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10/23/13

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH - REVIEW

Based on Richard Matheson's classic novel "I Am Legend", The Last Man On Earth was an early adaptation which starred Vincent Price as a man living in a post-apocalyptic world taken over by vampires.

Although the title and Price's presence may suggest an over-the-top sci-fi monster movie, this is in fact a much more serious and surprisingly well thought-out effort which still makes the recent I Am Legend movie look like crap. The vampires in this film are more like zombies with a blood problem than straight-up vampires but the main iconography is, indeed, there so you can either see it as a precursor to Night Of The Living Dead or a completely different type of vampire film. Vincent Price's character is completely isolated and lonely as he spends his days burning vampire bodies and his nights locked up at home, battling monsters who get too close. You're told in an appropriately depressing flashback that, early on, his family fell victim to the vampire "disease" and he had to kill his own wife. There's a tragic vibe running throughout thanks to the sad backstory, the depiction of our hero's empty existence, his inability to trust anyone and the downer ending. The dog scene which, if you've seen I Am Legend, was the strongest emotional point of that movie, works just as well here and, in fact, is stronger because it's much more clinical in its portrayal and, ultimately, more heartless and cruel to its protagonist.

This is a surprisingly moody and gritty film for 1964 and it's good to see Vincent Price play a more down-to-Earth character for once. Many of the film's images are quite striking (mass graves, the ending in the chapel) and the fact it's in black-and-white only adds to the lifelessness of that world. Price's character is forced into trusting someone later in the film and just when you think things might kinda work out for him, on a small scale at least, you're once again treated to a cruel and harsh outcome. This movie's pretty unforgiving and there's no time for light-hearted moments but it's kept interesting because we learn more about this dark future as we go on and, unless you've read the book, it's hard to guess where it's going, though the film takes liberties with its source material. This really is the type of bold movie you'd expect from the 70's and in that sense, The Last Man On Earth was kind of ahead of its time. The performances are impressive all around and although the Will Smith remake and The Omega Man often hog the limelight, it's well worth going back to this movie and giving it the attention it deserves.

The Last Man On Earth is a tragic and effective little vampire/zombie film with a grand yet subtly hidden scale and a lot of heart. Here's a monster movie that's way more human than you'd expect and really captures the sad fate of its character rather than succumb to easy horror cliches or gore.

Dark, classy, raw, sad as hell, brilliant.

A must.

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