One from the re watch pile…
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
The most recent was in 2007, where Will Smith starred in a version given the same name as the book, and it was pretty dire. The basic concepts were there, but the execution of the monsters was a CGI nightmare… though I do like the fact that they were voice by Faith No More’s Mike Patton!
Before that was 1971’s The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston. This film, directed by Boris Sagal, is a heap of fun, and I did enjoy it. For a period of time as an early teen I had this, and The Ultimate Warrior starring Yul Brynner on VHS (copied off the TV) and watched them both regularly but as I got older I lost interest, either due to over-watching it, or maybe I became bored of Heston’s machismo and macho scientist. Maybe I’ll watch it again one day, but that day is not soon.
For me, this one, The Last Man on Earth, is the one. It’s easily my favourite, even though Vincent Price may have been miscast, but godammit, its Vincent freaking Price, and he can be in whatever the hell he WANTS to be in!!
Originally slated as a Hammer film with a different cast, The Last Man on Earth had Matheson himself write the screenplay, albeit under an alias, and was directed by Italian director Ubaldo Ragona, with a predominantly Italian cast, so as one would expect, there is a fair bit of dubbing.
Our story is set slightly in the future world of the late sixties (the film being made in 1964) and we follow the memories and internal monologue of the survivor, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) of a plague that has turned its survivors into strange creatures of the night, who hate garlic and their reflection, and are repelled by daylight.
He spends his days getting supplies, and going systematically through neighbourhoods killing sleeping infected people before throwing their bodies into a giant pit where their corpses are burnt by a fire that seemingly has been burning for years. At night, he hides in his battered house, trapped not only by the vampire/ zombie creatures, including his former friend and fellow scientist, Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) but also by the memories of dead wife, Virg (Emma Danieli) and daughter, Kathy (Christi Courtland).
His loneliness after being alone for 3 years reveals a descent into madness, until he sees another living being, Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia). Is she another survivor of the plague, or is she a part of something else… something that could lead to Morgan’s eventual destruction…
This story is a disturbing psychological drama where we are basically observing a mission-oriented psychopath, brought upon by the stressor of his wife and daughter’s death, and how he becomes sloppy and unstuck completely when his routine is changed by an interloper. A lot of the film sees Price going about his business with a constant monologue running over the top, and his history told through flashbacks.
This film was said to be an inspiration on George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and you can really seen it in so many scenes! For me, I like this as much as Romero’s film and Price adds such a degree of class to the whole thing.
Format: This film, the Australian, region B Cinema Cult bluray is presented in a quite good 2.35:1 image with a decent DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. The film has frequent artefacts but not to the point that it becomes a distraction. It’s hard to bag a film of this age on its quality considering the vintage of the print.
Extras: Only a bunch of trailers that have been released under the Cinema Cult banner: The Killing, Paths of Glory, Dr. Phibes Rises Again and Masters of the Universe.
WISIA: For me, this is the best adaption of Matheson’s I Am Legend. It may not be entirely faithful to the book, but it shows that the story can be told with quality acting, and subtlety rather than dreadful CGI or Heston heroics.