Social Distance was the least of worries for the Last Man On Earth.
Spawned by the Richard Mathison classic I Am Legend, this 1964 post apocalyptic tale of night prowlers resembling a vague combination of both zombies and vampires trolling the night seeking the last man on earth, has fright, intrigue and suspense all rolled into one. This said, for those familiar with the novel and expecting an exact interpretation, although the tale is relatively the same, expect differences.
The year is 1968 and a plague has nearly wiped out all of mankind, leaving in it's wake unintelligent and weak vampire-like creatures repelled by sunlight, garlic and mirrors. Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price), the last man on earth, spends his days as a self imposed angel of death, hunting, killing and burning the returned and from behind locked doors, has his nights filled with their beckons and calls. Cowering, hoping for daylight again, sleep is evasive as he struggles with being haunted by flashbacks of the past, which explains how this world came to be.
One of these flashbacks involved his wife Virginia (Emma Danieli) and daughter Kathy (Christi Courtland) prior to realizing the grimness that the afflicted, after death, would again rise. Without disclosing Virginia's death to the government, a requirement that leads to a typical body burning in hopes of controlling or eradicating the virus, he buries her instead. However, she soon rises to attack him and it is this situation that forces him to recognize the need to stake the heart first and then follow through with the burning.
Lonely, Morgan self-narrates throughout the film, discussing both current and past actions, and hunts with intent to destroy the afflicted who, during daylight hours, remain hidden. Ever cognizant and aware of the situation, his never ending drab, dark days also includes collecting garlic and replacing broken mirrors. (Author's Note: In the scene at the shop where Morgan obtains the mirrors, the shop is called “Scopel's” which is rather uncanny since it is also my last name.)
Always desperate for companionship, during a typical somber day Morgan spots a dog and gives chase, but cannot catch it. Later on, almost as if the dog knows he is the last living human, the dog reappears at Morgan's fortress-like home, but has been wounded. Morgan takes the dog in and nurses, hoping and expecting the canine to recover and thus, he would have a companion. But the dog succumbs to the virus and turns and Morgan is forced yet again to stake.
As hope rapidly fleets, while burying the dog a woman named Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia) is spotted in the distance and Morgan again gives chase, eventually catching and convincing her to join him in his home.
Ruth shows signs of illness and a suspicious Morgan uses garlic as a test to confirm the presence of the plague. Although Ruth is repulsed, she claims it is only due to a weak stomach and implores that she is completely safe.
But, she isn't and Morgan's predisposition is confirmed when he catches her trying to inject a shot term vaccine that supposedly keeps the plague at bay. She pulls a gun on him, but recants soon after, explaining that she is from a colony of like-folk, capable of keeping the virus harnessed if they utilize the vaccine and it is the their intentions to rebuild mankind. She also explains that the returned Morgan had destroyed were technically still alive and could have been saved since they had they been given the vaccine.
That night Morgan transfuses his blood into a sleeping Ruth, who is immediately cured, and hope returns with full force.
Unaware of Ruth's recent circumstances, the colony attacks Morgan's home, but he escapes amid a bevy of evening gathering vampires.
Under pursuit and having already exchanged gunfire, in a church, the colony eventually corners a wounded Morgan. As Ruth implores and pleads against the colony's intent on killing Morgan, the act is completed, but not before Morgan declares under dying breath that he is the true “last man on earth.”
Directed by Ubaldo B. Ragona, The Last Man on Earth is a tale of isolation horror which will creep ever so slowly under an audience's skin. Gruesome is implied throughout the film, but is never actually shown, allowing the audience to use imagination, which can or cannot make the film even more frightening depending. Filmed in black and white, the film has a Night of the Living Dead feel which coincidentally, is understandable since George Romaro has acknowledged using it as a source for his classic that gave us what zombies are known as today.
Implying modern day Los Angeles, but actually filmed in Rome on a minimal budget, the film itself is grainy and stark yet effectively tells the story quite well making it an under appreciated gem. Highly recommended, The Last Man of Earth is subtle horror that concentrates more on emotion than visual effects and is intriguing enough throughout to keep an audience engaged.
Stay Scared, The Prof.