Quick Hit: Relying heavily on one of the most charismatic horror stars, this novel adaptation succeeds in ways that the newer versions failed.
A lot of people saw the Will Smith vehicle I am Legend that came out in 2007. It grossed over 250 million dollars domestically, despite received mixed reviews. But fewer people seem to realize that there were two adaptations of Richard Matheson’s famous novel (of the same name) that took place prior to this. One was in 1971 and was called The Omega Man and the other was today’s film: 1964’s The Last Man on Earth.
Starring Vincent Price, this follows a man that is left alone on the earth. All the other people have been infected with a disease that has made them vampires. But the vampires, despite following typical vampire rules, seem to be more like zombies than anything else. They lurch and slowly move around, and seem to want nothing more than to kill Richard (Price). The movie is told mainly through Price’s voice, which is terrific. There is a large portion of the film where we simply follow him on his day-to-day, much like the remakes.
For me, this is honestly one of the most interesting parts. Price has a magnitude on screen that few people could manage, and the film rests entirely on his shoulders until the midway point where we start to see some of his tragic past in flashback. Shortly after that, he gets a dog, which dies just like the other films. That’s because it too is infected. However, this is played much left for emotion, with the dog dying off screen, presumably by Richard’s own hand. It’s when he is burying the dog that he sees another being for the first time in four years. I won’t spoil the twists that follow, but they’re worth it.
What a lot of people don’t realize outside of horror circles is that this seemed to be one of the first “zombie” movies outside of today. Preceding George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, there is a lot in common between the films. Of course, Dead improves on things – allowing other characters to be there, and scoping it more in horror – but The Last Man is a solid interpretation of a survivor thriller. There is a car shown to different details that few films would have paid. For example, Price insisted on lifting real people into the cars he drives around to increase the realism in the scenes. The wooden stakes were created on a real saw.
I think that this is much better than the remakes, and not just because I’m partial to Vincent Price. The film has an atmospheric quality and generates the loneliness really well. It’s not focused on the action that other films are, and instead allows us to feel what it would really be like to be alone for all those years. I’m going to give The Last Man on Earth a “B”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
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"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"