The Ωmega Man is a 1971 American science-fiction horror feature film directed by Boris Sagal, whose many TV credits include directing episodes of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The movie stars and starring Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash and Paul Koslo. It was written by John William Corrington and Joyce Corrington, based on the 1954 novel I Am Legend by the American writer Richard Matheson.
The Ωmega Man is the second adaptation of Matheson’s novel, the first being The Last Man on Earth (1964) which starred Vincent Price. A third adaptation, I Am Legend starring Will Smith, was released in 2007. The same year, The Asylum also released a low-budget straight-to-DVD version, I Am Omega, featuring Mark Dacascos.
The film differs from the novel (and the previous film) in several ways. In the novel the cause of the demise of humanity is a plague spread by bacteria, turning the population into vampire-like creatures, whereas in this film version biological warfare is the cause of the plague which kills most of the population and turns most of the rest into nocturnal albino-mutants. Screenwriter Joyce Corrington holds a doctorate in chemistry and felt that this was more suitable for an adaptation.
In March 1975, biological warfare between China and the Soviet Union kills most of the world’s population. U.S. Army Col. Robert Neville, M.D. (Charlton Heston), a scientist based in Los Angeles, begins to succumb to the ensuing plague but manages to inject himself with an experimental vaccine just in time, rendering himself immune.
Meanwhile, the plague’s surviving victims, join together as “The Family,” a cult of crazed nocturnal albino mutants who seek to destroy all technology due to science being the instrument of humanity’s downfall.
Two years later in August 1977, Neville believes he is the plague’s only survivor. Struggling to maintain his sanity, he spends his days patrolling the deserted city, hunting and destroying members of the Family.
At night, living atop a fortified apartment building equipped with an arsenal of weaponry, he is a prisoner in his own home. The Family wants to kill him, believing him to be a last remnant of the old culture.
One day, as Neville is in a department store helping himself to new clothing, he spots a woman who quickly runs away. He chases her into an overgrown park, but later decides he is seeing things and dismisses the sighting…
Science fiction depicting the Robinson-Crusoe-in-the-ruins adventures of a lone survivor of a third World War, The Ωmega Man happens a post-apocalypse “future” year of 1977. Characters and fashions are (rather amusingly) stuck in the early ’70s period in which the film was made. But it still has punch.
Here a missile battle between two bitter communist enemies, the USSR and China, tainted the planet with man-made plague bacteria. Billions of people were wiped out instantly by the bioweapon, and the rest slowly turn into semi-psychotic albino mutants (still susceptible to the plague). The one survivor undiseased is hard-charging Robert Neville (Charlton Heston), a former army doctor who had to the luck to inject himself with an experimental vaccine (right after somehow surviving a fireball of a high-altitude helicopter crash).
In cool early scenes, Neville treats the deserted shell of a modern American city like his own personal playground, driving new cars whenever he feels like it and cranking up a movie-house projector to watch films alone (the filmmakers sure didn’t predict home-video!).
But after dark, it’s serious business. The mutated, light-fearing albino survivors, under a charismatic former media pundit now a leader called Matthias (Anthony Zerbe), have a quasi-religious mission to destroy all technology, and for them, Neville represents the arrogant civilization that brought on this calamity. They attack his fortified home each night, while he defends with guns and firebombs.
There’s a certain (slightly campy) resemblance between the grotesque Matthias and long-haired hippie cult leaders – think Charles Manson especially – who were big in tabloid headlines at the time, though it’s not hard with a little imagination, to equate these black-robed, monk-like marauders with the Islamic Taliban fanatics or any throwbacks who reject the modern world.
When Neville experiments with his own blood as a cure for some relatively unaffected survivors who turn up, the movie edges toward an obvious Christ metaphor for the hero. And we all know how that story ended.
As played by rugged icon Heston, though, Robert Neville is a macho man who doesn’t hesitate from fights and dives eagerly into a love affair with a fetching female survivor. She’s played by a black actress, Rosalind Cash, which was very progressive for the day (while his image is now tragically associated with wild-eyed pro-gun fanaticism, Charlton Heston’s film work often leaned to the politically progressive side, deal with it – hey, those post-Armageddon albino freaks aren’t going to shoot themselves!). This race-blending bit does bring in some of the contempo “blaxploitation” movie baggage that anchors the movie to its time period – the big hair, loud polyester and attitudes of the “Foxy Cleopatra” character from the Austin Powers series.
Yet, even though some viewers consider elements to be laughable, the scale, scope and sobriety of the dead city still impress and there’s enough about The Ωmega Man to make it a compelling vision of what happens after the world ends.
Viewers can also jam on a Ron Grainer soundtrack that has cameos of the keyboard-attached-to-a-bank-of-oscillators (I do believe that’s what it is) tones that distinguished his iconic Doctor Who theme.
Charles Cassady Jr. – MOVIES & MANIA
“The Omega Man also thrives as a good old fashioned action film. There’s an exhilarating motorcycle escape in a football-stadium, scored heroically — again— by Granier, and culminating in a slow-motion jump. It’s sort of refreshing and eye-opening how basic and well-staged it is, with no digital effects or CGI backgrounds or herky-jerky camera work and editing. To quote Neville, “they don’t make pictures like this anymore.” John Kenneth Muir
“The Omega Man is fairly entertaining, if only in a kitschy ’70s sort of way. It’s not nearly as horrific as it should be, considering the book (I Am Legend) had the hero fending off vampires. Although granted, seeing a 50-ish Charlton Heston shirtless could give anyone nightmares.” Blaxploitation Pride
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“While it remains a pacy, suspenseful and endlessly watchable sci-fi adventure, The Omega Man has some definite flaws. While Zerbe is a great foil for Heston, I would have preferred the mutants be more frightening in design and execution. As it stands, they’re basically just random people in white pancake make-up, sporting freaky contacts and bad skin blemishes.” The Stalking Moon
“There will always be a modicum of entertainment value to be had in watching Heston begin chased by blaxploitation mutants, and the few thematic threads leftover from Matheson’s original story still possess some intrigue. The Omega Man also boasts some decent production values for the time, with many of the sets and costumes still impressive. None of this is enough to elevate the film anywhere above the level of guilty pleasure…” High-Def Digest
Cast and characters:
Charlton Heston … Neville
Anthony Zerbe … Matthias
Rosalind Cash … Lisa
Paul Koslo … Dutch
Eric Laneuville … Richie
Lincoln Kilpatrick … Zachary
Jill Giraldi … Little Girl
Anna Aries … Woman in Cemetery Crypt (scenes deleted)
Brian Tochi … Tommy
DeVeren Bookwalter … Family Member (as De Veren Bookwalter)
John Dierkes … Family Member
Monika Henreid … Family Member
Linda Redfearn … Family Member
Forrest Wood … Family Member
Steve Goldstein … Last Boy (uncredited)
Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1
MOVIES and MANIA rating: