Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Not often does a book come around that causes a stir like Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Not only has it spawned three movies, its influence has forever given the world a doorway into the undead. With the first and best adaptation, the 1964 Vincent Price classic The Last Man on Earth, the modern zombie tale took root. Every film, every story, has a way of giving life, and the staying power of this tale appears ready to span generations.

While this low budget film has many drawbacks like poor sets and uneasy editing, Price’s performance is masterful. His ability to transcend the unbelievable and take the viewers on a solitary journey into the world of the undead is remarkable. Price plays Dr. Robert Morgan, the only human survivor of the devastating plague that wiped out humanity, turning the victims into vile specimens of remorse. These vampire-like creatures roam the streets by night, search to crave their desire for blood. By day, Price searches the abandoned city, destroying the infected, all the while, trying to create an antivirus from the immunity of his own elixir of life. By night, he stands in his fortified house, trapped and tortured by the sounds of their constant attack.

The introduction of the female character near the end of the film does nothing more than detract from Price, and his daily outings in search of garlic and the undead. As a viewer, I felt captivated by his grim routine, the sharpening of stakes or replacing the mirror on the front door. These endeavors left a lasting impression of the doom and despair left by a life all alone.

From this film, the messages of redemption and salvation ring true amidst the unnerving backdrop of apocalypse, much the same way these messages survive in the modern works that owe their creation to this influential, yet, often overlooked horror classic. Without it, Barbara may not lose her brother in the graveyard and Night of the Living Dead may only be a dream. 

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