The grand finale of the sprawling, ambitious ten-hour mini-series, ‘The Bible’ is set to be screened in the US this Easter weekend on the ‘History Channel.’ The TV epic has covered key points from both the New and Old Testaments, including the Great Flood, the formation of the Ten Commandments, the battle between David and Goliath, and of course, the life and times of Jesus Christ. Before the first instalment aired, one half of the husband and wife production team responsible for it‘s creation said “weird things” happened on the set during filming. Mark Burnett, a self-proclaimed devout Christian, stated that, “the hand of God was on this….” He talked about:
A mighty desert wind
“There’s a scene with Jesus and Nicodemus, when Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. It’s a very still night, not a breath of wind, and we’re on the edge of the Sahara desert in a palm grove in an oasis… Jesus says, ‘The Holy Spirit is like the wind.’ At that moment, a wind, like as if a 747 was taking off, blew his hair, almost blew the set over and sustained for 20 seconds across the desert, and the actors didn’t break — they kept going. And everything stopped. Everyone just looked at everyone like, ‘What just happened?’”
The missing frock
“We had hundreds of craftsmen working (on making costumes), and the most important costume was Jesus’ costume. Every time, at the end of the day, the costume’s got to be taken away to be maintained. So when we were doing the baptism scenes, it’s completely immersed in water. During it, a portion of the costume came away. We shot this in a giant reservoir on the edge of the Sahara desert, so we’re never going to find this again. It’s really bad. Every time you lose something, you’ve got five months ahead, and you can’t replicate these costumes. Four days later, a kid showed up from many, many, many miles away, who had been seeking us through the desert to return this to us. He didn’t know what it was why he should seek us, but he felt he had to return it.”
Cobras at the cross
“We had a snake wrangler every day on the set. I mean, we’ve got a couple hundred people shooting, and we can’t afford to have people getting bitten by snakes. Every day, this guy would find a snake or maybe two snakes, and remove them. On the day of the crucifixion, a lot of people prayed. The cross was a huge thing. They prayed (for safety), ‘Imagine if this cross fell. The actor playing Jesus could be killed or badly injured.’ The snake man came to work that day – he’d gotten there early on the mountain playing Golgotha, and the bag of snakes (he was carrying) was the biggest bag I’d ever seen. He came to my wife and said, ‘Miss Roma, there were 48 snakes.’ He found 48 cobras and vipers hidden within the rocks around the cross.”
All of this reminds ‘Conspiro Media’ of a TV documentary that aired on the UK’s ‘Channel 4’ back in 2005 about strange goings-on of a less ‘miraculous’ but more ‘demonic’ nature which were said to have occurred during the filming of a big-screen adaptation of another Biblical figure.
1976 Horror movie, ‘The Omen’ tells the story of Robert Thorn (played by Gregory Peck) a US Ambassador to Great Britain who begins to realise that his adopted infant son, Damien, is the Antichrist after investigating the circumstances behind the gruesome deaths of a priest and a nanny.
The Channel 4 documentary, ’The Curse of The Omen’ catalogued a series of real-life horrific deaths and near-fatal incidents that took place during the making of the film as well as directly before and after it, but because it’s never been re-screened since it‘s first airing eight years ago and isn‘t even widely available online, ‘Conspiro Media’ has had to resort to memory and a number of websites and old internet forum postings in order to catalogue some of these events here.
Based on an analysis of others’ recollections and a brief (if somewhat crudely edited) 12-minute-plus excerpt of the documentary on ’You Tube’ (and available for viewing in the ‘Reference Links’ section below), this is what was gathered:
A Push Too Far?
A year after filming ended, Alf Joint, an experienced stunt-man who’d doubled-up as Robert Thorn’s wife, Katherine (played by Lee Remick), was almost killed during the making of the war-movie, ‘A Bridge Too Far’ after he jumped off the roof of a building and missed the large inflatable safety-bags that were positioned to cushion his fall. He’d performed a similar feat for ‘The Omen’ for the scene when Remick’s character is seen plummeting from a hospital bedroom window to her death. Strangest of all, according to the Channel 4 documentary, is the suggestion that some unknown ’force’ had brought about his disastrous descent on the set of the WWII film. An associate of Joint’s who was present when the incident occurred says, “right in the middle of the take when we were doing it, he sort of fell off rather strangely and awkwardly. He said, he felt as though he was pushed. But there was nobody near him at the time, he was completely up there on his own.”
Like nanny, like son
The brief ‘You Tube’ excerpt of the Channel 4 documentary also makes note of “the violent suicide scene” that “echoed the tragic death of Gregory Peck’s son.” One can only assume (based on the limited info available) that this is a reference to the moment in the movie when young Damien Thorn’s nanny hangs herself by jumping off a window-ledge.
Peck’s son, Jonathan, did indeed suffer a similar fate (of sorts). In June 1975, just two months before filming of ‘The Omen’ began, the television news-reporter killed himself with a bullett to the head.
Death at the zoo
The short ‘You Tube’ clip skims over the story of an animal-handler who was apparently pulled into a lions’ enclosure at a zoo and eaten alive shortly after advising the cast and crew how to go about filming the scene in the movie where Damien is attacked by baboons whilst being driven through a safari park.
Perhaps the most compelling information in the ‘You Tube’ clip centres around John Richardson, the man who designed the special effects for the goriest scene in the entire movie. For further details, ‘Conspiro Media’ had to look to an old news-item said to have been taken from the website, ‘The Daily Herald’ which claims he was involved in a real-life blood-curdling event that was chillingly familiar to the segment in the film he helped create where the character of photographer, Keith Jennings has his head decapitated by a sheet of glass. On August 13th 1976 (which just so happened to fall on a Friday), the respected visual-effects man and his assistant, Liz Moore, were involved in a car crash in Holland. She was cut in half when the vehicle’s front wheel sliced through the chassis and into the passenger seat. The fatal tragedy was underlined, according to the ‘Daily Herald’ article, by a road-sign that Richardson noticed after regaining consciousness moments after the smash that marked “the distance to an otherwise insignificant Dutch town. It read: Ommen, 66.6 km.”
Some of the above incidents were retold in a six-minute featurette enclosed within the collectors’ edition of the DVD release of ’The Omen’ titled ’Curse or Coincidence.’ Key crew members involved in the movie, including director, Richard Donner, contributed to it and appeared to offer slightly differing accounts to what was apparently broadcast in the Channel 4 documentary. They also pointed to a number of other unsettling events that occurred during shooting. The executive producer, Mace Neufeld for example recalls the night he narrowly missed being killed by the IRA after a restaurant he’d made a reservation for was bombed as he was making his way there. Donner, meanwhile, claims that the movie’s writer, David Seltzer and Gregory Peck boarded planes within three days of each other that were both hit by lightning. He also talks about an aircraft that the makers of the film borrowed which crashed into a car killing all of the occupants inside including, as it turns out, the pilot‘s wife and their two children.
In the featurette, Donner rejects the idea of a curse, branding the terrifying sequence of events connected to ’The Omen’ as nothing more than coincidence. He also admits capitalising on the tragedies in order to achieve maximum media exposure for the movie at the time of it’s 1976 release. Suspicions that ‘The Bible’ producer, Mark Burnett is also engineering a similar publicity drive are rife, as are questions surrounding the validity of his “hand of God” claims. Incidentally, he and his wife, Roma Downey, have gone on the record to openly deny accusations that the actor chosen to take on the role of Satan in their mini-series was picked for his uncanny resemblance to Barack Obama. In a joint statement they declared, “this is utter nonsense… The actor who played Satan, Mehdi Ouzaani, is a highly acclaimed Moroccan actor. He has previously played parts in several Biblical epics – including Satanic characters long before Barack Obama was elected as our President.” Downey added, “both Mark and I have nothing but respect and love our President, who is a fellow Christian. False statements such as these are just designed as a foolish distraction to try and discredit the beauty of the story of ‘The Bible.’”
The tragedies that overshadowed the making of ‘The Omen,’ and which were highlighted in the Channel 4 documentary, certainly deserve further inspection for any details that might shed more light on the claims of a ‘curse,’ which is why it’s a pity this small-screen gem has never been aired since it’s original broadcast.
If you recall this TV programme, then please do feel free to share your memories of it in our ‘Reply‘ section below. Perhaps you own a recording of it (on video-cassette maybe – remember those)? Do get in touch if you do. ’Conspiro Media’ would greatly appreciate your input.
** ATTENTION… This article has since been revised and updated. Find out more here: