By Steve Newton
The Omen was a great horror flick. You remember it, right? It starred Gregory Peck as am ambitious American diplomat on the way up with a young son named Damien who was the devil’s spawn.
That 1976 movie was jam-packed with shocking scenes: the rottweiler attack in the graveyard, the nanny hanging herself from a high window, the priest skewered by a falling spear, David Warner decapitated by a sheet of glass.
Three sequels later they shot a TV movie in Vancouver called Omen IV: The Awakening, which more likely put people to sleep when it hit the tube in 1991.
I covered it as the local correspondent for New York-based horror mag Fangoria, so here’s a heavily condensed version of my set-visit piece for all you Omen freaks out there.
Vancouver’s scenic Stanley Park has not been a particularly comforting place of late. Last year, the tourist attraction’s lush green parks and child-filled picnic areas became the stomping ground for Pennywise, the kid-killing clown from the ABC-TV miniseries It. Now the winding bike routes and woody trails are the slayground for a pint-sized Antichrist in the upcoming FOX TV movie, Omen IV: The Awakening.
Next thing you know there’ll be werewolves in the petting zoo.
In the center of the park’s Prospect Point picnic ground, a medieval-style psychic fair has been constructed; a dozen booths are set up in a circle, sporting such handpainted signs as “Tarot”, “Zodiac”, and “Wizards”. But all the handiwork will soon be for naught, because the evil force in Omen IV doesn’t much cotton to amateurs dabbling in the occult, and huge propane tanks set off the side of the booths don’t bode well for the future of the wooden structure. It’s almost time for a Satanic barbecue, if you get the idea.
There’s nary a cloud in the mid-January sky when Fango makes its first visit to the set of the new Omen project. While numerous folks wearing crew jackets from such locally made productions as21 Jump Street and Danger Bay buzz around, preparing for the big burn-up, your trusty corrrespondent mingles with the mystically-attired extras and checks out the props lying around. Near one of the equipment trucks, a couple of authentic-looking styrofoam tombstones have been set aside. “Sarah A. Jamieson, 1957-1982” reads one; the other, “Martha I. Anders, 1958-1983.” Hmm… looks like the life expectancy for Omen IV characters could be higher.
After being bounced from the assistant director to the unit publicist, this writer finds himself shaking the hefty hand of producer Harvey Bernhard, the man behind all the Omens, and after retreating to his nearby trailer for a bit of Q&A, Bernhard explains the decision to go for a North American TV release rather than theatrical.
“The reason that the Fox Network wanted it is that some sequels–like Exorcist II–didn’t do well,” he clarifies. “And a couple of others didn’t either.” (Here Bernhard shrugs, perhaps in regard to the disappointing dividends of his own Omen spinoffs.) “But depending on the quality of the film, it still has a chance to go theatrical domestically. It’s definitely going theatrical foreign–it’s been sold foreign for a lotta money.”
“There’s a frightening thing I’ve got to show you,” he says, going off to rummage in one of his trailer’s compartments. He comes back with a photo montage of five Polaroids taped together, spanning the area between downtown Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral and a nearby office building. His burly finger points to the back of the church. “We were gonna have the death of a priest occur as he’s coming out of that door, but I had a very bad feelig just driving by the location–I didn’t want to shoot the death here.
“So on the night that we shot a baptism inside the church,” he continues, “I walked out this door, and took a look in this direction, and whaddya think I saw?” His finger tracks over to the front of the office building, where the address is clearly visible in big characters: 666 Burrard. “What do you think the odds of that are, huh? There it is in living colour. Now that’s frightening. I would definitely not go in there.”
As we step down from Bernhard’s trailer and head over to where they’re putting the final preparatory touches on the pyrotechnics, the suspicion arises that the producer’s pulling a fast one. Might he have chosen that particular church in hopes of attaining some “Ooh, that’s too freaky!” press? If a stuntman pulled a hangnail during filming, would the devil be to blame? Those thoughts quickly dwindle in anticipation of the impending shoot. It’s a great day for a burning, and the excitement builds to see just what kind of firestorm this year’s Antichrist can whip up.
Just prior to the big moment, a stream of about 40 screaming extras are stampeded out from the entrance to the psychic fair, and licking flames appear at the rear of the set, followed by two fiery bursts that would warm the heart of any pyromaniac. The obligatory stuntman-in-flames comes racing out last, into the waiting extinguishers. Five minutes later, the fair’s a flat, smoking ruin. Hope no stragglers got left in there.
Fango‘s second Omen IV set visit takes place at a huge mansion in the posh Shaughnessy area of Vancouver. In the film, this is the unhumble abode of Gene and Karen York (Michael Woods and Faye Grant) and their adopted daughter (Damien’s real one) Delia, played by eight-year-old Asia Vieira. Gene York is a promising politician with his eye on the U.S. presidency and election signs planted around the house feature a starchy head-and-shoulders shot of Woods and the message “Re-elect York”. Some smart-ass crew member has replaced the Y with a D on one of the signs, offering a good chuckle.
Meanwhile, in his trailer, director Jorge Montesi–who was brought in to take over from Dominique Othenin-Girard partway through–offers a quick rundown of the shoot so far. He maintains that the big fire sequence of a few days back was a challenge to capture on film.
“You’re so limited in what you can do with that sort of thing because of the safety of the people,” he explains. You’re only allowed to put cameras in a certain position, and after you’ve set them up there’s not much you can do. Once the fire’s going it’s going, and you don’t have any control over that.
“But the most difficult things to deal with in this film are the dogs,” he adds, referring to the hell-sent Rottweiler that does Delia’s bidding. “That’s the tricky part, to get the dogs to act. The grownups are wonderful, but there you go–it’s the combination you always hate to have: children and animals. And we have two dogs playing one, so that’s a bit of a pain.”
The grownup actors may be terrific, as Montesi claims, but on the day that Fango visits, neither Woods nor Grant want to give up any of their precious time for an interview. But the youngster, Asia Vieira, is more than happy to, and after leading me through a whirlwind tour of the mansion’s endless rooms, she offers a quick rundown of her onscreen exploits.
“I have to give little half-smiles,” she says, “kind of evil smiles. And I’m usually playing the little sweetie-pie, so it’s a lot different. I have a dog called Rider, who’s supposed to be my guardian. I find him when I’m three years old, but I don’t do that part–it’s another kid. And if there’s someone I don’t like, then… well, they just did a scene today where he pushed someone out of the window because I didn’t really like her.
“So he did it for me,” she giggles.
He’s a good doggie, then.
“Uh-huh,” she says, and then flashes one of those evil little half-smiles.