POSTERS: The Omega Man
In this 70s film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend, Charlton Heston plays U.S. Army Col. Robert Neville M.D., a Los Angeles based survivor of global biological warfare that wipes out most living things. Neville resides in a special fortified compound which he must defend from “The Family”, a crazed band of nocturnal albino mutants led by the vengeful Matthias (Anthony Zerbe).
Neville may be alone but he still lives with great panache and love of life. His apartment is filled with all kinds of great artwork, toys and plenty of food and liquor. A favorite hobby is using his special infra-red scope rifle to pick off the members of The Family when they start acting up. During the day Neville travels around the city looking for other survivors and tries to seek out and destroy The Family’s secret hideout. One day on his travels Neville discovers he’s not the only healthy human being in town. A woman named Lisa (Rosalind Cash) appears in a shopping mall but he thinks he’s just hallucinating. She later saves his life when he’s kidnapped by The Family and takes him to meet a group of fellow survivors that live outside the city. Although they haven’t succumb to the plague yet, it’s only a matter of time before they do. In the meantime, Neville tries to come up with a better vaccine based on the one he used for himself. They must also fend of the attacks by The Family who want to wipe out all healthy mankind and technology itself since it caused their altered state.
The first film based on Richard Matheson’s book was The Last Man on Earth (1964) and starred Vincent Price. While the Price film was low budget, very sparse but extremely effective, Boris Sagal was able to make a much bigger, bolder version. There is also the aspect of the late 60s counter-culture/civil rights period injected into the 1971 film which made it more contemporary for audiences. In the opening scenes Neville watches the classic 1969 rockumentary Woodstock at a local theater which gives it a slight element of the hippie movement as well. While that was a neat touch, the most famous detail is the interracial kiss and relationship between Neville and Lisa which was one of the very first to appear in a mainstream film.
A second remake called I Am Legend which starred Will Smith came out in 2007. I thought it was pretty mediocre for its big budget but I’m also not a big Willy fan so that didn’t help. Still, The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man remain two of my favorite post-apocalyptic comfort films. You’d think that stories about a man being all alone and getting chased by vampire-mutants would be more frightening than anything. Maybe it’s the fact Neville basically owns the world he lives in and who wouldn’t want to be able to do that?
This post is dedicated to the memory of Richard Matheson (1926-2013)