Damien: Omen II (1978, Don Taylor)

Damien-Omen-II

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Now a boy of 12, Damien Thorn is living with his uncle, Richard Thorn. But the strange deaths continue…

Best performance: Lee Grant, the second ever killer in Columbo, plays Damien’s sympathetic aunt, Ann. It’s a decent bit of acting, which throws you off the scent of what’s actually going on.

Best death: Bill Atherton (Lew Ayres), a manager at Thorn Industries who opposes plans for expansion. At a winter barbecue, a big group is playing ice hockey on the frozen lake. Presaged by incidental music with overtone singing, Bill falls through a crack in the ice. He bobs in the water for a moment, then sinks. “The current’s got him!” someone cries as Bill reappears at various points, banging on the solid surface and being pulled to and fro. Then the would-be rescuers lose sight of him…

Review: A sequel with only one returning cast member. The story picks up a week or so later and Leo McKern reprises archeologist Carl Bugenhagen in a prologue. (His beard has grown a lot fuller since we last saw him.) After he learns that the Antichrist is still alive, Bugenhagen is killed and we cut to seven years later. Damien Thorn is now a tweenager played by Jonathan Scott-Taylor, who’s appropriately unsettling in the role. It’s probably best not to question when these films are meant to be set: in the real world, it had only been 24 months since The Omen came out! But we might ask why this sequel ignores the obvious plotline of having Damien living with the President, who took him in at the end of film one. Anyway, as the story develops, threats to Damien’s Satanic destiny are met with macabre deaths (“spectacles of big-screen gore!” the making-of documentary calls them with relish). Sadly, the ambiguity of the first film has been dropped – the lad is now actually evil and has magic powers – but there are political machinations in Richard’s company and power struggles at the military academy where Damien is a pupil and Lance Henriksen is a secret ally. The story definitely falls into the basically-the-same-as-the-first-film camp. The trappings have been moved around a bit, but the structure and themes are repeats from 1976, while there are equivalents of Jennings the photographer and Mrs Baylock the nanny. It’s all a bit functional – you just wait for each inventive death scene to come along – but is a competent enough horror film.

Seven crows out of 10

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The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978, Steve Binder)

HolidaySpecial

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Chewbacca is keen to get home to his family in time for Life Day, but he and Han Solo are delayed by an encounter with Imperial forces …

WHICH VERSION? This 97-minute TV movie was shown on CBS on 17 November 1978. For this review, I watched it on YouTube. The cartoon segment had been removed for copyright reasons, but someone else has helpfully uploaded that separately.

GOOD GUYS

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) wants to get home to Kashyyk because it’s Life Day, an important date in the Wookie calendar. However, he and Han Solo come under attack from some stock footage from the first film, which delays their journey. Chewy finally arrives just in time to save his son, Lumpy, from a Stormtrooper. The Stormtrooper gives out a Wilhelm Scream as he falls to his death.

* Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is uncharacteristically sentimental about Life Day, though he clearly knows Chewy’s family well – they greet each other like old friends.

* Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is tinkering on his space ship with R2-D2 when Chewbacca’s family get in touch and tell him Chewy’s gone missing. He turns up again at the end for the Life Day celebrations.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is hanging out with C-3PO when they try to get in contact with Han. She has a vomit-churning speech at the end, praising the qualities of Life Day, then sings a song to the tune of the Star Wars theme.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) interprets for Leia when she talks to the Wookies.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) doesn’t get much to do.

* We meet Chewbacca’s family – wife Malla (Mickey Morton), father Itchy (Paul Gale) and son Lumpy (Patty Maloney). When he fails to show up for Life Day, they get worried and ask Luke for help. Soon some Stormtroopers and an Imperial officer arrive, and search the house.

* Saun Dann (Art Carney) is a human trader. When helping the Wookies, he has to talk in code in case he’s overheard by an Imperial officer (“…she’s done it by hand… solo…”). He brings a device to the Wookies’ home that enables Itchy to watch music videos; they later use it to distract an Imperial officer with, um, a performance from Jefferson Starship.

* Chef Gormaanda (Harvey Korman) is a camp, four-armed TV chef. No, seriously. Korman also plays a malfunctioning robot in an instruction video and Krelman, an odd customer in a bar who drinks through a hole in the top of his head.

* A hologram (Diahann Carroll) appears in a sequence that looks like a 1970s Top of the Pops when Itchy uses Saun’s virtual-reality headset.

* Ackmena (Bea Arthur) is a bar owner on Tatooine – it’s presumably meant to be the same bar as seen in Star Wars. It certainly has the same jazz band. When a curfew is called in Mos Eisley, she tries to close early but her alien punters won’t listen. So she gives everyone one more drink… then sings a song that sounds like something from Bugsy Malone.

* Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) appears in a short clip from Star Wars.

BAD GUYS

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) appears briefly in reused footage from the first movie and in a cartoon.

* Boba Fett (Don Francks) debuts in the Star Wars series, 18 months before he appeared in a cinema movie. The character features in a cartoon sequence that Lumpy watches on a vid-screen… Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 crash-land on a planet called Panna, where they encounter Fett. He initially appears friendly, but after a virus affects Han and Luke, we see Fett contact ally Darth Vader. The episode features some appalling animation with terrible likenesses of the characters.

* Chief Bast (Leslie Schofield) appears in the footage from the first movie. How he survived his apparent death when the Death Star was blown up is not addressed.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: Aside from shots stolen from Star Wars, there aren’t any.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Erm… Nope.

MUSIC: There’s an incidental score by Ian Fraser, and as mentioned a few songs.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: The Holiday Special has never been released on home video. I first saw it about 15 years ago on a pirated VHS. Like a lot of copies doing the rounds, it was an off-air recording of the show’s 1978 transmission complete with adverts.

REVIEW: Star Wars shot on videotape: it looks like Blake’s 7. But that’s far, far away from being its worst problem. After a brief opening scene of Han Solo and Chewbacca, just to remind you that movie characters are in this, there are lengthy scenes of Wookies growling at each other. Ten minutes in, there’s a sequence where one of them gleefully watches holograms dance around for what feels like eternity; later, there’s a spoof of cookery shows, some music videos and a docusoap set on Tatooine. The main storyline – Han and Chewy going missing – is routinely forgotten about in favour of this truly bizarre variety-show format. It’s beyond twee. Beyond misjudged. Beyond woeful. The actors whose faces can be seen look embarrassed. But it’s hard to take your eyes off its sheer unspeakable awfulness.

One tree of life out of 10

Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)

Emmannuelle

The wife of the French ambassador comes to see him in London and shags around…

What’s it spoofing? The Emmanuelle series of erotic films. So far there’d been Emmanuelle (1974), Emmanuelle 2 (1975) and Goodbye Emmanuelle (1977); another four followed after this spoof. The Carry On team changed the spelling to avoid legal issues. Also influential, one assumes, were the sex-comedy series Confessions of a… (1974-1977) and Adventures of a… (1976-1978).

Funniest moment: Leyland asks hard-of-hearing footman Richmond, “You for coffee?” He replies, “No, thanks. I’m staying here.”

The Big 10:

* Kenneth Williams (26) stays loyal to the series through thick and increasingly thin. He plays Emile Prevert, the French ambassador to the UK. After a parachuting accident, he can no longer adequately pleasure his wife, so she spends her days seeking thrills elsewhere. This was the actor’s final Carry On appearance – he died on 15 April 1988.

* Joan Sims (24) plays Mrs Dangle, the household’s cook. This was similarly Sims’s last Carry On. She died on 27 June 2001.

* Peter Butterworth (16) plays Richmond, the ancient footman. Emmannuelle is also Butterworth’s final work on the series – he died on 16 January 1979, just two months after this film opened.

* Kenneth Connor (17) plays saucy chauffeur Leyland. Again, this is Connor’s Carry On swansong – he died on 28 November 1993.

* The producers had hoped Barbara Windsor would play four distinct roles – each of the women featured in three fantasy flashback scenes, as well as a nurse. Depending on which source you favour, however, either the filming dates clashed with an overseas holiday or Windsor refused to do the film because she thought it was pornographic.

Notable others:

* Suzanne Danielle is the film’s lead – the sex-mad, inhibition-light, worry-free Emmannuelle Prevert. She’s not awful, but it’s a pathetically written role. Her character in Cannon & Ball’s 1982 film The Boys in Blue isn’t much better. No wonder she gave up acting and married a golfer.

* Larry Dann (who’d also been in Carry On Teacher, Carry On Behind and Carry On England) plays Theodore Valentine, a shy guy who has a quickie with Emmannuelle then develops an obsession with her.

* Jack Douglas refrains from any twitching to play the Preverts’ butler, Lyons.

* Beryl Reid plays Theodore’s fussy mother.

* Bruce Boa appears as the US ambassador. In the actor’s near future were turns in Fawlty Towers (“Would you make me a Waldorf Salad?”), The Empire Strikes Back and Octopussy.

* Joan Benham from Upstairs, Downstairs cameos as a woman at a dinner party.

* Steve Plytas – who three years earlier had played drunk chef Kurt in Fawlty Towers (“But he didn’t have Manuel as a model, eh?”) – is an Arabian party guest.

* Claire Davenport plays the large lady Leyland picks up in a pub. Davenport is yet another Fawlty Towers alumnus: she’d been in the episode The Germans in 1975 (“He means *the drill* hasn’t started yet.”).

Top totty: Tricia Newby plays a nurse who gets her tits out in order to excite Kenneth Williams’s libido. The actress also had to flash them in Carry On England.

Kenneth Williams says: “Gerald Thomas [director] gave me lunch. He talked to me about the Carry On Emmannuelle script; it sounds pretty dirty. ‘We really miss old Sid James,’ he said, ‘he was cuddly & warm’ (you could have fooled me) ‘and there are so few like him.’ Then he saw Jimmy Tarbuck at another table and said ‘He’d got that quality!’ & I said ‘Yes! he is cuddly & warm & I think he’s smashing…’” – Monday 19 December 1977 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p553)

“Read the revised Carry On script. If anything, it’s worse than before & the dialogue clumsy, inept and not a good joke anywhere. Peter [Eade, his agent] said ‘They are willing to pay you six thousand but if you want a car they will dock it from your salary.’ I said no thanks, and told him ‘Better settle for 5,750 and have them do the car at their expense.’ I’m not having my money whittled away in such an unforeseeable fashion.” – Thursday 30 March 1978 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p557)

Review: This movie was made in four weeks – four weeks! – and it really shows. It’s a bizarre, witless, unpleasant, aimless folly. And it’s strangely unerotic. Sex is suggested or off-screen, while there’s no more nudity than any of the previous few Carry Ons. (If seeing Kenneths Connor and Williams is states of undress is your thing, though, then this is the film for you.) The big change is that characters talk openly about wanting or having sex. Innocence has become in-your-face. Innuendo has become in-your-end-oh! It’s pathetic. The best thing about the whole enterprise might be the jaunty, Bee Gees-style theme song.

One Concorde out of 10

Superman: The Movie (1978, Richard Donner)

superman78

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent has a secret – he’s actually a powerful alien who was exiled from his doomed home planet as a child. When criminal mastermind Lex Luthor plans to destroy California, Kent’s superhero alter ego – Superman – sets out to stop him…

Good guys: Christopher Reeve stars as Clark Kent/Superman (he’s only got third billing, after the title, due to the blockbuster casting of two other roles). He’s just terrific and is equally believable and interesting as both sides of the character. The difference in the two personas, costume aside, is brilliantly achieved through posture and attitude. It’s some very smart acting. Clark’s got his job as a reporter because editor Perry White thinks he’s the fastest typist he’s ever seen. He’s seemingly a bumbling, nervous, old-fashioned doofus, and meets colleague Lois Lane when he starts work at the newspaper – he actually gets assigned to her ‘city beat’. They become pals, though, especially after he saves her life during a failed mugging. (Jeff East plays Clark as a teenager, though Reeve dubbed the dialogue.) Lois is played by Margot Kidder, who’s absolutely knockout. When we meet her, she’s writing a story for the paper (“How many Ts in bloodletting? How do you spell massacre?”). She’s adorable, feisty, sassy and a bit of a klutz. She’s not fussed by Clark’s attentions, but she falls for Superman after he saves her during a helicopter accident. Kidder beat a lot of talented actress, including Anne Archer, Stockard Channing and Lesley Ann Warren, to win the role. Jackie Cooper appears as the no-nonsense, hyper Perry White; Marc McClure plays photographer Jimmy Olsen, who’s on $40 a week but gets to feature in the film’s climax.

Bad guys: Gene Hackman – an actor who can basically do anything – plays our bad guy, Lex Luthor. He has a lair hidden in a disused section of Metropolis’s train station and wears a succession of wigs (a sly nod to the fact the character is traditionally bald… and a compromise because Hackman wouldn’t go for it). Lex has two sidekicks: the buffoonish Otis (Ned Beatty), who calls his boss “Mr Lu-THOR,” and has his own comedy cue in the incidental music; and Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), who helps Superman after Lex is mean to her. Hackman and Beatty has some fantastic comic chemistry. There are also cameos from Jack O’Halloran, Terence Stamp and Sarah Douglas as the villains we’ll be getting to know in the next film.

Other guys: Marlon Brandon was paid an absolute fortune – about $19 million – for his small role as Jor-El, Superman’s father. He plays it straight if not especially charismatically. Jor-El predicts the destruction of Krypton, so sends his infant son off to Earth in a space ship. He doesn’t want the boy to miss out on his education, so the pod contains a series of talking books where Jor-El explains who Einstein is and how many galaxies there are. Brando later pops up as a hologram too – Superman’s dad didn’t half record a lot of material for his son to view later on in life. Didn’t he have other things to do during the last 30 days of his planet’s existence? Susanna York plays Jor-El’s wife. Glenn Ford appears as Clark’s adoptive human father – the way he plays the character’s fatal heart attack (a quiet, scared, “Oh, no…”) is touching. We also briefly see Clark’s high-school crush, Lana Lang.

Best bits:

* The black-and-white opening – a child’s narration setting the scene and the context, a comic book’s page being turned over, and a set of cinema curtains swishing aside as the image becomes widescreen for…

* …the opening credits. Big, bold, blue – they thunder into view, scored by John William’s fantastic fanfare (which you can sing along to: “Su-per-man!”).

* The ice-covered surface of Krypton.

* The scene setting up the sequel (which was shot concurrently with this movie). A trio of menacing villains are introduced, tried, convicted and imprisoned in a spinning mirror floating in space.

* The highly reflective clothing on Krypton. “Front-axial projection,” shouts anyone who’s seen the documentary about the making of Doctor Who serial Silver Nemesis.

* The destruction of Krypton.

* Mr and Mrs Kent finding the infant Clark in a meteorite crater. Moments later, he lifts a truck’s back end up on his own.

* Teenage Clark running alongside a speeding train. (A little girl spots him through the window. An extra scene in the director’s cut tells us it’s a young Lois Lane.)

* Clark heads north – and uses a crystal from Krypton to build his Fortress of Solitude.

* Our first view of Superman in costume – and of Christopher Reeve in the role, actually – is after 46 minutes, when he flies across the Fortress’s cavern.

* The Daily Planet newsroom: we get whip-cracking dialogue sensationally rattled off by the cast, some superb blocking and brilliant bits of business.

* Lois accidentally backs into Clark’s crotch and gives him an approving look.

* A mugger fires a bullet at Lois; Clark catches it.

* Lex Luthor, on his sidekick Otis: “It’s amazing that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs moving.”

* Lex’s secret lair.

* The film’s second scene in the newsroom consists of a single 121-second take: an elaborate, far-moving but never show-off-y camera move.

* Oh, look: it’s Larry Lamb playing a journalist!

* After the helicopter accident, Lois falls from a great height. Clark runs towards a phone box so he can change into Superman, but it’s an open-sided booth so he has to use a revolving door instead. The first person to see him after his costume switch is… well, it’s a comedy 1970s black pimp, isn’t it?

* “You’ve got me?! Who’s got you?!”

* Oh, look: it’s Oz Clarke playing a robber!

* Superman uses his X-ray vision to check whether Lois, a smoker, needs to worry about lung cancer.

* Lois interviewing – and flirting with – Superman.

* Superman taking Lois for a fly. She’s terrified at first, then enjoys it. We hear her thoughts as the form of a spoken-word song (“Can you read my mind?”), which is one of the film’s more charmingly bonkers moments.

* In a brilliant bit of movie-making magic, we see Superman – demonstrably Christopher Reeve – fly away from Lois’s balcony and then Clark – again, clearly Reeve – walk into her flat, all done in one camera shot. (There’s not enough time for the actor to change costume and make-up, so how did they did it? When we see Superman, it’s actually a pre-recorded take being projected onto a screen built into the set. Ingenious stuff.)

* Clark considers telling Lois the truth. He takes his glasses off while she’s not looking and seems to grow a foot taller.

* Lex’s frustration at his inept sidekicks wittering on.

* Oh, look: it’s Larry Hagman! Cameoing in a bizarre scene where a group of soldiers ogle and consider sexually abusing a car-crash victim rather than get her some help.

* When he learns of Lex’s plan, Clark discreetly jumps out of the window and switches into Superman on the way down.

* When he shows Superman his proposed map of the new California, Lex is dumbfounded to see that Otis has added a place name: Otisburg.

* Oh, look: it’s John Ratzenberger as a missile control-room operator.

* Lex tricks Superman into opening a box containing Kryptonite.

* Lois’s car breaks down during the earthquake – she spots the approaching crack in the ground in her rear-view mirror.

* All the model work during the earthquake is superb.

* Lois is buried alive!

* Superman’s anguish after he finds Lois dead.

* In order to save Lois, Superman turns back time by flying round the planet really quickly – thereby disobeying Jor-El’s commandment. (It’s a testament to how enjoyable this film is that you forgive it this enormous storytelling cheat.)

Review: The title’s apt. This is a *movie*. There’s a great sense of epic scale, with a long running time, a chapter-like structure and some ambitious special effects. But it’s far from po-faced. It’s often very funny, in fact. Director Richard Donner has spoken about how verisimilitude was his key word for this film – and he keeps things plausible and believe-in-able at all times without ever losing sight of lightness and fun. There’s real soul to everything on show. Other writers are credited with the script – including The Godfather’s Mario Puzo – but the movie as filmed was actually the work of creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz (Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die). And what a great job he did, combining comic-book concepts with His Girl Friday banter; action with comedy; style with substance. The movie is in three main sections: a 17-minute opening set on Krypton, all mythic dialogue and sci-fi sets; a 15-minute sequence featuring a young Clark in Smallville, full of bucolic charm, wide open spaces and American Gothic simplicity; and the main bulk set in a hustling, bustling Metropolis of wisecracking journalists, arch criminals and men who wear hats even though it’s the 1970s. A great cast – especially Reeve, Kidder and Hackman – only add to what is an enormously likeable experience.

Nine boxes of Cheerios out of 10.

Next time: So… whatever happened to those three villains from the beginning?