It is the near future, the year of 1977. Most of mankind has been wiped out by the ravages of germ warfare, leaving albino mutants who shun the light as the only survivors. Well, not quite the only survivors: Dr Robert Neville (Charlton Heston) is immune to the plague having developed an experimental vaccine against it, which he was forced to inject himself with when he was almost infected. Now, as he believes he is the only true human left, he spends his days hunting down the mutants' nest in a deserted Los Angeles, and his nights playing chess alone as they attack his home.
Written by John William Corrington and Joyce H. Corrington, this was the second film to be based on Richard Matheson's classic novel I Am Legend after the Vincent Price version, The Last Man on Earth. But this one uses the Matheson novel as a starting point, changing the story into a Messianic tale of humanity's saviour making a stand against villains known as the Family, who dress in black robes like Satanists, and hold the view that they have been punished and are the future of life on Earth, with the resourceful Neville as a possible nemesis who they must destroy.
It's easy to be an individualist when there's no one else about, but it becomes clear Neville isn't the only person left alive at all. He accidentally meets Lisa (Rosalind Cash) a black militant who initially treats him with suspicion. She is looking after a bunch of kids who have yet to be infected, but frets over her younger brother who is becoming one of the mutants day by day; she is assisted by Dutch (Paul Koslo) a biker - do you see the way the film makers are trying to appeal to the youth of the day, here?
Anyway, because Neville's blood contains the cure for the plague, he is very important to the remaining humans, and sets about saving them with relish. Compared to Vincent Price's interpretation of the character, Cheston is far more enthusiastic about killing off the mutants, he's not at all numb with the horror of his situation - blowing away the baddies with his extensive rifle collection is what gets him through the day.
Early on we see Neville staving off boredom by watching Woodstock in a deserted cinema. He's watched it so many times that he knows it off by heart, and regards it with a sardonic expression as the hippies preach their gospel of peace and love. It's as if he's saying, do you see? You were wrong! The future is not all "love your fellow man", it's dog eat dog, Godammit! You maniacs! But, of course, by the end he has discovered the meaning of sacrifice and has something to fight for rather than acting out of disgust at the way the world has turned out.
Cheston starred in three nightmare visions of the future around this time in his career, four if you count his supporting role in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but where those others end on a bleak note, The Omega Man offers a ray of hope for the world by the finish. You can't help but wonder if an even more downbeat tone would have been more effective: sure, major characters get killed, but a small example of hippie culture that Neville didn't feel a part of lives on to fight the mutants, making the film less timeless than it would wish to be in light of the "Me" Generation who followed. Music by Ron Grainer.