After three films of diminishing creative and financial returns and a climactic battle that mostly entailed Sam Neill shouting “Nazarene” right before being bested by a “gotcha!” stab in the back, The Omen franchise seemed done. Damien was defeated. Jesus won. Let’s “Sanguis Bibimus” our way out of this joint.
But if Jesus can be reborn, why not Damien? And if something was a hit once who’s to say it can’t be a hit again?
Thus, we have Omen IV: The Awakening, a mostly forgotten 1991 TV movie that tried to begin anew with a female Antichrist. Gene (Michael Woods) and Karen York (Faye Grant), a Virginia congressman and his attorney wife, adopt little Delia from a nun-owned orphanage. After they leave, one of the older nuns has a heart attack and dies and her much younger protege goes crazy, rips off her habit (what is this, The Devils?) while making a mad dash to a chapel to pray only to see a supernatural force turn the crucifix upside down. Once in her new home, baby Delia almost instantly scratches Karen on the face, causing a nasty, largely inexplicable infection, and later the priest delivering Delia’s baptism suffers a heart attack.
Other than that, all good. No cause for concern. Nothing to see here.
Of course, it’s an Omen movie. We know all of these early peculiarities are bad [wait for it] signs (you thought I was going to say “omens,” didn’t you?), and after a 7-year time jump we meet a Delia (Asia Vieira) who is a bit of a brat and a bully, far more of a sociopath than Damien ever was at that age. For example, she bites the head off her own Barbie and causes a boy she doesn’t like to pee his pants. Damien, um, mostly just liked riding his tricycle in the house and really hated going to church. My word. What ever could explain such strange behavior in young Delia? It’s almost – and stop me if this sounds crazy – like she’s got the devil in her.
Again, it’s an Omen movie. We know what’s coming. The somewhat surprising part is how the film is in no real rush to get to its big reveal that Delia is actually Damien’s daughter. In fact, The Awakening mostly retraces the steps of the first film with an obvious gender switch. This time, the devil child is a girl, not a boy, and it’s the mother, not the father, who grows suspicious and sets out on a nearly movie-long quest to find out where exactly her adopted kid really came from. Satanists, of course, are again acting on the devil child’s behalf and have infiltrated all walks of life, and mysterious forces again Final Destination away any potential enemies, which mostly entails offing a bunch of well-meaning New Age spiritualists.
On paper, that all sounds like a rather workable redo of the original. Making the AntiChrist a female is at least something new, and switching the parental paranoia from a father’s perspective to a mother’s is similarly notable in a “well, they haven’t done that before” kind of way. Sadly, there’s a later insane twist that undoes much of that. Even without it, though, The Awakening wouldn’t really register as memorable. This isn’t exactly a Psycho IV: The Beginning situation where there are a pile of think pieces arguing this little TV movie is an overlooked highlight in a storied horror franchise. No, The Awakening is pretty bad.
You sense as much right away. Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score is replaced with Jonathan Sheffer’s ever-present incidental music which feels like it’s been lifted from an entirely different genre and almost instantly overshadows and crowds out the dialogue. The acting is atrocious, in that regrettable style where you can see the actors trying so very, very hard to elevate second-rate material. The production values are decidedly cheaper, and the “Directed By” credit flashes two different names, one you’ve probably never heard of before (Jorge Montesi) and the other (Dominique Othenin-Girard) you might vaguely remember if you’ve ever caught wind of the behind the scenes insanity of Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.
Beyond that, the restrictions of being TV Movie guarantees watered down versions of the franchise’s calling card – the death scenes.
The backstory is that producer Harvey Bernhard, the man behind the entire franchise to that point, was convinced there was more money to be made with The Omen name. So, he co-wrote The Awakening screenplay with Brian Taggart and filmed the movie on the cheap in Vancouver. The finished product was released in theaters overseas and aired on Fox in the U.S. on May 20, 1991. The reviews were especially harsh. “This TV movie is just plain ridiculous,” said EW. “One of the least entertaining motion pictures ever made for television,” argued the Los Angeles Times.
And with that, the franchise finally died.
Just kidding. There was a nearly shot-for-shot 2006 remake and then a short-lived A&E series in 2014. Either of those are more worth your time than Omen IV: The Awakening. Unlike the Los Angeles Times, I haven’t seen enough to confidently say it’s among the all-time least entertaining films in TV history. There are a couple of Stephen King TV efforts that are probably worse, but when the choice is between something like Rose Red and Omen IV I’d opt for simply turning the TV off entirely and reading a book.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Here’s a hot take: Omen IV is exactly as bad if not worse than everyone says. It’s a film I watched partially out of completism. I did, after all, just make my way through the first three films in the franchise, and Omen IV is right there waiting to be watched on HBO Now. Why not give it a shot? But, also, I’m a Psycho IV: The Beginning defender. I was hoping The Awakening might present a similar opportunity to discover a diamond in the rough. I was so, so wrong.
Recommended for completists only and anyone intrigued by a devil child movie where the kid is a girl instead of a boy. Even then, try to resist that urge.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHT
- Favorite bit of dialogue: Karen: “Father, the Antichrist is always described as male. Does he have to be?” / Father Mattson: “Well, the Bible wasn’t meant to be sexist… mankind can also be womankind!”