Thursday, 3 May 2007

L' Ultimo uomo della terra / The Last Man on Earth

Dr Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) is the titular Last Man on Earth. A plague has swept the world, killing much of the population and transforming the remainder into vampires.

Every day he goes through the same routine, carrying out his undending search and destroy mission against then returning to his boarded up, garlic, mirror and crucifix-festooned home before night falls and the undead, including his former colleague and friend Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) gather outside and taunt him to come out...

A faithful adaptation of Richard Matheson's classic 1951 horror novel I Am Legend - the author had a hand in the writing under the pseudonym Logan Swanson - this 1964 Italian-American co-production would seem to have exerted a considerable influence on the imagery of George A. Romero's Dead films and The Crazies, the sequences of gas-mask wearing soldiers pitching bodies into burning pits also being the kind of things that would not look too out of place in a documentary on Nazi atrocities.

Benefitting from a strong performance from a cast-against-type Vincent Price - his sophisticated, suave manner has no place in a world where all that matters is to survive - and good use of the distinctive architecture of the EUR region of Rome, as also seen in Antonioni's L'eclisse and Argento's Tenebrae, The Last Man on Earth is a surprisingly good film that deserves to be better known.

The post-apocalyptic landscape of the EUR

One also wonders if the depopulated world of Tenebrae, as another science-fiction film set a few years into its future - now our past, of course - might not have been affected by a plague like the one depicted here, leading to the emergence of a new, post-human order. (After all, weren't Demons and Phenomena in part Argento's musings on a world where fascism had triumphed and Opera a meditation on the impossibility of love in the era of AIDS respectively?)


Walrus said...

An appropo connection between this film and the Dead series, especially Night of the Living Dead. They certainly share similar cinematography, lumbering zombies, isolated protagonists and an apocalyptic fatalism.

I've always felt this adaptation was far superior to the Heston "Omega Man" version.

I'm not sure I understand the reference to "Tenebrae" as sci-fi, but I could see some connections to films like Bava's "Planet of the Vampires" (where the vampires are more like zombies anyway).

K H Brown said...

I was thinking about how much I liked this in comparison with The Omega Man, and besides being more faithful to the source material, I also think its down to the different associations / expectations Vincent Price and Charlton Heston bring to the central role. To me Heston is too macho action hero, whereas I felt the contrast between Price's usual persona and his role here gave it a greater weight - you feel that he is a normal man thrown into an extraordinary situation, completely unprepared but determined to survive as long as that vestige of hope remains.

The Tenebrae reference to it being sci-fi is something Argento said in interviews around the time, that the film was set five years into the future when the streets were far less populated, though in truth there's probably little in the film to bear that out. I suppose what I was speculating - and this is a random connection, with no basis in fact - was that the new order imposed at the end of The Last Man on Earth might have certain similarities with the world Argento depicts in his 1980s films.

Mr. Wildenbruck said...

That's my neighborhood. I was shocked the first time I saw this movie!