Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Last Man on Earth (US/ITA, 1964)


























This movie is based on the (now) very well known novel by Richard Matheson, I Am Legend. The novel has become very well known in recent years mainly down to the Will Smith vehicle of the same name, plus the well known fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger almost made a movie based around it, and the classic sci-fi movie 'The Omega Man'. Its also very well known because it was one of the first vampire stories to treat vampirism like a disease and has influenced modern movies massively. Another clear factor for me is the zombie influence this movie had. The story/plot is based on vampires, but in this movie they don't really look or move anything like vampires, they clearly look and act more like zombies. It struck me early on that this movie may well have influenced the mighty George A. Romero because the visual similarities between this movie and his cult classics are clear as day, if you ask me.

The plot revolves around a plague that has infected the entire of mankind, turning everyone into vampires, or vampire-like creatures. Morgan (Price) spends his days simply surviving, getting by as best he can. During the day he scavengers for food and supplies like garlic and mirrors to fend of the vampire hordes, and buries the dead that strewn the landscape. At the same time he also goes off vampire hunting and staking as many as he can before nightfall. Come darkness he locks himself away in his house, and waits, waits for daylight once more. Eventually he comes across a lone female who also appears to be uninfected, but all is not what it seems.



This movie was a US/Italian production shot in Italy and utilising many Italian actors, thus giving the entire feature a very spaghetti western feel. You can see straight away from the style of filming and what kinda sounded like dubbed voice work, although I'm not sure about that. The movie is supposed to be set in the US, LA I believe, but amusingly, its really obvious that its not. If I didn't know any better I would say it could be any Euro city (possibly eastern), definitely not LA though that's for sure, but being an Italian co-production you can sense the Italian vibe. The other blooper being we see Price's character climbing the steps of the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana in Rome, bit of a give away that.

Lets look at the poster, a favourite little fetish of mine depending on how awesome or shit they can be. I have often found with these old 50/60's movie posters they can either be very exciting, flashy and vibrant with striking text in a cool font, or they can be the most unimaginative, boring and dreary creations you've ever seen, as if the person behind it simply couldn't be bothered. What often amuses me is the fact these posters often lie about the movies content, complete false advertising, and this poster is no different I'm afraid. In the background you have this wicked looking haunted house silhouette, all black with glowing yellow windows, then in the foreground a creepy image of Price's face in shadow, his eye piercing white. Next to Price's face is the completely white silhouetted figure of a woman with black eyes. Now the house doesn't appear in the movie at all, its as if the image was for a completely different feature, Price's face could be for anything, whilst the white female figure makes no sense at all really. Overall I have no real clue how this poster relates to this actual movie based on Matheson's novel, it resembles one of Price's Poe/Corman movies more than anything, probably trying to ride those coattails.



This movie starts off slow I won't lie, real slow, so much so I actually became slightly bored. We mainly focus on Morgan's life, his humdrum, monotonous, depressing life of death and loneliness. We see him awaken only to prepare for a full day of vampire staking and corpse burying. He checks his house over for damage inflicted by vampires during the night, he needs to replace broken mirrors and rotten garlic that has lost its pungency, he must sharpen new stakes, refuel his stationwagon etc...Everything that most movies make out to be ultra cool comes across like a tedious day job here, a nine till five routine, no guns, no trenchcoats, no slow motion action, no glamour at all. Yet this is where Price shines, his gaunt, gloomy face is perfect to express this harrowing, gothic torture. The black and white makes everything much more solemn and atmospheric as it highlights the cracks in Price's face and the shadows around every corner. During all this there is narration from Price with his unique voice, nothing too special, its short and simple, to the point, almost feels like a documentary of some kind even.

At the same time the vampires are a let down for the movie, I'm not really sure what they were trying to do here. In the book the creatures have strength and speed, yet in this movie they are cumbersome, very slow, plodding along as if they were elderly people and seemingly dumb, or that's the way they come across. Of course I wasn't expecting effects to be anything special here, and of course they aren't. The creatures merely look like people with cheap face paint on, a bit of black around the eyes and grey faces, plus their movements leave much to be desired, they seem to be moving in slow motion on purpose. There is no real threat or thrill with this aspect which is a big problem because the creatures are the crux of the flippin' movie. We watch Morgan hide away in his house from the lumbering zombies outside, its supposed to be frightening but its not, Morgan could take them all out easily I'm sure, if not, just outrun them.

In general this movie is pretty faithful to the book which is nice, apart from the ending where things go a bit haywire. Obviously being an old movie (as I've said) its not very scary, in fact its laughably hokey with all the childish vampire imagery such as mirrors and garlic everywhere (loved how all the infected at the end all wore black, every one of them, why?). But you have to remember the book is from 54 so everything will be very dated. There are literately no action sequences of any kind here, the odd chase, the finale is the main action sequence if you can call it that, but overall its a very quiet, formal affair that focuses on the few human characters. Now that's not bad, its actually refreshing...but admittedly dull. Its nice to see Morgan in flashbacks with his friends and family before the plague struck, how he lost everything, it shows us how strong he is for managing to carry on, but also the continuous torment he suffers on a daily basis. All in all it does feel more like a Price tour de force than anything else, not so much a post-apocalyptic horror thriller, but a melancholy Vincent Price totally killing it. Ironic really seeing as he was kinda miscast here, I think. I have always found it hard to take Price too seriously because of his wonderful quirky nature and those kooky vocal cords of his, alas the man was pigeonholed by his own greatness. Funnily enough, despite all that, this could be Price's best performance, yet his least known movie.

6.5/10