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.

Price without Poe – Horror Movie Month

The prolific and fun Vincent Price did not always star in Poe adaptations. I’ve previously discussed his performance in the delightful Theater of Blood as well as The Fly and House on Haunted Hill (all still on instant Netflix and recommended).

Madhouse (1974) – Rated PG

Down on his luck and trying to keep a grip on his precarious mental health, has-been horror-film icon Paul Toombes (Vincent Price) takes a stab at revitalizing his career by starring in a television series based on his famous silver screen persona, Dr. Death. But when people start dying in gruesome ways that resemble Dr. Death’s handiwork, Toombes suspects the evil character has completely taken over his mind. Jim Clark directs this thriller.

Madhouse isn’t bad and makes good use of some Price stock footage from the Poe movies. It is a bit heavy-handed and obvious but guest-stars a gracious Peter Cushing. Robert Quarry is here as well. Quarry was groomed to be a new horror star but his Count Yorga films never really caught on. Madhouse is a mixed bag – fun but not nearly as fun as Dr. Phibes Rises Again, which features much of the same cast.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) – Rated PG

The eminent Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) awakens from several years of suspended animation and heads to Egypt with his mute assistant (Valli Kemp) and the corpse of his dead wife, determined to track down the stolen papyrus scrolls he needs to bring his spouse back to life. In this sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Phibes is up to his usual tricks, murdering people in strange and heinous ways; meanwhile, a team of inspectors is hot on his heels.

Both Dr. Phibes movies are fun with a capital F. The beautiful art deco set design, clockwork contraptions that would have been considered steampunk if they hadn’t predated the term, Campy, quirky deaths, and a wonderful turn by Vincent Price add up to fun, fun, fun. Peter Cushing has what amounts to a cameo here as do several other 60s stars. Robert Quarry is not as good as Joseph Cotten from the first movie but is adequate.

Witchfinder General (1968)

Set in 17th-century England, this chilling tale follows corrupt official Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price), who claims an ability to discover witches. But he uses his power to gain money and favors from people he’s fingered in return for declaring them innocent. When he arrests and tortures Father Lowes (Rupert Davies), Lowes’s niece’s fiancĂ© (Ian Ogilvy) decides to put an end to Hopkins’s sleazy practices and goes on a quest to seek vengeance.

Witchfinder General is a bit odd. It tries to say some important things about a particular era in English history while flirting with exploitation. This is actually Vincent Price’s best performance but I need to warn you that the film is not fun – it actually comes across as quite ugly, especially for the era. The other actors aren’t bad but this is another Price showpiece.

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.

If this plot description sounds familiar, it is because it is based on Richard Matheson’s I am Legend and was later filmed as The Omega Man (also on instant) and I am Legend and I am Omega. Will Smith is great in I am Legend but the CGI is pretty goofy, Charlton Heston is good in The Omega Man but the movie is bizarrely groovy, and I am Omega is just plain bad.

Last Man on Earth is an Italian production and is very atmospheric. It is in black and white and Price gives a somewhat restrained performance as the titular character.