Raymond Chandler. Charles Bukowski. Walter Mosley. Meh.
Los Angeles’ true literary legacy is the zombie/vampire/supervirus/apocalypse genre, which novelist and screenwriter Richard Matheson kick-started with his 1954 novel I Am Legend. Matheson’s story, set in 1970’s Los Angeles, follows the trials and tribulations of the seemingly sole survivor of a plague that transforms humans into vampires. The protagonist spends his days devising new and inventive ways to keep the blood-sucking masses at bay. Is it any coincidence Matheson wrote this novel just a few short years after moving to California?
Matheson’s novel has been turned into a film thrice so far, two iterations of which are screening at a triple feature at the Aero Theater on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. as part of the American Cinematheque’s Post-Apocalyptic Film Festival. On the triple bill is The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price and The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston. And no, the third film is not the Will Smith version of I Am Legend but rather Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys. Cool movie, but go figure!
Of the two interpretations of Matheson’s novel screening on Saturday, Last Man on Earth is arguably the more accomplished adaptation, but Omega Man is not to be missed. Why? Well, for starters, it’s actually set in Los Angeles and was filmed in the then-desolate wasteland of Bunker Hill. But even more compellingly, the film features a swaggering, heavily-armed Heston in a me-versus-the-world performance that foreshadows his later years as the head honcho of the NRA.
Watch for the scene where Heston starts up a projector in an abandonded movie theater and then sadly mouths the dialogue to Woodstock. It’s a particularly tender and surreal moment in cinematic history, and well worth the price of admission.