When there’s money to be made, no one in Hollywood can take a hint, even a Satanic one. According to many in Hollywood, The Dark Lord hurled countless plagues and curses at horror filmmakers back in the ’60s and ’70s, but he seems to have saved his best work for 1976’s THE OMEN.
His Dark Majesty’s reign of supernatural terror began in 1969 with the release of ROSEMARY’S BABY, the original “OMG! The Devil!” horror flick. Satan beset ROSEMARY’s producer with kidney stones and apparently sent Charlie Manson to murder the director’s wife (for the whole story, check out this article). No one in Hollywood heeded the warnings, so the Devil upped the ante for 1973’s THE EXORCIST, and sent an even greater series of mishaps at its makers, including fires, injuries and multiple deaths (you can read all about the alleged “EXORCIST Curse” here).
By the release of THE OMEN on June, 6, 1976 (get it? 6.6.6?) Satan was beyond pissed, and would not be ignored. He threw everything he had at THE OMEN. We’re talking planes struck by lightning, Rottweiler attacks, a death-by-tiger, terrorist bombings, and deadly car crashes.
“But surely the strange occurrences around Satanic horror flicks are coincidental and have been over-emphasized as part of these films’ marketing strategy,” you might say. “Besides, I thought Satan loved heavy metal and horror movies! Why wouldn’t he try to kill Kirk Cameron or end Pixar’s family-friendly reign of terror instead?” you might add.
Well, smart-guy, maybe The Father of Lies didn’t like seeing himself onscreen as a little kid. Everyone’s embarrassed by his baby pictures, and that movie is basically Jim Henson’s Satan Babies. In any case, no matter why (or whether) The Devil was behind them, a lot of really weird things happened around THE OMEN.
The Ominous Car Crash
The story of THE OMEN‘s special effects consultant John Richardson is the most uncanny and spooky “cursed movie” event in history. Richardson created THE OMEN’s iconic death scenes. Among the most remembered is the the bloody beheading of photographer Keith Jennings. Anyone who has seen THE OMEN remembers Jenning’s head being separated from his body by a plate of glass, bouncing through the air, and flying into the collective nightmares of mid-1970s America.
A few months after the release of THE OMEN, Richardson was in Holland, working on A BRIDGE TOO FAR. Just after midnight, on Sunday the 13th of June 1976, Richardson and his assistant, Liz Moore, were involved in a deadly car accident. The head-on collision killed Moore, who was cut in half by the other vehicle’s wheel, mirroring the on-screen death of the photographer from THE OMEN. That’s weird and tragic, but it gets even weirder: Richardson, dazed from the collision, opened his eyes on the lonely road, and the first thing he saw was a kilometer marker reading “Ommen 6,66,” The closest town to the accident was Ommen, Netherlands, and the accident happened at kilometer 66,6. Ooh! Spooky!
Richardson’s crash was the culmination of the OMEN curse, but weird occurrences around the film date back to its very inception.
The Birth of A Cursed Movie
THE OMEN was conceived by Robert Munger, who had no background in film, but who was suddenly struck with the idea of making a movie about The Antichrist as a child.
Producers Harvey Bernhard and Mace Neufeld, foolishly ignoring the potential for Satanic hoodoo attacks, saw dollar signs in Munger’s idea, and started putting together a slick-but-schlocky horror flick designed to take advantage of the vogue for devilish films that began with ROSEMARY’S BABY. Even before photography began, strange things started happening around THE OMEN.
Munger, who was a devout Christian, raised the first alarm during pre-production. He called a meeting with Bernhard and offered the following warning: “The devil’s greatest single weapon is to be invisible, and you’re going to take off his cloak of invisibility to millions of people.”
With production plans for THE OMEN coming together in spite of the prophesies of its creator, the producers scored big by landing Gregory Peck to star as Ambassador Thorn, adopted father of The Devil, but soon after Peck agreed to appear in the movie, his son shot himself in the head, leaving no note. Although wracked with grief, Peck didn’t let the suicide deter him from starring in THE OMEN. He flew to England in October of 1975 to start work on the movie… but he almost didn’t make it across the ocean.
Lightning Strikes Twice
In the middle of a stormy, turbulent crossing of the Atlantic, Peck’s plane was struck by lightning. According to THE OMEN’s producer Mace Neufeld, the engine caught fire and the plane nearly crashed into the sea. A few days later, lightning struck Neufeld’s plane as he crossed the Atlantic too. Two planes. Two lightning strikes. What are the odds?
Those aren’t the only weird plane stories from THE OMEN’s production either. One of the first shots planned for the movie was an aerial shot of London to be taken from a rented plane. At the last minute, the plane rental company switched aircrafts, and gave the original plane to a group of Japanese businessmen. Apparently, no one informed Satan of this change of plans, and he targeted the plane full of innocent businessmen, slamming it into the ground and instantly killing them all.
Soon after, rumors of a curse started circulating among THE OMEN’s cast and crew, and the troubled shoot itself only solidified the stories. “The Devil was at work, and he didn’t want the picture made,” OMEN producer Harvey Bernhard said.
Cats and Dogs Working Together
Among the most memorable set pieces in THE OMEN is Gregory Peck being attacked by a pack of brutal Rottweilers. To shoot the scene, the highly trained “devil dogs” were supposed to attack a heavily padded stuntman. But something went very wrong, and the fake attack turned real. The pack of snarling hellhounds nearly killed the stuntman, biting through his padding and refusing to stop even when their trainer ordered them to. The stuntman survived, but a local zookeeper wasn’t so fortunate.
Sidney Bamford, a London animal expert, was working as a big cat wrangler for the production when he met his violent end. The film was originally to include a scene where zoo tigers menace Damien, and Bamford was helping wrangle the animals. Around the time of the filming, Bamford apparently neglected to properly secure one of the tigers, and the beast went full Siegfried and Roy on the unlucky zookeeper, who died at its tooth and claw.
Neither Satan nor the IRA Can Kill Mace Neufeld
Having failed to kill THE OMEN producer Mace Neufeld with a lightning strike to his airplane at the start of production, Satan started throwing bombs at the Hollywood legend.
During the filming of THE OMEN, Neufeld was staying at The Hilton hotel in London, but then it blew up. Neufeld escaped death — he wasn’t in the building at the time – but if the The Devil is anything, he’s persistent. Days later, Neufeld, Bernhard and other film executives were en route to a trendy London restaurant and that blew up too. Again, Neufeld missed the explosion by minutes. I guess the devil has trouble with timing.
While some have interpreted these two bombings as Satanic attempts on Neufeld’s life, skeptics point out that the IRA was bombing a lot of things in London at the time, so while unfortunate, narrowly missing a couple explosions wasn’t exactly out-of-the-ordinary. Personally, I think a time-traveler was trying to kill Neufeld before he could produce 1998’s LOST IN SPACE reboot. In any case, The Devil seems to have squashed whatever beef he had with THE OMEN’s producer. Neufeld went on to produce the Omen’s sequels among many other movies. He’s currently alive and well and producing EQUALIZER 2.
The Curse Continues…
The reboot of THE OMEN was released on 6.6.06, in keeping with the franchise’s demonic numerical tradition. This time, Pete Postlethwaite, who starred as Father Brennan, was the victim of the Devil’s vengeance. During the filming, Postlethwaite’s brother died, reportedly shortly after drawing the wrong hand in poker.
“The lads down his club told me they’d been playing cards the week before. They were playing open three-card poker and Mike drew three sixes,” Postlethwaite said. And if you can’t trust the “lads down his club” about theological matters, whom can you trust?