Monday, January 9, 2012

The original legend

TCM is showing a night of movies about pandemic diseases this evening, including a truly underrated movie that's been remade a couple of times since: The Last Man on Earth, at 10:15 PM.

Vincent Price stars as a man living in what looks like a sort of postapocalytpic world, of the sort that you might see in Night of the Living Dead. There's no trace of living humans, but there's certainly evidence that people were around, and have been around recently. Only they're not real people any longer; they're vampires. It turns out that a new virus escaped some years back, and killed most of mankind, turning them into some sort of half-zombie/half-vampire people: they need to feast on real humans, but can only do their feeding at night. So Price goes out during the day to gather food and try to kill any of these creatures he can find, while hunkering down at night, trying to keep them at bay for one more night while he can work on trying to find a cure for the disease. (Price himself is immune, having been bitten by a vampire bat before the virus entered the body public.) And then he meets a woman who seems to be as immune to the disease as he is....

If the story above sounds familiar, well, it should. The movie is based on an earlier science fiction story by Richard Matheson called "I Am Legend". The Last Man on Earth, or more accurately the original story, was later remade into the movie I Am Legend, starring Will Smith in the Price role. In between, Charlton Heston also played the role in the 1971 film The Omega Man.

Although Vincent Price has long been known as the king of low-budget horror from the 1960s on, this is not quite the sort of movie that compares to the work he was doing with either William Castle or Roger Corman. There's something much more serious and disturbing about it. Price had been acting since the late 1930s and had serious acting chops, as you can see in movies like Laura, which he uses to good effect here, bring much more depth to the character than we see in his films with William Castle.

I don't know how exactly The Last Man on Earth compares with the original story "I Am Legend", but on its own it stands as quite a good film.

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