View Full Version : Last Man on Earth

12-23-2000, 08:51 PM
it's been a long time that i've posted anything longer than a sentence or two (most of you are probably thankful for that), so i thought i'd talk about a great little jem that remains largely unseen - Last Man on Earth.

i finally got around to getting this DVD, and i'm glad i did. rather, i'm glad i did because it's a cool flick. the dvd, unfortunately, is another matter. more on that later. still, i've watched it twice now, and I have to say itís a near-classic.

i first saw this flick when i was a kid, and it scared the shit out of me. I didnít remember many details but watching it now, lo these many years later, i'm blown away with how effective a film it is. especially given the fact that it was made on a budget that was probably less than that of the cost for the make-up in the original Night of the Living Dead. think about it...

as most of you know, the film is based on the Richard Matheson novel 'I am Legend'. it's one of the most brilliant pieces of horror/sci-fi fiction that you will ever read. the movie actually follows the Matheson novel fairly well. much more so than the debacle known as Omega Man (which was cool for the first 15 minutes or so.) unfortunately, it doesn't touch on any of the fascinating medical discoveries that Morgan (Neville in the novel) makes about the vampire physiology and how it relates to the vampire legends of books and film. still, kudos to the makers of this picture for staying true to the source material. there's even a little dialog that refers back to the title of the novel. cool.

directed by Ubaldo Ragona (with editing and dubbing for the US market by Sidney Salkow), the picture was filmed in Italy, on a shoestring budget, and that's a BIG part of the charm. many people might find that aspect really annoying, but i loved seeing strange, Euro-army vehicles with 'USA' painted on the front. during a news sequence, or a tv announcer proclaiming that "his Excellency, the governor will be speaking.." huh? the black and white photography, eerie Euro-suburban settings, and bizarre soundtrack add to the overall creepy atmosphere. the opening shots of public areas that have been silenced by the plague, and are now littered with dead bodies, are extremely powerful. sure, some of the acting is bad. sure, the dubbing is barely tolerable. sure, the voice of Ben Cortman is the most annoying thing you have ever heard. it's still an effective, thought-provoking movie that had me thinking about it for days afterward.

the novel is bleak. the movie is bleak. this is a good thing. watch the scene in which Morgan stands helplessly while his dead daughter is being tossed into the massive fire pit. it's strong stuff - especially considering that this was 1964! the sun seems to never shine in the entire film Ė thereís always a lot of dark clouds in the air. though bleak, itís never depressing. fans of the novel will be pleasantly surprised that there is no happy ending here.

the creatures are vampires, but one of the things that makes the film really work is that it doesn't shove the typical vampire accoutrements down your throat. you never see any fangs. you never see the vampires drink blood. in fact, they are generally quite weak and shamble around like zombies. a LOT like zombies. a WHOLE lot like zombies. (see paragraph below). the novel goes on to explain in nice detail exactly what kind of 'vampires' they are, but the movie only hints at it - with a little section that has Morgan realizing that some of them can be killed by iron (rather than a wooden) stake. sadly, the bit about the iron vs. wood isnít explored further; as it is in the novel.

a boarded-up house. shuffling undead. burning the dead bodies. a vigilante group at the end. hey, all this is sounding really familiar to me.

watch Last Man on Earth. then watch NOTLD. notice any similarities? you bet your ass you do. romero is a genius. there's no doubt about it. but to say that he wasn't influenced by this film (or at least the novel) would be criminal. in fact, now that i think about it, there's a hell-of-a-lot of this film in every friggin' zombie movie i've ever seen. watch it and tell me i'm wrong. in fact, i can't think of a movie that was made prior to this one that would have better established the 'zombie shuffle' that we know so well today. the vigillante ending of the novel/movie is also a very interesting glimpse at the shape of things to come in NOTLD, and especially NOTLD 90.

this is a superb bit of acting from the maestro himself. it's a different kind of role for Price, and he really gives it his all. that's pretty amazing, considering that he knew this was going to be an Italian B movie. Price appeared in this film at the tail end of his Corman period, and it may have been a good way for him to start shedding the Edgar Allan Poe skin.

the picture and sound both suck. not much else i can say. presented in pan&scan (the film was originally filmed in 2.35:1), the original source for the transfer is the real culprit here. i actually saw no artifacting at all - even in the night shots. still, the source print looks like it was dragged across a gravel road for a few hours.

this is a rare film. from what i have read, there are very few decent prints left. Image had a laserdisc of the film that i'm told was a pretty decent transfer from a clean source. Elite was supposed to have released a DVD of the film, but rumor has it they couldn't find a good print, and Image wouldn't help them out. that's too bad, because this film should get a release like Carnival of Souls was able to get. all we can do is keep our fingers crossed that somebody will be able to release this film properly on DVD.

gotta mention it. the hippy drippy film that Heston now regrets. as well he should. the worst parts of Last Man on Earth are still better than most of the parts of Omega Man. the hippy, Manson family-ish cult. what the fuck were they thinking? it totally missed the point of Mathesonís novel.

somewhere in hollywood, right now, someone can't wait to make a new version of this film. they probably have grand visions of huge vampire battles, explosions, high-tech gadgetry, and numerous product tie-ins. if it's ever put together, i'm 99% sure it's going to suck. for a long time we heard names like Schwarzenegger and Ridley Scott attached to a new version. Scott, i can deal with. Arnold? no friggin' way. a new version wants to follow the novel to the letter. it needs to be bleak. it needs to echo the numerous moral implications found in the book. it doesn't need any teenagers, rock/hip-hop soundtrack, or happy ending.

for Neville, i'm thinking someone who can convey the proper amount of despair, pathos, desperation, and hopelessness. i'm thinking Shakespearian. the part is tragic and comic at the same time. i'm thinking Ian McKlellan. i'm thinking Ralph Fiennes. this character should not be an action figure.

but who should direct? certainly Ridley Scott would be a fine choice. he would want to make it a BIG picture, and that's a good thing. Tim Burton would bring an interesting creepiness to the tale, and he's very good with characters who are basically outsiders in plenty of pain. Carpenter would be nice, but i seriously doubt he would be able to contain himself. it would probably end up becoming Escape from Chicago. no, after careful review i have to say i'd go with David Fincher. his films are filled with images of decay and rot. remember the house in Fight Club? the planet after a devastating plague should look like the inside of that house.

there's some interesting storyboard art that was created early in the Ridley Scott production by renown artist Sylvain Despretz. he's the guy who storyboarded Gladiator, City of Lost Children, and is currently working on Burton's Planet of the Apes. the shot of the decaying vampire in the back of Neville's Humvee is really freaky. that thing looks a bit miffed. check them out at: http://www.hollywoodcomics.com/sylzombi1.ht (http://www.hollywoodcomics.com/sylzombi1.html)

just having this film on DVD, instead of VHS, is good enough for the moment. it really should be rescued and done up properly. Anchor Bay: youíre wonderful. we all love you. but stop wasting your time with retarded drivel like Curse of the VooDoo and get to a classic like Last Man on Earth.

[This message has been edited by landrvr (edited 12-23-2000).]

[This message has been edited by landrvr (edited 12-23-2000).]

Mark Relford
12-24-2000, 03:08 AM
landrvr, I've seen bits and pieces of Last Man on TV. Your excellent review makes me want to see this movie!
I think Stephen King (Salem's Lot) was also influenced by Matheson's classic novel.

"Have you ever had an Egyptian feast?"

"They're back from the grave and ready to party!"

John E. Smoke
12-24-2000, 08:50 AM
Great post, landrvr. Like you, Last Man On Earth scared the crap out of me when I was a tad; it truly deserves to be better known. It's a shame there isn't currently a decent release of this.

12-26-2000, 03:31 PM

hadn't thought about the salem's lot connection, but you're right. king has acknowledged the impact that I Am Legend has had on his writing.

the Last Man on Earth is available at Amazon.com for dirt cheap. they are one of the few places that offer it. again, be warned that the quality of the source material sucks. House on Haunted Hill - on the flip side of the DVD - was actually a very nice transfer from good source material.

Mark Relford
12-26-2000, 10:25 PM
Yeah, $6.99 isn't a bad price for that DVD.
I'll check it out. Thanks, landrvr! http://www.horrordvds.com/forum/smile.gif

"Have you ever had an Egyptian feast?"

"They're back from the grave and ready to party!"