The Last Man on Earth (1964), starring Vincent Price
Vincent Price stars in the first, and best, adaptation of Richard Matheson”s classic horror/sci-fi novel I Am Legend. After a plague wipes out the human race, Dr. Robert Morgan (Price) struggles with loneliness. And with his sanity as the monotony of the unending days broken only by his daily hunts for vampires! One day on his solitary travels he runs across another surviving human: is she a mirage, or real?
Last Man on Earth is many things. It’s a horror film, dealing with the incredible loneliness of being the last human survivor. It deals with drama. The title character’s story is told in flashbacks. And it’s absolutely heart breaking. It’s the story of a loving family man. We see his wife, only daughter, and best friend at a birthday party in flashback.
As the plague spreads, his daughter grows ill. She goes blind. She dies. And the heartbroken father tries to prevent her corpse from being burnt in a massive burning pit. Leading to his conversation with the military man: “My daughter’s in there!” And the soldier replies, “So’s mine,” demonstrates that it’s a tragedy for all.
Later, his beloved wife dies. And her corpse arises, zombie-like. And he’s even more tormented, since the real woman he loves is gone. But her body’s still mobile.
And his best friend? The zombie-like man tries to kill him nightly.
The ending is even more tragic. But the whole movie is well-done. There’s a moment, where Vincent Price’s character finds a living dog. Another survivor of the plague, besides himself! Hope rises … and falls. And then, he finds a human survivor. Hope rises … for a time.
I frankly rate Last Man on Earth a rare 5 stars. I can’t see how it could be improved. It’s likely Vincent Price’s finest performance.
Editorial review of Last Man on Earth courtesy of Amazon.com
Vincent Price gives an atypically restrained performance as the sole survivor of a worldwide plague that revives its victims as bloodthirsty vampires. During the day, he canvasses his abandoned hometown, tracking down and stalking his former friends and neighbors, always making sure to return before nightfall, when the dead rise to assault his fortified house. Hope arrives in the form of an apparently normal young woman (Franca Bettoia), but her agenda proves to be even more sinister than that of the vampires.
Based on the 1954 novel by coscripter Matheson (whose displeasure with the final product spurred the use of a pseudonym), this Italian-made production is best known for its influence on George Romero”s Night of the Living Dead. The similarities between the two films go beyond the presence of shuffling zombies and housebound heroes; both feature taboo-breaking scenes of interfamilial murder, and both end on bleak, dystopian notes.
While The Last Man on Earth lacks the political and darkly satirical shadings (and graphic gore) that make Night of the Living Dead a more memorable experience, the combination of Bava-esque Gothic atmosphere and bleak, documentary-style camerawork by directors Ragona and Salkow (the brother of Price”s agent Lester Salkow) lend themselves to moments of pure frisson that compare laudably to Romero”s film. Matheson”s novel also provided the source material for the awkward 1971 Charlton Heston vehicle The Omega Man. A planned third version, helmed by Ridley Scott and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was shut down in its earliest stages due to skyrocketing budget costs. –Paul Gaita