Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on EarthVincent Price, one of the most distinct voices in the history of cinema, plays "The Last Man on Earth," fighting vampires. Most of the first act of this film is Price's character, Dr. Robert Morgan, lone survivor of the human race. Most people better know him as Robert Neville.

I think that this version is perhaps the most faithful to the original Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend, in part because Matheson himself wrote the original screenplay. Each adaptation has its faults, this one being so low-budget that it just couldn't do the script justice, and the 2007 Will Smith film failing to do the meaning behind the title of the film any justice. Ironically the original (alternate) ending to the 2007 version hit about as close as they could considering the "humans" were nothing more than pack animals with little more than base human characteristics. Later re-writes convinced Matheson to remove his name from this film, but he's still credited under the pseudonym "Logan Swanson."

This is my second favorite Vincent Price film, falling just behind "House of Wax." You may say, "Chris, Vincent Price was in a lot of bad movies!" Yep. Keep reading.

I suspect the re-writes probably had to do with slimming down the budget – in the original story, the vampires are fast, not lumbering zombies. They can run and climb. The use of a "cure" in this version of the film comes a bit too easy, perhaps something modern genetics allowed the 2007 film to be a bit more flexible with, but not poor Dr. Morgan with a crummy looking garage chemistry set. The vampires in the film, aside from their dislike of the sunlight, acted a lot more like zombies (or really really slow people). This film certainly did help inspire modern zombie films as it laid the foundation for Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

They could have also built up and strengthen the final confrontation a bit more, but as I postulated earlier, I don't think that the budget could have supported anything different.

In a likely move to save even more money, much of the beginning of the film is just a voice over, which unfortunately drones on at times. Dr. Morgan goes about his day-to-day, post-apocalyptic, activities such as cleaning up dead bodies, finding new food, and then finishing off the day with killing a few vampires in the early evening before bed. The movie does pick up a bit in the second act, when he meets Ruth and his conflict with finding a true cure to it all and his belief on whether or not any of them are truly human anymore completes the film. The film is very pessimistic – and thus so is Price’s character, who has completely given up, which ultimately leads to his downfall.

I'd like to thank my friend Matt for introducing this film to me so many years back. I first watched this one in one of those "50 films for 20 dollars" public-domain box-sets. The print was rife with problems. It was obviously produced using an inferior quality print. But I didn't care. The movie is an enjoyable B-flick.

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