Movies from the “golden age” of black and white films (approximately the 1930’s through the 1950’s) almost invariably contain well-written dialogue and strikingly subtle humor, making them a favorite among many fans of cinema. The horror movies of this more subtle period in film history are therefore of a cerebral nature, primarily relying on the viewer’s imagination to generate the true sense of horror that modern movies generate through more visual means. It is these oft-ignored horror movies that will be the focus of a series of articles detailing the reasons why true fans of horror movies should rediscover these films.
With this third installment in the Forgotten B&W Horror series, we move beyond the normal confines of our golden age time period to a movie that certainly deserves more credit than it currently receives from horror fans. The Last Man on Earth (1964), starring Vincent Price, is the subject of our latest look at forgotten horror movies.
The Last Man on Earth is the original film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s most famous novel, I Am Legend. To date, Matheson’s classic novel has been made into four different movies (with the later additions of The Omega Man in 1971, I Am Legend in 2007, and the B-movie I Am Omega in 2007), but The Last Man on Earth deserves special recognition as the first of these movies.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world peopled with vampires and a lone human man (Vincent Price), The Last Man on Earth tells the story of Dr. Robert Morgan. Morgan is the sole surviving human in a world where a vampire virus has killed every other living being on earth. The vampires are endlessly pursuing Morgan at night, while he in turn stalks and destroys them during the day.
Why This Movie Has Been Forgotten
While this movie is more widely known than the other movies in this Forgotten B&W Horror series, it tends to be ignoredn lieu of the more famous adaptations of I Am Legend. There are a couple of reasons for this.
- The acting, apart from Vincent Price as Robert Morgan, is quite poor.
- The plot and dialogue are very hollow and shallow. In fact Richard Matheson, who worked on the screenplay, refused to use his real name in the credits. Instead, the screenplay was credited to “Logan Swanson”.
- The vampires are not vampires in the truest sense of the word. They are closer to zombies as we now know them, meaning fanatical vampire fans tend to steer away from this movie in favor of more classic depictions of vampires such as those found in the Dracula series of movies.
Why Horror Fans Should Watch This Movie
- This is the first movie adaptation of Richard Matheson’s all-time classic novel I Am Legend – it’s always nice to see the original.
- George A. Romero specifically credits this film as the inspiration for the behavior of his zombies in Night of the Living Dead, a fact that directly connects this movie to the zombie genre.
- Vincent Price, the king (or at least the crown prince) of the B-movie horror genre, gives a typically great performance as the tragic Robert Morgan.
- Several original ideas about vampirism are expressed in the plot of this movie. The first idea is that the vampire virus is airborne as well as transferred by bites. The second idea is that a man can acquire immunity to the vampire virus – in this case the immunity came from vampire bat bites at an earlier time in Morgan’s life. Another original idea is that vampires are repelled by their reflections in mirrors as opposed to the more popular “fact” that vampires don’t cast a reflection. Yet another idea is that not all vampires are dead. In fact, some of the vampires in this film died from the disease and are now undead, but some are simply living humans with the vampire virus directing their actions. And finally, in this film the stronger vampires constantly feed on the weaker vampires to the point of actually killing the weaker vampires. All of these unique additions to vampire lore fit quite well into the plot line. In fact, the plot would fall apart without most these ideas.
- This movie contains one of the creepiest moments in all of horror history. In an earlier stage of the vampire infestation, Morgan refuses to allow his newly-deceased wife (Virginia) to be carted away to the military burning pits. Instead, he buries her body in a remote location. Unfortunately for Morgan, victims of the vampire disease tend to get up and go back home. When Virginia comes calling at the door that night and whispers “Let me in…”, the true horror of this movie rips its way through the bad acting and grabs you in your gut.
Overall, The Last Man on Earth is a worthwhile way to spend 86 minutes. If, like me, you enjoy feeling goosebumps on your arm you’ll want to watch this film.
If you would like to watch The Last Man on Earth, you may view it at the following link.