The Last Man on Earth (1964)
Many movies have presented a story based upon a group or individuals attempts to survive the apocalypse, but few have gone the extra mile and ponder the philosophical question of whether it’s actually worth doing? The Last Man on Earth does just that, with Vincent Price starring as Dr Robert Morgan, the only survivor of a mysterious plague that’s turned the rest of humanity into the “undead”, hungry for blood. Each day, Morgan and goes into the city to kill the quasi-vampires (they’re actually more like Romero zombies) while they hide from daylight; every night, they in turn surround his fortified house and try to kill him. Morgan’s life is both sad and dismal, bereft of hope or any consolation. He muses on the point of it all in what is a depressingly eerie film. Based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, it’s a far cry from the 2007 version starring Will Smith and in many ways it’s far closer, more accurate adaptation of the book.
The Last Man on Earth is an American Italian co-production, that was filmed in Rome, with some location shots taken at Esposizione Universale Roma. Made on a modest budget, apart from Vincent Price, the cast are all Italian. However, the constraints of the production at times work in the films favour, offering a far more measured and therefore credible view of the apocalypse. There is one flashback scene where the are some brief shots of the dead being thrown into pits by the military and burned. This low-key depiction, works well and has a greater sinister ambience than big budget set pieces of the 2007 remake. Price gives a solid performance as the lost and forlorn lead character. Sadly, the English voice dubbing done in post-production is weak and at times undermines the drama. The solid black and white cinematography by veteran cameraman Franco Delli Colli, is an asset to the production.
As a horror movie of its time, The Last Man on Earth is adequate fare. However, on a thematic level it works far better as a study of human loneliness. The scenes where Morgan finds a dog and tries to entice it to him because he is so desperate for companionship are well conceived. Sadly, the animal is injured and will inevitably succumb to the vampire virus, so he is forced to kill it. Touchingly he then buries the dog. Unfortunately, despite adapting his own novel, writer Richard Matheson was disappointed in the finished film, finding it lacklustre and poorly directed. He subsequently changed his name on the movie credits. Although The Last Man on Earth is a somewhat small scale adaptation of a book with a much broader scope, it is not without its virtues. It offers viewers the essential essence of the source text and allows time to reflect upon the narrative’s themes.