When I was a lad of 13, back in the Stone Age, I saw THE OMEGA MAN on the big screen during it’s first run. I remember thinking it was real cool, with Charlton Heston mowing down a bunch of mutant bad guys with his sub-machine gun, some funny one-liners, and a few semi-naked scenes with Rosalind Cash. What more could an adolescent kid ask for in a movie? Now that I’m (ahem!) slightly older, I recently re-watched the film, wondering just how well, if at all, it would hold up.
I’m happy to report THE OMEGA MAN, despite some flaws in logic, stands the test of time as a post-apocalyptic sci-fi action/adventure, with a touch of Gothic horror thrown in. The film is the second of three based on Richard Matheson’s novel I AM LEGEND, the first written by Matheson himself (under the pseudonym Logan Swanson) as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, a 1964 Italian production starring Vincent Price. The third and most recent was titled I AM LEGEND (2007) starring Will Smith. Each version brings it’s own unique take on the basic story; I’ve seen all three, and enjoyed them equally, disproving the theory held by some critics that all remakes are automatically bad.
Charlton Heston was in his sci-fi heyday at this point in his career. He’d starred in the mega-hit PLANET OF THE APES and iys sequel, and soon would headline SOYLENT GREEN. Heston was big box-office, and his presence in these films gave them more prestige than other genre entries of the era. Chuck makes a good protagonist, ex-Army immunologist Robert Neville, whether cruising down the deserted streets of LA listening to a smooth jazz version of “Theme from A Summer Place” on his 8-track, sitting in an empty theater watching WOODSTOCK for the umpteenth time, hunting down and battling those aforementioned mutants, or making history by have an interracial love affair with co-star Rosalind Cash, who could’ve very easily filled Pam Grier’s boots in any of her 70’s Blaxploitation flicks.
THE OMEGA MAN was the first time I became aware of actor Anthony Zerbe as Mattias, leader of the mutant cult known as The Family. The biological plague has caused them to become nocturnal, albino-skinned creatures of the night, and Zerbe gives a truly chilling performance. Since then Zerbe’s become one of my favorite character actors, gracing us with his talent in THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN, PAPILLION, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, ROOSTER COGBURN, KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK, THE DEAD ZONE, numerous TV movies and mini-series, and a regular role on David Janssen’s private eye series HARRY O. Zerbe was in both sequels to THE MATRIX and recently in AMERICAN HUSTLE. Other cast members include Lincoln Kilpatrick , Paul Koslo, Eric Laneuville, and Monika Henreid (daughter of Paul) as one of the cult.
Yes, THE OMEGA MAN is an artifact of its time, like any film. It does hold up well though, and is still an entertaining take on Matheson’s story. Actually, you really can’t go wrong with any of the three versions out there, but for a good dose of 70’s apocalyptic action, go with THE OMEGA MAN.