Urban Legends

Satan on set – the curse of ‘The Omen’


If you thought the Poltergeist curse was scary, you haven’t heard of the curse of The Omen. The events that surround the classic 1976 horror movie starring Gregory Peck are far more disturbing than anything that happened during the making of the Poltergeist trilogy…

Where does coincidence stop and curse begin? The makers of The Omen, a movie about the unluckiest adoption ever, have no doubt been wondering this since the 70s. The sheer amount of misfortune to have befallen the cast and crew is considerable – and very creepy.

Lightning strikes twice

Gregory Peck plays the father of Damien Thorn, an innocent-looking little boy he adopts after his own child dies. An innocent-looking little boy who turns out to be the Antichrist. Executive producer Mace Neufelds took a plane to the UK for the film shoot. His plane was nearly struck by lightning. Gregory Peck took a different plane. His plane was actually struck by lightning. Screenwriter David Seltzer was on a third plane. His was struck by lightning too.

During the shoot, the crew decided to hire a plane for some aerial filming. The plane they were due to use was chartered by another client at the last minute, and shortly after takeoff, something happened and the plane crashed, killing everyone on board.

Was the Devil stalking the skies?

Mauled to death

The movie features a number of Rottweilers who have been dispatched by Satan to protect his son. In the film, these dogs attack Gregory Peck’s Robert Thorn and David Warner’s Jennings at a cemetery. Disturbingly, these dogs actually attacked stuntman Terry Walsh, standing in for Robert Thorn, while filming. Could it be that these Rottweilers really were servants of the Devil?

It wasn’t just Rottweilers affected by the curse. On the day the production crew filmed the scene at Windsor Safari Park (I went there as a kid – it’s now Legoland Windsor), an animal handler at the park was mauled to death by two lions.

Art imitates life

Unquestionably the most horrific event to have been connected with the curse happened several months after filming. John Richardson was in Holland working on Richard Attenborough’s war epic A Bridge Too Far. Richardson was the special effects expert on The Omen. He masterminded the film’s gruesome deaths, including that of David Warner’s character Jennings. In the film, a sheet of glass flies off the back of a truck and decapitates him.


During filming on A Bridge Too Far, Richardson and his assistant Liz Moore were in a freak car accident. Richardson survived, Moore didn’t. During the crash, a sheet of metal sliced through the chassis and… that’s right… decapitated her.

The story goes that Richardson crawled away from the wreck and saw a sign for a small city in Holland. A city called Ommen. And the sign said Ommen was 66.6km away.

666. The number of the Beast.

Curse or coincidence?

What do we make of all this? The film’s director, Richard Donner, believes it’s all a series of horrible coincidences. To say that a curse or the Devil himself was stalking the cast and crew is just nonsense superstition.

Was Satan actually trying to crash the filmmakers’ planes? Maybe not, when you consider that on average every US commercial aeroplane is struck by lightning more than once a year (sorry, aviophobes). Did the Devil really possess the Rottweilers and those lions? Lions are wild animals. Of course they’ll attack their handlers given half the chance. And it’s feasible that the Rottweilers got nasty because the crew were encouraging them to be nasty for the purposes of filming the scene. Not all dogs are fantastic actors, I’m afraid; some of them take their roles a bit too seriously.

Bob Munger, however – the man who came up with the idea for the movie – does believe in the curse. He warned the crew of possible supernatural repercussions even before production started:

“I warned [them] at the time. I said, ‘If you make this movie, you’re going to have some problems. If the Devil’s greatest single weapon is to be invisible and you’re going to do something which is going to take away his invisibility to millions of people, he’s not going to want that to happen.’”

I suppose it depends on whether or not you’re superstitious, and whether or not you believe in curses. If you do, the events surrounding The Omen are compelling, and what happened to John Richardson is the stuff of nightmares.

And while I’m not sure I believe the slightly far-fetched tale of Richardson seeing the 66.6km sign to Ommen, one particular and disturbing detail about the accident has been confirmed as true.

It took place on August 13th, 1976.

And it was a Friday.

Next week: one that arachnophobes might want to avoid…

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