(director: Boris Sagal; screenwriters: story by Joyce and John Corrington/based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson; cinematographer: Russell Metty; editor: William H. Ziegler; music: Ron Grainer; cast: Charlton Heston (Neville), Anthony Zerbe (Matthias), Rosalind Cash (Lisa), Paul Koslo (Dutch), Lincoln Kilpatrick (Zachary); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Walter Seltzer; Warner Brothers; 1971)
“Entertaining and tacky.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Boris Sagal’s version of the story I am Legend by Richard Matheson, fails to get to the paranoia painted in the book.It was previously filmed as The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price, which was also unsuccessful in matching the author’s intentions. Try catching any David Cronenberg film or Night of the Living Dead and its subversive take on the battle of good vs. evil to see where this horror/sci-fi film should have been heading. Instead Sagal shoots for being entertaining and tacky, and in that way covers his bets.

It’s 1977 and a plague resulting from germ warfare between Russia and China has decimated the population of Los Angeles (Probably a fantasy cooked up by the CIA!). The sole normal survivor is Dr. Robert Neville (Charlton Heston), who wisely took his own experimental vaccine. He resides in an L.A. penthouse, preserving that potential money making bonanza IPO stock offering serum. He spends the day wandering around the ruined city looking for signs of life. At night he fights off a bloodthirsty gang of mutant scavengers, albinos garbed in dark sunglasses and monk’s robes, led by Matthias (Anthony Zerbe), a former television newscaster in his pre-mutant days (Yeah, blame the media for everything!). Matthias and his half-human vampires want to get at the evidently not so secret serum that Neville keeps stashed away, and the leader is also obsessed with destroying all remnants of the past civilization that led to this nuclear catastrophe.

But wouldn’t you know it, Neville finds other intact humans alive and one of the members of that young group who leads them is a sexy but cynical black chick named Lisa (Rosalind Cash)–who becomes his love interest. But Matthias’ hordes keep things warlike and that leaves little time for Heston to put down his machine-gun for love and stop fighting Matthias’ attacking mutants in order to save the world.

Joe Canutt, the action coordinator, son of the legendary Yakima, does an excellent job arranging the action sequences.

It’s an interesting theme, but mishandled by the filmmaker. While Heston shows a little passion in the romance department as he comes down from his lofty Mt. Sinai perch to be a little bit more human than usual. It results in an acceptable comic strip sci-fi thriller that unfortunately squeezed out of it the book’s greatness.

The Omega Man (1971)