The Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on Earth is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

“A plague has wiped out most of mankind, and those who survived have become bloodthirsty vampires. The only “normal” human left on earth, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) — who was spared by a twist of fate — spends his days methodically hunting down the undead mutants and his nights barricaded against their attacks. But when he meets the beautiful but contaminated Ruth, he discovers a secret that will unravel what’s left of his existence.”

“Another day to live through. Better get started. “

There was a time when I shopped for a car. Now I’m looking for a hearse.”

The Last Man on Earth begins with some wonderful establishing shots of a deserted city followed by more shots with corpses on the ground. The city has a wonderful desolate feel, like London in 28 Days Later.

Richard Matheson’s novel, I am Legend, is not only excellent source material for a horror movie but also an actor’s dream as the central role is essentially the only important one. It also made it ideal as an Italian adaptation since the token American star (Vincent Price in this case) was, again, the only important one.

Strangely, even though he partially adapted his own novel, Richard Matheson was very disappointed in the movie. He had written many of the Roger Corman – Edgar Allan Poe screenplays for Price (Tales of Terror, The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum, House of Usher). In spite of that, or perhaps because of Price’s hammy performances in them, Matheson felt Price was not right for the lead role in Last Man.

I find Matheson’s criticism misplaced. Price gives a wonderfully restrained performance as the titular last man. His tired, resigned narration adds to the dreary atmosphere. This is not as good as his performance for Witchfinder General but it is one of his best.

Watching The Last Man on Earth, it is clear that the look and feel clearly influenced George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. While the creatures in Last Man are treated as vampires (mirrors, garlic, wooden stakes), they behave much more like what we now think of as zombies. They are fairly mindless and only dangerous in number.

Remake-itis: Richard Matheson’s I am Legend was adapted again in 1971 as a science fiction vehicle for Charlton Heston. It is fun but the groovy aspects, such as the weird albino vampires and the then-novel African American love interest, make it more of a novelty than a good film.

It was adapted once again in 1997 as a vehicle for Will Smith. He did a great job portraying the loneliness and isolation and they let Matheson’s title stand but I am Legend suffers from an overuse of really goofy CGI and a poor conclusion. Asylum also made a mockbuster in 1997 to cash in on I am Legend. It is called I am Omega and stars martial artist/actor Mark Dacascos.

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