The Last Man On Earth review by The Grim Ringler
There are a lot of stories, and books, and movies, and just a load of, well, crap about vampires thats been released since Varney the Vampire and Dracula hit the scene, and to be honest, well, most of its dreck. For some reason there is an audience for melodramatic, really silly vampire stuff out there. People just eat it up. Well bully for them. Not me. There are two books I have read that concerned vampires, and both are brilliant books, probably because though both are about vampires, they took that idea, that myth, and twisted into something to suit what they wanted to say. And in so doing created something classic. There are few classics books in the horror genre, mainly because people just have a thing against horror, but there are a few out there. Richard Mathesons I Am Legend is one such classic. A brilliantly brief tale of the last man alive after a plague transforms the masses into vampires; it is a very melancholy tale of loss, faith, and what it is to become a true minority in a world against you. A world that fears you. There have been two attempts to make this novel in a film and to me, Last Man on Earth is the gem of the two.
Starring Vincent Price Last Man On Earth tells the tale of a dead world and the one man left alive desperately trying to fight back the tide of the dead that have been born from pathogen. Shown in flashbacks, we are shown a man in love with a wonderful wife and happy to have a sweet daughter, and all is right with the world. Until that is the rumors spread that a mysterious illness that spreads through the air is overtaking Europe and is, as an end result, killing all who become ill. And all become ill, in time. A scientist, Morgan and his colleagues work diligently in the hopes of finding a cure to this disease that some say raises the dead and makes them into monsters, into vampires, but their work is to no avail. And when Morgans daughter catches the illness he and his wife hide her from even the doctors for fear of losing her to a death squad and a body pit. They do lose their daughter though, and in time even Morgans wife becomes ill and is taken too by the virus. Not wanting to let her be burned in a body pit by the government, Morgan buries his wife in a lonely field and returns home. But so does she, and as she enters the and comes at him, a bloodthirsty look in her eyes, her body still covered in soil, he must make a choice and either live, fight, or give up. And he fights. Alone. Each day going out into a barren wasteland of a city to track down vampires and kill them, dispose of the body, make sure he has supplies for the long night ahead, then returns home to a home that has become a fortress, the voices and feeble rage of the dead haunting him all night. The fact that their leader outside his home was once a trusted friend and colleague making it that much worse. But he goes on. Each day a new nightmare of loneliness and rage. Hope comes in the shape of a dog, the one living thing he has seen, but that hope is shattered as he realizes the dog too is sick, though just sick, and he must kill it as well. His despair deepens until he finally meets a living person, a woman he finds wandering, dazed, on a hillside. He brings her back to his home and finally thinks there is hope, that he has a companion, and perhaps more if her talk of others is true, but she too turns out to be a mirage as he learns when he tests her with garlic cloves, suddenly fearing she is a vampire as well. He cannot kill her though, and instead learns what she has to tell that she and some others have a way to combat the virus, to hold it at bay, and that they intend on taking back the world, but only after they rid themselves of their one enemy Morgan. To them he is a freak, a murderer, a monster, and he must be destroyed. He is horrified. They are scheduled to assault his home that very night, she having been their spy, and put an end to him. Morgan refuses to leave though and instead, when the woman is asleep, fills her with some of his own blood, thus immunizing her to the virus a long ago vampire bat bite having insulated him from this disease and now there are two of them, and together they can cure the others. And happy, feeling triumphant, Morgan wakes her and tells her, just as the assault begins, threatening Morgan and all he has worked to save.
Last Man really is Prices finest hour. He portrays Morgan with a sadness and feeling of madness held at bay that he never was able to capture for any other character. Morgan becomes a reluctant Christ, desperate to save the world, if for no other reason than he doesnt want to be alone any longer. Needing to kill the vampires not out of hate or rage any longer but out of necessity, and, truly, out of habit. He has nothing else to do. Why does he remain where the vampires know he lives? Why doesnt he run? Because what is the point? In the end they will always be at him, always want him (again like Christ running from the Romans, what would the point be?), and to him it is better to live or die in the place he loves and has a connection to than to let them make him run.
The only modern films that come close to the feeling of despair that this film is able to create, the feeling that the world has ended are probably Romeros Dead films and 28 Days Later, because both show a world that truly has ended, and those that remain must either flee or fight. Even Don Siegels Invasion of the Body Snatchers doesnt have the same power as Last Man, creating more a fear of the self and the other than it does of an empty world inhabited by ghosts and monsters. The film takes full advantage of the story as well, showing empty city streets, emptied suburbs. The world a vast graveyard. The world falling apart as the disease spreads, the streets filled again with death squads come to take families to their deaths.
The beauty of I Am Legend and Last Man On Earth is that there is so much going on, beneath the surface, behind the scenes, so much that speaks to the human experience, to what, who, and where we are, that these things make the novel and film transcend their genre trappings to become allegories for a fallen religious icon, and a fallen society.
Last Man On Earth is a brilliant film. Quiet and mournful, the film is a requiem for mankind, and as such, is beautiful. And in the end it isnt so much a vampire film, a monster movie, as it is the movie about the last man on earth, and what it is to be the last of a doomed breed. The last dinosaur left to watch as Man takes its place at the head of the food chain. Price is wonderful in his role, and the film truly is a classic that deserves to be re-discovered. The Charlton Heston remake Omega Man feels too much like a modern action movie, even pushing the Christ ideas so far as to all but ram them down your throat. Its too much. Which is why I like Last Man so very much. Because in it, its the quiet, the peace that is deadly, the silence lurking like a thing, waiting to devour all that dare remain. A truly wonderful film.
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