By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Monks battle the Antichrist.
Damien (Sam Neill) is now appointed the US ambassador to England the position his adoptive father once held before he died. He uses this position as well as being the CEO of Thorn Industries to try to halt the Second Coming of Christ, which happens on March 24, 1981 during the alignment of stars known as the Cassiopeia Constellation, but problems occur when they don’t know which child it is. This causes him to order his assistant Harry Dean (Don Gordon) to kill each child born in England between midnight and 6 AM of that day unaware that Dean’s own child was also delivered between those hours and this secret he tries to keeps from Damien until it is too late.
This third entry is an improvement over the second film as it pushes the plot progression forward and enters in all sorts of interesting new wrinkles. The budget is high and allows for different setting locals including a genuine fox hunt, which I found entertaining. Neill plays the part pretty well and unlike in the first two is sinister throughout with his best part coming when he gives a prayer to the devil in a secret room next to a giant crucifix. The film also has a scene that reveals a secret underground movement of devil worshipers, which is made up of hundreds of ordinary, everyday people who get together at a secret, hidden location and take orders directly from Damien. This helps to explain where these people came from who help Damien in his cause, which is something that was never shown in the second installment, but should’ve.
It also continues the trend of having novel deaths occur including a graphically brutal one that happens inside a TV studio that apparently due to its complexity took two weeks to film. However, the intended shock effect from these, that was so strong in the first film, gets lost here. Instead of being horrifying they become almost laughable especially since they mainly occur to the monks who are each given one of the seven daggers to kill Damien with, but they are so incompetent that it becomes more like comic relief.
The killing of the infants, which Damien’s followers carry out, are equally goofy and include a segment where a baby carriage with the baby inside rolls down a hill, which will do nothing but remind cinephiles of the famous scene in the classic Russian film Battleship Potemkin. I was also confused during the baptism scene where the Priest supposedly kills the child while baptizing it with water, but it’s not clear what he does as we only see the shocked expression of the mother when he hands the baby back to her, which only creates more questions than answers. Like wouldn’t the priest get arrested for killing the child since he did it in front of so many witnesses and if so wouldn’t he unravel during the subsequent police interrogation and reveal Damien’s plot to them?
The film’s biggest letdown though comes with its ending. Initially it seemed that Harry and his wife would be forced to go on the run to hide their infant from Damien, which could’ve involved a very exciting cross-country chase, but the film ruins this potentially interesting idea by having the mother get brainwashed by the devil dog to kill the baby herself. It then ends instead where Damien travels to some church ruins where the Christ child is being hidden, but we never see the baby and no explanation for how it was able to avoid being killed by Damien’s followers. The novel version explains that it was born to a family of gypsies and therefore no record of its birth was made to the authorities, but this is something that should’ve been stated in the movie.
Having his girlfriend Katherine (Lisa Harrow) stab Damien in the back with one of the daggers comes off as being too easy and ultimately makes the climax seem anti-climactic especially after such a big buildup. It also gives off too much of a happy ending feel. This is after all still a horror movie and therefore the viewer should be left it with a certain unsettling feeling when it’s over, which this film doesn’t do.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: March 20, 1981
Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes
Director: Graham Baker
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube