Undead Notes - The Omega Man (1971)

"Eat lead, you undead commie bastards!"
I really wanted to like this movie. I know there are some high-profile fans of The Omega Man (Tim Burton) and that it's often seen as a prime example of camp or satire or some species of so-bad-it's-good. I love a rousing apocalyptic romp. My family has owned a copy of Planet of the Apes since 1982, and I think Charlton Heston is awesome. But, brothers and sisters, I can't say I liked much about The Omega Man.

The Omega Man isn't good camp because it's not artificial or ostentatious enough, nor does it put almost everything in quotation marks, as I remember reading somewhere about camp. Good camp is the old Batman television series, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Moulin Rouge, and the Presidency of George W. Bush. The Omega Man can't be bad camp because there is not bad camp – there's just bad.

The Omega Man has some satirical elements, of course, poking fun at materialism, gun culture, the media, revolution, and how all old animosities can fade away once the world ends. But these objections are too easy, and pulled off in such a graceless way that even the Heston's wry growliness amid the rubble overreaches. And the film isn't in the so-bad-it's-good neighborhood because there are too many glimpses of competence amid the stupidity.

"We shall kill you with our flair for ferocious rhetorical nuance!"
The plot is loosely based on Richard Mathisen's novel I Am Legend, focuses on an Army scientist (Heston) who, as the world is being destroyed by biological warfare, desperately injects himself with an experimental vaccine. It works, but Heston's character is the only normal man left on Earth – or at least in the city of Los Angeles, which will have to do. He spends his solo time driving fast through the streets, armed to the teeth, killing off members of The Family when he can find them. The Family are what's become of the bioweapon survivors: light-fearing, sore-festering, black-robe-and-mirrored-sunglasses-wearing creeps, led by the former news anchor and current postapocalyptic windbag/madman Mathias (Anthony Zerbe). The members of The Family are just plain goofy looking, and I was awfully pleased when Heston got to kill a few here and there, though it didn't seem a fair fight. In his spare time in the evenings, Heston's character enjoys wiping sweat from his naked man-torso and drinking scotch, maybe breaking up the monotony to eat some beans and fire a few rounds at the Family from his fortified fourth floor balcony. Wipe, glug, pow, pow.

In Act Two, Heston meets a fine young woman, Lisa, played by Rosalind Cash, who has not yet been infected, and he takes her back to his place. Turns out, of course, there's a small group of survivors living outside the city. Maybe Heston could come and visit? Maybe he could help them find a cure? Maybe, baby, but how does that song go? “If you were the only girl in the world, and I were the only boy. . .” It doesn't matter that Heston's a old white Army dude and Lisa's a foxy girl with an Afro. It's the end of the world, people. Bow-chicka-bow-bow.

Anyway, the sex might be good, but the movie really goes downhill from there. A cure is found, and the Family almost get Heston, but then they don't, then all that good lovin' makes Heston vulnerable, and he gets caught, wounded, and dies in a fountain, laid out dead in his best Christ-pose. Jesus, it's bad. He died so that others may live, see? Yawn. At no point are the baddies scary. At no point are you disturbed or even grossed out. There's a couple of chuckles here and there, but mostly the whole rigmarole is annoying. If you like Heston, you'll enjoy bits here and there. If you like zombie movies, you'll dislike The Omega Man. That's my final word.

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1 comment:

Chaarles said...

Sorry to hear you don't like it; I know it's not to everyone's tastes but I think it's a great movie. Anyone interested can check out my fansite - http://test-vaccine-93-b-71.blogspot.com/