Technically speaking, The Last Man on Earth is a vampire movie.
The creatures in the film are consistently referred to as vampires, garlic and crosses repel them, and they cannot stand to be out in the sunlight. But much about the “vampires” is very much of what we know as zombies: They are incredibly slow and weak, some of them appear to be risen from the dead, and they are the product of some kind of airborne disease.
Romero has said that The Last Man on Earth and the book that it is based on, I Am Legend, is a direct inspiration for his first zombie film, going so far as to call it a blatant copy of this story on occasion. And it’s hard not to see the similarities: A survivor barricaded in a house (Vincent Price) tries to survive a world overrun by these ‘zompire’ creatures and spends the nights listening to them clamoring at and around his house, trying to get inside and destroy him.
Price is the perfect actor to play the part: His inherent spookiness and dark, moody demeanor suits him so well to playing a lone survivor on a mission to destroy all of the creatures that destroyed humanity. The film is never better than in its first third, as we are just going alone with Price as he goes about his daily routine, speaking only in voice over. We see him make stakes, burn bodies, go shopping for fresh garlic, hunting for the creatures in all of the crevices and hovels they find themselves in. Helped by a classically dissonant score and great macabre lines like “In the old world I used to shop for cars. Now I shop for a hearse”, Price projects equal parts menace and dejectedness; his best scene is him breaking down in terrible laughter as he comes to realize what a cruel joke his three years of isolation has become.
Unlike the Will Smith version of the story, The Last Man on Earth doesn’t jettison the fact that to these creatures Price’s character is a monster and is carrying out genocide of terrible proportions. When he eventually comes across a fellow survivor and learns that there is a whole colony of humans who wish him dead because of how he agitates the vampires so, Price embodies the terrible creature that the outside world fears him to be.
Even with the hokey middle act that flashes back to inform us about how the world became so desolate, The Last Man on Earth is a classic Price film full of great horror. Seeing this tall and lanky man scrounge about a desolate urban jungle as he tries to eliminate what he perceives as vile and evil is the real thrill of this picture. And while it may be clear to us now that Romero is a genius, when he is ripping off something this good, it is now wonder he has made the many fantastic gems that we have come to cherish.
Watch ‘The Last Man on Earth’
|Buy the film at Amazon.com|
|Buy the film at Amazon.co.uk|
And if you want to read the original book that this film was based on, and the book that Romero stated was the inspiration for ‘Night of the Living Dead‘ then check out ‘I am Legend’ by Richard Matheson here: Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Written by: JJ Perkins