Monday, September 27, 2010

Reader Recommendation: The Omega Man

In my heart, I really wanted to lobby for The Omega Man, it introduced me to post apocalyptic movies, and is simultaneously scary, campy and endlessly entertaining. I saw it four times when it was released theatrically and it never fails to thrill me.”--Shiftless
It's a must see, but it's so ridiculous. Heston is classic macho stereotype. And the bad guys? Apparently being mutated means being covered in white makeup and talc powder. After you watch it, you'll understand why many people saw I Am Legend and said "What the fuck....?". Because the whole point of the story is that these bad guys are still recognizably human. That the mutants consciously decide to rid themselves of this "normal" reminder of what they once were.” Ghoul Friday

Yes folks, despite my unadulterated affection for plague-ridden universes, cult card carrying mutants, and the 1970s, I had never seen 1971’s The Omega Man. Perhaps part of it stems from my iffy relationship with Charlton Heston, a justifiably celebrated actor whose political hypocrisy always irked me (how does one devote such energy to unbridled support for the second amendment following a mini-crusade against the first during his 1992 protest of Cop Killer?). Still, Instant Watch, above listed recommendations, and the fact that I’m a sucker for a good old fashioned post apocalypse led me here.

Quick Plot: Heston plays Col. Robert Neville, a military scientist surviving a lonely existence in an almost empty Los Angeles. Two years earlier, germ warfare was waged between nations, leaving most of the world’s population dead within a few minutes of catching the airborne plague. Some survived, their bodies processing the sickness by turning into albino-ish creatures of the night, their pale skin flaking while they became something of a hive mind with an aversion to technology and a love for sparkly graduation robes. “The Family,” as they now call themselves, are ruled by the menacingly named Matthias (Anthony Zerbe in a role that today would perfectly be played by John Lithgow) who would happily rule the land were it not for the thorn in his side that skips around town with a Smith & Wesson and superb aim.

It takes a certain type of actor to pull off one-man-shows onscreen. Sam Rockwell rocked solitude in Moon, Tom Hanks was likably endangered in Castaway, and the most recent I Am Legend adaptation was fantastic until Will Smith was joined by downer humans and CGI beasties. In The Omega Man, Heston is Heston, and it works quite well. He drinks like Don Draper and wears his shirt for less screen time than Fear of Clowns  Shivers or even, dare I say it, Twilight ’s Jacob. He sweats, growls, and laughs through teeth that last tasted the rarest of juicy steaks. With a less naturally interesting lead, the film would simply not work.

Eventually, Robert learns that his whole last-man-on-earth schtick is false. Hiding in the hills is a meager band of surprisingly clean survivors, headed by a leather jacket/no shirt biker med student and a foxy fashionista (by ‘70s standards) named Lisa (From a Whisper to a Scream’s Rosalind Cash). With renewed passion to cultivate a cure, Robert, Lisa, and her recently infected little brother chill out in his city penthouse while The Family gets more active in their quest to eliminate all the “users of the wheel” for good.

This is a fun, flawed, and at times, fascinating little movie that somehow works both as a slightly cheesy cult relic and a genuinely effective film. The idea behind The Family almost deserves its own film, as their unbridled uniformity in a time just a few years after civil rights legislation is a story in itself. Meanwhile, Heston swaggers with hairy confidence and he and Cash share an easy chemistry that feels believably sexy, even if their newfound irresponsibility is distractingly dumb (remember dear, just ‘cause you’re in love doesn’t mean the sun won’t go down).
High Points
Can we give a round of sharply gloved applause to whomever was responsible for the costuming of this film? Between Heston’s green velvet ruffled suit and slightly Seinfeldian pirate shirt, Dutch’s leather jacket with a giant middle finger patch, and Lisa’s blindingly bright orange fiesta dress, I almost wanted to head to the nearest mall

Low Points
I wasn’t expecting The Omega Man to be even the slightest bit subtle, but the blatant crucifixion image in the final shot is a bit much
Lessons Learned
If you’re Charlton Heston, one gun shot is (not surprisingly) the equivalent of six
It’s harder to blend in with mannequins than cartoons might have you think

Some accessories, such as seemingly accident prone hoop earrings and dunce caps, simply never go out of style
A must-see for any genre fan, The Omega Man is currently streaming on Netflix and deserves 100 minutes of your time. Is it dated? Certainly. The makeup looks as impressive as that on your last Halloween party guests and the dialog occasionally inspires a Heston-like roar. Nevertheless, the film is a fun watch with some strong ideas, perhaps even ahead of its time and yet still an engrossing shoot the mutants up monster mash.


  1. At 10 years old, I'd never seen anything like those contact lens eyes on the mutants, and they totally freaked me out. Also, I really liked the Ron Grainer music in this, particularly in the beginning when it eclipses the theme from A Summer Place. As for Chuck/Jesus, despite having a huge ego and goofy politics, I still give him props for having an onscreen interracial romance with a character who was clearly patterned after Angela Davis - not a very safe thing for any actor to do career-wise at the time. Oh, and I still want to dress like Paul Koslo and ride a chopper around the deserted streets of LA.

  2. Oooh I totally forgot to talk about the music! It was definitely notable. And yes, I can imagine the the interracial romance--which is really shown in full sexiness--must've ruffled a few feathers back in the day.

  3. It is pretty dated, but considering just how dated it is, it holds up very well and has a lot of great moments. Heston, shirtless, big toothed and just completely torn at times is a lot of entertainment for me also! Glad you dug this one, but I am not surprised you did, either!

  4. VERY '70s, but still both entertaining and smart. I watched it about a day after Planet of the Apes, meaning I now know each and every single chest hair of the Heston.

  5. He always makes a face like he's trying to chew through iron!!

  6. He totally does! Or did! I wonder what teething was like for lil Charlie boy.