Monday, March 22, 2010

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

There really isn't any good version of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. The Omega Man with Charlton Heston has a lot of cool moments, but the whole movie is a failure. The Will Smith version is just... boring. What's left is Sidney Salkow far from perfect The Last Man on Earth with good old Vincent Price as the not so lucky survivor of a disaster that wiped out most people on the earth and turned the rest of them to vampire-like creatures. Well, actually they seem more like zombies and it's interesting to see how much Romero got inspired by this movie (which he himself has pointed out).

I think the best thing with the 1964 version is that Dr. Robert Morgan lives a terribly boring life. He's not the jolly good fellow Heston or the tough fun guy Will Smith. He never, not in a moment, enjoy his life as the last man on earth. His life is repetitive and the only thing he does is killing vampires during the day, being bitter and sad, and then trying to stay up all night stopping the vampires from get into his life. Life's shit and not fun at all. He's also filled of guilt and still lives in the house where his family died, because it's their place. Life don't get easier when one of his co-workers terrorize him every night as a vampire, screaming "Morgan! Come out....".

Not that this version is perfect, far from actually. Sidney Salkow's direction is very static, and maybe competent - but in a way that it feels a bit like a wasted opportunity. Just think if Terence Fisher could have directed it instead? or Roger Corman! That would have been something. Salkow's idea of directing is one shot - two shot - one shot - two shot and then some landscape. The attack-scenes outside the house, or when the vampires are chasing him is shot very generic and boring, but it's saved by gorgeous cinematography and a wonderful performance by Price.

Yes, Vincent Price. The master. This is his one man show here, and he's playing one of the most bitter and sad men in his career. He uses his height to almost make himself even more sad, like a lonely giant among aggressive ants. The performance is filled by interesting ideas, and just watch him when he realizes that the vampires think he's the monster. Suddenly he becomes a monster, with a hunchback and everything, twisting his body to something from one of Roger Corman's Poe-movies. It's quite subtle, but suddenly we understand how the bad guys of the movie actually see him as the monster, the main bad guy himself. Here we also understand how obsessed the character is about himself and how smart he is, to the point where he forgets that he's just a human being himself and not especially perfect at all.

The Last Man on Earth is one of the more interesting genre productions from the sixties. Uninspired direction and a the extremely weird idea to claim that Rome is LA (which don't work for one single second) can't stop this movie from being a classic and a very important movie in the history of horror movies.


CiNEZiLLA said...

Oh man do I have some scary freaking memories of that movie! I know that I saw it as a kid and it terrified me profoundly. This was of course before one realised that Price was the Campmaster, but still it holds a magic place for me.

I love the original book, it's just so dark and awesome.
Possibly one of my all time fave novels.

Great post Fred. Keep up that fantastic work.


dfordoom said...

It's Vincent Price in one of his best and darkest performances. Easily the best movie adaptation of the novel. I do agree that with Corman as director it could have been even better.