Now that this granddaddy of dystopian zombie classics has been colorized and free to watch on Amazon Prime Video, there is no reason for any veteran or fledgling horror fan not to devour this sometimes forgotten progenitor of the genre. Staring horror master of ceremonies Vincent Price, this movie filmed in Rome in 1964, under the direction of Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow , is based on the great, late Richard Mattheson’s horror novel, “I am Legend.”
Sadly, Mattheson did not like the script, which he helped write, so he used a pseudonym: Logan Swanson on the movie credits. In interviews before he died, Mattheson also said that although he admired Vincent Price’s acting abilities, he didn’t care for his performance in the “Last Man on Earth.” However, horror master and creator of “Night of the Living Dead,” the late George Romero, admitted that Mattheson’s horror classic inspired his masterpiece that made zombie flicks a Hollywood and soon worldwide film craze.
Scoffed at by critics when it was released, today, “Last Man on Earth,” garners a 71% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes. In truth, considering the budget and obstacles that faced the making of the film, it is a work of horrific art, with some saying it showcases the often underappreciated acting skills of the last Vincent Price, while others say it highlights Price as a true, ham actor. I, however, give Price’s performance an emphatic thumbs up.
It is the year 1968 and the story revolves around the struggle for survival of Dr. Robert Morgan (Price), who finds himself the sole survivor — to his knowledge — of a catastrophic event that the movie implies was triggered from a biological warfare experiment gone wrong. An experiment, incidentally, that researcher Morgan had a hand in.
In a flashback, we discover the gruesome details of how Morgan helplessly watched his wife and daughter become infected and die, only to be collected by the local body removal trucks. One of the most striking scenes in the film is when Morgan follows the truck to the dump where his wife and daughter’s bodies are dumped into a pit filled with a huge pile of bodies. Horrifically, the images are reminiscent of World War II films of the aftermath of concentration camps and Hiroshima.
Yet, Mattheson is never given credit for his ground-breaking idea of creating a hybrid creature part vampire and zombie, which Morgan spends his days seeking out and driving stakes through their dead hearts as they sleep helplessly in dark, dank places. These same vampire-like creatures at night turn into zombies who try to extinguish Morgan’s miserable but clung-to life. Mattheson complained that the Vampire/Zombies in the film were portrayed as slow-moving creatures, while is book he described them as being very fast and agile.
In case you haven’t read Mattheson’s book or seen Will Smith’s “I am Legend,” I’ll not get too much more into the story, only to say that Morgan finds the company he so desperately seeks, which ultimately sends him spiraling into a hellhole of terror and ultimately coming face to face with his vampire/zombie tormentors. Let me close by saying the film is especially enjoyable in color and certainly a must-see for any true or want-to-be horror film aficionado.
Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial
© 2018 Chet Dembeck