“Another day to live through. Better get started.”
Get up, go to work, sleep, repeat. As Kendrick Lamar put it in Dreams, “They say we’re only living to die. Imagine if we’re already dead, waiting to live, living in hell.” Vincent Price’s Morgan, wandering the living hell of The Last Man on Earth, is certainly more dead than alive.
Although we’ve seen similar apocalyptic visions in the years since this film was made, The Last Man on Earth’s opening is still striking: a dead city, lifeless; roads empty and still, scattered with corpses and abandoned cars. Soon, we find that the world is not yet completely void of life – there is Morgan, former scientist, husband, and father; and then, there are the vampires. Morgan, last of his kind, spends his days following a meticulous search pattern that takes him through every corner of LA, hammering stakes into the hearts of the monsters, preying while they sleep. By night he drinks, blasts music to drown out the moaning dead, and reminisces on his former life. Morgan is a man who has let his soul be destroyed, a man with nothing to live for beyond hate. As Nietzsche put it, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.”
Scripted by Richard Matheson from his own legendary story, I Am Legend (later disowned by him, due to his displeasure at the final product and Price’s casting), The Last Man on Earth presents a bleak, chilling picture of a collapsed world and human hubris. It asks us to look at the futility of fighting change, to face the arrogance and flawed logic of believing in humanity’s indomitability and to question the seeming immutability and morality of a dominant culture. Despite Matheson’s disapproval of Vincent Price as lead, he’s wonderful here, delivering one of his best performances, controlled and nuanced, exuding self-loathing, hate, and despair, particularly in the second act where we witness his ironic descent from positive, hopeful scientist to superstitious husk.
Although not a perfect adaptation of I am Legend and despite a rushed, somewhat flawed third act, The Last Man on Earth is a powerful, dark film, and one of the most interesting in Price’s filmography. Modern zombies owe much to Matheson’s novel and to this film’s moaning, nearly-mindless masses. Not to be missed.
Rating: 8 out of 10