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Classic Public Domain Sci-Fi: The Last Man on Earth

Tonight’s public domain sci-fi viewing is The Last Man on Earth, the cheapo 1964 Vincent Price vehicle that has the honor of pretty much being the first modern zombie film ever.

That’s a contentious statement, of course, mostly because the movie isn’t technically about zombies: it’s about vampires. Still, the sci-fi/horror novel from which it was adapted (I Am Legend by Richard Matheson) later directly inspired George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

If you ignore the fact that in one, the ghouls drink blood, and in the other, the ghouls eat flesh, the idea is the same: in the near future, a strange plague spreads over the earth, causing the dead to come to life to feast on the living.

In The Last Man on Earth, Vincent Price stars as Dr. Robert Morgan, who is the titular sole survivor of a plague that has killed humanity and turned them into vampires. By night, he sits in his barricaded house, drinks and listens to jazz albums; by day, he combs the streets, killing as many vampires as he can. One day, he meets a beautiful woman who doesn’t seem to be infected… but she is not quite what she appears.

The Last Man On Earth was originally meant to be a Hammer Films production, and they hired Matheson himself to adopt his novel, but they passed on the script and instead it ended up produced in Italy on the cheap. Matheson was extremely dissatisfied with the film, and asked for his name to be removed from the finished product. That said, it’s still a good deal of fun, and I actually prefer it in many ways to the next adaptation of I Am Legend, The Omega Man starring Charleston Heston.

Incidentally, one thing I’m noticing as I do this blog is that there’s a surprising amount of mingling between sci-fi and horror as genres. The Last Man on Earth is a perfect example: is it a horror movie because it attempts to scare and features monsters? Or is it a science-fiction film because it takes place in the future and features the post-apocalypse?

The answer, of course, is it’s a bit of both, and if you want to read more about classic movie horror, you should head over to SciFi Scanner’s sister blog, Monsterfest.

The Last Man on Earth [Internet Archive]

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