast on his scalp after the movie. (He had so many nightmares that week, poor little guy.)

Though the new series never mentions Damien's birthday, it relies heavily on the 1976 film in other ways, including actual footage!

(Happy Ending To That Story: Nathaniel's scalp is 666 free... which would be really hard to hide given the lack of hair now so it's a good thing there's no demonic mark anywhere in sight)

In something of a surprise they've apparently licensed all the footage and they use actual film clips as memories in flashbacks. I can't recall having seen that in a TV adaptation before so points for paying actual homage rather than sneakily living on borrowed glory. But do the estates of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick get paid for all this screen time they're getting on a TV show they didn't sign on for?

With Gregory Peck's centennial fast approaching (April 5th - we'll celebrate) it's been weird to see him repeatedly popping up on my television dragging his screaming devil son into a church or holding a religious artifact dagger above his head to sacrifice him for the good of humanity.

The initial conceit of A&E's supernatural series appears to be that The Omen's sequels  Damien II: The Omen (1978) & The Final Conflict (1981), which see him through his adolescence and adulthood, didn't happen. Our new Damien (Bradley James, best known for TV's Merlin and iZombie) doesn't know who he is and remembers almost nothing of his childhood. He's now a war photographer who has a strange encounter with an old woman in a war zone who claims she knows him, seizes him, and begins to speak to him in tongues. He later discovers her in every photograph he took, though she couldn't have been at all the locations. But this odd woman isn't even his most perverse new fan.

Enter Barbara Hershey. (That's always a fun sentence to type.)

Barbara Hershey and dead bird. Bradley James and dead Christ.

Hershey parlayed her comeback creepiness from Black Swan (2010) into regular TV genre roles. But in her case it's not really slumming. Hershey has been doing the horror genre from early in her career and why not since she's one of our best actresses at subliminating perversity so that it peeks out oddly from underneath otherwise innocuous lines or situations. She plays a lawyer named Ann Rutledge who has been "watching over" Damien since his youth. She even has a creepy shrine to all things The Omen (1976) in a hidden room in her home; that's taking movie fandom too har!

When she introduces herself to Damien she doesn't waste much time. Pretty soon she's implying or sometimes outright stating  'yo, you're The Beast, the Destroyer, The Antichrist! F*** me. K*** me. Whatever, I'm here to serve you.'' He's all 'You are one scary bitch! Get away from me.' Which, to be fair, is nearly always a sensible reaction to Barbara Hershey showing up.

When mysterious deaths start occurring all around him, Damien checks his head (not figuratively) and yup, he's got that mark of the devil on his scalp alright. Four episodes in, though, he's still not really buying this Demon Seed thing. But a lot of other people are. Unfortunately they die as soon as they figure it out. Or sometimes they sacrifice themselves right in front of him like Holly Palance as his evil nanny from the original movie who gifted it with its most memorable scene...

The Omen's most memorable death

It's all for you, Damien!

You can bet that her religious fervor suicide, the most memorable scene in The Omen (1976), gets a lot of replay here in flashbacks as Damien begins to remember slivers of his childhood.

Since Dam♰en is a new series it could currently go either way into shoddy repetitive grotesquerie or towards sinister greatness. Who knows.  The overuse of religious choirs (an homage to the original Oscar winning score by Jerry Goldsmith), reliance on special effects and the predictable nature of every death thus far suggests the former (how do you get any momentum if every supporting character gets killed?). The cast, though, suggests the latter: Hershey is fun, particularly when she's forcing intimacy with Bradley's confused Damien or is paired with the mysterious Scott Wilson who plays his cards much closer to his vest as one of her legal colleagues. On the less shady side of the equation there are two interesting characters. They might be dead by the time you read this but the very talented Robin Weigert (Deadwood, Synecdoche New York) plays some sort of nun/exorcist (?) though we've seen very little of her thus far and I particularly like the aggressive cop Detective Shay (David Meunier) who, in a pleasant surprise in the fourth episode, is revealed to be gay though this is not presented as twist or a reveal, just a character detail. At first I thought of Bradley James, somewhat cypher like, as a liability but in the fourth episode in a confrontation with the detective he exhibits some nuances that suggest he might have a nice game plan of a character arc after all. We'll see. Most of all, there's something interesting and full of potential in the way that NONE of the characters seem to know exactly what's happening, not even the ones, like Hershey, who are ostensibly pulling the strings. And there's much thematic potential in the idea that something as powerful as an Antichrist would cause all sorts of ripples with all sorts of kinds of people, since power and the desire to be near it or possess it or benefit from it can really change people and also blindside them and expose agendas that might have little to do with the actual matter at hand.

Verdict: We'll give it a couple more episodes but it needs to feel less tentative and deeper in its characterizations. Start surprising plot-wise and stop killing off every side character in bizarre ways. And really engage with the perversity, rather than the violence. You've gotta save some killing for a second season people!

Dam♰en airs Monday nights on A&E

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Reader Comments (7)

You should be watching Bates Motel beforehand too ;)

April 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBhuray

I was born in 1976, the year The Omen came out in theatres. My mother has often told me she saw it while pregnant with me and was a wee bit concerned when I was born with 3 - yes 3 birthmarks on my head....thankfully, I turned out to be (for the most part) kind, sweet and generous! Also fortunate - my 3 birthmarks are hidden by my hairline! Thankfully, now that I'm pushing 40, I don't appear to be losing my hair! Phew!!

April 3, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterfilmboymichael

That's not the evil nanny, right? If I understand the plot correctly, then that's the nanny who has to make way for the evil nanny.

I also wonder how many people would choose this demise as the most memorable death scene from a movie full of memorable death scenes.

In any case, the very first picture makes me quite proud that I own this particular soundtrack album even though it does not contain the complete Oscar-winning Goldsmith score.

April 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

willy -- it's possible i have misremembered the nannies. but that image is from the scene the show references

filmboy -- haha

bhuray -- i tried that (for about as long as i'm giving this one - 6 episodes) but it wasn't for me.

April 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Can they get a Lee Grant cameo she was Omen 2.

April 3, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

I'm curious about this. The first sequel at least had some cool death scenes- the second sequel is terrible and lets not go into the pointless remakes.

April 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Not ashamed to say that The Omen is one of my favorites. It's still scary as hell, and relies as much on atmosphere and music as its shocking kills to create a sense of mounting dread. I was a kid when it came out, and the marketing campaign was brilliant. Most of the posters, released months before the film premiered, simply featured a creepy line: "He is coming." Just great.

If I had cable, I'd be watching this.

April 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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