Why haven't you seen.....?

All of us know important and famous films that, for one reason or another, we've never actually seen. You know, the kind of film that when you sheepishly admit to never having watched, is met with an  incredulous, "What do you mean you haven't seen......?"

Well, Bubbawheat who runs the great Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights has decided to do something about it and start filling in the holes on his cinematic CV. Each fortnight he invites someone to introduce him to a famous film that's he's yet to see, recording the experience in his Filmwhys podcast.

Exploding Helicopter was recently a guest on Filmwhys and we took the opportunity to introduce Bubbawheat to the classic film noir Double Indemnity.

In return, Bubbawheat introduced us to The Pumaman, a low budget superhero movie considered by the esteemed users of IMDB to be the 29th worst movie ever made. Although it's not all bad, as The Pumaman does have an exploding helicopter in it. Listen to the Filmwhys episode and hear what we made of both movies.

The Green Berets

“I don’t do westerns,” said legendary composer Miklos Rozsa when approached to write the soundtrack for The Green Berets (1968).

“It’s not a western,” came the disingenuous reply from the film‘s producer. “It’s an eastern.”

Such semantic sleights may have tricked Rozsa into taking the job, but nobody watching the finished product will be so easily deceived. While ostensibly a war film about the Vietnam conflict, this couldn’t look more like a Western if you stuck a stetson on its head and attached spurs to the opening credits.

But we should hardly be surprised. The film’s producer, director and star is none other than John Wayne, a man who spent so much time in the saddle that eventually he walked as if he was still in one.

It’s entirely possible that the Duke (or Marion, as he didn’t like to be known) set out to make a realistic and contemporary account of America’s most divisive conflict, rather than a terrible faux-Western. But hey, guess which we got?

The Big Guy obviously had enough sway in Hollywood to get this funded – put simply, his name sold movies – but even the least savvy studio exec must have known in advance it’d turn out to be a spaghetti-shambles. Here are two reasons why.

First, Wayne was so rabidly, over-the-top patriotic – allegedly hating commies, liberals, fags, and pretty much anything not wrapped in a star-spangled banner – that this was never going to be a nuanced affair.

And as someone who is reported to have once told Playboy magazine: “I believe in white supremacy…I don’t feel guilty that five or ten generations ago these people were slaves”, there was no chance he’d give a fair depiction of the Vietnamese War. In fact, he couldn’t even get any actual people from Vietnam to be in the film: the enemy combatants are actually Japanese.

Second reason: the only thing Wayne could do was Westerns, and he’d been uniformly terrible in all but a handful of them. His best Westerns tended to be made with director John Ford who, wisely, told him ‘act with your eyes’ and quickly learned to cut most of the lines that the big man routinely murdered.

So when you consider the premise of this film – a bad actor in simplistic Westerns takes on possibly the most morally complex war of the century and turns it into a simplistic Western – you begin to see how problems might emerge.

And boy, do they emerge. Using one of his old cavalry pictures as a template, the Duke simply swaps horses for helicopters and replaces the Apache with the Vietcong. The cast, following their director’s lead, strut around as if they’re still in a cowboy movie. The plot’s shakier than a saloon bar door. At any moment, you half-expect to see a wig-wam in the background or a comic scene with a redskin ‘native’ looking for ‘firewater’.

Still, there is one thrill in this film that no western ever provided: an exploding helicopter.

Flying back to base, ’Charlie’ opens fire on the helicopter Wayne’s riding in. There’s a small explosion that causes the pilot to lose control. After plunging through the night sky, it crashes into the ground where the burning fuselage rolls over dramatically.

Several passengers just manage to scramble out of the wreckage, before the shattered remains fully explode. Ye ha!

Artistic merit

This is a great exploding helicopter scene, especially when you consider the technical and special effects limitations everyone worked with way back in 1968.

When the chopper is hit by gunfire they’re clearly using a model, but as the scene takes place at night the trickery is cleverly hidden. After watching the whirlybird spin round trailing flames, we cut to a shot of a real helicopter (presumably attached to a crane) that swings across the screen before the flaming fuselage is dropped to the ground to complete the sequence.

While it does all look a bit, well, fake, you have to salute Wayne’s efforts to make the scene work with a clever combination of model and camera work.

Exploding helicopter innovation

There’s nothing new in the manner of destruction, but The Green Berets can lay claim to be the first Vietnam war movie related helicopter explosion.

Do passengers survive?

The Duke, naturally, survives. The only disappointment is he runs away from the burning wreckage rather than slouching away in his trademark grizzly-bear-with-haemorrhoids manner.


Janssen: resplendent in his safari suit
David Janssen is a delight as a journalist opposed to the war who’s been embedded with the Green Berets. He looks majestic as he swaggers through the film in an unbuttoned safari suit, firing off cynical barbs at John Wayne and his men.

However, given this is a John Wayne stars n’ stripes affair – and achingly pro-Vietnam War – it’s painfully clear from the outset that our resident cynic is being primed for a clunky Damascene moment, where he’ll finally realise the glory of freedom and the American way.

It occurs when the Gooks launch a big assault of the Green Beret’s base and appear in no mood to spare the life a bleeding heart liberal – even if he can flash a press pass and an editorial condemning the war.

Before you can say ‘unconvincing conversion’, a lifetime’s considered pacifist beliefs are tossed away and Janssen‘s happily off firing mortars at those damn, dirty Gooks. Gawd bless America!


The Green Berets is a clunking piece of propaganda with an unequivocal ideology. It’s the sort of thing Dick Cheney probably used to masturbate to before medical concerns forced him to turn away from the joys of onanism. And while we may not all agree with its rabid right-wing world view we can surely all concur that this film is a stinker of the highest order. Certainly, nothing in the story justifies the torpid, almost two and a half hour running time, as the story trundles along like an overloaded prairie wagon.

Favourite quote

“What happened?”
“He bought the farm, but he took a lot of them with him.”

Interesting fact

Apparently, John Wayne turned down the role of Major Riesman (played by Lee Marvin) in The Dirty Dozen in favour of making The Green Berets. Another sound decision from the Big Man.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then check out our Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on The Green Berets. Listen on iTunes, Podomatic, YourListen and Sticher

Piranha 2: The Spawning

There always was something a bit soggy about James Cameron.

Certainly, the ocean has been a curiously recurrent theme in his career. The bearded wonder gave us watery weepie Titanic, submerged sci-fi thriller The Abyss, and not one but three award-winning oceanic documentaries. The man probably goes to bed in a life-jacket.

Even before all those Oscars and smashed box office records, he was out there sniffing the cinematic briny with his directorial debut: Piranha 2: The Spawning (1981). Unfortunately, it would appear the critics smelled something else entirely.

This cheapo Italian exploitation flick was one of a shoal of fishy thrillers churned out in the wake of Jaws’ all-consuming box office success. Predictably, given it’s origin as an unashamed cash-in, no-one wanted to rock the boat by having the plot swim too far from the formula of its carnivorous forefather.

So, in an entirely intentional parallel to Steven Spielberg’s mega-hit, the action takes place in picturesque coastal resort town. With cynical similarity, the seaside idyll is shattered when bodies start mysteriously floating ashore just as the town’s holiday season is about to begin.

Afraid of scaring off the tourists, would you believe the town’s unscrupulous bigwigs are reluctant to take action? Zounds. And so it falls to local sheriff Roy Scheider-sorry-Lance Henriksen to save the day.

So far, so seen it all before. But conscious of the jaundiced ennui of sofa-bound critics, the producers have lined up a surprise to jolt jaded viewers from their bored complacency. And that surprise is: these piranhas fly.

"Fly my scaly friends, fly!"
Yup, you did read that right. Where Jaws managed to get through a full movie without sprouting wings and Godzilla – to the best of Exploding Helicopter’s knowledge – never grew gills, Cameron clearly felt his fish absolutely needed to fly, goddammit.

Unlike your average piranha – equipped only with razor-sharp incisors – these fishy fiends use their fins to burst from the waves, zip about in the air, and dive-bomb unsuspecting sunbathers on the beach.

It sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous. But it’s actually an inspired way to significantly up the jeopardy, since no-one, even if they’re on dry land, is now safe from the meat-hungry critters.

Attempting to swim against such a rising tide of silliness would leave most actors hopelessly lost at sea. Fortunately Lance Henriksen exudes an air of unperturbed cool in the face of increasingly implausible events.

It helps that he looks the part. Supermodel thin, with a baked-on tan and straggly unkempt hair tied back by a bandana, he roars around the ocean in a police speedboat looking more pirate than chief of police.

Luckily, Lance brings his trademark louche insouciance to the film’s primary attraction: the helicopter explosion.

Henriksen: More pirate captain than police chief
Piloting the police chopper (small and sleepy this town may be, but it‘s got a full complement of official vehicles), Henriksen flies out to sea to help a boat which has got into trouble.

Not having one of those fancy whirlybirds with floats that can land on water, Lance has to figure out how to get down and lend assistance to the distressed mariners.

Demonstrating the old adage that the best ideas are always simple, Henriksen solves the problem by simply leaping from the helicopter. With no-one at the controls, the chopper veers off, out-of-control, and crashes into the waves before exploding.

Artistic merit

The helicopter that’s destroyed is clearly a model, but the scene is well enough staged and, when it comes, the fireball is big enough to hide all sins.

What’s particularly winning is the casual way in which Henriksen, having no more use for the chopper, simply abandons it to meet its doom. People have thrown away Styrofoam coffee cups with less abandon.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Henriksen's police chopper meets its watery demise
Helicopters have exploded after crashing into water in other films – for example, in The Guardian and Men Of Honor, but it’s a pretty infrequent occurrence. This is perhaps the earliest known example of a chopper meeting a watery demise.

Do passengers survive?

Obviously, Lance Henriksen survives as he still has to save the town. And help Ripley destroy the Alien in several later, unrelated movies.


You might be wondering how the piranhas in this film developed the ability to fly. Luckily, here comes a crowbarred-in scene of clunking exposition to shed light on things. As a bit-part actor robotically explains, the flying piranhas are the result of that hoary old plot standby: the experiment gone wrong.

Apparently, during the Vietnam war the US military top brass came up with a plan to win the bloody and intractable conflict by releasing genetically-engineered super piranhas into the Mekong Delta. And people wonder how America lost.


Already struggling to be taken seriously, Piranha 2 makes the galumphing mis-step of attempting some moments of ill-advised comedy, which fall horribly, horribly flat. Exploding Helicopter would rather be gnawed to death by the titular fish than sit through these gruesome gags again.

Favourite quote

There’s not a line here that bears repeating. Instead, let’s re-visit James Cameron’s own verdict on the film. Aware that this perhaps wasn‘t his finest directorial hour, he later offered the following tongue-in-cheek appraisal of his own work: “I believe The Spawning is the finest flying piranha movie ever made.”

Interesting fact

While this is officially where Cameron’s career began, our Jimbo was reportedly sacked during the making of the film. Accounts vary as to what stage he collected his P45, with some saying Cameron completed photography on the film but was locked out of editing, while others insist Jim was fired after a week with the film’s producer shooting the film. He must have been heartbroken.

Review by: Jafo


Who hasn’t wanted to be a soldier? Running around in the mud with a machine gun and a camouflaged, paint-smeared face. Wot larks.

If you didn‘t, then you probably wanted to be a pilot, scorching through the skies at Mach-2 while locked in a deadly aerial dogfight.

Odds are, however, you never longed to be in the Navy, meandering slowly around the world’s oceans doing, doing…..what is it they do, exactly?

Yup, there’s no hiding it: the Navy is boring.

It’s just a duller world – geared towards the complexities of fleet management, integrated modern weapon systems and sophisticated engineering mechanisms. Sorry, did you drop off for a moment there..?

When the brains behind Battleshit (and no, that’s not a typing error) came together, they no doubt swiftly realised they had a problem. How the hell do you make the dull logistics of modern Navy life thrilling to cinema’s key audience: pimply-faced teens?

Their answer, while not pretty, does have a certain base logic to it: give ‘em aliens, sex and guns. So they make the Navy repel an alien invasion, squeeze Rihanna into a booty-licious sailor outfit, and get Liam Neeson (cast here as a grizzled Admiral) to gruffly shout ‘Fire!’ a lot.

And that’s it, frankly. In the face of such brutal reductionism, nothing so flagrant as a coherent plot was ever going to make the cut. Everything here is about maintaining the attention of pubescent boys. That’s probably why – and try to keep a straight face here – the alien trouble starts when scientists try to contact another world by tweeting them. (Presumably something like: @E.T. r u aliens LOL.) See, kids, the movies are just like your life!

Rihanna: "Bring me a baby panda to cuddle NOW!"
Incredibly, this genius idea backfires. (Maybe one of the scientists got drunk and sent a snapchat pic of their knob.) Whatever, the cousins from outer space send their reply in the form of five heavily-armed attack ships, rather than an amusing video of a cat repeatedly falling off a sofa.

As intergalactic conflict breaks out, Hopper, the buff hero, flexes his pecs and starts saving the day. It’s never explained why a work-shy pussy-hound is in the Navy, where slacking-off and fraternising with women are court martial offences, but that’s the least of this film’s inconsistency worries.

Oh, yes. Very soon, a much bigger question looms: does this day actually need saving? Weirdly for an alien invasion movie, these evil spacemen don’t actually seem too bothered about global conquest. For long stretches, they do na-da. Like intergalactic pikies, they just shuffle up, make a big mess of the ocean, then loaf around doing nothing.

This boring stalemate continues for ages, leaving the audience in the awkward position of having to watch actors hired for how buff they look actually trying to speak. (Neeson, the sole capable thesp, looks pig miserable in these scenes.)

It’s snore-worthy fare, though Exploding Helicopter was impressed by how they got Rihanna to stay in front of a camera for two consecutive minutes without baring her arse.

On and on it goes, like a leaky old boat taking on water. And by the time an old WWII battleship performs a handbrake turn (The Fast and the Funnelled, anyone?), everyone’s too weary to point out that ships don’t really do that.

Neeson watches his own soul die as he delivers
another deathless line of dialogue
And yet, just as the eyelids start to close, Battleshit comes up with chopper fireball action aplenty.

In a honking great blockbuster like this, one exploding helicopter was never going to be enough for the film’s conflagration-hungry teen audience. Instead we're treated to a record breaking eight helicopters being blown to smithereens in one short orgy of rotor-bladed mayhem.

It begins peacefully enough, with the octuplet of helicopters parked innocently at their base posing no threat to anybody. Nevertheless the aliens head straight for them, providing a visual treat as the weird spherical spaceship devices barrel through the parked whirlybirds.

At times like this, one bemoans the lack of a collective noun for exploding helicopters. If a murder of crows or a conspiracy of lemurs, then why not a con-flame-gration of choppers? Hey, it could catch on.

Suffice to say, the eight vehicles explode spectacularly.

Artistic merit

There’s much to be said for exploding helicopter scenes that are unnecessary and gratuitous – and this one is the very apogee of needlessness.

The helicopters here aren't strategically important, they're not fitted with secret anti-alien devices. There's no reason to think they pose any kind of danger.

This palpable lack of threat lends the scene an aesthetic purity. It suggests exploding helicopters are an elemental property of film, above the mere petty demands of plot or logic – a phenomenon to be appreciated on its own terms and in reference only to itself. Which is to be applauded, of course.

Number of exploding helicopters

A historic and record breaking 8.

Exploding helicopter innovation

The destruction of helicopters by aliens in this kind of actiony, sci-fi movie has become a yawn-inducing commonplace. (See Independence Day or Battle: Los Angeles for just two examples).

Given the choppers always get absolutely pummelled – and that such a contest is the aerodynamic equivalent of Macaulay Culkin vs Vinnie Jones with a nailed club – it’s actually refreshing to see the lumbering helicopters not even make it off the ground. And more realistic.


Watching Rihanna trying to act never gets old. Even mid-line, she looks about ready to throw an insta-strop and demand one of her ‘people’ bring her a truffle smoothie and baby panda to cuddle NOW.

Throughout Battleshit, many of the cast wear t-shirts saying ARMY or NAVY, presumably so she can tell the difference. (In earlier cuts, rumour has it the invaders also had to wear ALIEN t-shirts for the same reason.)


Almost everything. In particular, there’s a depressing certainty of knowing that, at some point, someone will have to drop the famous tag-line. So when Liam Neeson, of all people, finally says ‘You sunk my battleship!’ you can almost see his soul die a little inside.

(Fair enough: the film’s pay check probably bought the big man a swanky Malibu beach house. But if so, you can bet every time he sits out on the deck and suddenly remembers how he paid for it all, that iced cocktail will curdle in his mouth.)

Interesting fact

The most famous review of this lumbering, over-long mess was a model of economy from which the film could have learned much.

It was, simply: ‘Miss’.

Review by: Donny Pebbles

Still want more? Check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast on Battleship. Listen to the show on iTunes, Podomatic, YourListen, Stitcher, or Acast.

The Expendables

After a run of box office duds in the early Noughties (Get Carter, D-Tox, Driven), Hollywood decided that Sylvester Stallone was himself expendable and consigned him to the movie scrapheap.

Unable to get an acting gig, Sly licked his wounds for a few years before rebooting his career with sequels to the two franchises that had established him as a star in the first place. And while critical reaction to Rocky Balboa and Rambo was lukewarm, both films made handsome returns at the box office.

Counting purely on his own firm resolve – and some industrial-sized injections of human growth hormone – Sly proved, against all expectation, that there was indeed a market for watching pension-age action stars creak arthritically through the butt-kicking moves of their youth.

No surprise then that, for his first venture into ‘original’ material since the great comeback, Stallone opted not to stray too far from the profitable formula. If nothing else, The Expendables (2010) has no shortage of ultra-violence dispensed by doddery old folks.

The token plot (and let‘s be honest, this isn’t a story that invites scrutiny) has Stallone as the leader of a bunch of mercenaries for hire. They’re paid to assassinate a military dictator who is running a massive drug operation. Other than the obligatory rogue CIA agent, that’s about it.

Technically, this is an original work. However, despite his dopey features, Sly is much too sharp to have not recognised that the success of Rambo 4 and Rocky 6 lay in their nostalgic groove. Audiences don’t want him to move with the times, so much as go back in time. Retro, therefore, is the order of the day.

The style, mood and even cast – action stalwarts Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, and Gary Daniels are exhumed from their DTV careers to co-star – are all classic vintage. The film couldn’t be more Eighties if you permed it’s hair, dressed it a shell suit and made it dance to Kajagoogoo.

Despite all the snapping bones and non-stop fighting, a warm, feel-good vibe permeates the film – one that trades heavily on the audience’s affection for these grizzled old bears going through the motions all over again. After all, besides baddies and grenades, they also now have to contend with lumbago and the possibility of losing a bit of wee mid-action scene.

In many ways, with its familiar cast of ageing reprobates getting up to no good, it’s like a peculiarly violent episode of Last Of The Summer Wine. At any given moment, one almost expects the Stath to slip on a woolly hat and start eulogising about Nora Batty’s saggy tights. (As it is, he instead opts for repeatedly pummelling someone’s face into a scarlet mush, but you get the general idea.)

Cheap bon mots aside, there is a serious point to be made. The Expendables works because Stallone understands why people love Eighties action movies – because they featured larger than life characters who visibly enjoyed their ass-kicking antics.

Compare, let’s say, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando (1985) to the po-faced seriousness of the Bourne films, where Matt Damon blankly beats the bejaysus out of everyone with the bored indifference of a supermarket checkout worker. It’s easy to admire the Bourne films, but pretty hard to love them.

The Expendables may be full of genre clichés, but they’re delivered with love and affection rather than being cynically trotted out as a tick-box exercise. As such, it’s no surprise to see the movie delivering on the ultimate genre staple: the exploding helicopter.

At the end of the film, Stallone and his men launch a huge assault on the villain’s HQ. Realising the game is up, Eric Roberts attempts to make a getaway in a helicopter. And with Sly prevented from reaching him by a wall of fire – and the whole base going up like a fireworks display – it’s looking like he’ll succeed.

Fortunately, Old Stroke Features comes up with an inspired piece of improvisation. One of his unfeasibly musclebound cronies throws an artillery shell (that conveniently happens to be lying around) towards the chopper and, as it arcs through the air, Stallone fires his pistol at the shell. Ba-boom! One flambéed helicopter coming right up.

Artistic merit

The explosion is a whopper, big enough to satisfy every red-blooded chopper fireball fan, even if the CGI is a trifle too noticeable.

There’s also a good shot of Stallone diving away from the explosion in classic action movie style as he‘s nearly dismembered by a piece of flying shrapnel.

Exploding helicopter innovation

The ‘MacGyver style’ improvisation with the artillery shell and the pistol is a nice touch. While helicopters have been destroyed in more unusual ways, it’s rare to see a character being so intellectually creative in the execution of his plan. (And of course, having the words ‘Sly Stallone’ and ‘intellectually creative’ in the same sentence is a novelty in itself.)

Still, such ingenuity is not unprecedented. That renowned intellectual heavyweight, Steven Seagal, once used only a knife, paint-stripper and some advanced cub scout skills to blow up a chopper. (The film was Under Siege, fact fans). But then, you can tell Big Steve really clever by the way he almost says his lines.


The plot is commendably simple: kill the baddie and rescue the girl. At some point around the late Nineties, filmmakers started worrying that this formula had become exhausted and started throwing in lots of arsey sub-plots involving double and even triple crosses.

One day, Exploding Helicopter will get its protractor out and draw you the graph showing the inverse relationship between plot complexity and audience interest.


As much as we love the ensemble cast it does create a problem: how to squeeze everyone in?

Eric Roberts, ostensibly the main villain, has to share too much screen time with David Zayas’ inferior evil General and his character feels a bit undercooked as a consequence. Roberts’ henchman (played by Gary Daniels and Steve Austin) are also left with little to do other than scowl in the background before becoming human punch-bags in the film’s extended showdown ending.

Still, you can’t say Sly isn’t a learner. In The Expendables 2, which has a similarly sprawling cast, everyone is given a suitably memorable moment in the spotlight.

Favourite quote

In a movie that celebrates action cinema, it’s pleasing to hear Randy Couture utter perhaps the genre’s ultimate cliché: “We got company”.

Interesting fact

Dolph Lundgren’s character was originally killed off, but audience reaction to the blonde lunk in test screenings was so positive that scenes were re-shot to show he hadn’t died.

Review by: Jafo

The Omega Man

Charlton Heston was always either yesterday’s man or tomorrow’s man, but never a man for today.

That at least was the conclusion of the Hollywood producers who, when they tired of casting him in historical epics set thousands of years in the past, catapulted him into the future via a string of sci-fi films.

Chuck may have ached to star in humdrum contemporary dramas, but the poor sod always ended up either struggling with wedgie woes in tight spandex or trying to hide his gnads as he undertook action scenes in a skimpy toga.

By the end, he must have been desperate to just put on a pair of chinos and be done with it. Sadly though, it seems no-one could find a home for his lantern-jawed visage and hulking, rangy frame in a modern day setting.

In The Omega Man (1971), Heston plays the sole-ish human survivor of a terrible biological war that has killed most of the human race. All that remain are marauding gangs of albino-looking mutants who can only emerge at night due to their light-sensitive eyes. (For reference, think of pasty-skinned, nightclubbing Brits in Ibiza during the high summer.)

When Heston discovers other human survivors and realises there might be a cure for the virus, the stage is set for a deadly confrontation against the mutants with the survival of the human race at stake.

Crikey! That would be enough jeopardy to turn most men into quivering jelly but, for Chuck, this really is just another day at the office. After all, this is the kind of man who laughed at the might of the Roman Empire (Ben-Hur), who commanded oceans to part before him as a party trick (The Ten Commandments), and freed the human race from simian slavery barely without breaking a sweat (Planet Of The Apes).

Yup, with Charlton on the job we already know the fate of human civilisation will be safe. So, to keep things interesting, the film – set in an imagined 1977 – weaves in a little contemporary social commentary.

Chuck enjoys the absence of gun control legislation
in post-apocalypse Earth
First, there’s a barbed critique of Sixties hippy idealism, most apparent in the scene where Heston sits in an empty cinema watching the 1970 Woodstock documentary. Clearly viewing the film for the umpteenth time, Chuck mechanically recites the interviewees’ aspirations about peace and brotherly love. We’re left to appreciate the irony between their vision for the world and the one Heston now lives in.

It’s also probably no accident that the mutants organise themselves into a group called ‘the Family’ – a not so subtle nod to beardy psychopath Charles Manson’s murderous cult.

Interestingly, even racial politics find their way into the film. Several clearly black mutants (remember everyone’s made up to look albino) refer to the world’s ills as a product of the ‘great white way’. Coming just a few years after the assassination of Martin Luther King and at the height of the radical activism of the Black Panthers, these words would have carried a resonance that’s easy to overlook today.

That’s what makes the romance between Heston and Rosalind Cash – one of the other human survivors – so striking. Inter-racial relationships onscreen were a rarity in 1971, and the film seems determined to shock by including a redundant scene where Heston and Cash shop for birth control pills.

Viewed today, the only jarring aspect of the romance is the large age gap and entire lack of chemistry between the two actors. But presumably when you’re the last man and woman alive on earth, you take it where you can find it. And, in fairness, such obvious obstacles didn’t stop Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones from being married for over a decade.

It's not fun being a mutant
Anyway, enough of such sociological ramblings. Let’s concentrate on the far more socially significant aspect of the film: the helicopter explosion.

This occurs in a flashback to events when the virus is first taking hold across America. Heston, an army colonel, is rotoring along to a military base.

As the helicopter is mid-flight, the pilot suddenly succumbs to the virus and slumps down dead in the cockpit. Heston is unable to control the ailing chopper, which plummets from the sky and crashes at speed into the ground with explosive effect.

Artistic merit

Judged against the standards of the day, pretty good.

Director Boris Sagal employs a small cheat and has the helicopter disappear behind a low ridge so we don’t actually see it hit the ground. However, Sagal rapidly cuts to lots of burning wreckage so it‘s not like we‘re completely denied our pleasures. For 1971, this is an above average helicopter crash

Do passengers survive?

Yes, Heston crawls clear of the wreckage. The pilot, if he wasn’t killed by the crash, was presumably finished off by the lurgy bacteria.


The opening scenes, which feature Heston driving through the desolate, deserted streets of Los Angeles, are as atmospheric an opening to a film as you could hope to see. It’s a powerful, eerie and disorientating entry into the film.


It’s entirely possible that film composer Ron Grainger was scoring a made-for-TV romantic drama at the same time as Heston’s movie, and accidentally sent in the wrong tape. In places, the whole enterprise is nearly ruined by his awful soundtrack. Imagine Jaws with the Sound of Music score and you’ll get the idea.

Favourite quote

At one point, Heston says: “Take your stinkin’ paws off me you damn dirty mutant!” Okay, maybe I just wanted him to say it.

Interesting fact

Filmmakers really did struggle to find modern day characters Charlton Heston could play. Between Ben-Hur in 1959 and The Omega Man in 1971, Heston made just two films which had a contemporaneous setting.

Review by: Jafo
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