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Blogvent – Day 21

21/12/2010

A full moon plus a meagre handful of days remaining until christmas seem to be combining this week to dampen my high spirits over the mental state of christmas shoppers this year. It had been going so well too. The last forty eight hours or so has seen all the usual frustration, aggression and overall lack of manners and understanding erupt from a relative minority (although an extremely vocal one) of the local population as they take out their self loathing at their lack of organisation and imagination on me and my colleagues. Guess what. A lot of the things you will have been asked to get people for christmas will be the same things a lot of people asked their loved ones for. Some people, who presumably love their loved ones more than you, will have got off their lazy asses and organised these gifts long before now, maybe even as early as October. No we won’t be getting any more in before christmas. It’s four days away. Don’t blame me because you don’t care enough to have figured this out weeks ago and failed to learn your lessons from last year, or indeed any previous year you have been alive. Last time I checked christmas is celebrated on the same day every year. You pretty much have three hundred and sixty five days notice. Idiots.

I appreciate its pretty much part of the job and I’m used to it but it has particularly got my goat today largely because up until now it had been almost the opposite, a seemingly endless stream of happy(ish), understanding and generally cheerful customers. The bubble burst today and its knocked my christmas spirit right out of me. I’m not alone in this, Barb is struggling to summon up the festive cheer right now as well. It seems appropriate then that rather than watch cheesy christmas flicks in a vain effort to inject some festivity we would temporarily distract ourselves by getting stuck into the original Omen films.

Its turned out to be quite a good tactic. A sort of Derren Brown style misdirection whereby distracting me from thoughts of christmas has freed my mind of the aggravation associated with it. There’s also the added bonus that they are actually really quite good. Lest I forget, here be spoilers.

The Omen, if you don’t know, is the story of Damien Thorn, a child secretly adopted by the US ambassador to Great Britain when his own baby dies during childbirth, who turns out to be the son of the Devil and a jackal and is on Earth to bring about the End of Days. There are a few people who realise the truth and make efforts to alert mom and pop that their little darling is Beelzebub incarnate, but all who stand in the way of the Devil’s master plan meet an unfortunate end, usually as a result of bizarre accidents. While the sequels are a little bit weaker (I’ve never seen the fourth one but its in the box set so I might get it watched this week) the original is rightly revered as a genre classic.

Of all the things it is remembered for the inventive death scenes are probably near the top of the list. In the first film alone there is the spectacular children’s birthday party suicide of Damien’s nanny, the skewering of Patrick Troughton on a broken lightning rod and the decapitation of David Warner by a flying sheet of plate glass. Most sinister is the moment Damien bumps his mother over the banister to ensure the death of his unborn sibling thus avoiding any competition for the power and wealth he will inherit. All of them are written off as unfortunate accidents (apart from the nanny hanging herself) but are actually the work of dark forces.

Also unforgettable is the performance of little Harvey Stephens as the Antichrist child. His intense little face and piercing eyes work wonders in conveying the dark power he represents and he does a tremendous job in the scenes where he has to be more active. When the Thorn’s try and take their little boy to church he turns into a screaming animal, grunting and growling in horror at the mere presence of the house of God. It’s the quieter moments though in which he excels, his quiet joy at watching his mother slip from the landing or the burning intensity in his eyes when his father is eventually buried. I wonder what he’s up to now?

Far and away the most dispiriting and sinister thing about the first Omen is that at close of play, the Devil is winning. His disciples have protected Damien from those who would seek to destroy him, he has moved on to a position of greater future power and has escaped detection by his enemies. Creepy stuff, especially if you are the sort of person who believes in that sort of thing.

On, then, to The Omen II, set seven years after the first film and with a thirteen year old Damien “coming of age” and being made consciously aware of who (what) he is. It’s still quite watchable, although a little more conventional than the first film and there’s a sense that a real opportunity has been missed to explore how it would feel to be told as a boy that you were marked out for special things. Granted, he already had a vague, sub conscious awareness of his nature, but you can’t help but feel more could have been made of this revelation. Instead the film opts to come up with increasingly inventive ways to eliminate those who get wise to the devilish plot. Highlights include a doctor sliced in two by a snapped elevator cable and the chairman of the Thorn Industries board getting trapped under a frozen river. As before, Damien stands tall at the end of the film, triumphant over those who would destroy him and another rung up on the ladder of personal power. Entertaining all this may be but it reeks of unfulfilled potential, although it is still very much worth watching.

The third film is a horse of a slightly different colour. We rejoin Damien, fully aware of his purpose and heritage and surrounded by those who support him in his quest to bring about Armageddon. Pitted against him are a religious sect who are equally aware of his purpose and heritage and who, having come into possession of the seven Daggers of Meggado, the only weapons that can kill the Antichrist. The daggers are distributed among seven memebrs of the sect who are all sent out on a mission to eliminate Damien, no easy task given his position as the US ambassador to Great Britain and the protection such a position affords. Added to the mix is the second coming of Christ and a Herod-esque purge on new born boys in order to eliminate the only real threat to the Devil’s dominion over Earth. It’s a bit convoluted and not terribly good, even with Sam Neill doing his very best sinister dark Lord of all evil act. It does have one of the most hilariously bungled assassination attempts I’ve ever seen on screen where a holy assassin tries to take out Damien while he is being interviewed on TV and ends up tripping on a lighting gantry, getting tangled in a rope, swinging through the set, knocking a light into some paint pots which subsequently catch fire, swinging back into the burning set and catching fire himself before being eventually extinguished. Sounds nasty but in practice its a pratfall of Norman Wisdom proportions. Sort of breaks the atmosphere slightly. Contrasted with the positively horrendous systematic slaughter of all the newborns (including a Priest drowning a baby in a font) it seems wildly innappropriate, especially as the baby killing is actually extremely disturbing and suitably horrific.

Despite all this, it still feels like the silliest of the three films. I suppose there had to be a point where the series became a victim of its own ridiculousness and the third one is very much it. Perhaps its the reliance on the slightly preposterous Christian mythology or perhaps its the fact that its simply run its course by this point but either way it doesn’t cut the mustard.

Anyway, it’s successfully cured my acute resistance to christmas and so I should be able to tackle the next three days with renewed vigour. If you are feeling like a bit of a humbugger, or that you can’t be arsed with christmas this year, try watching some classic horror to take your mind off it and see what happens. You might catch your christmas spirit creeping up on you when you weren’t looking.

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