No horror movie marathon or retrospective would be complete without noting the many contributions of stage, screen, and radio star Vincent Price. I had a hard time deciding which Vincent Price film to review, and initially thought of doing The Raven since it was my first Price film. I decided to watch a film I'd never seen before, however, and Tubi provided one in a genre that's near and dear to me... post-apocalyptic. And with that, let's take a look at the 1964 film adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, in which Vincent Price stars as The Last Man On Earth!
The film opens with several scenes of city streets devoid of any living creatures, littered with the bodies of the dead. We see a battered house, in which a man named Robert Morgan rises from his bed and goes about his daily routine as he narrates. He makes his coffee, refuels his generator, makes wooden stakes... and clears the dead from his driveway. Morgan ventures into the dead city in search of fuel and fresh garlic for his doors before burning the bodies of the dead he's collected in a massive pit and then hunting vampires, killing them by driving wooden stakes through their hearts. When night falls, legions of the undead besiege Morgan's house. The vampires call out his name, demanding he come out. After three years, the fiends have become a mere annoyance to Morgan, and he does his best to ignore them. Through flashbacks, we get a glimpse of Morgan's life before the mysterious plague destroyed humanity. Working with other scientists, Morgan was unable to develop a vaccine and watched helplessly as the plague took both his wife and daughter, along with his best friend who now leads the unrelenting vampires' attack on his home every night. Everything changes for Morgan when he encounters two other living beings, one a small dog, and the other... a beautiful woman.
This isn't the first I Am Legend adaptation I've seen, but it is the better of the two. No offense to Will Smith, but Vincent Price's performance is far superior, and I feel sorry for anyone who tries to fill his shoes for any role. Through Mr. Price's performance, we see Morgan at his best and worst, a man struggling to maintain the illusion of normalcy for the sake of his own sanity. The fact that it was filmed in black and white adds a certain degree of dread and despair missing from more recent adaptations. It's the same with Night of the Living Dead, which clearly took cues from this film, particularly the look and behavior of the vampires.
Speaking of which, let's talk about the undead. While they're not too impressive at first glance, much like Romero's flesh-eating ghouls, Last Man's vampires are quite unsettling once you look into their dull, dead eyes and hear their mournful moans. While alone they're not much of a threat, the danger lies in their numbers. I liked how instead of the old "cast no reflection" trope, the vampires are repelled by the site of their own reflection, as if their lingering humanity is repulsed by what they have become. I have to hand it to Morgan; he's kept it together rather well for a man who's forced to listen to his dead bestie cry out his name every night. By far the most chilling scene is when Morgan's dead wife revives and appears at their home.
The verdict should come as no surprise. I absolutely loved this film. If you've never seen it, check it out on Tubi, YouTube, or pick it up on DVD. This one belongs on the top shelf of any serious horror collection.