Movie News - April/May 1981






Well, Judy Davis might have won two British Academy Awards for "My Brilliant Career". But it's her handsome leading man Sam Neill who's wound up with the big international movie break. Thanks to the enthusiastic boosting of James Mason.

When Mason saw the hugely successful Australian film in Los Angeles last year, he was so impressed with Sam that - quite unsolicited - he wrote off to various overseas film producers recommending the 32-years-old New Zealand actor.

The result was that Sam was taken to London to play the leading role in "THE FINAL CONFLICT" - third (and last) of the "Omen" thrillers. Sam is topbilled over an international cast that includes Rossano Brazzi and Lisa Harrow.

In "The Final Conflict", Sam portrays Damien Thorn - the fiendishly evil Anti-Christ who is out to fulfil the Biblical prophecy by precipitating the terrible end-of-the-world holocaust known as Armageddon.

Damien first appeared in "The Omen" (1976) as an angelic-looking five-year-old (played by young Harvey Stephens), whose presence caused the deaths of just about everybody around him including his parents Gregory Peck and Lee Remick.

The Son of Satan was a teenager (played by 14-years-old Jonathan Scott Taylor) when he next appeared in "Damien - Omen II" (1978), in which he discovered his true identity and mission. Once again, everyone around him was killed off - including uncle and aunt William Holden and Lee Grant.

Now, in "The Final Conflict", we find the adult Damien - now a grown man of 33 - is about to embark on his diabolical mission. As head of the gigantic Thorn Industries, advisor to the President of the United States, and newly-appointed American Ambassador to Great Britain, he prepares to use his lofty position to bring the world to the brink of chaos.

In London, the new American Ambassador is interviewed by television journalist Kate Reynolds (Lisa Harrow). She is so completely captivated by Damien's apparent warmth and charm that she fails to see the sinister and dangerous influence he is having on her 13-years-old son Peter (Barnaby Holm).

There are only two things that can stop the evil Anti-Christ. One is a baby born when three stars conjoin overhead. The other is the seven daggers of Meggido with which he can be killed.

The daggers are discovered in the ruins of the Old Thorn Museum in Chicago, which Damien had burned down around the heads of his second family. The knives find their way into the hands of seven monks dedicated to destroying the Son of Satan.

Led by Father De Carlo (Rossano Brazzi), the seven monks set out from their crumbling Northern Italian monastery and head for London. Six monks each try to kill Damien with one of the sacred daggers. One by one, they fail and are overcome by the demonic powers of evil.

Damien learns that the long awaited Second Coming has indeed occurred.

There is a new Saviour born. In a perverted echo of Biblical times, Damien orders his henchmen to have all babies born at the same time killed to ensure the destruction of the new Messiah.

When Father De Carlo learns of the horrifying plan, he enlists Kate's aid. At first, she refuses to believe that she and her son have come under the shadow of the actual Anti-Christ. Finally, she realises that she has but one choice - to help Father De Carlo stop Damien once and for all.

The mission takes De Carlo and his disciples from London to Cornwall, where Damien is taking part in a fox hunt, and then to a suspense-filled climax at the spectacular ruins of Fountains Abbey, a 12th Century monastery in North Yorkshire. Its eerie remains - ghostly, yet majestic and awe-inspiring - provide a perfect setting for the climax of Damien's crusade of evil.

"If there ever WAS an Anti-Christ", says producer Harvey Bernhardt, "to have a large following, he would have to be the most handsome, charismatic, brilliant, wealthy, and popular leader in the world. Damien Thorn is all these and more".

Finding a handsome and charismatic actor to portray Damien nearly drove Bernhardt crazy. "I must have seen just about every young actor there is", says Bernhardt. "I'd spent six months on a talent hunt - without success".

Then came James Mason's letter recommending Sam Neill. Bernhardt invited Neill to London for a screen test. "As soon as I saw him on film, I knew I had found the actor I was looking for".

Though his family are New Zealanders, Sam was actually born in Northern Ireland, where his father was serving in the British Army. Sam was eight years old when the family moved back to New Zealand.

Sam started acting while at the University of Canterbury, and then spent a year touring New Zealand with a repertory stage company. In 1971, he moved into films, combining acting and directing with the New Zealand National 'Film Unit.

Along the way, Sam played the lead in three New Zealand feature films. One of these was the thriller "Sleeping Dogs", and when this was screened in Sydney, producer Margaret Fink and director Gill Armstrong cast him as Harry Beecham in "My Brilliant Career".

It was at this point that Sam became what he calls "an Australian from New Zealand". He remained in Australia to star in two more feature films (including "Z Force") and television shows (including "Lucinda Brayford") before his role in "The Final Conflict" took him to Britain.

He has two outstanding memories of working in England. "It's cold", he grins. "And I've never been called 'Sir' before".

Sam still lives in his old renovated terrace house in the inner Sydney suburb of Paddington. But he sees less of it these days because of continual movie acting offers from overseas producers. The latest has taken him to France to star in the thriller "Enigma" with Martin Sheen.

"As long as I can return to Sydney between assignments, I will happily travel the globe wherever the work takes me", says Sam. 'The Final Conflict" should add many more stamps to his passport!




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