When a disease turns all of humanity into the living dead, the last man on earth becomes a reluctant vampire hunter.When a disease turns all of humanity into the living dead, the last man on earth becomes a reluctant vampire hunter.When a disease turns all of humanity into the living dead, the last man on earth becomes a reluctant vampire hunter.
In this first filmed version of Richard Matheson's superb short novel "I Am Legend", though, Price really shines in one of the best performances of his career. Far superior to its 1971 remake "The Omega Man" -- as if we needed yet another "Charlton Heston vs. the subhuman hordes" outing after "Khartoum" and "55 Days In Peking" -- the script follows Matheson's book almost scene-for-scene, but then, I think the author always wrote with one eye on the movie or TV rights.
Morgan (Vincent Price) is the only survivor of a worldwide plague that kills its victims, only to resurrect them as zombie vampires. (His own immunity was conferred by the bite of a vampire bat infected with a weaker version of the virus, when he was doing research in South America.) By day, he systematically searches out the plague victims and destroys them in the traditional Van Helsing manner, retreating to his fortified house when darkness falls and the vampires come out to play. Worst of all, his best friend Ben -- now a vampire -- is part of the crowd that nightly besieges his house, thirsting for his blood.
Unlike "The Omega Man", very little of this film is devoted to Morgan's one-man war against the vampires, who as others have noted have a kind of "Night Of The Living Dead" ambiance, minus the gore. Instead it focuses on his utter isolation, both physical and spiritual, his mission as an exterminating angel the only purpose now left to his life.
A large part of the movie is taken up by a flashback to three years previous, to the beginning of the plague, as his friend Ben arrives at a birthday party for Morgan's daughter bearing an armful of presents. Against the background of the children's shouts and laughter the adults worriedly discuss the appearance of a new virus. The world then proceeds to fall apart in a quietly terrifying re-enactment of the Black Death, complete with National Guard "bring out your dead" units and a 24/7 immolation pit for the anonymous, canvas-wrapped corpses. Morgan's wife and daughter succumb to the virus in a sequence that is quite stunning in its low-key, almost clinical lack of the standard histrionics.
The black-and-white cinematography is as stark and minimalistic as the story (and, admittedly, the budget). The exterior scenes set in a deserted Los Angeles -- well, actually Rome, shot in the early morning -- are often quite effective in mirroring his internal desolation. Cast and crew alike do an excellent job with the material, despite the monetary constraints. Unlike so many in our current "bash you over the head" school of film-making, the real horror of the situation is allowed to speak eloquently for itself.
If you're expecting the high camp of one of Price's Roger Corman flicks, you'll probably be bored stiff by this movie. If instead you're looking for a surprisingly good adaptation of a great story, you can't do much better than "Last Man On Earth".
- henri sauvage
- Sep 6, 2002