The Last Man On Earth (1964) is an Italian sci-fi/thriller/horror film, based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. Yes, it was also adapted as The Omega Man (1971), I Am Legend (2007) and I Am Omega (2007).
Directed by the Italian director Ubaldo Ragona (Una vergine per un bastardo (1966), Baldoria nei Caraibi (1961)).
Written by William F. Leicester (The High Chaparral (1967 TV), Bonanza (1959 TV)), some work was done by Matheson himself, but because he wasn’t satisfied with the results, so he was credited as Logan Swanson.
Starring: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and others.
Richard Matheson’s novel has been brought to the screen more than enough times, and as far as I can tell we can stop expecting a film that would do it justice. All the adaptations work best at the beginning where it follows the heroes while they have (a quote from this film) “Another day to live through. Better get started.”, but start falling apart when they try to do something different.
However, this could be considered the closest adaptation and maybe for that reason it is also my favourite one.
It used to not be uncommon for Italians to make horror movies for American market and this is one of those Italian-produced “cheap” horror flicks in English. And it kind of suffers from this aspect. It isn’t a conventional 60’s horror b-movie, so the opening credits in spooky fonts and over-the-top dramatic score add unnecessary cheesiness to an otherwise pretty subtle movie. It has a certain mood, that is just perfect but then, when it gets interrupted by the inappropriate score I got pretty pissed off. It does improve later on, but mostly because the film becomes more dramatic.
Some subtle music cues and even total silence would be much better suited for the post-apocalyptic feel. At one point Vincent Price puts on an LP and that serves as a lot better soundtrack.
I don’t know what happened there, but there are some montages of Price killing vampires by hammering stakes into their chests, but it shows it from a low angle so you only see him hammering away in what seems like totally random directions.
Vincent Price isn’t bad as Neville, but is miscast and I guess was cast mostly because of his horror-cred. He’s a good actor, but has this vibe about him that is just too elegant and not enough everyman-like. Franca Bettoia is ok, is it just me or does she look a lot like Jenna Elfman?
The “vampires” are portrayed pretty accurately as they are basically a bit more intelligent zombies, I suppose the term just wasn’t that well-known when the book was written.
It’s amusing how Neville’s home video looks like a 50’s TV show, when it is shown being shot with a Super 8 camera.
Overall a good movie, best I Am Legend adaptation yet and totally recommended.