Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on August 1, 1971
Directed by Boris Sagal
Written by John & Joyce Corrington, from the novel by Richard Matheson
Cast: Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash, Paul Koslo, Eric Laneuville, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Brian Tochi, Linda Redfearn
My Dad introduced me to this apocalyptic sci-fi classic when it played on television way back in the mid-1970s, when I was 12 years old and still somewhat stuck in Disney mode…but I was just beginning to venture out and investigate more grown-up cinema—disaster films like Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, and cheap drive-in fare like Sssssss and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf—and it was then that this doozy was dropped into my lap, and my fascination with ‘last man on earth’ movies was kick-started and on its way.
Fresh off his stint in Planet of the Apes and its sequel, Charlton Heston here stars as Robert Neville, the survivor of a worldwide plague that wiped out most of civilization, leaving only a small population of mutated victims who consider themselves the new world order, and want Neville disposed of. Mutants, by the way, whose pale, sore-infested skin and infected corneas made it impossible for them to exist in daylight, and made for some fairly frightening visages.
Suspenseful, creepy, and an absolute blast, the film did a commendable job of making us believe that the Los Angeles of 1977 had become an empty wasteland, and that Neville could survive alone in the midst of what amounts to a zombie-like populace, holed up in his brownstone bunker and mowing down mutants at a satisfying rate, and using some vicious-looking weapons to do so. For my money, the best of those was a Browning automatic rifle with a large infra-red scope, a firearm that every sci-fi and horror film hero should carry with him at all times.
Heston was great as the tough, diligent scientist who tried his best to stay sane in a desolate world, tracking mutants by day, watching movies in the afternoon, and playing chess with a bust of Caesar in his barricaded home by night. Director Boris Sagal kept the story and action moving at a decent clip, and he took advantage of some prime LA locations and set pieces to portray a sense of isolation and fear, while the screenplay allowed Neville to mutter some spot-on one-liners that, thanks to the situation and Heston’s delivery, sounded more true-to-life than corny-as-hell.
Along with Silent Running and Soylent Green, this was my favorite of the ‘end of the world’ films released in the 1970s. If you ever have the chance, check out Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, which this screenplay was based on, and which spawned two other similar but inferior productions. (8/10)