If you’re watching The Last Man on Earth looking for your typical Vincent Price performance, don’t count on it.
A predecessor and progenitor of George Romero’s iconic 1968 zombie flick Night of the Living Dead, The Last Man on Earth is somewhat of a minimalist horror film. The scares are few and far between, and not given much credence. Despite its marquee star, the entire presentation possesses a low-budget, or even amateur feel. The movie is sloppy and too rawly conceived to be considered a classic, yet gives us some blue skies amidst catastrophe–even though they all come flooding in at once.
Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) has been the last man on earth for the last three years. He’s had the same routine every day. After he wakes up and reinforces his vampire repellant, he collects the vampires who have died from sun exposure outside his house and takes the bodies to a burning pit to dispose of them. He then drives around killing more vampires in Manhattan, block by block, until the day they’re all dead.
The filmmakers apparently aren’t content with silence as we watch our protagonist go about his business. In case we aren’t capable of figuring out what Morgan is doing, they provide us with an overbearing first person voiceover the ENTIRE TIME. Though it’s not there to narrate a story. It’s there to give us every single thought as he has it. If the gas tank on the car is empty, he says, “I’m out of gas.” Then thirty seconds later, he sees more vampire bodies and says, “I will get those later, because right now I’m out of gas.” It’s terrible, cheap, and annoying.
Then the slogging narrative suddenly picks up pace and gets real as it begins to play out as an outbreak story. About thirty minutes in, Morgan has a long flashback to his time before everyone was dead. His young daughter was first hit with the airborne virus, then his wife. This film suddenly turns into a depressing take on a zombie outbreak. It’s real and gritty, but something is distracting us from getting the full effect of the story. For some reason every piece of dialogue is terribly overdubbed as though we’re watching a martial arts movie from Hong Kong–except the mouths are saying the same lines we hear(more or less), but just slightly off.
I’m ready to give this movie a fairly bad rating until the third act comes into focus. The plot thickens and every bit of setup we’ve gotten is rewarded with a satisfying and effective payoff. Though, something tells me this was merely accidental on the director’s part, since his only strength up to this point seems to be executing suspense (not building it up)–which he does surprisingly well.
Price isn’t the best man for this role. His talents are truly exposed here and it’s unfortunate. Especially when no one else is sharing the screen with him, we see how he can’t handle the emotional swings of his character. If you love the screen icon in classic ’50s horrors like House On Haunted Hill, you should know that this performance shares hardly anything in common with those ones. The Last Man on Earth isn’t truly about a man uncovering some sort of mystery, but made to be a type of character study, which Price’s abilities inhibit from ever being realized.
The Last Man on Earth starts off poorly, but has a really good second half. The story is satisfactory, but a flawed script and overall execution hold it back from becoming something much better.