The Omega Man

Year: 1971   Company: Warner Brothers   Runtime: 98′
Director: Boris Sagal   Writers: John William Corringtom, Joyce Hooper Corringtom
Cinematography: Russell Metty   Music: Ron Grainer   Cast: Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash,
Paul Koslo, Eeric Laneuville, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Jill Giraldi, Brian Tochi, DeVeren Bookwalter, John Dierkes
Disc company: Warner Brothers   Video: 1080p 2.39:1    Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English, Dolby Digital 1.0 French, Dolby Digital 1.0 Spanish, Dolby Digital 1.0 German, Dolby Digital 1.0 Italian, Dolby Digital 1.0 Castellano
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, German, German SDH, Italian, Italian SDH, Castellano, Dutch, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norsk, Swedish   Disc: BD25 (All Region)
Release Date: 12/18/2007   Available for order this disc now through Amazon.com

There have been no small number of film adaptations, legitimate and otherwise, of Richard Matheson’s 1954 science fiction horror novel I Am Legend, from the stark Italian-American co-production The Last Man on Earth in 1964 to the dreadful Will Smith vehicle of a few years past, but this Walter Seltzer (Soylent Green) production from 1971 may be my favorite even as it takes considerable liberties with the source.  Charlton Heston is as big as ever as the requisite last man, the survivor of a modern plague that has decimated the world’s population and left civilization in ruin, but as the tagline is quick to point out, “The last man alive… is not alone!”

Set in the (then) near future of the late ’70s, The Omega Man follows doctor and colonel Robert Neville as he fights for survival in Los Angeles after biological warfare between the Soviet Union and China brings a swift conclusion to most human life.  Immune to the lethal biological agent thanks to the chance success of an experimental vaccine, Neville spends his evenings fending off the nightly sieges of the Family – a cult of plague survivors led by former news anchor Matthias (Anthony Zerbe, Papillon) who were forced into a life of darkness after their disease rendered them hypersensitive to light. Neville dedicates himself to exterminating The Family until he happens upon fellow survivor Lisa (Rosalind Cash, Cornbread, Earl and Me), and with her a hope for saving humankind…

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Rats: Night of Terror

a.k.a. Rats: Notte di Terrore
Year: 1983   Company: Beatrice Film / Imp. Ex. Ci. Nice   Runtime: 96′
Director: Bruno Mattei   Writers: Bruno Mattei, Claudio Fragasso, Herve Piccini
Cinematography: Franco Delli Colli   Music: Luigi Ceccarelli   Cast: Ottavio Dell’Acqua, Geretta Geretta,
Massimo Vanni, Gianni Franco, Ann-Gisel Glass, Jean-Christophe Bretigniere, Fausto Lombardi, Henry Luciani
Available on DVD from Blue Underground. Product link: Amazon.com

A bunch of post-apocalyptic assholes with names like Duke and Taurus stumble into a secret research station decades after the third world war has brought an end to civilization.  Finding no people but plenty of supplies, our intrepid survivors decide to stay the night, only to find themselves trapped by an ever-growing horde of super-intelligent flesh-hungry rats.

This is a monumentally stupid film about monumentally stupid people who do monumentally stupid things and, as a result, die monumentally stupid deaths at the teeny-tiny teeth and claws of superhuman uber-rats.  So monumentally stupid is this film and the events that transpire within it that I found myself to have been quite liberally drooling on myself by the time the end credits rolled (no joke).  Nothing like this has ever happened to me before, but the experience has left me thinking that a review bib might not be so bad an investment.

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Deathsport / BattleTruck double feature

Deathsport
company: New World Pictures
year: 1978
runtime: 82′
director: Allan Arkush,
Nicholas Niciphor and Roger Corman
cast: David Carradine, Claudia Jennings,
Richard Lynch, David McLean
writer: Nicholas Niciophor,
Frances Doel and Donald Stewart
photography: Gary Graver
music: Andy Stein
BattleTruck
company: Battletruck Films, Ltd.
year: 1982
runtime: 91′
director: Harley Cokeliss
cast: Michael Beck, Annie McEnroe,
James Wainwright, Bruno Lawrence,
John Ratzenberger, John Bach
writer: Margaret Abrams, Irving Austin,
John Beech and Harley Cokeliss
photography: Chris Menges
music: Kevin Peek

The Deathsport / BattleTruck double feature is due out on August 3rd, and can currently be pre-ordered at considerable savings through Amazon.com

The first of Shout! Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics double feature DVDs brings together two wildly disparate but thematically complementary New World catalog titles – 1978’s Deathsport, roughly inspired by the earlier Death Race 2000, and 1982’s BattleTruck, an independent production from New Zealand distributed in the United States by Corman’s company. While the former was made available on DVD in 2000, the latter here makes its domestic digital debut.

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Night of the Comet

Atlantic Releasing [1984] 96′
country: United States
director: Thom Eberhardt
cast: Robert Beltran, Catherine Mary
Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Sharon
Ferrell, Mary Waranov, Geoffrey
Lewis, Peter Fox, John Achorn
Order this film from Amazon.com
This review is part of the CHRISTMAS
IN JULY ’09
B-movie roundtable,
hosted by yours truly.

It’s Christmas time in Los Angeles, but precious few people are around to celebrate after a mysterious comet [whose last approach was at the time of the great dinosaur extinction] does a close fly-by and turns most of the animal life on the planet – us included – into calcium dust.  Those who received only partial exposure to the comet’s rays are rotting to dust as well, in a process that turns them, for however short a time, into dangerous flesh-hungry zombies.

Surviving the apocalypse are trucker Hector [Beltran] and valley girls Regina [Stewart] and Samantha [Maroney], the latter of whom received basic combat training from their military-minded father.  Such training comes in handy when the group encounters zombie children, zombie homeless men, and mall-bound zombie stock boys with more than promotion to upper management on their minds.  A band of scientists tucked away in the desert soon present themselves and begin helping the survivors, but their intentions prove more menacing than meets the eye.  The burden of society rests on the shoulders of our three young heroes – can they out-live the zombies, out-smart the scientists, and jumpstart a new and groovier civilization?  Like, totally!

I really, really love this, one of the last great hurrahs of the late 70′s / early 80′s surge of films made out of admiration for the B-movie sci-fi and horror programmers of old.  NIGHT OF THE COMET wears its inspirations on its sleeves, with the disaster itself reminding of Wyndham’s DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and the barren Los Angeles [as well as our heroes' temporary radio station housing] is evocative of THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL.  The dust that the comet leaves behind is reminiscent of THE DAY MARS INVADED EARTH, especially when we see it swept away by rain.  A rare 3-D print of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE even figures prominently into the early third of the narrative.

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But the screenplay, by director Thom Eberhardt [who had written and directed the spooky and underrated SOLE SURVIVOR the previous year], also pays considerable lip service to George Romero and the two zombie pictures he had made up to that point.  When Hector first appears, he relates a story in much the same vein as Duane Jones’ from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and the zombie child he later encounters is of a similar ilk as the two Ken Foree fends off in sequel DAWN OF THE DEAD.  Then, of course, there is the lengthy sequence in which Samantha and Regina amuse themselves at the local shopping mall . . .

Eberhardt keeps the tone of his end-of-the-world story remarkably up-beat – the world-wide disaster is nothing short of a dream come true for the valley girl protagonists, and even Hector is swayed once the prospect of a nice and quiet family life presents itself.  Violence is kept off-screen for the most part [only a few obsenities push it into PG-13 territory], with the director focusing on the tongue-in-cheek humor instead of horror.   Unlike many of his predecessors and contemporaries, Eberhardt opts to define his film by the time period in which it exists – no one eyeing the fashions or hearing the multitude of pop songs on the soundtrack will ever be confused as to which decade NIGHT OF THE COMET belongs.  And that’s just fine by me.

Along with loads of popcorn entertainment value NIGHT OF THE COMET presents with considerable style.  The lengthy sequences in the scientists’ underground compound that dominate the final third of the film are composed in a particularly creative fashion and with great Bava-inspired multi-color lighting to boot.  Of all the things I was expecting when I first screened this, that it would be as well made as it turned out to be was never one of them.

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The main cast is a reasonably accomplished lot, though they weren’t all that way at the time of filming.  Robert Beltran is perhaps best remembered for his lengthy stint as Commander Chakotay on the STAR TREK: VOYAGER television series.  Catherine Mary Stewart hit it big in 1984, with leading roles in both this and THE LAST STARFIGHTER, while Kelli Maroney was fresh from playing Kimberly Harris in 174 episodes of the soap opera RYAN’S HOPE.  All three have led successful careers in television in film and continue to perform today.  Writer / director Eberhardt has done reasonably well for himself, though his last major film was the 1992 comedy CAPTAIN RON.

NIGHT OF THE COMET itself has enjoyed something of a rediscovery in recent years, thanks largely to MGM releasing the rental store staple to DVD in March of 2007.  While bare bones to the max, the inexpensive disc does present the film in a reasonable 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced and progressive transfer.  While the film deserves better treatment, the relatively low price [$7.99 at Amazon as of this writing] makes it a desirable release all the same.  The captures for this review were taken from a DVD-R I recorded from the MGM HD channel in April – here’s hoping the fine HD master makes its way to Blu-ray at some point down the line, though I won’t hold my breath.

A serious rumination on life after the apocalypse this definitely isn’t, but as witty sci-fi and horror lite entertainment it’s tough to beat.  Who knew that the end of the world could be so fun?  NIGHT OF THE COMET comes highly recommended, and the MGM DVD, however sparse, is a must-buy for fans.  So what are you waiting for – Christmas?

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Robot Jox

Empire Pictures [1990] 84′
country: United States
director: STUART GORDON
cast: GARY GRAHAM, ANNE-MARIE JOHNSON,
cast: PAUL KOSLO, ROBERT SAMPSON
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I vividly recall the single television spot for ROBOT JOX I managed to catch prior to it’s 1990 theatrical release – I also remember the excitement it elicited in my six year old heart. I doubt it ever played in either of the two theatres in my home town [one a two-screener, the other a single-screen dollar job] and if it did, I certainly missed it. It was at least a year, possibly more, before JOX was on the Pay-per-View circuit – it was the talk of the town with my first grader friend base, and I imagine that my mother was only one of many to pony up her credit card to ensure their then-seven year olds’ eternal happiness.

Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed. I still have the original VHS to which it was recorded, in fact. My family undoubtedly suffered extensive psychological trauma from seeing it so often from then on, but I loved every second of it. What’s more, I still do.

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