Director: Sidney Salkow
Writers: Logan Swanson and William F. Leicester
Cast: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Umberto Rau, Christi Courtland, Tony Corevi, and Hector Ribotta
Composers: Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter
Release Date: 3/8/1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
When a plague devastates the population of Earth, scientist Robert Morgan (Vincent Price)—apparently the only surviving human—remains locked indoors at night and goes outside to hunt zombielike creatures during the day. Upon discovering the contaminated Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia), Morgan uses a sample of his own blood to cure his new acquaintance—with a twist occurring shortly thereafter.
The first of three film adaptations based on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, The Last Man on Earth combines an eerie, black-and-white setting with a sci-fi twist on the vampire theme. Also praiseworthy is the performance of Vincent Price, whose tragic pathos adds an air of sympathy to his character.
For establishing an atmosphere of nihilism and despair, the dry narration of Robert Morgan (known as Robert Neville in the original story) should be commended. For example, Morgan (fully aware of the irony in his circumstances) bursts out laughing while acknowledging the futility of seeking out fellow survivors, befriending an infected dog, and clinging to memories of a past life for comfort—reactions that reinforce the human element of Matheson’s narrative.
The Last Man on Earth fails to explain why diseased, intelligent zombies possess many similarities to the vampires of European folklore. The literary source material, in contrast, provides a scientific basis for the vampire legend, revealing why plague-ridden creatures would respond negatively to garlic, mirrors, and (in the case of Christian vampires) wooden crosses.
By depicting the loss of Morgan’s wife and daughter, the flashback scenes allow the viewer to share in the unspeakable pain, loneliness, and hopelessness felt by the protagonist. Nevertheless, an extended sequence highlighting the initial outbreak, the death of Morgan’s family, and the hypothesis of Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart)—former colleague and best friend of Morgan—hamper the pacing of this film.
Though quite different from his lustful, rugged counterpart in Matheson’s novel, Robert Morgan serves to demonstrate why a life of solitude, self-imposed or otherwise, can never quell the need for companionship—a notion supported by Morgan’s deteriorating mental state throughout this film.
The Last Man on Earth is a creepy, atmospheric horror movie. Vampire enthusiasts and fans of science fiction should therefore enjoy this offering, best viewed as a companion piece to the aforementioned novel.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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