"Another day to live through. Better get started. "
This post is part of the Vincent Price Blogaathon, hosted by Reelweeigie Miget Reivews and Cinematic Catharsis. Find more great posts in this blogation here.
When I was thinking about a film to write about for this blogathon so many of my favorite Vincent Price films came to mind - The Fall of the House of Usher, House on Haunted Hill, Laura. But I figured what better film to watch when you're shut inside during a global pandemic than a film about a man alone in the world with vampires?
While normally I would concentrate on what really draws me to The Last Man on Earth (1964), its religious subtext and bleak, existential dread, given that this blogathon is about the last man himself, I would like to focus on Price's work in this film.
Adapted from Richard Mattheson's novel I Am Legend (1954), Last Man on Earth is hailed as one of the most faithful adaptations of the book in contrast to the two other major adaptations, Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007). Mattheson himself noted this about the film, though he did not actually like it, using a pseudonym to pen the screenplay. He believed that Price was miscast for the part noting that Harrison Ford would have been the best choice.
Needless to say, Price did play the role with is usual style and flair.
If you haven't seen the film, I suggest you watch it before reading any further...
The Last Man on Earth opens with a sunrise and what appears to be a desolate cityscape. Getting closer we see bodies lying in the streets, in doorway, and on piles of construction materials. Quick cuts show us more and more, like images out of a wartime magazine. It is truly bleak.
It is among the dead that we are introduced to Price's character, Robert Morgan, who is sleeping. Once awake, Morgan narrates in a way that only Price could do. We get the picture of a lonely existence of mundane routine. Everything that we need to know about what is going on the present is situated within those first few shots. Coupled with the eeriness of Price's narration, we get the sense that Morgan has not only fallen into a routine, but has no belief he will ever break that routine.
Morgan goes through phases, we see him perform his mundane tasks almost lost in the ritual of it. Until he, like everyone in a zombie film, becomes too complaisant with the idea that he is alone and doesn't make it home before sunset. This jolt of coming so close to death prompts a resurgence of his scientific endeavors. This along with the appearance of a dog, a living dog, fuels Morgan efforts to understand and figure out the disease.
In the end, Morgan encounter a woman, who is a spy for a group of vampires who espouse the creed "better living through chemistry", and look to kill Morgan as he has killed members of their group. Ironically, Morgan, having given a blood transfusion to the woman he just met, saved her through his antibodies. And yet he had to die, the last man on earth.
The Last Man on Earth, distributed through American International, having been picked up from Hammer after British censors did not approved the film's subject matter. Can you image how good this film would have been as a 60's era Hammer film? Filming took place in Rome, which totally looks like L.A., since I haven't been to L.A. since we lived there when I was 5 - but yeah, it's totally L.A. The film is really interesting time for Vincent, as it drops between Comedy of Terrors (1964) and Masque of Red Death (1964), two of my other favorite Price AIP films. It seems like the marketing for this film didn't know what to do with it, and looked to market the film as if it were part of the Corman Poe cycle. The American poster for the film oozes with a gothic vibe - a Victorian looking mansion, and a ghost like figure of a woman adjacent to a large picture of a worried Price. And of course, a frail distressed woman in a state of undress. All of which do not appear in the film, which is fine with me. One of the things I love about mid-20th century genre films, especially those out of AIP and Hammer, is their promotional materials. Just amazing, amazing art produced that in some cases like Last Man on Earth, have nothing to do with the film itself.
This film still stands up today, and is visually striking in many aspects. It also served as a huge influence on George Romero, who cited it as one of his inspirations for Night of the Living Dead. This is evident in the vampires look, as well as the overall desolate look of the film. At the very least, we have this film to thank for influencing Romero.
As far as Price is concerned, I always enjoy his work, however, I would tend to agree with Matheson, he might have been miscast in this role. When I read the book it wasn't Price that came to mind - it wasn't Harrison Ford either, Matheson's ideal person. Yes, Harrison Ford with George Miller behind the camera. I can only dream of the film that would have been.
If you love Price, like I do, then this film is great. It makes a great double feature with House on Haunted Hill (1958).
The Distracted Blogger
I watch movies. I write about them here. I watch more movies. I get nothing else done.
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