The Omen films struck a chord with me as a youth, probably being one of my first forays into horror before I could completely tolerate it, but not being of the type that thoroughly scared me. I was very interested in them and certainly after I had aged enough that horror stopped scaring me (at eight or nine, I suppose), I recall intentionally noting the showing of the second film on television and I believe eventually renting the third. It stuck with me far less (there's some talking, after all--and I couldn't stand that, not enough supernatural stuff for my young mind), though my curiosity was piqued when digging through my father's theatrical poster collection from his time managing and discovering the poster for The Final Conflict (the sequel status noted on the poster where it says "The final chapter in the Omen trilogy" but not part of the title then) and I discovered that my favourite actor, Sam Neill, had in fact been none other than the adult Damien, the Antichrist. Another mashing of Sam and the supernatural, in a horrific setting, was all I needed and I eventually tracked down the in-and-out-of-print DVD of the third Omen film.
Damien Thorn (Neill) is now 32, head of Thorn Industries and prospective ambassador to England. He reveals the latter to his assistant Dean (Don Gordon), and shows his shrugging disinterest in the fact that there is already an ambassador to England. Those of us (hopefully anyone watching this) who have seen the prior films have some idea what is to follow, and when it does, the President (Mason Adams) appoints Damien to the role he has already claimed. While in England, he stumbles across television reporter Kate Reynolds (Lisa Harrow), who takes some interest in Damien and his philanthropy and power. Meanwhile, the inevitable priests aware of Damien's true nature recover the Megiddo knives that are the only thing capable of killing Damien. The leader of said priests is DeCarlo (Rossano Brazzi), who gravely intones plans to the rest and attempts to warn all of those in danger of Damien's true nature--including, eventually, Kate, as Damien begins a sweeping multiple infanticide to prevent the rebirth of Jesus.
This film is pretty thoroughly disliked by most, in my experience, considered near-"traitorous" to prior films (certainly the element of each priest attempting to take one of the Megiddo knives to Damien, rather than what we were previously told was the required seven--though Damien repeatedly intones that the presence of the reborn Jesus will decrease his power is a pretty simple explanation, though not one given in-film--was rather a departure). Of course, now we have 1991's Omen IV: The Awakening and 2006's ridiculous marketing ploy (released June 6th, 2006) The Omen 666--which continued my "favourite" theme of evil children with dark circles under their eyes (I guess evil children don't get nap time?)--to beat up on, and people can hopefully see what is actually a pretty good film hiding in the third. I have zero interest in seeing either the fourth film or the remake (as many could guess from my opinion of the great majority of horror remakes from the past decade or so). Opinion see-saws between whether the letdown is Neill's performance (occasionally called flat) or the movie's (also often considered flat)--generally one at the expense of the decent or pretty good-to-excellent other. The truth is neither is the letdown, it simply doesn't rise to the heights it could or should--but this comes from a variety of places, most of them relating to Damien's age. It was new and fascinating to see a child as the seemingly unwitting source of evil, and another to see that child realize he was evil (I've never forgotten the image from Damien: The Omen II of him discovering the mark on his head), but to see an evil adult? This is nothing new and so I think this is a good bit of what flattens the film--it's also difficult to leave it open-ended, so a distinct resolution is nearly required or the story will probably feel incomplete. Graham Baker directs more than competently, Andrew Birkin's script works well with the story it's saddled with and Neill and Brazzi especially carry their roles well, as does Gordon. Harrow's is quite good as well, but her strange, passive reaction to the morning after a night of passion with Damien (discussed in an endless IMDb thread that debates whether said passions included anal sex) is a little out of place.
Perhaps most importantly (setting aside the bias of the presence of my favourite actor) is the return of Jerry Goldsmith--always brilliantly scoring, though this is not one of his most exceptional scores. He does, however, come up with excellent themes for both Damien (a fantastic scene of a fox hunt where his dark theme unobtrusively saunters into the score perfectly as Damien rides into the frame highlights this brilliantly) and for God (or Jesus, though depending on who you ask this delineation may be unimportant) that both keep their heads above the water of cliché, which is pretty well done for music that has been written for centuries (Handel's Messiah, anyone?).
What is most fascinating to me about the film, though, is that my personal fascination with the idea of an Antichrist, the idea of a devil and so on has absorbed me in, well, actually pretty surface-level research, but still enough to have my ears attuned to certain common failures to accurately represent things. I was pleased to hear no references to the non-existent book of "Revelations" (it's Revelation, thank you--John was writing about one revelation), and to see other elements carried off professionally enough (such as astronomy) that even 27 years later I did not sneer at attempts to sound technical that would later sound pedestrian and ridiculous. In fact, in no aspects did this film give me such vibes--in terms of claims made, issues discussed or even set-ups or effects. Damien's evil is not portrayed simply and obviously--he doesn't run about killing people, raping and robbing. He is slick and charming, handsome and clever, works through some philanthropy but is cleverly placed in the role of the ever-self-interested corporate CEO (exceptions seeming to be just that--exceptions). He prays in a darkened, ominous chapel with an inverted cross (again impressive--not an upside-down one, which is how Peter was crucified and thus hardly an insult to Christianity, but facing the wall, and the nails even in the wrists and not in the hands where they'd never hold anything up). He seems strange, in Neill's performance, with respect to his philosophy. He certainly makes no bones about worshipping his father, Satan, and does not make sideways claims that the Satan of these films is anything but evil and interested in pain (though I was always amused by the character of the Old Testament Hebrew "Satan"--whose name means the Opposer, and seemed to describe a role rather than a character, and to be an important and positive role, rather than a simplistically evil one*)--yet he seems to act out of a sort of "love" for his father. It's a nice balance, looking realistically motivated as well as still truly evil and unsoftened. It's one of the few instances I can think of where I was actually not sneering at the portrayal of Satan worship and evil in such a context (if one looks back ages to my review of Fallen, I am easily annoyed by ridiculous attempts to connect the Christian mythos with film events, and with strangely banal representations of "ultimate evil"). It was almost like a "real" ultimate evil, which was a pleasing thing to see displayed in film--because it suspends disbelief far more easily.
As a final note, the effects are pretty gruesome, actually, and one image actually creeped me out just a bit--which I'll leave for anyone who's yet to see it to discover on their own.
*I also like the Milton "fallen angel" variety, as well as Mike Carey's purely self-interested Lucifer, and Viggo Mortensen's curious portrayal in The Prophecy, somewhere between the standard devil and the cold calculations of Carey's version.