The Omega Man is a science-fiction classic starring Charlton Heston as a man having survived a plague that has wiped out almost all of mankind. Those that live uninfected are few and in fact, he believes himself to be the only one until that is disproven. There are those that are infected and still live, having been turned into a strange race of albino mutants who believe that everything that came before is evil and their downfall was the price of worshipping at the altar of excess and convenience. Therefore Heston’s character Neville is condemned to die by the mutants; they simply have to get their hands on him first.
Based on the classic novel by Richard Matheson and adapted by John William Corrington and Joyce H. Corrington, this film takes place in the 1970s and seems quite dated and a product of its times. That fact is actually okay in this instance and it still works even today when you watch it because that is when that particular apocalypse happened. It would be the same way if some disastrous event took place now for everything that came after would be dated to this moment. It is a little humourous to hear everyone speak as such with ‘brother’ this and ‘brother’ that, but you get used to it and enjoy the movie for what it is. This is the second adaptation of the film in less than ten years with the previous being The Last Man on Earth released in 1964 and featuring Vincent Price in the lead role. The films differ from each other obviously, much like they differ from the novel with the biggest change coming in the form of the villains, no longer vampires in this film, but mutants. It is a big difference, but it is no less effective, simply a little diverse in the way they represent a threat to Neville. Physically, the mutants are not frightening in the least, but it is their zealotry and their devotion which is scary, their willingness to throw their lives away to stop Neville at whatever the cost which is where the horror of the film comes into play. It actually makes the film a little more effective for instead of these creatures being ruled by their baser instincts, they are now thinking and feeling and able to plan and premeditate what they want to do which makes them more dangerous than any vampire could ever be.
Heston would be fantastic in the role of Neville, essentially the man on the ledge, the one who may or may not have all the answers and who may be the only one who is able to bring mankind back from the brink of extinction. He is slightly mad, having been on his own for so many years, yet he still has his wits about him and is able to think clearly. The loneliness is the one thing he cannot stand and so you often see him talk to himself and try to make light of the situation. It is only when Lisa, played by the lovely Rosalind Cash and her people appear that Neville starts to find a sort of peace and a renewed sense of purpose. The two worked very well on screen with a visible chemistry which made their performances all that much better and Cash really did a great job of holding her own against Heston, a veritable newcomer to Heston’s established star.
As a post-apocalyptic tale, The Omega Man does a good job even though it might not be the most exciting picture of its kind. Directed by Boris Sagal, it is a slowly paced film as many science-fiction movies of the time were, but it pays off with a great finale and is a true classic of the genre. While all might seem hopeless throughout the film, come the end there is a glimmer and even though Neville pays the ultimate price, humanity may come out on the winning side.