The Last Man on Earth (1964)
The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.

Release Date: March 8th, 1964 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Sidney Salkow, Ubaldo Ragona Actors: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Umberto RAu, Christi Courtland

 


 

“T

he End Has Come” reads a sign on a community church. The Earth has been reduced to utter abandonment, with bodies strewn across lots as if mere litter, thanks to a European plague that has swept across the land. The population has been wiped out, save for Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price), who believes he’s the last man on the planet. It’s been three years (beginning in 1965) since he’s discovered any other human inhabitants, yet he continues to push on, surviving in total solitude.

He’s not exactly alone, however, as large collections of former humans have transformed into zombie-like vampires, which hide during the day, feeding on one another as a form of sustenance during the night. Fortunately for Morgan, he’s resourceful, so he occupies his time adorning his home with garlic and mirrors – traditional vampire repellents – while crafting wooden stakes for more close-quarters confrontations. He also searches for the vampires’ hideouts, where they gather individually or in droves during hours of sunlight.

Based on the Richard Matheson novel (he also wrote the screenplay, though he used a pseudonym), this premise of unthinkable isolation is absolutely terrifying – long before Morgan faces off against bloodlusting vampires. The mere thought of being so alone in such a vast area is the stuff of unending psychological torment; a life without any companionship would be enough to drive anyone mad. Of course, with Vincent Price in the lead, and with the varying adventures of vampire hunting, this plot becomes a classic sci-fi/horror scenario.

The picture boasts its fair share of eeriness, with nightmare sequences, a morbid voiceover narration, and the gathering and burning of disheveled corpses in a massive pit. And there are also religious components, flashbacks to Morgan’s life before the universal disease (involving his daughter Kathy [Christi Courtland] and his wife Virg [Emma Danieli]), and details on Robert’s chemical research in an attempt for a cure. But the explanation for the plague, the experiments at the lab, the conduct of the military, and the behaviors of the infected undead aren’t handled with enough sincerity to warrant their inclusion; it would have been more effective to leave the circumstances surrounding Morgan’s seclusion unchronicled. The tension is typically greater with an element of the unknown – and here, not knowing would have been far scarier.

“There was a time when I shopped for a car. Now I’m looking for a hearse.” Even with the unnecessary exposition and backstories, “The Last Man on Earth” is routinely fascinating. Price does an outstanding job of acting without the benefit of humanly interaction, even if he fails to emote with the fervor that would be warranted when he makes a number of startling revelations. The quieter moments possess a certain poignancy, fueled by Morgan’s reflections on his lost family and rumination on the future, but it’s the exhilarating finale, making sense of the source material’s title of “I Am Legend” that really packs a wallop. This is seminal science-fiction at its finest.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10