Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Aren't You a Handsome Devil?

 

The Final Conflict (1981)


Sam Neill as Damien Thorn


Well, with Halloween mayhem just around the corner, everyone in Dead River is jabbering about the high crime rate. Stabbings went up 20% from last year, or something like that. To tell you the truth, I wasn't really paying attention. I think the high crime rate makes this a fun place to live. Every day I step out my front door, I have the sense that something exciting is going to happen.

There was one Sunday where I was completely bored; nothing on TV, didn't want to watch a movie, I had already finished my book and I didn't really want to drive anywhere. Then all of a sudden, the woman who lives on the corner was walking back from the Laundromat and her husband chases her down the street and stabs her to death with a pair of sewing scissors.

The police came and took the guy away but said it wasn't there job to move bodies; there were living people who still needed help in this city. Therefore, it was up to the neighbors to stand around the body until someone from the medical examiner's office could get there. Naturally bonding under traumatic circumstances, we have become close friends. It was better than a block party.

And the holiday mayhem is just beginning: Otis Calhoun has sworn revenge upon the uptight Thomas family for their refusal to hand out Halloween candy and threatened to burn that Hallelujah House they run out of their garage to the ground. I know he's lurking out there somewhere in the dark, hatching a diabolical plan as we speak.

And speaking of diabolical plans, today I'm talking about the third film in the OMEN series. Let's take a little detour from the 31 Days of October marathon and take part in FINAL GIRL's awesome annual Shocktober Fest with one of my favorite films, THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981) written by ANDREW BIRKIN and directed by GRAHAM BAKER. Before I rented this, I was under the mistaken impression this was about Damien Thorn, everyone's favorite Antichrist, running for president. A Satan-infused version of HOUSE OF CARDS? Pardon the expression, but - HELL YEAH! However, that is not the case. It's still a perversely enjoyable movie, though.


Damien Thorn


The film picks up with a thirty-two-year-old Damien Thorn, now played by SAM NEILL (IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, POSSESSION). Damien has gained control of Thorn Industries and transformed it into a multi-national corporation. And thanks to the Satan-influenced suicide of the previous holder of the position, he is appointed as Ambassador of Great Britain. But wait, isn't it illegal for him to hold that post and maintain control of Thorn?
"We'll bend the rules a little bit," the President says.

He's preparing to run for the Senate in three years, but there are a few obstacles in his way. A constellation in the sky foretells the Second Coming of Christ so Damien must obliterate his archenemy before his archenemy can destroy him. There are also seven priests who have uncovered the Seven Knives of Maggiddo (and if you were paying attention to the first OMEN you know that is the only thing that can kill the antichrist) and make several bumbling attempts on his life.
Seriously, these guys are pretty incompetent. Really, Forces of Good, that's the best you can do? Also, aren't you supposed to stab the antichrist with all seven knives in order to kill him? I guess they didn't read the directions either.

He also becomes distracted from his diabolical pursuits by his relationship with pragmatic journalist, Kate Reynolds (LISA HARROW) and her young son, Peter, who finds the fatherly attention he craves in Damien.


Damien in the fox hunt scene
 
There's also Damien's own increasing paranoia which causes him to enlist his Army of Satanic Acolytes (including a priest - talk about inner-conflict! - and some British Boy Scouts) to eliminate all newborn boys born on the suspected day of the Second Coming. That's right -- infanticide-a-go-go!

Let's get the bad out of the way first: THE FINAL CONFLICT is a pretty flawed film. The direction lacks the atmosphere and flourish of the first, and the script meanders all over the place juggling disparate subplots but not really devoting enough time to any of them. Therefore, the ending, which should be a knock-out, ends up being pretty anti-climatic.


THE FINAL CONFLICT finale


I think the adult female characters in this film are interesting but not much time is devoted to either one of them. Kate is a hard-nosed professional journalist, but also still recovering from the death of her husband and trying to raise a young son at a difficult age while she fulfills the demands of her career. As if that wasn't enough on her shoulders, the handsome, successful man she's in love with is none other than the antichrist!  Oh, the drama!
And what about Barbara Dean (LEUEEN WILLOUGHBY) who discovers her husband, Harvey, is not just Damien's devoted Press Secretary but also Satan's Cabana Boy, then goes berserko with an iron? That sounds like the best Lifetime Original Movie ever!


Barbara gets ready to iron her husband's face


The film is really at its most interesting following Damien's ascendance to the top. In THE FINAL CONFLICT, Damien Thorn is the ultimate post Me Decade nightmare. He starts out with a plate full of advantages, continues to rise by manipulating others to do his dirty work for him, and both literally and figuratively advances by knocking opponents down and stabbing others in the back - backed by the power of Daddy Satan the whole time. He hypocritically hides behind the mask of the Great Humanitarian, the head of an international youth council espousing the importance of young people in bettering our society, all the while he's having his goons butcher babies.
"I condemn all violence," he says, smiling to the news media.
He's a danger too in that he represents the alliance of politics with big business, a threat that the script whispers about but does not delve deeply into (wouldn't that have been a more interesting movie, though?)
Even those in his inner-circle are only pawns to be manipulated and discarded when they are no longer of use.
The film presents the epitome of evil as a Machiavellian, two-faced, megalomaniacal career politician and corporate honcho.

Another interesting aspect that is introduced but never really fully explored in the script is the notion of evil. "True evil," Damien explains. "Is as pure as innocence." Damien and his followers revel in evil the way most people feel spiritually uplifted by a church sermon. Damien denounces Christian values as "mundane" and "servile" forcing slavish followers into a life of suffering for a vague reward. Are good and evil really not so different? Is morality just a form of repression and hypocrisy?Is evil just a form of cynicism? Hey, if humankind is made in God's image, maybe the devil isn't so bad after all! Unfortunately, the script does not explore these notions any further than speeches throughout the film delivered with relish by SAM NEILL.


Damien Thorn's monologue


It's SAM NEILL's performance as Damien that really carries THE FINAL CONFLICT and is the reason I enjoy revisiting it again and again. He plays this damn role like he's in a production of RICHARD THE III and not a Part Three, investing the character with charisma, charm and gravitas. The scenes in which Damien engages in a florid diatribe against a crucified Christ statue are actually my favorite parts of the film. They could have easily been silly but they are performed with Shakespearean bravado by MR. NEILL.

THE FINAL CONFLICT is the cinematic equivalent of The Bad Boyfriend With a Prison Record: everyone points out its glaringly obvious flaws, but I can't help but be seduced by its charm. Hey, call me crazy, but I have a soft spot in my heart for florid, rhetorical monologues!

3 comments:

  1. I also hoped for a Satanic House of Cards! Pretty bad when Frank Underwood is more devious and evil than the actual Antichrist...

    And yeah, geez, this thing wrapped up realllllly quickly–especially when considering it's the end of a trilogy. Such a lame and ignominious end for Damien.

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  2. You know, if there was a battle of wits between Frank Underwood and Damien Thorn -- Frank just might win! Damien is kind of that guy who gets where he is thanks to his dad's connections, so he's not really as crafty as he thinks he is.

    But though FINAL CONFLICT failed to go there, there is a book called THE HELL CANDIDATE by Graham Masterton that features a Satan-powered presidential candidate.

    Thanks for stopping by, Stacie!

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