Friday, September 28, 2012

The Last Man on Earth Movie Review

I don’t necessarily think that The Last Man on Earth (1964) should be required viewing, but if you appreciate films for their historical influence I think you’ll get some great insight with this Vincent Price classic. It has influenced modern movies in ways you will probably recognize when you see the movie.
In a post-epidemic world, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) is the only survivor of a devastating world-wide plague which has transformed the entire population of Earth into vampire-like creatures. Now he’s alone; the last man on earth. At night, plague victims begin to leave graves, forming an undead army that thirsts for his blood. For his own protection, he becomes a vampire slayer that many vampires fear. After three years of solitude, he finds another human named Ruth (Franca Bettoja). Not only desperate for social interaction, he seeks her out to help him find a cure for the vampire virus. But Ruth doesn’t seem to be what she says she is. Can she be trusted?
The Last Man on Earth is based off of the1954 Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend. That novel has had several movies based off of it, including The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston and I Am Legend (2007) starring Will Smith. Of these three movies, The Last Man on Earth is the most faithful to the original book. The book is fairly dark, but since this film was made in 1964, there’s only so far the film industry would allow the film to go.
Vincent Price is clean shaven apart from his signature mustache, and wears a suit for most of the movie. That doesn’t really sell the “last man on earth” post-apocalyptic setting very well, but it is what it is. Price does a really great job showing us how damaged Dr. Morgan is after years without contact of another living soul. In one scene he is watching some old homemade film reels of his family. He begins laughing as he watches, but it’s kind of a haunting, empty laugh that portrays a deep sense of longing and sadness. As he laughs, it gradually turns into crying. We really get a feel that his years of solitude have taken their toll, and that this man is not well.
Possibly the most interesting and influential component is the “vampires.” At the time this movie was made, the best known vampire characters were Count Dracula and Count Orlok of the classic 1922 Nosferatu silent film. Both Dracula and Orlok were powerful demonic characters. Dracula was aristocratic, charming, and seductive while Orlok was a predatory ugly (albeit well dressed) walking corpse. The vampires in The Last Man on Earth were a type of movie vampire that had not been seen before. They were people who died from the disease, and then came back from the dead with a thirst for blood. They shambled around aimlessly, lacked rational thinking skills, and were capable of only rudimentary speech.
Sure, they were repelled by mirrors, garlic, and could be killed by a steak to the heart. But these vampires more closely resemble our contemporary paradigm of zombies. There’s a reason for that. George A. Romero was heavily influenced by The Last Man on Earth in writing and directing his iconic Night of the Living Dead which was released only four years later. The zombies in Night of the Living Dead were so influential that it set the standard for all zombie movies and video games forever after. Night of the Living Dead had a prodigious impact on zombie films, and it was The Last Man on Earth that heavily influenced Night of the Living Dead. We therefore have both of these films to attribute modern day zombie films and video games.
There are some problems in The Last Man on Earth. It is has some fairly slow pacing, a pretty low budget, leaves some narrative details unrefined, and the sketchy post-production dubbing makes it feel a bit unprofessional. All of that tends to undermine the story a bit, weakening its impact. I could understand not enjoying the movie all that much based on its substandard production, but I still think it’s a decent movie despite its weaknesses.
The Last Man on Earth was an interesting movie that had some good acting by the legendary Vincent Price. It’s the best cinema rendition of the I Am Legend novel; I liked it more than the Will Smith film. If you appreciate films for their historic influence, I highly recommend seeing The Last Man on Earth. If that’s not your cup of tea, I don’t expect you’ll enjoy it very much. You may like it if you enjoy zombie films since this is where our modern day zombie movie sprouted from.

The Last Man on Earth has fallen into public domain, which means the intellectual property rights have expired. What this means for you is that it is readily available for public use. If you want to see The Last Man on Earth, you can for free! You can follow the link below to watch it on YouTube. But you’ll get a sharper image if you can find it on DVD.

What is your favorite “Classic” vampire movie, not that “romantic” sparkly bullcrap variety? Comment below and tell me why!

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