The Omega Man/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
A few years ago, I reviewed the Vincent Price cult classic The Last Man on Earth. It's a dark and memorable Sci-Fi/Horror film from the 60's. At the time, I realized that there was another attempt to adapt the I Am Legend novel (which the film was based on) in the early 70's and it starred Charlton Heston. I had no interest in the film until recently when I watched the Human League music video for a song called "Life On Your Own". Although it's not as famous as "Don't You Want Me?" or "Human", I consider this not only the best Human League song but also their best video. The music clip has Philip Oakey (the lead singer) walking around an abandoned London while the ghost of his bandmates haunt him. After I found out that The Omega Man is one of the inspirations for this video, I had no hesitatation to watch it. To my surprise, it reminded me of other films from same era like Zardoz or Soylent Green which also had socio-political messages.
In 1975, a form of germ warfare between the Soviets and China (kinda weird when you think about it since they shared the same Communist ideology back then) creates a deadly plague around the world. The majority of the population is either dead or has been transformed into some kind of mutants. Dr. Robert Neville (Mr. Heston) luckily injects himself with a special vaccine after he's nearly dead from a helicopter crash. Fast forward to 2 years later, he's the only man alive on Earth. His life sounds interesting, but it's not that easy. Not only he does he have to face loneliness and his mental health getting worse (we'll get into that soon), he has to fight "The Family", a group of albino mutants who believe that scientists, bankers, and businessmen are the cause of civilization's downfall. Therefore, they burn books in the street and try to kill Neville since he represents what's wrong with the world...according to Matthias (Anthony Zerbe), the leader of The Family who used to be a news anchor. The situation doesn't get any better and The Family tries to hunt him down, but luckily he finds out that he's not the only human left. He encounters Lisa (Rosalind Cash), a black chick who is one of a small group of survivors. Neville then tries to create a new serum to prevent the remaining humans from total extinction. And, just like Last Man On Earth, this doesn't have a happy ending.
If there's any movie that captures the early 70's quite well, The Omega Man must be one of them. Although you can tell that Last Man On Earth was made in the 60's, it isn't stuck in it's time period quite as much as this movie. I mean, the fact that we see Neville playing an 8-Track tape and watching Woodstock in a movie theater or...just look at Lisa! She could be the leader of the Black Power movement based on the way she's dressed. But nothing tops the fact that they changed the victims of the plague from vampires (in the previous film) to mutants. The screenwriter thought it sounded more reasonable, but I believe that they also changed it to fit the underlying message of the film.
As I previously stated, Neville's mental health isn't that good since he has been roaming the town alone for several years. The film doesn't explicitly say so, but we can tell by the dialogue since he usually has sarcastic remarks about the many issues around him. Some end up as unintentional campy humor, unfortunately. Look at the dialogue in this scene for instance...
[the last man on earth, talking to a bust of Caesar positioned in front of a chessboard] Neville: Hi. Another day, another dollar. / [later] Neville: For you, I think it's your move. / [makes drink] Neville: Join me? Hmm? Miserable schmuck! / [to his own image on the video screen] Neville: Isn't he? Isn't he a sullen b... / [stops when he hears the "Family" calling him from outside] Neville: [to the "Family"] SHUT UP! Why the hell can't you leave me alone? / [later, to the bust of Caesar] Neville: What day is it, anyway? Monday? Huh? The hell it is. It's Sunday. Sunday I always dress for dinner.
As you can see, another factor that drives him nuts is The Family. The film Woodstock that Neville watches (ironically Heston was a right-wing activist) somehow sums up how Neville feels at this point with with this dialogue...
"What's really important is the fact that if we can't all live together and be happy...if you have to be afraid to walk out in the street...if you have to be afraid to smile at somebody, right? What kind of a way is that?"
The Family conquer the city at night and always gather around Neville's house to either annoy or attack him. Judging from their beliefs and their motivation, it seems like The Family is a commentary on the hippie movement. They believe that the establishment are to blame for the plague and they always gather around in the street (although not as violent as depicted here). But on the other hand, these groups of people are anti-vaxxers since they don't believe that they can get cured...so, what does that say? The Family could be applied to both political spectrums more or less in modern times. Another interesting thing is that Matthias, a news anchor, becomes the leader of The Family. It could be a symbolism for blindly following media pinheads or our brainwashing from news outlets as well.
With that said, there are also elements in this film that I don't like. From the romantic subplot that's heavily rushed (although we do have one of the first interracial kisses onscreen) to Charlton Heston's acting to some aspect of the story that should have been more emphasized like whether we should kill The Family or treat them like humans (a la Day Of The Dead). But after all, it's an interesting motion picture that, although not as good as the earlier Vincent Price classic, still has its own value and entertainment.
Nuttawut Permpithak hails from Thailand. He spends his free time watching exploitation films (or any films from the past) writing articles, taking photos and reviewing films for GCDb.