The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Directed by Ubaldo Ragona [Other horror films: N/A] & Sidney Salkow [Other horror films: Twice-Told Tales (1963)]

As many of you may know, Vincent Price is one of my favorite actors in the horror genre. It’s hard to imagine not liking one of his movies, and The Last Man on Earth, based on the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend, is not only a quality movie, but one of the finest of the 1960’s.

Not only that, but it has to stand out as one of the most dismal. True, I think the ending of Night of the Living Dead is ultimately more depressing, but the tone of this film throughout is just one of hopelessness and solitude. It has a fantastic aura – the city void of any living beings, which just looked amazing – and for some quality atmosphere, you need search no further.

Of course, Vincent Price is great here. In fact, this is probably one of his best performances (at least out of the movies I’ve seen), and his internal monologue (with perhaps some of the best first-person narration in horror) was just depressing. There’s a scene where he’s watching some old home videos of his now-deceased family, and begins wildly laughing, only to soon turn into uncontrollable sobbing. A damn strong and emotional performance here, Vincent Price knocks this out of the fucking park.

Also worth mentioning is how the story is told. For the first 28 minutes, we get a look into Price’s current life, and how he fills his days (throwing bodies into a burning pit, getting some fresh garlic, searching for the hidden vampires to put a stake through their hearts – all that monotonous fun), and then we’re given a 24-minute flashback as to how the world got to the deserted husk we’ve been seeing. Once the flashback’s done, we come back to the present-day, and Price learns that he may not be as alone as he thought.

None of this is necessarily groundbreaking in terms of story-telling, but I did think that it worked out really well, and just gives a little more flavor to this movie (as though it really needed any).

Another unique aspect of the film is the nature of the antagonists. Technically, they’re vampires, and share many of the traits (can’t stand their reflection in a mirror, unable to operate in daylight, rather dislike garlic, need to be staked through the heart), but really, these things feel a bit more like Romero zombies (and as it’s four years before Night of the Living Dead is released, that is impressive). One thing I personally don’t care for is how these vampires can talk – one just bangs on a door all night and screams at Price’s character. It’s sort of funny, but the idea that this has been going on every night for three years borders on ridiculous.

There’s also something of a twist revealed in the last quarter of the movie, and while I didn’t necessarily love where the movie went afterward, the twist itself was fantastically dark and demoralizing. It’s something that Price’s character doesn’t have a lot of time to dwell on at the time, but it’s such a kick in the face, and I love it (and following the kick in the face that I didn’t love, being the dog, I appreciated it).

I don’t love how the movie ends, which is a shame, as I utterly adored most of what came before. Once Franca Bettoia’s character shows up, while it brings with it the aforementioned twist I love, along with some interesting ideas, I just don’t dig the movie as much, probably because Price is no longer the sole focus, and the sense of isolation (especially in the last 15 minutes) is entirely gone.

One last note is that I really enjoyed the conversations Price had in the flashbacks with Giacomo Rossi Stuart’s character – both are scientists, but Stuart’s character is more willing to believe fantastic theories and in fact, uses garlic and mirrors to repel the vampires before it became fashionable. I wish we had seen a bit more of that guy, because I enjoyed his chemistry with Price.

Were it not for the fact that I don’t love the finale (and never have – this is probably the third time I’ve seen this, if not fourth, and I never cared much for the last twenty or so minutes), this movie would be close-to-perfect. As it stands, it’s still a very strong movie, and I have a hard time imagining any top 15 horror films of the 1960’s not having this smuggled somewhere within it.


Author: Jiggy's Horror Corner

Fan of the horror genre, writer of mini-reviews, and lover of slashers.

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