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Review: THE OMEGA MAN (1971)

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Best Bad Quote:
“You’re full of crap.”
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There are two kinds of people in this world: Charleton Heston fans and Chuck Heston fans. One group celebrates the epics: The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and The Greatest Show on Earth. The other worships before the altar of, what we’ll call, the “Bepics.” In either case, our boy showcases much gnashing of teeth, sultry baritone bellowing, and broad shouldered strut. I personally consider him a man for all seasons, but I must say that his participation in the menage a trois of cult classics Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, and The Omega Man tip the scales for me further in the “Chuck” direction. He is just one, shameless, unapologetic mofo– as Omega fully attests. Some people hold the whole gun-toting, NRA thing against him, but Chuck is a consummate gentleman. He only blows his barrel at the people that have it coming– in this case, are pasty ass emos. The film opens with the Hes’ cruisin’ around pickin’ off these pale turkeys like he’s happily playing a game of “Dafuk Hunt”– a lost Nintendo classic.
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I LOVE THIS MOVIE. It is everything. It is also plain to see that the combination of it and Night of the Living Dead, which was released a few years prior, have influenced and been ripped off by every zombie/apocalypse movie to follow. Romero (God bless him) took care of the horror/Zombie part; here, director Boris Sagal takes care of everything else. The abandoned streets (28 Days Later), the empty stores (Dawn of the Dead), the mass murdering plague in need of a cure (WWZ), even the “ringing phone” that Chuck’s Dr. Robert Neville sometimes hears in the heights of his isolated craziness (The Walking Dead) were all born of this film. And it is indeed a “film.” It’s art. It teaches lessons.
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So, the end has come. Mankind has brought about his own destruction via biological warfare, which consequently infected pretty much everyone on planet earth. Neville believes himself the sole survivor only because he tested an experimental vaccine on himself, which makes him immune… and lonely. Now, he lives in his fancy pad with the bust of some wartime fellow– with whom he plays dress-up and has long, meaningful talks– and occasionally goes to the movies to watch Woodstock and feel the love that the god damn war has destroyed. (At least he magically still has electricity, which remains unexplained). Not to bad for the end of the world, you think. Only problem is, Doc has company…
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Apparently, it takes awhile for certain people to die when infected with this new killer plague. One of the still slowly decaying is Neville’s nemesis, (Nelvesis?) Matthias (Anthony Zerbe), who essentially represents the egomaniacal preacher man looking for someone at whom to point the mighty finger of blame. If we learn anything from Christianity, it is that this is exactly WJWD. Right? Matthias blames science for the world’s defeat. He believes that he and his followers– who must now live in the dark because the sun hurts their eyes (wah)– were cleansed of their superficial attachments to man made medicines, weapons, machinery, etc, when they were infected. They were thus “chosen.”Saved. He therefore thinks that Neville is the one who is truly dead, which makes it kinda strange that he and his sub-clan spend the entire film trying to kill and make him more dead, but… Hey, as with most religions, reason flew the coop a long time ago with this sect.
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This is not a scary movie. At no point is it even creepy. With its swingin’ sixties music, psychedelic vibe, and ol’ Chuck chewing the scenery like the Adonis among men that he is, the audience is never exactly sitting on the edge of their seats, particularly because the villains in this film are crystal-eyed albinos (fascists?) who must have had some sort of convention wherein they established their team wardrobe of matching black capes and Ray Bans. Allegedly, this “family” of aryans have killed or destroyed all other remnants of civilian life, so I guess they are dangerous, and they actually do some killing throughout the course of the film, but mostly they are just plain annoying. They are leftover televangelists, cultists, and politicians banded together and instigating a witch hunt. Why? I guess because they are pissed off that they’re fug and Chuck is still smokin’ hot.
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In addition, while these bigot Nazis are walking around with leprosy, Chuck is having biracial love and making friends with the surviving hippie folk with whom he plans to run away to the forest, taking his serum solution with him. This is a thinking man’s movie, you see. It is God vs. Science, and ironically, Heston– the face of Biblical cinema– is the modern Jesus figure who must literally spill his own blood to save the masses with the latter: chemistry, which can do some good when in the right hands. With this film, Heston has come full circle in his career from the Zeus personified to this presentation of the God is Man theory: the perfect marriage of nature and/in science. Thus, Chuck has literally traversed the Red Sea between DeMille’s Alpha Male to, dun dun dun, The Omega Man. (Duuuuuuuuude).
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Ok, maybe it’s not that heady, but my God is this movie enjoyable and fun as Hell to watch. Chuck fills the frame with his usual lumberjack ease, carrying most of the 98 minutes in solo scenes by talking to himself in such a casual and unencumbered fashion that the effect is surprisingly much less hokey and much more charming than expected. The rest of the cast, including the Foxy Brown of the film (Rosalind Cash) easily walk the precarious line between camp and ridiculousness like it’s jive, and minus a slowing of the pace in the film’s middle, this low-budget masterpiece is a thrill to the eyes, ears, and yes, philosophical center of your brain. As per usual, the man who has classically screamed, “God damn you all to hell!” and “It’s peeeeeooppplllleeee!!!” closes the movie like the Christ on a cracker that he is: Ralph Waldo Emerson with a tommy gun. (Take that, Fresh Prince).
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Rating:
 
5 out of 5 Black Magic Bunsen Burners
ET–Omega13 ET–Omega13 ET–Omega13 ET–Omega13 ET–Omega13
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