When it comes to planning these weekly double features, you always want to find two films with similar themes that will make for an entertaining 3 hour block. This column began primarily as an excuse to revisit original movies and pair them up with their remakes, a surefire way to decide if a remake truly works. Over the last several months, I’ve gone out of my way to schedule unique double bills, but sometimes, it’s much easier to let our local repertoire theater here in Los Angeles, the New Beverly, make that decision for me!
Just last week, the venue hosted a screening of the 1978 sequel to the film that created the summer blockbuster, JAWS 2, paired up with the unlikely DAMIEN: OMEN 2, also originally released in 1978! So for one night, we were able to teleport back in time to the late 70’s when seeing a “sequel” to a hit movie was a rarity as opposed to the norm! How’d they stack up?
While I of course love and respect the original JAWS as a masterpiece, I think I’m more intimately well-versed in the sequel, JAWS 2, which played in steady rotation on cable when I was growing up. There’s so much to love about this movie. For the most part, a good chunk of the primary cast returns, including Chief Brody (the great Roy Scheider), his wife, Ellen (Lorraine Gary), Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) and even Deputy Jeff Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer)! What are the odds that another Great White of abnormal size would show up on the Amityville shore? Well, in one scene when Brody is talking to a marine biologist while investigating the washed up carcass of a giant whale, he asks, “if a shark were destroyed in these waters, would it send out a signal to other sharks?” To which she replies, “Sharks don’t take things personally.” Of course they don’t! Not until PART 4, anyway.
What’s fascinating about JAWS 2 is that, although it came out the same year as John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (and was a few years before the 80’s “slasher” movie boom), it structurally follows the same beats as a traditional “slasher” movie – so much so that I wonder if this was what all those filmmakers were emulating over HALLOWEEN! You’ve got the opening kill, the killer getting scarred early on in the film (only to return later indestructible), and a tense standoff because a group of teenage kids and the killer for the entire third act! “Slasher” movie!
But what most “slashers” don’t have is a great actor like Roy Scheider. Can we just sing his praises for a few paragraphs here? What really struck me seeing the movie this time is how we just don’t have reluctant heroes like this anymore. Scheider isn’t your traditional, good-looking, chiseled Hollywood heart throb. He looks like your dad. He’s got such an amazing, interesting and unique face that the camera loves. In the first movie, he was terrified of the water, yet the irony is he’s the Sherriff of a highly populated beach community. He’s got strong convictions and morals, and will fight for what he thinks is right. In one scene, he ends up scaring a bunch of beach goers when he thinks he sees a shark and shoots into the water. He gets fired, just for trying to save a bunch of people and do the right thing!
Relieved of his civic duties, he doesn’t hesitate to take the police boat when he finds out a group of kids, including his two sons, are stranded out by “Cable Junction” with the shark out there. He’s that rare breed of genuine hero (and actor!) you just don’t see as much these days. It’s no secret that Scheider really didn’t want to do JAWS 2. But I’ll be damned if you can even catch a glimpse of that lack of enthusiasm anywhere in his performance here. He’s giving it his all in every frame that he’s in. And that finale is totally thrilling, especially with an audience. There were a few solid jump scares that got the few people sitting in my row that had never seen the movie before!
DAMIEN: OMEN II was an interesting follow-up to JAWS 2. The trailer show that was programmed between the films set the mood. We were treated to the trailers for THE EXORCIST (featuring Lalo Schifrin’s original score), Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING, ROSEMARY’S BABY and then finally THE OMEN, which perfectly prepared us for this second movie. It opens immediately following the events of the first film with an archaeologist named Bugenhagen attempting to convince his friend Michael Morgan that the Anti-Christ is here and must be stopped. In a big & loud sequence, both men are buried alive before anyone can heed their warning.
The movie then jumps ahead to Damien when he’s 13 years old. He now lives with his Aunt and Uncle and is extremely close with his cousin, Mark, with whom he is prepping to enter military school. A lot of strange accidents and deaths begin happening within Damien’s adoptive Father’s company, which will perfectly set up what is meant to be his destiny. What’s fascinating about this movie is that it’s essentially the origin story in which Damien discovers who he truly is and slowly accepts his eventual destiny. It’s what the A&E show is trying to do with their series with an adult Damien, but that I’m having a tough time fully embracing. It makes logical sense to me that this would come to light in Damien’s impressionable teen years.
Also, the original OMEN has some pretty elaborate death sequences. They really go for the gold and do some absolutely bonkers FINAL DESTINATION style kills here that had our audience howling with both horror and glee. Top it all off with an excellent score by Jerry Goldsmith approaching this material again but from a slightly different angle and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success!
JAWS 2 and DAMIEN: OMEN 2. An unlikely pairing, but a great one! Recommended.