Last Man on Earth, The (1964): Horror Apocalyptic Tale, Starring Vincent Price

Though made in 1961, The Last Man on Earth was released in the U.S. three years later by AIP, headed by Samuel Z. Arkoff, who’s also credited as exec-producer.

Shot in a black-and-white, the horror movie is an early post-apocalyptic tale, in which Vincent Price is well cast as a doomed man.  He plays a scientist who is the last survivor on Earth, after a plague has turned the rest of the population into vampires. He has managed to escape contagion due to a virus he once had, which made him immune to the disease.

In 1961, actor Price moved to Italy, where he made three movies. Two of these, “Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile” and “Rage of the Buccaneers,” were minor costume dramas.

The third was the sci-fi “The Last Man on Earth,” based on the Richard Matheson novel “I am Legend.”  The film was dismissed when initially released, but it began to attract greater attention, when Price became a cult figure in the 1970s.

Set in an unidentified city, the tale opens in a place where all human life has vanished:  The roads are empty and the buildings vacant. The only human survivor is Robert Morgan (Price), a chemical engineer, who lives in a shabby house.

At night, Morgan’s house is attacked by zombies, product of a catastrophic virus that had demolished civilization. We learn that Morgan was accidentally bitten by a vampire bat in Panama, which made him immune to the virus.  The virus overtook the entire population and those who were not incinerated returned as the living dead.

At daytime, Morgan moves around the city in an effort to locate the zombies and drive wooden stakes through their hearts, after which he brings them to the large pit and burns them.

Morgan’s technical knowledge comes handy—he keeps some generators running, which allows him to refrigerate food and garlic, which he places around his house to scare off the zombies. The electricity enables him to create new stakes in his basement.  For three years, there’s no sign of life, despite Morgan’s attempts to broadcast via shortwave radio.

When he suddenly encounters a woman walking through the empty streets, he captures her and brings her to his home.  Turns out she’s a member of underground community that created a vaccine to stop the spread of the virus. But since the vaccine cannot eradicate the disease, they represent a new, menacing mutant race, half-human, half-zombie. The woman also informs Morgan that the community is planning to kill him; some of the zombies he killed were not really zombies.

The British Hammer Films had optioned the rights to Richard Matheson’s novel, and then offered the project to American producer Robert L. Lippert, who hired Matheson to adapt his novel to the screen. William Leicester worked further on the script, and Matheson, upset by the changes, withdrew his name from the screenplay, using the pseudonym Logan Swanson.

Price was the only American actor among the largely Italian cast of the picture, which was co-directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow; the American print omits Ragona’s name while the Italian release dropped Salkow.  The picture was re-released several times, under different titles, “The Night Creatures” and “Wind of Death.”

End note:

Based on Matheson’s “I am Legend,” the Charlton Heston sci-fi, The Omega Man, was released in 1971, scoring big at the box-office.