THE UNSEEN HORROR rises once more, for another look at the horror you didn’t even know was under your bed. Last time we discussed the horrors of the sideshow with FREAKS. Imagine if the situation was reversed. What if a normal man was the last of his kind, struggling to stay alive in a world of monsters out for blood? That’s the world we find ourselves with today’s entry. So join us, and our star Vincent Price, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH.

The Plot

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is the first adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND (also made into THE OMEGA MAN and a 2007 self titled film). This first attempt follows the original story quite closely. Price is Robert Morgan, the last survivor of a plague that has turned the world’s populace into zombie-like creatures. However, the creatures share weaknesses with vampires. They cannot stand sunlight, mirrors, or garlic. Each day, Morgan goes out and kills as many of the sleeping vampires as he can. At night, Morgan barricades his home against the creatures so he can survive and repeat the day’s cycle.

Morgan reflects during the day and night on his pre-plague life, such as his failure to properly dispose of his infected wife. It is because of this that he commits to his routine almost religiously. However, Morgan then meets a woman that may have also survived the plague. However, this discovery brings him to a revelation about the infected, and just what mankind’s future will be.

Casting THE LAST MAN ON EARTH

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
Image courtesy of Youtube

One of the most impressive things about THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is that it succeeds with only a single main character. Robert Morgan is literally alone for almost half of the film, which could be doom with the wrong actor. However, the film shines with Vincent Price in the lead. Fans know Price for his many performances across films such as the TEN COMMANDMENTS to Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films. Despite his age at the time, Price carried the film as few actors could.

Price gave his all to every role he had, and easily carries the weight of LAST MAN thanks to his onscreen charisma. However, he also captures the emotions of Morgan perfectly. Price makes you believe he is truly fighting for his life when vampires attack. He also carries the exhaustion and pain Morgan feels. This is a lonely man condemned to a nightmarish daily routine. Price immediately makes you care about Morgan’s predicament and how even survival becomes a kind of hell. At the same time though, Price conveys the disgust Morgan has for the vampires, especially as the film builds to its climax.

Full-Blooded Story (With Transfusions)

Richard Matheson was not entirely happy with THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. However he still considered it the best adaption of his novel. Indeed, the film’s adherence to the novel is one of its strengths. While there are certainly scenes that are condensed from the book (such as Morgan’s time with Ruth, the woman he rescues), it still follows the basic outline the book lays out.

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
Image courtesy of themoviedb.org

That doesn’t mean there aren’t small changes. The vampires move much faster in the novel, and Morgan gets more time to test and question Ruth on her possible vampirism. Even Morgan’s role is different– in the novel, he was a regular workman. Here, he was a scientist with more of an understanding of the plague. However, the change gives him a deeper connection to the plague and more of a sense of guilt. The slow-moving vampires helped to influence on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as well.

The most important element from the book, however, is the ending. In the novel, Morgan realizes that the now-medicated vampires are becoming the new humanity. They fear him because he can move around in daylight and kill them in their sleep. In other words, he is now the monster, the legend that will be retold. Neither OMEGA MAN nor the 2007 film used that ending (though the 2007 film did have it as an alternate ending) Here, Morgan realizes the medicated vampires will rebuild society, and that he has killed many of their kind. However, he refuses to join their ranks, and dies proclaiming himself the last human on Earth. While this isn’t quite as powerful as the novel’s ending, it is still the closest ending that the filmed versions have released.

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH: Not to be Watched Alone

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is a solid adaption of the novel, and still a chilling tale after all these years. Viewers may mistake the vampires for zombies, but the emotion and terror of the film will never be lost. The combination of Price’s talent, a strong script, and adherence to the story have made this a forgotten gem. The film is currently in public domain, so it’s easy to watch on Youtube. And if you enjoy Price’s performance, come back next week when we look at another Price film adapted from another horror master’s story…

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