The Last Man On Earth (1964) – Classic Movie Review

3.5/5

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Directed by Ubaldo Ragona Written by William F. Leicester, Richard Matheson, Ubaldo Ragona
Starring Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli

86 mins - Horror | Sci-Fi - Release date: 8 March 1964

Horror icon Vincent Price stars in this movie from the tail end of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although the editing and audio is anything but golden, The Last Man on Earth is still a pillar of early horror cinema.

If the title is any indication, The Last Man on Earth is an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend. The movie is also probably the most literal adaptation of the book, more so than The Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007).

Now, considering that The Last Man on Earth is nearing its 50th anniversary, it’s only fair that modern audiences should be a bit jaded with their sophisticated movie expectations. Some aspects of the film are just screaming to be answered. For example, why doesn’t our protagonist, Dr. Robert Morgan (Price) have a gun? Why does Morgan continue to burn the bodies of the dead undead in a pit, carrying on the methodology used by the long gone government, instead of using lime? Why does Morgan run an obnoxiously loud generator, potentially attracting more of the undead to his location? As feeble and stupid as the vampires appear in the movie, how are they not able to break through Morgan’s weak barricades? And why doesn’t Morgan just move out of the city?

More humorously, how does the grocery store still keep fresh garlic in stock?

the last man on earth - 1964

The last question posed could be answered by the fact that Morgan needed to remain close to his laboratory to continue in his search for a cure. However, after three years of suspecting that he’s the last man on Earth, who would he cure?

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It could be chalked up to modern interpretation, but vampires that behave like zombies is mildly annoying too. Actually, the intelligence of vampires here are not entirely unlike the vampires seen on FX’ The Strain by Guillermo del Toro. But unlike the vampires in The Strain, these are not “army ants” operating under the control of a king or queen.

Regardless of the negatives that a modern perspective brings to the movie, it still perfectly captures the fantasy spirit of surviving in a post-apocalyptic world alone. Because of that, one should easily be able to overlook any blips in logic or chronology that might be found.

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Director Ubaldo Ragona did an excellent job of chronicling Morgan’s daily life, showing us how he survives and lives a relatively pre-virus existence inside his home. It was also a wise choice to show bouts of madness that were quickly extinguished by Morgan’s rational, scientific mind.

After the introductory sequences, the film tells its story through various flashbacks. Some of these flashbacks are heartbreaking while others explain who that damn vocal vampire outside Morgan’s house is. Soon after we learn the backstory of what happened to Morgan, we’re given a glimmer of hope for him, a hope that he could possibly find love and companionship again. How rare in this world.

As for the film’s conclusion, you’ll have to watch and see for yourself.

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The Verdict:

I don’t think you have to be a horror or sci-fi fan to enjoy The Last Man on Earth, but you might have to be an enthusiast of old movies. The dubbing, the sound effects, and the editing are rough, but Vincent Price’s performance and narrative make up for that. Above all, if anyone wants to enjoy this movie, they’ll have to keep in mind that it is nearly 50 years old, and a low-budget film for its time. The film’s conclusion felt a little rushed after the generally slow pace of its first two-thirds. Also, it seems likely that Ruth could have simply gone out to meet the militia to explain the situation while Morgan waited in hiding in his home.

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  • Walter Bernhard

    He wanted to create the cure so he could cure the vampires and not be the last man on earth anymore. Didn’t you read the book or pay attention to the movie? And since the vampire bacterium was spread by the wind, maybe he thought burning them was the quickest and most efficient way of disposing of them.