Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Umberto Raho
Directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow
Distributed by MGM/Fox DVD
With all of the hype surrounding Will Smith’s latest vehicle, I Am Legend (review here) it’s only right to take a look back at the earliest film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s timeless terror tale, The Last Man on Earth. Honestly, neither film is quite faithful to the source material and both are about equally as good, or bad for that matter.
In this 1964 rendition, the great Vincent Price plays Dr. Robert Morgan, the only survivor of a devastating plague that has caused the lion’s share of mankind to drop dead and then rise from their graves as a sort of vampire. There are no sharp teeth to be found here, and there’s never any real bloodsucking going on. What we get is a bunch of Night of the Living Dead type shamblers who cannot be exposed to sunlight, and have a hatred for mirrors, crosses, wooden stakes, and garlic. Just before completely giving up hope, Morgan discovers a lone female walking around. Could she be his salvation or is she more of a mutant than the shamblers themselves? That’s the question, and by the time I got to the film’s conclusion I have to say I really didn’t care either way.
Just like I Am Legend, the film starts strong with eerie scenes of dead bodies littering the streets and tons of atmosphere. Also just like I Am Legend by the time we get to the third act the flick unravels at a breakneck pace into absolute tacked on mediocrity. What is it about this particular story that simply cannot make it to the screen in grand fashion? Maybe Hollywood was just as ball-less then as it is now. I Am Legend is one of the greatest horror novels of all-time. It’s ferocious and not at all cinema friendly. Unless someone steps up to the plate with some guts we’re just going to keep getting these half-assed tellings that will continue to suck harder than the vamps in the book.
Even Matheson himself must be wondering why filmmakers continue to license his work if they don’t want to tell his story.
In terms of DVD extras we get a brief featurette entitled, Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Last Man on Earth, in which Matheson at least gets to vent a little. Most interesting is the part in this short doc in which he shares the story about how this was originally supposed to have been a Hammer film. Apparently Hammer passed on it because they were getting too much heat from the censors as it was with Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula. What a shame. I am willing to bet the folks at Hammer could have knocked this one out of the park!
So is The Last Man on Earth worth a look? Absolutely. But if you are really craving a great telling of the story, stick with the book. It has the most teeth.
3 out of 5
1 out of 5
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