The Last Man on Earth

Director(s): Ubaldo Ragona & Sidney Salkow

Italy - 1964

    Hoff! Hoff!   

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A few years ago I read about a tentative film project based on the popular novel, I Am Legend. It was going to star Ah-Nuld, and feature a budget that could feed a third world country. I was intrigued; not by the budget or star power (tee hee!), but by the story. I had never heard of I Am Legend. So obviously, how was I to know that it had been adapted twice beforeB-Fest. Three in the morning. After JUNGLE HELL.? And imagine my surprise upon the realization that I had already seen one of them.

The film I knew was The Omega Man, starring the ever-loveable Charlton Heston. Before Chuck, thereís The Last Man on Earth, starring the legendary Vincent Price. I was never impressed with Omega Man (am I supposed to be scared of albinos?), but nevertheless, the urge to see LMOE proved irresistible. So I made a beeline to the Video Vault (have I mentioned it may be the greatest video store ever?) and picked it up.  

The year is 1968.

After a horrible virus turns the population of Earth into zombified vampires, a scientist by the name of Robert Morgan (Price) finds himself stuck with the titular moniker. Everyone he has known and loved is either gone or become a bloodsucking creature of the night; hell-bent on destroying him. Morganís existence is merely an eveCH. What's missing? UR.ryday struggle to stay alive. In short, it sucks to be him.  

During the day, Morgan prowls the city. He collects the necessities of life, all the while hunting the creaturesí nest; exterminating any stragglers he happens to come across along the way. At night Morgan holes up at his house, which has been fortified with the tools necessary to fend off the hellspawn that craves his blood - crosses, garlic, mirrors, naked pictures of Rush Limbaugh weightlifting, etc.

One day, while burying his dog, Morgan happens across another survivor. Though she is scared at first, Morgan is able to convince the young woman back to his swinging bachelor pad (you go, Vince!). Once home, he makes some startling discoveries. As it turns out, his new friend is, in fact, infected with the deadly virus. Yet she remains within the boundaries of sanity through the use of a special serum. But the How do you like your stake? (Shame? Never heard of it.)biggest shocker was yet to come - there are several other survivors just like her! Inspired by this revelation, Morganís keen analytical mind goes to work. He hypothesizes that perhaps with a simple blood transfusion (using his own mysteriously immune blood) he can cure these tortured souls of their horrible affliction, and perhaps rebuild Earth as they once knew it! Lo and behold, the procedure works! Ruth is cured!

However, happy times soon come to a screeching halt when Ruth drops yet another bombshell. It appears that her fellow survivors will be stopping by the house as well. Unfortunately, it wonít be to slug down some 40 ouncers and watch celebrity Jeopardy! (they really dummy-up the questions for those morons, donít they?). Morganís vampire hunter lifestyle is about to catch up to him. After years of staking the Undead, Robert has inadvertently killed off some of their own. They now intend to return the favor.    

Back when I first saw LMOE, I really enjoyed it. To an extent I still do. Unfortunately, the film juAnd salad bar.st doesnít seem to hold up (for me, anyway). I fondly remember the piece being atmospheric and creepy, but I donít recall it being so slow. Now, Iím not the kind of guy that needs something blown up every ten minutes - but throw me a bone here, buddy. A bunch of sluggish zombies beating on Morganís door may be interesting for the first couple minutes, but sadly, it wears thin rather quickly.

This brings forth an inevitable comparison with Night of the Living Dead. Like LMOE, NOTLD has plenty of shambling zombies; the difference being, the monster mayhem is backed up by interesting subplots involving the humans - racial tension, domestic squabbles, etc. Besides Morgan himself, Last Man gives you little to care about. Zombies attack! Vince makes a little dinner. Zombies attack! Vince sharpens some stakes. Zombies attack! Vince ponders if itís time to change the garlic. Not exactly gripping cinema, you know.

Where LMOE doe"O-E-O-E-O! Girl I'd like to know ya! Know ya!"s succeed is through mood. Ragona and Salkow do a great job establishing a heavy sense of foreboding throughout the length of the picture. As Morgan plods through the excruciating monotony of his doomed existence, there is an undeniable sense of dread that things are eventually going to get even worse. Credit is to be given to the eerie black and white photography (which, granted, may have been inadvertent), the barren landscapes, and Priceís melancholy performance.

Which brings about yet another gripe.

Though I may raise the bar a bit too high, I must admit to being a tad underwhelmed by Vincentís portrayal of Robert Morgan. Having complimented him just a moment ago, I realize this makes me sound like a moron. But we are talking about Vincent Price, and I expect a little more from him. In comparis"Say, how about a little dinner over at my place tonight?"  "Eeww! Not if you were the last man..oh wait.."on with some of his other films (like, for instance, The House on Haunted Hill Ė horrible movie, great performance), Price appears to be merely going through the motions as Robert Morgan. Perhaps heís just waiting for his paycheck to go through. But all in all, even in his poorest showing, Vincent Price is always a pleasure to watch.

What makes one appreciate good actors even more is the slew of lame supporting actors he (or she) is sometimes surrounded by. Besides Price, anyone with a substantial role in LMOE basically sucks eggs. Franca Bettoia, who plays Ruth Collins, is just OK. Same goes for Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, who plays Ben Cortman (Morganís best friend). But Iím willing to bet that whoever cast Morganís wife and daughter must have owed them (or someone close to them) a tremendous favor. Or perhaps there were photos featuring farm animals and/or James Doohan in a diaper* involved. But enough about that.

So, is The Last Man on Earth a horrible movie? Good golly, no. My bitterness probably stems from having enjoyed the film tremendously the first time around, and then let down the second. But it is worth a look; especially for fans of Mathesonís novel.


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These are the times of which to cherish...


Insert flatulence joke here.

The pit downtown where Morgan takes corpses to be burned. Am I supposed to believe thereís a perpetual fire down there?

- After discovering an infected dog, Morgan is forced to stake and bury it. When you see Price about to drop the burlap sack into a shallow grave, one canít help but notice the stake stuck through the bag and (presumably) through the dog. So, he must have put the dog in the bag, and then stuck it? 

Acting!

After being ďstruck blindĒ by the plague, Morganís daughter looks directly at her mother while blubbering that she canít see. As we all know, the first rule to playing blind is to stare off into space and wave your arms like an idiot.

 

Hairstyle courtesy of Arch Hall, Jr.

Ben Cortman: Even after being turned into a zombie, his hair still looks great!

*Spoiler ahead! *

- After being mortally wounded by the vampire half-breeds, Morgan lies dying in Ruthís arms, all the while repeating: ďThey were afraid of meÖĒ A great ending to an OK movie.

 

-- Copyright © 2001 by J. Bannerman

 

 

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* "James Doohan in a diaper" - Copyright © 2001 by J. Southards