“The following is a guest post by The Midnight Mystic Mage.”
“Isolation is the sum total of wretchedness to a man.” -Thomas Carlyle
Imagine you are the last man (or woman) on earth. There are some plus sides to that right? I can finally go get all the video games I’ve been putting off buying, I can eat big juicy steaks every night, there is nobody there to stop you so the sky is the limit. Now imagine that same scenario with blood thirsty zombie/vampires overrunning the world, not such a good time.
This brings us to the plot of our movie we are covering today, The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price. I recently went over the source material for this movie which is the legendary (no pun intended) novel, I Am Legend. I watched the Will Smith version a couple of weekends ago and I am a huge fan of it. I felt they took the ending (spoilers: highlight to reveal) and had a unique spin on it by making the meaning of “I Am Legend” be that he cured the virus rather than he became a Legend to the new world of vampire half breeds by murdering all of their friends and family. “The Last Man on Earth” version was made with the help of the author, Richard Matheson. So it is easy to see why many of the main aspects such as this would be kept in tact.
The version at hand begins with a shot of the desolate town that is in shambles due to the outbreak of the virus. Bodies are lying all around the city, cars abandoned in the middle of the streets. A community church sign reads “The End Has Come”, and they were right to believe that. The end had come for all of mankind as far as we can know, besides for one man, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price). This character refers to Robert Neville of the novel by Richard Matheson. He has, to quote the movie itself, “inherited the earth”. It has been three years since things became that way at the start of the film. We follow Morgan on a day like any other in his apocalyptic Wasteland of a home.
Morgan makes sure there is enough gas in the generator to keep his base up and running for the day. It is obvious that he has done well at fending for himself in the new era of desolation that he has been subjected to. After filling the generator, he takes the board off of his garage to walk out and see that there are more dead bodies littered about. He claims there are more every day that he has to bring to the pit to dispose of, just another day in paradise.
Going through what appears to be the motions of just another day, Robert tries to call for anybody that might be there on the radio, replaces the garlic in various areas about the outside of the house, and puts the finishing touches on a stake he had previously been working on. He picks up the bodies (who totally didn’t turn into prop dummies between takes) and tosses them into the car to head out into the Wasteland. After hurling the dead vamps into the pit and lighting them ablaze it is down to the rundown shopping mart for our protagonist. He takes a basket full of fresh garlic and moves on to a store where he gathers a good amount of mirrors, both surely to ward off the vampires when it comes time. Once he is loaded with supplies, the hunt is on.
Robert wanders the city finding the undead monsters and putting them out of their misery. He brings each one to the pit and sets them ablaze, all in a day’s work for the last man who roams the earth in a land of terrible creatures. Finally though it comes to the night when Morgan can kick back and put a record on in his home base. Of course he has to put up with the yelling of Ben Cortman yelling out his name and taunting him to come out, but this is also just more of the usual. It sounds very funny hearing the zombie-like vampire calling out to him in a normal voice.
There are many familiar scenes to those who have read the book, Robert meets the dog and has to struggle with gaining its trust. It does not last as long comparatively in the movie and I didn’t feel the connection was as deep. This tends to be the way it is when comparing the book and the movie though in any sense. The dog does die because of the disease like in the book though and leaves our desolate character back to sulk and drown his sorrows.
During said period of sulking, there are many flashbacks to his life before all of this tragedy befell him. He had a wife and a child, both of whom became infected with the virus. His daughter was the first to go, when she became sick her parents were obviously distraught. When she passes away they bring her to the officials who throw her into a pit to be burned. This is devastating for her parents to see and when his wife falls victim to the plague he can not bear to see the same done to her. He brings her body to bury elsewhere unaware of the impending consequences of that action.
Robert’s wife of course comes back to life and tragically comes to attack Robert. He has to kill her and bury her again, this is when he learns that a stake to the heart will defeat the vampires. This all mirrors the book very well and there are only very subtle differences throughout most of the movie. I have already mentioned the name change, and in the movie he is also a scientist rather than a plant worker. This helps to better explain the reason for all of his deductions about the disease and how often he studies it while ultimately curing it even if all for naught. Another difference from the book was that in the movie the Vampires are very sluggish and zombie-like. The book paints a picture of much faster Vamps that can run and jump and who are much more formidable.
Robert finds a woman named Ruth who appears to be unaffected by the disease, and gets her back to his shelter. This comes with some old timey man-shaking-woman-by-shoulders like “Get it together broad!”. Despite the cheesiness they build a fairly deep relationship that involves Morgan finding out that she uses a syringe with a type of antidote to stave off the virus. It doesn’t cure the virus, but it keeps it from turning her completely.
She lets him know that she is from a sort of colony of people like her that use this and that many of the people Robert has been killing were not fully vampire, but were their friends and family. Robert even killed her own husband, but she forgives him because she can see now that she is close to him what he thought he was doing. She had been sent as a spy though, and she warns Robert that he has to get out of there while he still can. Robert won’t do it though, it’s hard to tell if he just doesn’t want to give up his base or he thinks they will be able to change the minds of the oncoming mob. Before they get there however he is able to inject Ruth with a sample of his blood which is the only blood to be completely resistant to the virus. It’s a cure! It works and she is completely rid of the virus, but that does not sway the oncoming militia. They have their minds set and will not listen to reason. Morgan is captured and after exclaiming that he is the last true man on earth among these freaks, he is speared in the chest and put to death.
This movie was filmed in Rome which I thought was very cool. It was also an independent film & was directed by the duo of Ubaldo Ragona & Sidney Salkow, the both of which have directed precisely 0 other movies that I have heard of or know anything about. Written by a mish-mash of different writers including co-director Ragona & Richard Matheson himself.
The man that made the movie a thing to behold despite the corny vampires and limited budget (at least it would appear that way) was Vincent Price. Price was in over 100 films, amongst many other appearances in TV, radio, etc. He also has 2 stars on the walk of fame for TV & Film, and has become a personal favorite of mine. The way that he portrays characters is just so different than anything I have seen before. Price went to Yale University where he received a degree in Art History then proceeded to the University of London hoping to pursue a degree in Fine Arts, but ultimately being entranced by Theatre. I have truly enjoyed all of the movies I have seen this far starring Price, and I eagerly look forward to seeing as many more as possible.
The 8-bit Review
Where The Last Man on Earth really excelled visually was in the setting. A beautiful location to film many different scenes of the movie, no doubt. I thought for an indie picture they did many things very well visually. Where I felt personally that it failed miserably was the Vampires. I don’t have much constructive criticism for what they should have done with a low budget to make it better, but the effect they gave was many times laughable and that is not what they were going for I am sure. I loved his bunker and the sense of desolation that many scenes gave, however, and it helped to keep the effect the Vamps had on me from ruining the mood.
It is based very closely on one of the most influential and compelling horror stories of all time. Not only that, but the directors worked with the original author to create the movie. So in Narrative, this film really excels, how could it not? Richard Matheson’s tale leaves us wondering what could come of our very existence as humanity in the distant future. Maybe not in such a fantastic way as the story portrays, but it raises many very interesting questions nonetheless.
This is not by any means a bone-chilling movie that will leave you with nightmares. As I have already stated the Vampires in the movie had me laughing at certain points. There are times when it is slightly frightening to contemplate the implications of being in a situation such as the protagonist is in, but as far as horror goes, it won’t leave you checking your closet and locks before you go to sleep.
When you ask about what is essentially a one man cast, and the casting for that role is Vincent Price, you have done about as well as possible in my opinion. He is an actor that has reached across the plane of time and captured my attention when I have not even known myself to usually be a fan of older movies in general. He has a very unique voice, appearance, and acting style, taking what in any modern sense would be a bare bones film and captivating you with his charisma. Any older movie is harder for most to go back to and appreciate with the standard of new CG animation and action sequences in mind. This is never a factor strong enough to take away the thrill of seeing Vincent do his thing on set for me personally. He was truly something special.
As with much fiction the meaning and overall themes are up for interpretation. What could the sickness that is taking over all of humanity to the point of extinction stand for? What does it mean that at the end of our story we realize the hunter of the monsters becomes the monster himself? There are some very philosophical questions at play in this story to be sure. It may not be the first thing that jumps to mind as you watch, but when you think about the story a bit deeper there is a goldmine of meaning behind the ideas that are presented.
This is another shining example of what the narrative behind the movie does correctly. There is so much tragedy that befalls our main character and the suspense is constantly building with each new development. What is going to happen when he finally finds other life in the form of a dog? How will it play out with the woman who appears to be unaffected by the disease? Will Robert be able to make it out alive after learning of the new civilization? The film is packed with different aspects that keep the conflict of the story building and building.
At the time this must has been revolutionary as the novel was for horror. I might not have mentioned this but the story behind the movie is what many claim started the Zombie Apocalypse genre. Pretty bold statement seeing that you cannot flip a channel or look through some movies to watch without seeing SOME type of zombie stuff. It is so overplayed now that I almost write off anything I see that has to do with zombies because of how tired I am of the genre. That just goes to show how iconic this movie and any adaptation of the story I Am Legend by Richard Matheson was to the horror genre.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
I have never seen a Vincent Price movie that I didn’t love, and this one was no exception. He does an incredible job portraying a character that is pivotal to the horror genre as a whole. There were not a ton of bells and whistles but when you are watching a master of his craft at work, those are not really necessary. One thing I love about Price is that he does the classic tales of horror, and he does them damn well. It engrosses you into these stories that are so important to literature and I can never help but to look into what other adaptations have been made as well as reading the source material and reading about it. He takes the building blocks of horror and displays them in full animated style, in such a way that you are truly absorbed into the world of some of the best stories ever written.
Aggregated Score: 7.9