So the Randomatic 3000 gave me The Omega Man from 1971, and since it is actually the second of three movies based on the same novel I’m throwing in the others for free. Three random reviews for the price of one. Where else would you get that kind of value but JoS. A. Boy?
The Omega Man
AKA The Ωmega Man
Release Date: 1 August 1971 (USA)
According to The Omega Man, in the mid 1970s relations between China and Russia escalated into germ warfare and that pretty much obliterated most of humankind except for US Army Colonel Robert Neville, MD (Charlton Heston) and a few other survivors that we’ll get to in a minute. Neville was part of a Los Angeles based team working on an antidote to the plague. He is on a helicopter bringing a potential antidote for testing when both himself and the pilot are stricken with symptoms. Neville survives the crash and gives himself the untested antidote.
When the movie starts, it’s 1977 (six years into the future) and we can see from old calendars that civilization pretty much ended in 1975. Neville now lives in a fortified penthouse in downtown LA. During the daylight hours he drives around the deserted streets of LA. When his car gets a flat he just goes to the nearest dealer and picks up another one. He entertains himself by pretending to haggle with the salesman, who is sitting at a nearby desk in an advanced stage of decomposition. At home in his apartment he drinks, dresses for dinner, and plays chess with a bust of Ceasar.
Depending on how anti-social you are, this setup would either seem pretty sweet or drive you crazy. It reminded me a little bit of the classic Twilight Zone episode about the guy who survived a nuclear bomb and had all the time to read that he wanted…until that damned Rod Serling showed up, cigarette and ironic twist in hand.
Oh…then there’s the other problem. There’s a group of mutated, albino survivors who come out at night and try to kill him. These aren’t your average zombies, they apparently have some intelligence. Led by Matthias (Anthony Zerbe) they have formed a cult known as The Family who see Neville as the embodiment of evil because he is the Omega man, the last man on Earth, the only remnant of the old culture.
Or is he?
From the outset we can see that the stress or the loneliness is getting to Neville. He hears all the payphones ringing (remember those?) on the street, but nobody’s calling. So one day when he’s out “shopping” he thinks he sees an attractive black woman. When she sees him she runs away and Neville isn’t sure if he really saw her or if he’s ready for what he calls “the laughing academy.”
Are their other non-affected survivors? Is there hope for a return of some kind of civilization, or is the world left only to Matthias and The Family?
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
The Omega Man is the second of Heston’s trilogy of sci-fi classics that started with Planet of the Apes in 1968 and ended with Soylent Green in 1973. TOM is the weakest of the three movies but I think it’s a worthy addition to the zombie genre. How you feel about TOM may depend on whether you like Heston. I’m a fan with reservations.
Now, from 1964, the first adaptation of I Am Legend:
The Last Man on Earth
Country: Italy, USA
8 March 1964 (USA)
19 August 1964 (Italy)
Of all of the adaptations, The Last Man on Earth appears to be the most faithful to the novel (from what the source of all knowledge tells me, I haven’t read the actual book). That’s no doubt because Richard Matheson was one of the screenwriters. He disagreed with some of the changes they made, however, and had his name changed on the final credits. TLMOE was filmed in Italy with no recognizable actors to American audiences except for horror legend Vincent Price in the main role (renamed Robert Morgan in this version).
In TLMOE, Italian locations stand in for an unnamed US city and the starkness of the landscape combine with the black and white photography to make this a particularly bleak movie. Apparently one of the things Matheson didn’t like was the casting of Vincent Price. I will say that at first he seems like he would be too mannered for Neville/Morgan, especially when you compare him to action movie stars Heston and Will Smith, but Price brings a real edge of terror to the part. Where Heston and Smith seem to be occasionally enjoying their plight, Price is teetering on the edge of sanity.
In TLMOE, the source of the plague is never really explained, but it’s airborne and turns it’s victims into vampires. The usual vampire rules apply: They can be discouraged by mirrors and garlic, but they will likely survive a gunshot. The only sure way to kill them is the old wooden stake through the heart. Like the other versions of Morgan/Neville he searches the city and kills the monsters while they sleep, but while Smith and Heston can shoot them dead, Price has to get up close and personal with a stake and a hammer.
Speaking of hammers, for a while the rights to I Am Legend were owned by Hammer Productions. One wonders what kind of marvelous madness might have come from a Hammer Horror version of this story, but alas we’re reviewing this movie instead.
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
Sadly, other than Vincent Price, all the other characters are as bloodless as Vampires/Zombies. Even the ones who are still alive. That may be because they are Italians re-dubbed with American accents and something was lost in the translation. TLMOE did make it’s mark, though. Although the undead here are a different breed from the zombies that followed, George Romero has said that the film and the novel influenced Night of the Living Dead.
I Am Legend
Release Date: 14 December 2007 (USA)
I Am Legend is the third of the adaptations of the Matheson novel and the only one to use the title, even though it’s really more of an Omega Man remake. Neville is played quite well by Will Smith once again using the acting chops that he demonstrated in Ali. He’s still a research doctor for the US Army, but for some reason he’s been busted down to Lieutenant Colonel.
One good decision is this time they placed the action in New York City, and the special effects showing the great decaying urban landscape are very nicely done. As Neville cruises around the city during the daytime you can still see Broadway marquees for Wicked, The Producers, and Legally Blonde. There’s even a billboard for Batman Vs. Superman, which is scheduled to come out even further in the future…like 2016.
This time the virus is the unfortunate mutation of a “cure for cancer” that got out of control in 2009 and either killed everybody on Earth or turned them into creatures that are called “Darkseekers” and the original screenplay called Hemocytes. Whatever you call them these things are bad ass, they make the creatures in the previous versions look like escapees from a Noël Coward play. Once they find out where Neville lives they aren’t warded off by mirrors, they crash in and cause all kinds of shit. They also appear to still have some intelligence. After Neville traps and catches one of them for a human trial, the Darkseekers then spring a similar trap on him.
As in the other versions, Neville has found a potential cure. But will he live long enough to save what’s left of the world? Stay tuned to this bat-channel.
Three of you will get that reference. I would love it if all three of you would leave a comment.
Did you know that you can leave comments on this blog? You totally can. And I’m nice, I really am. Even if you don’t agree with me. C’mon, folks, it’s lonely out in the blogosphere.
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
For my money I Am Legend is the best of these movies. I would have liked an explanation of why Neville is immune to the virus in this version. I would also have liked to see more of Emma Thompson as the creator of the cancer cure that became the Krippen Virus. Maybe even a quick scene of her as a Darkseeker version of her former self…but that’s just the frustrated screenwriter in me rewriting the movie.
But seriously what’s up with the black dude being a lower rank than Heston? Why they wanna treat a brother like that?
Closing Love Theme
A MISPLACED BOY WILL RETURN