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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: The Last Man on Earth

August 9, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
The Last Man on Earth Vinceent Price

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #518: The Last Man on Earth

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that firmly believes that whatever the hell is over there should probably just be left alone because, shit, who has the time to deal with that now, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and eighteen, I take a look at the classic post-apocalyptic horror flick The Last Man on Earth, starring the immortal Vincent Price and which first hit North American movie screens in early March, 1964.

The Last Man on Earth


The Last Man on Earth, directed by Ubaldo B. Ragona and Sidney Salkow, is the first movie based on Richard Matheson’s classic horror novel I Am Legend (the other two are Omega Man, which starred Charlton Heston and came out in 1971 and I reviewed last year, and I Am Legend, which starred Will Smith and came out in 2007). Apparently filmed on a low budget in Italy several years before it was actually released in North America, the black and white movie isn’t very action packed or scary, but it does feature a top notch performance from star Price and is heartfelt and oddly moving. The movie, which hit the public domain back in the 1980’s, is also an obvious precursor to another black and white horror movie about an apocalypse, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which came out in 1968 (Night of the Living Dead also currently exists in the public domain). Just watch the monsters in a pack and you’ll see what I mean.

Price stars as Robert Morgan, the last full human left on Earth, or at least that’s the way it seems. He’s been alone in a world that’s been ravaged by a vampire germ, turning seemingly everyone but Morgan into some sort of blood lusting ghoul, for three years, and Morgan’s predicament is getting to him. By day, he travels around a desolated California city, obtaining the necessary supplies to keep living and killing vampires (the vampires, the infected, are unable to operate during the day, so they basically just drop to the ground and “sleep” until dusk comes. Either that or they hide somewhere the sun can’t get to them). After staking the vampires, Morgan takes them to a giant fire pit and burns their bodies. At night, when the vampires are up and about, Morgan locks himself inside his fortified house and tries to stay safe and, maybe, sleep. The vampires, who shamble around like slow moving zombies, aren’t much of a threat one-on-one, but in groups they are super dangerous. Morgan manages to keep most of the vampire hordes away from his house by putting strings of garlic on his front door and mirrors everywhere (vampires don’t like to see themselves). Morgan wants to keep living, wants to stay alive, but he wants a better life, a life that resembles the life he had before the vampire apocalypse. But how the hell is that going to happen when, as far as he can tell, there’s no one left on Earth but him?

Morgan spends quite a bit of his “free” time trying to find someone, anyone, on a radio set up he has in his living room. All he gets is radio silence. There is no one else. At the same time, there’s a particular vampire outside of his house every night, calling his name and demanding that Morgan show himself to be killed. That vampire, Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), was Morgan’s best friend and co-worker at the chemical company that they worked for before the apocalypse. They had a bit of a falling out during the start of the apocalypse, and to say that it didn’t end well would be a serious understatement.

Now, the middle of the movie is devoted to an extended flashback where we see Morgan with his wife Virginia (Emma Danieli) and young daughter Kathy (Christi Courtland) just as the apocalypse is starting. Morgan’s work at the chemical company is for the government, and the company is trying to find a cure/vaccine/way to stop the vampire germ from spreading. At first, Morgan didn’t believe that the germ would make it to America, as it started as a “European problem.” By the time the germ did reach America, Morgan went to work on trying to find a cure, although he didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what the germ actually was. There were rumors that the germ was creating vampires, but, in the “real world,” what is a vampire exactly? Morgan is a scientist and he’s all about facts and the evidence, and there was just no real world evidence of actual vampires. The germ had to be something else.

So the apocalypse grew, scores of people became infected and died, and Morgan’s work grew more important. At the same time, his issues with Cortman started to grow out of control. Cortman believed that there was enough evidence to prove that the germ was creating vampires and that the world had to act based on that. Morgan disagreed. And that’s where their friendship essentially ended. And while that was happening, Virginia and Kathy became infected. Morgan tried to keep the authorities away from his infected family, but Kathy’s body was taken away and thrown into the giant fire pit in town, and Virginia, in full vampire zombie mode, showed up and tried to kill her husband.

When the flashback is over, Morgan tries to keep going. There’s a brief moment of hope when Morgan finds a dog running around. That hope goes away quickly, though, when Morgan finds out that the dog is infected with the vampire germ, too, and he destroys it. A second moment of hope presents itself when a woman, Ruth (Franca Bettoia), appears during the day. During the day? In the middle of the vampire apocalypse? How the hell could that happen? Ruth runs away from Morgan when she sees him and Morgan chases her. Morgan eventually catches up to her and, suddenly, it looks like Morgan, the last man on Earth, has found the last woman on Earth.

It looks that way, yes. It really isn’t that way, though. There’s something else going on here with Ruth, something that Morgan probably suspected when he first met Ruth but, when it becomes real, is surprising anyway and absolutely devastating.

As you will no doubt read all over the internets and in books that decide to talk about the movie, The Last Man on Earth follows the I Am Legend novel story fairly closely, which makes sense since Matheson wrote the screenplay (under the name Logan Swanson) along with William F. Leicester, Furio M. Monetti, and Ubaldo Ragona. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. Lots of people like The Last Man on Earth, but Matheson didn’t care for it at all, so how much you like/dislike the novel will likely have no impact on how you feel about the movie. Maybe. One of the complaints I’ve seen about the movie, over and over again, is how low budget it is. The movie does feel small, and Morgan’s house set isn’t exactly the most robust house setting you’re likely to see. Check out the “boards” that are nailed to Morgan’s windows. Do you think those things could keep out, well, anyone, monster or not?

The vampires also don’t appear to be all that vampire like. They don’t have fangs, they don’t have super strength or turn into bats or any of that shit. We’re told via Morgan’s narration that the “strong” vampires take out the “weak” ones since there are no major human population centers left to feast on. Even knowing all that we still don’t see the vampires “in action.” And even at night, when they’re supposed to strongest, the vampires come off as weak and simple. They’re Romero zombies before Romero created zombies. So, really, how dangerous can they be? In groups they’re a menace, sure, but one-on-one they’re easy to avoid and destroy. That’s what Morgan does throughout the movie, even when he’s attacked by a mass of them when he’s caught out after dark. He avoids them or easily destroys them. Once he’s back in his house, the vampire zombies destroy Morgan’s car, but, hell, that’s mostly a minor inconvenience. Morgan can just go and get another car.

Now, even with those facts in play, the vampire zombies are still scary. Not viscerally, sure, but they are a threat and our hero Morgan has to deal with them. Price isn’t an action star, so his moments of badassness (and he has a few of them) come off as kind of awkward. You just don’t expect to see Vincent Price running and fighting slow moving vampires. He’s too classy to do that kind of thing. And yet there he is, kicking ass and taking names when he has to. He isn’t big Chuck Heston, he isn’t Will Smith, but he doesn’t have to be. When push comes to shove and he’s forced to survive alone in the vampire apocalypse world, Price will find a way to rise to the occasion and succeed. Again, you don’t expect him to be able to do any of that shit and it’s odd as hell when he does it. But that’s the point. Vincent Price is doing it. And that’s cool.

It’s also cool how a guy like Vincent Price forces himself to go out into the desolate world and kill vampires. He makes his own wooden stakes and goes to where the vampires are hiding and takes them out. Price’s Morgan also has no problem taking the vampire bodies to the fire pit to burn. It’s awful work, but, hell, someone has to do it. Morgan is the only one left, so who else would do it? Who else could do it?

The first half or so of the movie moves at a deliberate pace. The pace really doesn’t pick up until after the dog shows up and it looks like Morgan may not be as alone as he thought. The last ten minutes are absolutely thrilling, as we find out that the world isn’t quite what we thought it was. Price’s final line in the movie is sort of grown inducing, at least in retrospect, but while watching the movie it works beautifully. The flashback sequences slow things down, but they’re also interesting as hell. As we see the vampire apocalypse slowly take over the world, including America, and there’s no hope for a cure, the story is just devastating. Can the world at large really burn its way out of this?

And my God, the sequence where Morgan has to hold it together as his dead daughter is taken away and he doesn’t really know how to console his wife? If you’re not moved by these sequences you need to reevaluate your emotions. There may be something wrong with you.

Price does a tremendous job as Morgan. He isn’t a man-of-action, or at least a “typical” man of action, but Price makes it all work. He may not have been the first choice of the producers, but I don’t see the movie as it exists working without him. It wouldn’t have the same feel, the same emotional weight. And he makes the ridiculous grenade sequences seem less ridiculous than they are, which is amazing when you look at the grenade sequences as standalone action scenes. They’re ridiculous. But, again, Price somehow makes it all work. I don’t think I’ve seen enough Vincent Price movies to foster a worthwhile opinion of his overall career, but he’s so good in this movie it just wouldn’t have worked without him.

Giacomo Rossi-Stuart does a good job as Ben Cortman. His early performance makes more sense once you see him in the flashback sequences. I was disappointed with the way Cortman was taken out at the end, but sigh what the directors and producers had to work with it works well enough. Not every movie needs to be a knock down drag out brawl from beginning to end.

I really liked Morgan’s wife Virginia, as played by Emma Danieli. Sher has such an easy chemistry with Price that you totally believe they’re a married couple and that Price is the ultimate family man. Franca Bettoia doesn’t have the same kind of chemistry with Price, but then they’re relationship was never meant to be romantic. It’s different, but it works, too.

The only real douchebag in the movie is Dr. Mercer, as played by Umberto Rau. He comes off as so disconnected from what’s going on that it’s kind of annoying. I bet he thought his chemical company was going to make a killing by working on the vampire germ and coming up with a vaccine. It sure as hell didn’t work out that way for him, did it?

The Last Man on Earth is probably going to annoy people expecting a little more in the way of action spectacle. It will also likely annoy people wanting a more gung ho, outwardly badass actor in the lead role. I do think, though, that if you give the movie a chance and give Vincent Price a few minutes to win you over, he will and you will enjoy the movie more than you thought you would. And the movie itself, despite its mega low budget, will hit you emotionally and kick your ass. That’s what it did to me. The Last Man on Earth may be small in stature, but it works beautifully and is a true blue sci-fi horror classic. I loved it.

See The Last Man on Earth. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 5.

Undead bodies: Untold millions, maybe even billions.

Explosions: A few small ones. They’re kind of lame.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: A deserted city, potential dead bodies on the ground everywhere, alarm clock hooey, generator hooey, dead body collecting, coffee drinking, radio hooey, boredom and frustration, wooden stakes, gas collection, a giant fire pit where you throw dead bodies, torch making, torch throwing, a minor explosion, racks of beef and baskets of “fresh” garlic, mirror gathering, a vampire killing montage, record playing, an impromptu church trip, vampire zombie attack, a mirror weapon, old home movies, flashback, a kiddie party, the beginning of a massive worldwide plague, a national emergency message on TV, blindness, dead body collecting, serious dead body burning, total car destruction, new car shopping, a dog, vampires with metal stakes in their chests, hand licking, of screen dog killing, a woman, garlic used as a weapon, injections, serious garlic smelling, mirror breaking, door opening, machine gun hooey, metal stake hooey, body flying, wimpy grenade hooey, metal stake to the chest, and a baby crying.

Kim Richards?: Big time.

Gratuitous: Black and white cinematography, Vincent Price, Vincent Price narrating the movie, Vincent Price smelling garlic, Vincent Price tucking in his shirt, Vincent Price using the radio, Vincent Price picking up dead bodies and throwing them into a giant fire pit, vampire germ plague, Vincent Price killing vampires, a circus montage, Vincent Price shooting home movies, Vincent Price smoking while driving, microscope hooey, Vincent Price getting excited about seeing a dog, a woman named Ruth, Vincent Price using garlic as a weapon, and a baby crying in the background.

Best lines: “Another day to live through. Better get started,” “KOKW calling,” “They can’t bear to see their image. It repels them. I need more mirrors. And this garlic has lost its pungency,” “I’m out of gas. That means one more stop I’ll have to make,” “They can wait, too. I have my life to worry about,” “I haven’t much time left. It’s an hour before dark,” “Morgan! Come out! Come out!,” “Another day, another day to start over again,” “It’s Morgan! Get him!,” “Three years?,” “I cannot accept half-baked theories that sell newspapers. I’m, I’m a scientist, not an alarmist,” “I’m sorry, Ben, I just can’t accept the idea of a universal disease,” “Hey, Mommy, when are you gonna cut the cake?,” “The wind wake you up?,” “To show me germs does not refute the stories, Bob,” “Virge, there’s nothing we can do!,” “Ben, what’s the matter with you?,” “If you’re looking for anybody but me, forget it,” “Hey, you don’t belong here! Get away!,” “Bob, I can’t see! I can’t see!,” “No, I won’t let them put you there, Virge. I promise. I won’t let them put you there,” “Morgan! We’re going to kill you, Morgan!,” “Come back! Hey, boy, where are you?,” “They’re dead! They’ve been staked!,” “So you finally decided to come back?,” “What’s the use?,” “Wait! I’m not gonna hurt you! Wait!,” “Do you want to come with me or face them?,” “You seem very well organized here,” “You are infected!,” “Please let me give you a blood test!,” “What will you do if I am infected? Kill me?,” “We? We?,” “Don’t be afraid,” “Freaks! All of you! All of you! Freaks! Mutations!,” and “You’re all freaks! I’m the last man!”

Rating: 10.0/10.0


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Things to Watch Out For


Welcome to Acapulco: This appears to be some sort of low budget action comedy about a video game designer who, one day, finds himself trapped in a crime filled world that resembles one of his games. Or something like that. Action comedies can be very hard to pull off, so this movie, before even seeing a trailer, is a rental first and foremost, just to see if it works. And when you take into account that it isn’t going to have the big deal spectacle of a major Hollywood production, it becomes all about the story, cast, and the dialogue. Just how funny is it? William Baldwin, Michael Madsen, and the Paul Sorvino are all in the cast, so you know that the movie has the necessary on screen talent to succeed. I’m pulling for it to work.


Project Ithaca: This is a new, low budget sci-fi horror flick about people who wake up one day and find themselves on some sort of weird beard alien spaceship and then have to find a way to survive being on that spaceship. Scary stuff, weird stuff, and potentially nasty stuff will likely happen. I mean, why wouldn’t it work out like that? And at 85 minutes, you just know that it doesn’t have the time to screw around with bullshit, at least that’s what I’m hoping for. The special effects look good. Definitely want to check this out.


Attrition: This is a new Steven Seagal movie that was originally available exclusively on some sort of action movie streaming service called 365 Flix, but is now available on Blu-ray/DVD. While the story seems to suggest it’s yet another low budget Seagal movie where he teams up with a bunch of younger characters to do something, the trailer suggests that this movie might actually be better than the last few. It sure seems like Seagal, who produced the movie and wrote the screenplay, cares about this movie. Of course, that could just be trailer trickery and this could be just another new “watchable” Seagal movie. Regardless, I want to see this, and hopefully the Blu-ray/DVD is easily available.


The Widow’s Point teaser trailer is here!

And please check out my Widow’s Point set report here!



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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

The Last Man on Earth

Vincent Price– Dr. Robert Morgan
Franca Bettoia– Ruth Collins
Emma Danieli– Virginia Morgan
Giacomo Rossi-Stuart– Ben Cortman
Christi Courtland– Kathy Morgan
Umberto Rau– Dr. Mercer

Directed by Sidney Salkow and Ubaldo Ragona
Screenplay by Richard Matheson (credited as Logan Swanson), William F. Leicester, Furio M. Monetti, and Ubaldo Ragina, based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Distributed by American International Pictures (AIP), VCI Home Video, Tapeworm Video Distributors, Diamond Entertainment Group, BFS Video, Alpha Video Distributors, St. Clair Vision, MGM Home Entertainment, Madacy Entertainment, Reel Media International, Liberty Home Video, Shout! Factory, Something Weird Video, and Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Runtime– 90 minutes

Buy it here