The irony doesn’t escape me that, as I write about a man who is the sole human survivor of a virus that has killed the rest of the world and left the rest of the population as vampires, I am struggling desperately to string this sentence together through all the sniffing, coughing and splitting headache that I have at the moment. I presumably don’t have the same vampire virus that kills the world off in this movie, but I can tell you now... I’m finding this hard just to find the right keys to hit... let alone focus on the screen properly. So apologies if the grammar and spelling go a bit wrong on this blog post... or at least, wronger than usual.
The Last Man on Earth 1964 Italy
Directed by Ubaldo Ragona
MGM Midnite Movies DVD Region 1
Okay... it’s been a while since I last saw this movie and the only reason I thought I’d check it out again now is because I recently... kind of accidentally... bought yet a third DVD version of it... due to it being the second half of a double bill on one of those brilliant old MGM Midnite Movies release, dual-sided flipper-discs. I desperately wanted to see Panic in Year Zero so I ended up with another digital print of Last Man by default.
The Last Man on Earth is an Italian movie and is the first of four loose “adaptations” of Richard Matheson’s excellent novel... I Am Legend... the other three being The Omega Man 1971 with Charleton Heston, I Am Omega 2007 with nobody special and I Am Legend, also 2007, with Will Smith. Out of the four of them, The Last Man on Earth is by far the most faithful to the original source novel... perhaps because, before he disowned the movie on it’s release, Matheson wrote the rejected Hammer Films screenplay on which this movie was based and is credited under a pseudonym. It has to be said though, that while this is a great little movie... The Omega Man, which throws a lot of the book out the window, is by far the most fun version.
Just in case there’s anyone left in the world who isn’t already familiar with this story, the main character played by Price is a doctor who is the last survivor of humanity (his blood is the vaccine but he hasn’t figured out why yet). By night he barricades himself in against the vampire attacks... and they are proper vampires like in the novel in this version with garlic and crosses and stakes through the heart... and tries to find any human survivors on his ham radio by day and also kills and buries vampires by day. Not realising that a group of vampires who have been working on their own cure all fear him as a monster and that he has become “Legend” to these people.
There’s not much bad that can be said about this version of the movie. Vincent Price provides a voice over narrative during most of the film as he talks to himself in his head. It’s a real tour-de-force for Price and viewers perhaps only familiar with his more “hammy” roles will be surprised to see what a great actor he really was. He really knows how to hold your attention through body language and it’s a pretty challenging role to have to carry most of the film with no large chunks of dialogue.
There’s this moment in it where you think he is going over the top and then... how to explain it... you know Kevin Smith’s Dogma. There’s a scene near the end where Ben Affleck’s fallen angel starts laughing hysterically and then it turns into tears because he is not sure if he is happy or distraught and he’s caught between these two emotions which he’s trying to express simultaneously... the point when you realise, despite contrary opinion, what a great actor Ben Affleck actually is. Well, Vincent Price got there first... he does exactly that kind of thing here... an over the top Doctor Evil laugh which turns into an absolute expression of grief and tragedy. There’s not that many actors who could really pull that off methinks.
Another thing to recommend on this movie is... you know how in those old movies you’d get a montage of the hero and heroine in love with shots of them having a good time superimposed over various places... or a montage in a hard boiled detective movie which shows the detective constantly plodding while various location names float around him... well I’ve been trying to think of another one but I reckon this is the only movie I can come up with that has a hunt and stake vampires montage done in the same tone! Anybody else know where a vampire killing montage has been attempted? I’m sure there must be one... I just can’t think of one.
There is also an almost iconic shot of Price burning bodies in a pit, wearing a gas mask to protect himself from the smoky fumes of the dead.This film really doesn’t pull any punches like a modern movie might in certain scenes. Like the scene where he sees his freshly dead young daughter thrown into that same burning pit from years before.
If you like of sci-fi movies and especially post-apocalyptic movies or just vampire movies in general... The Last Man on Earth is definitely worth at least a look. And now, having done my duty and written this... I can collapse back into bed and try to ignore this horrible virus that’s eating up my body. Thank goodness for spell checkers.