Saturday, August 22, 2015

The curse of the Omen

In June 1975, just two months before filming of the movie was due to begin, Gregory Peck’s son had killed himself with a bullet to the head. The actor set off for London in September in a somber mood which wasn’t much soothed when his plane was hit by lightning high above the Atlantic. A few weeks later, executive producer Mace Neufeld also left Los Angeles. You think lightning doesn’t strike twice? It does in this story. “It was the roughest five minutes I’ve ever had on an airliner,” says Neufeld. The curse of The Omen had begun.

There was much more to come. The hotel in which Neufeld and his wife were staying was bombed by the IRA. So, too, was a restaurant where the executives and actors, including Peck, were expected for dinner on November 12.

A plane they had been due to hire for aerial filming was switched to another client at the last minute and crashed on take-off, killing all on board.

A tiger handler helped in the filming of the Omen, informing cast and crew of the correct procedures when handling animals. Two weeks after filming the handler was pulled into the lions enclosure by his head and eaten alive.

Even when filming finished, the curse seemed to follow the actors and technicians to different projects. Richardson we know about, but the story of stuntman Alf Joint is almost as chilling. He too went to work on A Bridge Too Far, but was badly injured and hospitalised when a stunt went wrong. He only had to jump from a roof on to an airbag, an average day’s work for someone like him. But this time, something odd happened. He appeared to fall suddenly and awkwardly. When he woke up in hospital, he told friends he felt like he had been pushed.

The place is Holland, the year 1976, the date August 13 – a Friday, as bad luck would have it. The man is designer John Richardson, currently working on Richard Attenborough’s second world war epic, A Bridge Too Far, but most recently employed as special effects consultant on supernatural chiller The Omen. The woman is Liz Moore, his assistant. In a few moments she’ll be dead, cut in half when the car’s front wheel slices through the chassis and into the passenger seat. Richardson will survive to tell the tale – and quite a story it is too.

Less than a year earlier, he had masterminded the parade of gruesome deaths which had made The Omen a box office smash, among them the decapitation of a photographer played by David Warner. And, like everyone else who had worked on the film – including stars Gregory Peck and Lee Remick – he was well aware of the whispers and rumours which had surrounded its filming. There had been talk of a hex, a curse, a hoodoo.

Did he believe it? Not then, perhaps. But as he came to in the minutes after the crash, he saw something that must have chilled him to the bone: his passenger, dead from injuries which bore an uncanny resemblance to the ones he had prepared for Warner. And a road sign marking the distance to an otherwise insignificant Dutch town. It read: Ommen, 66.6 km.



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