Seven years ago in Israel, scholar Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern) hurries to meet his archaeologist friend Michael (Ian Hendry) with startling news: the child of the American ambassador to the United Kingdom, who the ambassador died in his attempt to kill, is indeed everything he was suspected to be. Now Bugenhagen is convinced that Damien Thorn (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is the Antichrist, but Michael will take more persuasion than his saying so, therefore the scholar takes him to an ancient temple and the newly excavated cellar rooms where the image of Damien has apparently been for centuries - but neither will live to tell their tale.
The cards are stacked so decisively against the forces of good in this, the sequel to the money-spinning horror hit The Omen, that you wonder why anyone bothered to stand up to the powers of Satan: it almost feels like more trouble than it's worth to do anything about them. The first instalment popularised the concept of novelty deaths in the movies, and here that lesson was well learnt as it is obvious those fatalities were the only reason the filmmakers thought anyone would keep watching this. Indeed, to all intents and purposes, the script might as well have started from a collection of spooky murders and worked backwards from them to fill in the plot.
Naturally, even if you're a fan of outrageous ways to kill screen characters, the stuff in between might well feel like a chore to sit through, and so it is. That introduction outlined above has next to nothing to do with the manner in which the film proceeds, as we jump forward to the present and a thirteen-year-old Damien who has just enrolled in military school with his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat), who he has been brought up with by Mark's father Richard Thorn (William Holden) and stepmother Ann (Lee Grant). Richard is the head of a multinational corporation looking to solve the world's food problems, but could easliy be the source of Damien's clout if he should inherit it.
Once you know that, it's simply a matter of sitting through all the people standing in Damien's way getting bumped off, but at least here the filmmakers have their fun. Most memorable deaths? There are two, the first where a journalist (Elizabeth Shepherd) who has cottoned on to the truth about those Satanic forces has her car stall on a deserted stretch of country road. She gets out to go for help, then a raven swoops down on her and attacks, scratching her eyes out until she staggers blindly into the path of an oncoming truck. Then there's the doctor who discovers the boy's jackal parentage and is whipped in half by a cable in a falling lift, both rendered to make you react in the same way as the sheet of glass death from the first film.
So at least we know the tone is as grim as ever, yet this does not translate into much enjoyment. There are echoes of works like the contemporary Carrie in its anti-hero's paranormal powers which he has no control over, but the sympathy in this film is notably lacking. Damien may have a scene where he is distraught after reading The Book of Revelation, which in turn gets him to check his scalp and find the "666" birthmark, thereby revealing to him his terrible destiny, but her gets used to the idea very quickly and leaves little room for feeling sorry for him. It doesn't help that Scott-Taylor remains a cold presence throughout, his aloofness fitting for the son of the Devil but making the viewer hard-pressed to get worked up one way or the other, particularly as there's never any doubt who will prevail. On the plus side, it's not as boring as the second sequel, but that's not much of a recommendation. Jerry Goldsmith's music remains peerless, however.