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Fulfilling The Prophecy 20 years Later

by Mark Burger

In addition to being Winston- Salem’s only art-house theater, a/perture cinema has also been catering to the cult crowd with its “n/ight shift” series of latenight screenings including Troll 2 (1990), Gremlins (1984) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) since its debut last October.

This weekend, a/perture turns the clock back two decades for the supernatural thriller The Prophecy (1995), starring Christopher Walken in memorable role as the angel Gabriel, fallen from grace and bent on starting a holy war on Earth. Biblical references, black comedy and chills abound in one of the most original, textured chillers of its day.

A special guest at the screenings will be filmmaker Richard Clabaugh, The Prophecy’s cinematographer and a former faculty member at the UNCSA School of Filmmaking in Winston-Salem. (Truth in disclosure: While interviewing Desai about a/perture’s recent expansion, we discussed n/ight shift and I mentioned that Clabaugh, who’s a friend, shot The Prophecy – undoubtedly a cult movie. The next thing I knew, I got an e- mail announcing its inclusion in the series.)

“The mission of an art-house cinema should of course be to play the finest in current indie, art, foreign, documentary, etc. films,” says a/perture curator Lawren Desai, “but art-houses should also when possible be a home for repertory films and host unique series’ of films. N/ight shift is our first stab at a full-blown series of this nature and it’s really starting to gain traction. The cult mavens are out there and we are gradually getting them to join us Friday and Saturday.”

Clabaugh, a veteran cameraman and cinematographer (Phantoms, No Way Back, Deep Core, two Children of the Corn sequels) who has also directed three features (Python, Little Chicago and Eyeborgs, the latter filmed in Winston-Salem), very much considers The Prophecy a career highlight.

Originally, Clabaugh was hired as secondunit cinematographer and Bruce Douglas Johnson as first-unit cinematographer. Screenwriter Gregory Widen was making his directorial debut with what was then called God’s Army. “Bruce and I worked wonderfully, beautifully together,” Clabaugh recalls.

During location filming in Arizona, however, the film fell behind schedule. “Sometimes when you fall behind, the DP (director of photography) is blamed, whether rightly or wrongly.”

Clabaugh was assured that whether or not he accepted the first-unit position, a change would be made. “Bruce did not hold it against me,” he says, and they maintained a dialogue after Johnson’s departure, with both receiving credit as “director of photography.”

Before moving the unit to California, Clabaugh was called upon to make up the lost time in Arizona by essentially shooting 10 days’ worth of footage in five days – “and I did it,” he says with pride.

Asked about Christopher Walken, Clabaugh pauses thoughtfully. “He is exactly what you think he is,” he states. “He is talented. He is brilliant. He is unusual. Extraordinarily interesting to work with.”

Another interesting element was the location of abandoned Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles, which was reputed to be haunted.

“Oh, absolutely,” Clabaugh confirms, noting that security guards wouldn’t bother checking motion-detector alarms on one floor because they went off all the time – but only that floor. The elevator also had a strange tendency to stop on that floor, and one crew member observed a swivel chair revolving slowly in the middle of the hallway when the doors opened.

Evidently the star himself checked out the mysterious floor, “and the joke among the crew was that Christopher Walken would have scared any ghosts off!” For the small but pivotal role of Lucifer, a name actor dropped out at the last minute, necessitating a scramble to find someone who could bring something special to the role. Clabaugh had recently shot the lowbudget thriller American Yakuza (1994), starring a young Viggo Mortensen, and offered his name up. Lucifer was thus cast. “He had a ton of stuff to do, and he came up with a lot of fun stuff on his own.”

Clabaugh waves off any notion he helped “launch” Mortensen’s career, although he’s taken great pleasure watching his ascent to stardom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, A History of Violence (2005) and his Oscarnominated turn in Eastern Promises (2007).

“Viggo never wanted to be a star, he wanted to be an actor,” Clabaugh observes. “Viggo was really consummate in everything he did.”

The film was completed in late 1993 and opened in some territories (including Japan) in 1994. In the US, theatrical rights were snapped up by Dimension/Miramax, which changed the title from God’s Army to The Prophecy and insisted that additional footage be shot to fashion a more spectacular climax.

All told, Clabaugh says, The Prophecy “was the best movie I’ve ever been connected to with regard to how successfully it was critically and financially received.”

Indeed, so successful that Dimension/ Miramax produced four sequels, all going straight to home-video. Clabaugh shot The Prophecy 2 (1998) and did some pick-up work on The Prophecy 3: The Ascent (2000), but the magic wasn’t there. By the time of the last two, in-name-only sequels (without Walken), Clabaugh was ensconced in Winston-Salem.

Watching the film recently, “things that bothered me 20 years ago didn’t bother me so much,” he smiles. “We had Christopher Walken, Amanda Plummer, Elias Koteas, Virginia Madsen, Adam Goldberg and Viggo Mortensen – it’s the best cast I ever worked with. It was a really good script and everybody brought something extra to it. It’s a film I’m very proud of.” !

WANNA go?

The Prophecy will be screened at a/perture cinema, 311 W. Fourth St., Winston-Salem. Showtimes are 10:30 pm Friday and Saturday, and 9:00 pm Sunday. Tickets are $7. For advance tickets or more information, call 336.722.8148 or visit aperturecinema.com.

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