The Omega Man

I Am Legend

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Based on a novel by celebrated sci-fi writer Richard Matheson, "The Omega Man" is the story of the last man on Earth (played by Charlton Heston), the only "normal" survivor of a deadly bacteriological war between China and Russia. Heston, the beneficiary of an experimental antidote, has acquired immunity to the devastating plague that has virtually wiped out humanity. Matheson's 1954 novel, titled "I Am Legend," was first filmed in Italy in 1964 as L' Ultimo Uomo della Terra (The Last Man On Earth), starring Vincent Price. Despite Price's presence, however, the film was released to lukewarm reviews and consequently was never released theatrically in the United States though it does turn up on tv & video occasionally.

Perhaps Matheson's novel's chief claim to fame, however, is the fact that several sharp-eyed critics (like Michael Weldon of Psychotronic Magazine) have pegged it as the obvious inspiration for the all-time classic horror film Night Of The Living Dead (1968). The plotlines of the two films are, in fact, remarkably similar if not quite identical. Both films are populated by hordes of deranged ghoulish mutants who roam the Earth in quest of "normal" people to slaughter while they are picked off relentlessly by their prey. Heston's tormentors in The Omega Man are nocturnal albino creatures who cannot stand to be subjected to bright lights of any kind. In addition, as a result of the bacteriological warfare that has ruined the Earth, the cultish group of zombie-like creatures totally reject all forms of technological warfare, which gives the gun-toting Heston the clear advantage in combat situations.

Heston, unaware of the previously filmed Italian version, discovered the Matheson novel, devoured it on a lengthy airplane ride, and brought it to the attention of producer Walter Seltzer. Seltzer agreed the book would make an excellent film and proceeded to make a valuable contribution when he suggested they change the title from "I Am Legend" to the much more exotic-sounding "The Omega Man," a reference to the fact that omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. Incidentally, Seltzer would also go on to produce yet another Charlton Heston movie with a distressing view of the Earth's future, Soylent Green (1973), in which Edward G. Robinson's dying scene really was his dying scene (he died within hours, having told no one on the set ahead of time).

100% Weird The Omega Man project was placed in the capable directorial hands of Boris Sagal, father of Katey Sagal, best known as Peg Bundy on the sitcom "Married With Children" and the recent sci-fi movie Smart House. Although Boris Sagal was best known for his work on TV series (Man From UNCLE, Naked City, Twilight Zone) he also directed the occasional theatrical feature such as Girl Happy (1965), starring Elvis Presley and Shelly Fabares. In Charlton Heston's 1998 biography, In the Arena, he relates the tragic story of Sagal's on-set death in 1981 when, in the aftermath of an argument with his cameraman on the set of the 4-hour tv-movie "World War 3", he stormed off and walked into the tail rotor blade of a helicopter that he'd just stepped from, making him perhaps the only member of the Directors Guild ever to be killed in the line of duty.

Speaking of cameramen, be sure to check out the fine work of The Omega Man's veteran cinematographer, Russ Metty. Metty, a steadily employed cameraman from the mid 1930's until his death in 1978, had a resume that included such classic Orson Welles films as The Magnificent Ambersons, The Stranger, and A Touch Of Evil, which coincidentally featured Charlton Heston in a large supporting role. Some of Metty's most striking work in The Omega Man can be seen in the film's opening shot of Heston driving through the bleak, litter-strewn streets of downtown Los Angeles. The scene was filmed just after dawn on a Sunday morning to guarantee the streets would be as empty as possible.

Starring opposite Heston, in just her second film role, is actress Rosalind Cash as Lisa, one of the leaders of a group of infected humans who have not yet totally succumbed to the plague that has destroyed the rest of humanity. The role was one that every black actress in Hollywood seemed to be fighting for. Warner Brothers strongly recommended Diahann Carroll, best known for her starring role on TV's Julia, but Heston and producer Seltzer picked Cash, stuck to their guns and Cash wound up with the sought-after role.

The Omega Man was Cash's first film experience with a star of Heston's magnitude, leading her to remark of their love scenes, "It's a spooky feeling to screw Moses." Not only did she get to bed down with Biblical hero -- she also got to hitch a motorcycle ride with him. Heston, who'd never ridden a motorcycle before, reported that it was much easier than driving a chariot. By the way, some have noted that the motorcycle chase in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles in the new Terminator 3-D movie at the Universal Studios Tour theater looks very similar to the one in Omega Man...

The Omega Man (1971), Rating: TV-PG, occasionally scheduled on cable tv, with Anthony Zerbe as the head of a pasty-faced Family that wants to "cleanse" the planet.

June 4, 2000 Monstervision Movie 100% Weird description above 2000 Turner Network Television. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved

Omega Man movie trailer (click twice to play)

I Am Legend (2007)

Now, here's Joe Bob Brigg's review for:

The Last Man On Earth (1964)

(From Joe Bob's Ultimate B Movie Guide)
Vincent Price (star of Dr. Phibes Rises Again) thinks he's the only survivor of a plague that has destroyed the world's population, only to discover he has to fight off ravenous zombies that want to drink his blood. (He uses a mallet and a wooden stake to do his work.) Made in Italy, one of several films based on Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend," including Charlton Heston in The Omega Man. With Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Tony Cerevi. Directed by Ubaldo Ragona, with additional footage produced by Roger Corman in the United States and directed by Sidney Salkow. Matheson himself contributed to the screenplay under the pseudonym "Logan Swanson." 3 stars

2002 Joe Bob All Rights Reserved. Not an AOL Time-Warner Company in this lifetime.

Last Man On Earth (1964) is seen occasionally on cable

There was even an old silent movie by the same name in 1924 (set 30 years in the future) about the sole surviving man on an Earth after a virus wipes out all other male humans over the age of 14. With the Earth being run by women, two Senators compete for his affections. Remade in 1933 as It's Great To Be Alive, a musical! Neither version stars anyone you've ever heard of. A semi-remake of both versions of "Last Man On Earth" was done in 1999 with the name cleverly changed to "Last Man On Planet Earth"
In a future essentially devoid of men, a renegade scientist (Julie Bowen) genetically engineers a male (Paul Francis), who later escapes and discovers a secret male paramilitary group bent on taking back society (shades of Logan's Run and the Planet of the Apes movies).
1999 remake last scheduled on the Sci Fi Channel movies in 2002, followed by Logan's Run

Movie trailer: Soylent Green

Future cop Charlton Heston investigates the secret of the addictive food product (1973)

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