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The Omega Man – a drive-in classic

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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.

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About Chris Wilson

  • I still need to see this funky flick you speak of. Your enthusiasm for it’s wonderments has won me over. Really wanna see Soylent Green also, what with The Duke being a fan of the whole ARRRGGHHH It’s The Dog-gone Apocalypse genre. Been debating wether or not to get the 2-disc version of The Stand also. Can’t remember if it was any good or not (Although i do recall Randall Flagg being tres cool, what with the horns and the red eyes and the satanics) Good stuff Chris

  • Chris Kent

    Thanks Duke,

    I like most of the late 60s early 70s sci-fi class to include Westworld, Demon Seed, Logan’s Run and the already mentioned Chuck Heston estravaganzas…..I think you’ll like The Omega Man if taken with a grain of salt and a shot of whiskey.

    The Stand had its moments, though remember a low-budget quality tainting it somewhat. But I really haven’t seen it since watching it on TV when it first premiered….I imagine it plays better without commercial interruptions promoting Pepto Bismol….

    Soylent Green is enjoyable, though not on the same level as The Omega Man in my opinion….

  • Yes, that’s also what blights my memory of The Stand…the horrid production values. Still, it had more going for it in that depatment than, say, Stephen King’s This Is What Kubrick Should Have Done AKA The Shining – The Mini-Series What Is Really Much Better, Honest. As for watching the epic mentioned in the article, i must refrain from the whiskey, on account of the old Alcoholism, but i will certianly grab a pinch or two of salt

  • Chris Kent

    El Senor Duke,

    I saw Kubrick’s The Shining the day it was released, having read King’s book several months before. I was severely disappointed. Today, I see The Shining as a true Kubrick film, in many ways a creepy masterpiece. It is extraordinary filmmaking. I can see why King was unhapy with the final product, though Kubrick’s film, which did mediocre business at the box office, has withstood the test of time. I saw King’s TV miniseries and understood for the first time just how fine a film Kubrick’s work was.

    The Jack Torrence character must be played by an intense actor a la Jack Nicholson. I can’t remember the name of the actor in the TV miniseries, but he made Tom Selleck look like Robert De Niro…..