Saturday, November 8, 2014

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) Blu-ray review

The Last Man on Earth (1964) d. Ubaldo Ragona / Sidney Salkow (Italy/USA)

“Another day to live through. Better get started.” From its opening shots of barren city landscapes littered with lifeless corpses to its bleak conclusion, the first screen version of Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend is a downer all the way. But considering the subject matter, this is no surprise, and director Ragona (with additional material inserted by Salkow for its U.S. run) is to be lauded for remaining true to Matheson’s apocalyptic spirit.

Following a worldwide plague that transforms the living into vampiric undead, lone survivor Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) spends days dispatching former friends and neighbors with wooden stakes and nights tearfully watching home movies while the infected batter away at his barricaded home.

The stark black-and-white scenes of shambling undead, some former loved ones, cannot help but conjure images of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (still half a decade away). Through haunting voice-over, Price projects the appropriately weary tone of a man isolated for nearly three years, torn between apathy and a base animalistic desire to survive, even if his less-than-athletic screen presence makes him an unlikely and/or unconvincing hero at times. (In the face of Uncle Vincent’s limp-wristed stake-pounding, one cannot help but imagine what Peter Cushing – originally considered for the role – might have done with it.)

The flashback sequences of the plague’s early days never quite pack the punch they should, due to the cast’s oddly mannered acting, but with the help of a strong third-act twist, the film musters an ending both tragic and satisfying. An admirable effort overall, leaps and bounds ahead of 1971’s The Omega Man and 2007’s I am Legend based on the same material.

The Last Man on Earth is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory as part of their excellent The Vincent Price Collection II, a dandy improvement over the multitude of public domain versions plaguing (ha! see what I did there?) marketplace. Supplements include a very worthwhile audio commentary by authors and enthusiasts David Del Valle and Derek Bohtello, and a vintage interview with the late Matheson in which the author explains from whence his "Logan Swanson" credit is derived, and how he came to employ it following screenwriter William Leicester's pass.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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