Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Last Man on Earth (1968)

Richard Matheson's I Am Legend is considered a classic horror novel, and is cited as a seminal influence by many modern authors.  However screen adaptations of the work have generally been rather bumpy.  Charlton Heston's Omega Man took nothing more than the basic concept of a man besieged by noctural monsters, as did the Asylum's I Am Omega mockbuster.  Conversely, Will Smith's 2007 adaptation was doing fine until the inexplicably thick-headed ending (a much more thematic alternative ending was also shot, but not used because who knows why - you can get it on the 2-disc DVD of the film, apparently).

Before all those other films though, came this one.  Matheson actually worked on this movie, but asked to be credited under another name when he was dissatisfied with the final product.  His objections were two-fold: rewrites of his script, and that he did not think Vincent Price was the right choice for the lead role.

I'm not all that sympathetic to Matheson's first complaint (and I wonder what he thought of the other adaptations, given how much more faithful to his book this one is), but I can admit there might be some merit to the latter.  Price was a capable actor, but he's just a bit too erudite and urbane for this role.  The movie would have benefited from a performance with more of an edge of desperation and strain.  The film is also undermined by some poor dubbing into English (most of the cast are Italian), and the production values are mediocre due to its low budget.

Despite these flaws, I think the movie is worth seeing.  It is an effective piece of film-making, and does a good job of establishing a sombre mood, which is eminently suitable for the kind of tale it is telling.

The basic plot, you see, is that a strange malady has swept the world.  Those infected by the disease take on the traditional traits of the vampire: an aversion to sunlight, garlic and mirrors, and the need to feed on blood.  One man - Dr Richard Morgan - seems somehow immune to the illness.  He spends every night besieged in his fortified home, emerging each morning to hunt for the hiding places of those who have succumbed to the disease.

And then one day, he encounters a young woman, also out in the sunlight.  She runs from him, but he catches her and brings her to his home.  Is this the companion he's longed for in his long period of isolation, or is there some other explanation for her appearance?

Check this one out if you want to see a film adaptation that hews close to Matheson's acclaimed novel in tone, if not always in its details.

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