It’s taken me a long time to watch the whole of the Damien TV series – so much so that all the adverts related to Christmas, and the channel that showed it has ceased to exist! But I was determined to persevere, not least because I love supernatural drama of this kind (think Constantine, Dominion, or American Gothic).
In the end the series was rather like the Curate’s Egg – good in parts. The good included Bradley James, and not just because he made such a pretty Antichrist, but because he brought genuine acting ability to the role, turning Damien from a standard horror lead to a conflicted and at times despairing human. Another stand-out performance came from Barbara Hershey as Damien’s long-time guardian, willing to sacrifice absolutely anything to the cause.
The cinematography, special effects and music were also excellent, adding just the right note of bizarro to the horror. I particularly liked the title credits with their gothic overprints, and the Cujo-like ‘hounds of hell’ were rather brilliant.
For me these elements were overshadowed by the bad. For starters, the strange decision to link this Damien directly to the little boy in the films, even though the ages were completely wrong. No explanation was ever given for why adult Damien was only 30, not the 45 or 50 he’d have to have been if he’d really been the same person as in the original film. It wasn’t a serious plot defect, but it needed addressing and was just enough to pull me out of the story right from the start.
Apart from that, I felt that the series as a whole added little to the religious horror genre, and in some cases felt very much like horror-by-numbers, or even a team of writers making it up as they went along. Some of the more horrific scenes added little to the narrative and felt too much like they’d been added to ‘spice things up’. The pacing was also odd, with some episodes so full of action you could barely breathe and others dragging their heels. One particular episode, with Damien befriending a suicidal veteran in hospital, went on for days – and the plot point it seemed to be setting us up for turned out to be a red herring all along.
I got the feeling that the creative team fully expected this to run to a second series, so no loose ends were tied up. The Vatican hit-squad, the hand reaching out from the grave, the detective’s strangely menacing son, the old woman and the little girl in a ballet dress who kept appearing, even Damien’s own shattering decision to embrace his darker self, were all left floating for us to guess at. It’s a shame, because for all the show’s flaws a second series could have been brilliant, especially if it focussed on Damien’s last remaining shreds of humanity battling the near-certainty of his fate.
The cancellation can’t have been entirely unexpected, though. Any supernatural thriller of this type must cost squillions in special effects, and US television sponsors have an uncomfortable relationship with anything that smacks too much of the darker side of Christianity. In the end this joined all three favourite series I mentioned above in being axed, arguably before its time.