Once upon a time long long ago in the 1960s and 1970s, there were only 3 TV channels in my world as a young boy. They were called BBC1, BBC2 and ITV (I kid you not!).

Then in November 1982 a slightly controversial new TV Channel suddenly popped up on our TV screens called Channel 4. Wow! 4 TV channels whatever next?

I will tell you whatever next! in 1989 a mysterious Australian man living in the US introduced the SKY TV satellite station, which was essentially a News Channel in but this gave way to more leisure programmes.

But it was in the 1990s when most of the UK started to get switched on to the new satellite stations with outside wall dishes or via underground cable.

It was while I was surfing the net on my Virgin box last week, looking through the 100s of channels for something to decent to watch while having my late dinner after a trip to the gym, that I came across the Sci-Fi channel.
Croydon Guardian:
Charlton Heston as Robert Neville - The last man on Earth.

To my utter delight they were showing the Charlton Heston Sci-Fi classic The Omega Man (1971). Not only that but following that was a screening of another of Mr Heston’s dystopian futuristic movies Soylent Green (1973).

I was in heaven. The Omega Man is one of my all-time favourite movies. I’m not alone in this unusual response to this particular film. I found a video interview with director Tim Burton who also had this penned as one of his favourites but doesn’t know why either. He was quoted as saying “Whenever it’s on, I have to watch it.” I know exactly what he means.

You can easily pick it to pieces but then again as a family we always pick Back to the Future 1, 2 and 3 to pieces but at the same time we all love the whole trilogy. Hey! it’s in my top 10 greatest movies list of all time.

I think for me it’s all about memories. My Dad had been away on business on a trip and after a hard day he had some time to kill and decided to go to the cinema or pictures as we knew it.
Croydon Guardian:
Neville driving away unwanted Mutants.

He chose to watch The Omega Man, as if he had a choice in this one screen Roxy. When he came home we went for a walk over the woods and he relayed the whole film to me and my brothers as we strolled around the lake and I was hooked on every word. He was a great story teller.

A few years later it was on a late-night movie showing on BBC2. I remember my excitement at finally getting to watch this movie and just hoped that it would live up to my expectation.

I have to say that the film was pretty much how I pictured my Dads re telling of the story almost frame by frame. At this time, Soylent Green was just being released in the UK and me and my brother went to see it. Not so much action and tension as The Omega Man but very watchable.

So, The Omega Man, what’s it all about?

It’s based on a novel by Richard Matheson called ‘I am Legend’. We follow protagonist Doctor Robert Neville (Charlton Heston) who is a scientist working for the military to develop a vaccine to combat biological warfare.
When the Apocalypse happens, Neville uses the vaccine on himself and consequently becomes the last human on earth. The only other lifeforms are a group of mutants called ‘The Family’ who are like a cult devoted to destroying Neville as he is a constant reminder of the old world.

Neville, sets up his home in a penthouse suite in the heart of Los Angeles, which is a barricaded fortress against ‘The Family’ who only come out at night as daylight to them is a deadly. (In the book the others are affected by a pandemic which transform’s the human race into vampire like creatures.) Neville’s nemesis is Mathias (Anthony Zerb) a self-proclaimed leader of the family who taunts the human every night with his congregation, trying to find new ways to get to catch Neville off guard.
Croydon Guardian:
Anthony Zerb as Mutant leader Mathias

Although he is alone, Neville spends his time trying to find a cure for the plague by capturing the creatures and experimenting on them. That is of course when he isn’t protecting himself with his sub machine gun.

There is a scene where he drives to a cinema in the city which was showing the movie documentary Woodstock (1970) when the bombs were dropped. We gather that he has seen the film over 100 times before, as he mouths the words along with the people on the screen.

However, Neville becomes sloppy, falling asleep in the confines of the picture house. He rushes outside to find that he sun is starting to set as he murmurs to himself “My God! They’ll be waking up soon!” Exciting stuff.

While on a supply run in a department store, Neville comes across another human survivor who has managed so far to avoid the Plague. The other survivor is Lisa (Rosalind Cash) who was also scavenging but avoids Neville as she sees him as dangerously trigger happy and tends to shoot anything that moves in an attempt to stay alive.

When they eventually meet up, it turns out that there are other survivor’s. A young dude called Dutch (Paul Koslo) and a group of young children who are living in the outskirts of the city.
Croydon Guardian:
Neville (Heston), Dutch (Paul Koslo) and Lisa (Rosalind Cash)

Now that there are fellow humans Neville has the idea of using his immune blood to act as a new vaccine for the others. But can they survive that long with the Family intent on wiping out what remains of the old population and starting life again?

This may sound quite familiar as Will Smith played the role of Robert Neville in the 2007 remake which took the title of the book “I am Legend”.

I must admit I was all for a remake particularly with the advancement of special effects and horror make-up. However, it was a big disappointment. Will Smith was good as Neville but with the mutants being in human form, why did they make them all CGI animated? It was pretty poor CGI as well. You can get more scary creatures using make up. This was also echoed by Tim Burton in his Omega Man interview.

I think CGI has it’s uses and is good to portray an empty city in those long shots. Although, in the 1971 Omega Man there is a great shot showing Charlton Heston driving down the LA streets as the camera pans out you see a completely empty city. Apparently, they filmed the scene in the financial district very early in the morning on a weekend and also had help from the local constabulary.
Croydon Guardian:
Hunting Mutants

The film also made history with the first interracial movie sex scene with Heston and Rosalind Cash. Heston was an advocate of the civil rights movement and was also able to get the green light on this subject being the chairman of the actors guild as well.

Paul Koslo who plays Dutch said in an interview that he liked Charlton Heston as a person and actor but did not agree with his politics. Even back then Heston was a great advocate of the gun laws and Koslo was very anti weapons as quoted: “Guns kill. People kill people with guns. If you’ve got a gun, you gotta use it”.

I sort of agree but Heston does play these roles well and he’s the guy you want on your side in movies!

It was also interesting that the studios set the film only 4 years into the future and you can see the calendars in the shop scenes showing 1975.

I’m on the lookout now for the DVD of The Omega Man, as the Sci-Fi channel version was heavily censored, especially in the fight scenes between Neville and the mutants and the sex scene.
Croydon Guardian:
Neville has a tender moment with Lisa.

I think we all have a favourite movie from somewhere in the past. It may not live up to today’s standards with new technology and resources available but sometimes watching something raw and familiar does you good.

I enjoyed it again…even with the cuts.

Let me know if you have a special film from your childhood that is always a must-see movie when it’s on the telly?