We could philosophize until we were blue in the face on the merits of 28 Days Later – great zombie flick, interesting, creative. Make no doubt, Danny Boyle’s unique take on the zombie genre would never have seen the light of day if not for the terrific 1971 drive-in classic The Omega Man.
Director Boris Sagal’s horror/sci-fi thriller is such a cool film, most viewers will look past it’s unintentionally humorous faults. Ironically, it’s these very faults that make it such a great midnight flick. Who among us can forget the cheesy score, an organ orgy just dying for Noel Harrison to sing the opening lyrics of “The Windmills of your Mind?” You also have a macho Charlton Heston slinking around in Paul Revere and the Raider outfits that would make Studio 54 bouncers mighty proud. The blue jump suit and tennis shoes he wears late in the film is just cool daddy hip. And finally the enjoyably hammy Anthony Zerbe as the villain Mathias, preaching the power-of-negative-thinking while stumbling around in black robe and sunglasses. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Based on Richard Matheson’s fine novel I Am Legend, humans are destroyed by a virus leaving our nation’s cities desolate and abandoned. Ol’ Chuck is immune, and the film begins with a memorable sequence as he drives through the streets of Los Angeles listening to groovy music on his hip 8-track tape player.
At night, he must protect himself from a tribe of zombie/vampires whose only purpose in life seem to be trying to kill Chuck. These determined plunderers go about their nightly rituals carrying torches while stammering around as if they just left the pub after Happy Hour. Yes, these truculent ghouls are led by the preachy sermons of Mathias, a sort of nightmare combo of Oral Roberts and Dennis Hopper. With all this irritating howling going on, Chuck still finds time to talk to his buddy – a ceramic bust of Caesar.
Our lonely guy soon discovers a tribe of other immune survivors, including the lovely Rosalind Cash. She’s a sexy independent babe adorned in bell bottoms that would put Pam Grier to shame. Hunky Heston has an affair with Rosalind in his fortified penthouse, and suddenly you have one of the earliest examples of a bi-racial romance ever seen on film. The beauty of The Omega Man is this surprising development is never mentioned – it just is baby.
In many ways the grandfather of all Goth films, The Omega Man’s hip style is also a definite precursor to Escape From New York, The Crow and Blade. You have a Messiah-like figure in a futuristic nightmare world battling vampire creatures with machine guns. Let’s not forget the great scene where Chuck and Rosalind escape on a motorcycle with what must be the theme from Superfly playing in the background.
Perhaps I jest just a bit, but The Omega Man in my book is indeed a funky cult classic. Probably the least known of Heston’s sci-fi films from this era (Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes), The Omega Man is a hip discovery for audiences thirsting for the bizarre.