by Eric Messina
Politics aside you’ve got to admit: Charlton Heston, the NRA-spouting conservative nut-case, knows his way around a mutant- or ape-infested nuclear wasteland. That 1968-73-time period is prime Heston at his most enigmatic as a teeth-clenching, gun-toting antihero. Let’s take a look at Heston’s apocalypse flicks.
Ahh, Planet of the Apes, what else can be said about this cinematic staple? The first inkling in my mind that three astronauts portrayed by Heston, Robert Gunner and Jeff Burton have accidentally landed on Earth is conveyed through moronic science, which shows them able to naturally breath the air without space helmets. We begin with a Rod Serling Zone-ish twist right off the bat. Serling wrote the script about humans travelling to what they believe is a distant planet but is really just Earth was the story structure used in the episode “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air.” In the Ape film series, future humans are hunted, stuffed and mounted like trophies but can we blame the humanoid simians though? I mean they learned it from our fuck ups; mankind should’ve known that we’d end up on the business end of a vivisection lab — it’s really just poetic justice.
I have the special edition DVD and love listening to the commentary by Jerry Goldsmith, who mentions that Tim Burton didn’t even bother to ask him to score his abysmal remake!
A few years later Heston starred in the Richard Matheson scribed I Am Legend aka The Omega Man, catered for the Blaxploitation 70’s and thank God for that shit! To me this is the best adaptation of the Richard Matheson book. Anthony Zerbe (who was also in The Dead Zone and KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park) plays a radiation-scarred albino who’s the leader of a sect of mutated freaks in cloaks with aviator shades that take pride in being infected by radiation. Before the nuclear shit hit the fan, he was Jonathan Mathius, an anchorman that reported the end of civilization in the form of a nationwide plague or germ warfare.
Mathius abducts Dr. Neville (Heston’s character, who luckily injected himself with a vaccine which staves off the disease that turns your eyes jaundice and your skin white). They parodied this film on a Halloween episode of The Simpsons. The actress who attempts to bring in the Blaxploitation element is Rosalind Cash; she plays a tough-talking leader of a survivor compound but even she is not immune to the disease. The weirdest part to me is how Dr. Neville recites the dialogue from Woodstock in the movie theater; it’s not very believable that he’d agree with anti-establishment hippies. I’ve never read the original story, but am aware that it’s a world of vampires instead of ghoulish, radiated wackos who talk about cleansing with fire.
Soylent Green has a class war message where rich apartments come with hookers and future guards steal to survive. Detective Thorn (Heston) lives in a dystopian slum where it's so crowded, he has to slither over sleeping bodies that cover the stairwell. Everything is rationed including water on certain days because of year-round global warming. Both Heston and his father are elated when a piece of meat surfaces in one of his raids but as the punchline/tagline goes is it made from cow or human?
The future of 2022 is a regulated nightmare where everything is government controlled and only the extremely rich reap the benefits. Everyone else has to rip them off to survive. It’s in essence the trickle-down theory where only the small percent is comfortable and the rest battle for survival. Charlton Heston costars with Edward G. Robinson (who was supposed to play Dr. Zaius but didn’t want to wear the uncomfortable makeup). This was Robinson’s very last film. There’s a cast of famous and bit part actors, like Chuck Connors, Dick Van Patten and one of the oddest, Violet Beauregarde’s dad (Leonard Stone) with mutton chops and a perm who punches one girl in the stomach. The only women in this movie are all prostitutes or “furniture girls” that come with the swanky 70’s apartments (even though it’s supposed to be the future). I like when one of the whores offers a hot shower to Heston’s character like it’s a form of currency. This vision of the future is very misogynistic but seems likely to happen especially since people now think climate change is a hoax and believe their own rhetoric bullshit. Lincoln Kilpatrick, who also plays Brother Zachary in The Omega Man, here plays an overworked weary priest who can’t live in this cannibalistic future.
The recycle theory of processing humans to feed the rest of us goes back to H.G. Wells' Time Machine, where the idiotic blonde Eloi race are fed to the Morlocks in order to weed out overpopulation. I also think Soylent was influenced by Jonathan Swift’s sarcastic A Modest Proposal, which was an essay that promoted cannibalism as a solution to the upper classes attitude towards the impoverished in English society of the 1700s.
According to Joe Russo and Larry Landsman’s book Planet of The Apes Revisited, Pierre Boulle who wrote the original text from which the film series was based on was influenced by Jonathan Swift’s Book IV: A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms. This story placed Gulliver in a village of emotionally detached super intelligent horses who incarcerate him and give out a death sentence but later on decide that since he can communicate verbally like them, they accept this human into their tribe.
Out of all of these 70’s films, the only future that seems plausible to me is Soylent Green, but we’re reaching a Mike Judge-level of Idiocracy sooner than we’d ever imagined and it’s terrifying! I could see Trump as a proud survivor of nuclear radiation in Mathius fashion, probably gloating that pushing the button was the right action to take and never apologizing for it. During this election all I can think of is the fact that Republicans will cower in embarrassment behind a tyrannical, racist, woman-hating madman in order to take control of the presidency. Even though CH was a conservative gun nut who subscribed to the notion of “reverse racism,” I am able to enjoy his work despite our opposing views because it’s fantasy and these are brilliant and cheesy films that hold up. Always separate the art from the artist.
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