Hello, gentle readers, and welcome to this late installment of the Vincent Price -a- thon. In this series of posts we are studying the works of the immortal known as Vincent Price, the comedy, the horror and last week the horrible comedy that was Comedy of Terrors. Thankfully this week there is nary a pratfall to be found since Vincent Price is The Last Man on Earth. Adapted from a science fiction story by one Richard Matheson called I Am Legend and if that name sounds familiar it would likely be from the Will Smith film of the same name. Mr. Smith and our own Mr. Price are not the only ones to take a crack at the leading role of this film, either, with Moses taking the role in the film Omega Man. Out of these three films The Last Man on Earth is the only one that has Vincent Price and so it wins by default, but mostly based on a few strengths. Firstly, it’s easy to get atmosphere when want you want is emptiness. All you need is some empty streets, have a few extras lounge around face down on the set and Vincent Price and you’re golden. What sets this film apart, in my not so humble opinion, is the stellar performance by Vincent Price and the very good character acting from the extras. So it’s time to dig in, ladies and gentlemen, a few thoughts on The Last Man on Earth.
We open during our post-apocalyptic nightmare vampire attack already in progress. I’ve heard that it wouldn’t take long for the world to collapse if not maintained and these opening scenes really show it. Granted, with all the bodies scattered around the streets it looks like the world had one really big kegger and decided to sleep it off somewhere quiet like Main Street in the middle of the afternoon or the doorway of a Sears Department store. That also totally changes the meaning of a sign in front of a church saying “THE END HAS COME” in all capitals. Yeah, even the greatest party of all time needs to come to a close at some point and that’s why we have Vincent Price, whom we are going to pretend is the hero in this picture. He’s sleeping it off too in a house that clearly needs some fixing up. At least in this movie Vincent has the common sense to live in a small, modest home that we can be pretty sure will not collapse or catch fire but don’t quote me on that one. Leave it to Vincent Price to be the picture of regularity. Not even the end of civilization can stop the man from looking presentable and having some sort of daily routine. Granted, his habit of scrawling a calendar on the wall is a little messier than normal but they kind of stopped putting them out when mankind when extinct save one.
The opening half of this film is really the best and there are a lot of little touches of genius. They let Vincent Price wander around the house, check his generator, make himself some coffee and sharpen wooden stakes to kill the undead hordes who hunger for his blood. So pretty much business as usual for Mr. Price. His narration is kept to a minimum and they really let the atmosphere carry the film for a lot of the opening. I love how as Vincent wanders around his house he tucks his shirt in and buttons it up. Why does he do this? It’s a habit, but it’s such a great little moment. Kind of like when he gets on the radio and starts trying to trick survivors into finding him even though he is by far the most deadly thing left on the planet that has two legs. I’m not entirely sure that he really is the so called last man on Earth or if everyone suddenly got a massive dose of common sense and decided to just get the hell out of whatever city he’s in. I think it’s on the West Coast, but I’m not sure why. If that is the case, the East Coast is sounding pretty good about now. Vincent going through his check list is great too. Gotta get garlic, some fuel and also drop off the vampire corpses in the fiery Gahanna pit where there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth, if he didn’t stake them first.
I suppose we should take comfort since Vincent Price is the last man on Earth he can’t bury his wife alive or have her cheat on him and then try to kill him with another man. So Vincent packs up the corpses into his station wagon and heads out for town. His gas stop is a fuel tanker just sitting in the middle of the road. Not sure one tanker would fuel a car for three years, so I’m just going to assume that Mr. Price uses black magic or something. And then we do get a brief scene of Vincent Price tossing bodies onto a giant fire before pouring some more gasoline on it and throwing a flaming torch in. This is what we came for people. Vincent Price lighting people on fire. The rest of the day is a little boring, and isn’t that something you wouldn’t expect me to say? Perhaps it’s because Vincent Price is so methodical that killing these monster people really does come across as mundane and rather boring. I will say that I never realized Vincent Price is killing people who, barring their hideous mutations, are reacting as pretty much any normal person would to Vincent Price showing up and shoving a giant wooden stake into your chest. Not very well overall, then. The first night is where the real genius of this film is revealed. Once it gets dark, Vincent settles down and pops open a bottle of the good stuff while he plays a record.
The nights are the worst because this is when the zombie vampire horde, presumable angry with Mr. Price for having killed most of the local vampire PTA, try to break in. This is psychological warfare and Mr. Price seems to deal with it pretty drunk…ah, well. He deals with it pretty well. And now we get round two, or round two for us, of Vincent Price kills the world. But it seems today is not a good day to kill, so Vincent heads off to the cemetery. The trip and the subsequent mourning take a little longer than Vincent thought, so the trip back is a harrowing rush through a mosh pit of zombie vampires and back inside. It’s days like this that must make killing vampires seem like such a hassle. To wind down, Vincent watches old home movies and remembers a time when people knew him as something other than a homicidal maniac with an incredible moustache. The home movie has some clips of a circus for some reason, and the scene of Vincent laughing hysterically at the clowns before starting to cry is perhaps some of the best acting we have seen from him so far, and that is really saying something. It also goes beyond Mr. Price just being diabolical, this is genuine Oscar worthy stuff. It’s the memories that we’re really interested in, wherein Vincent Price remembers a better time and we get to see the sort of windup to the situation we found ourselves in with Mr. Price.
It starts off with a party, as one might imagine given the kegger aftermath we just saw. Man, that party goes on for three years. No wonder nobody thought it would ever end. Really what we’re interested in is a potentially airborne plague that seems to be wiping our large portions of Europe. Vincent Price is part of a team that is working on trying to find a cure, spoiler alert he doesn’t find it. The flashbacks run a little long for my taste, we’re not here to watch Mr. Price play house after all. They do skip to after the rest of Mr. Price’s family has gotten whatever one calls the vampire zombie plague in this world. I choose to call it Cheeto’s, mostly because they have an orange color that doesn’t exist in nature. So the Cheeto’s virus has infected the rest of the family and apparently most of the rest of the neighborhood. In fact, quite soon they have roaming death squads looking for victims of the Cheeto’s virus like Mr. Price’s daughter. Work does continue at the lab, but to little or no avail. Mr. Price has an assistant named Ben who believes they are zombie vampires, and they are, and he presumable wants to go kill them all or something. Time keeps moving forward, and it makes me wish they had split this sequence up a bit. I wanted to spend this movie vampire hunting and looking for a vampire zombie woman who can learn to love! You do remember that ad right?
Oh goodness, you should totally find it because it looks like something out of a reality show. Vincent has to keep convincing his wife to not take their kid do the doctors, which does sound a little bit more like the Vincent Price that I know and love, but he is doing it for her own good, so it hardly counts. Vincent heads off for work and finds that he’s the only one who came to work, barring his boss. Physician, heal thyself. At least don’t get Cheeto’s disease. Is Vincent Price driving the same car as the one we saw in the opening three years later? Oh yeah, it is. I didn’t recognize it at first because its trunk wasn’t filled with dead bodies. So Mr. Price goes to pick up his assistant who has pretty much gone crazy by this point. Too bad going crazy didn’t stop him from contracting Cheeto’s. When he gets back from work, Mrs. Price cracked and called a doctor. And now his daughter will be taken to the fiery pit where all the Cheeto people go. Every time I read that work I think about how I used to put that product in my body. Why am I not a zombie vampire? So you may expect Vincent to give up, but lest we forget Vincent Price came back from beyond the grave using nothing but the power of love, the army isn’t gonna stop him from getting his daughter back. Well, they might not but the fact that she’s on fire in the middle of a fiery pit of fire might. Yeah, she ain’t comin’ back from that.
Next is the wife. Yeah, he’s all alone later on and visiting her grave so one can assume that the Cheeto virus got her. Ok, this music playing while Vincent Price drives along a dark road with his undead wife is a little too jaunty. Also, fun note, Vincent Price is pulling double duty as the jealous lover. I suppose that would make the fire the husband in this one? It’s a little hard to tell, given how dark the film is, but I think he just buried his wife alive…or undead…it still doesn’t count though because he did that one on purpose and it doesn’t stick anyways. It makes me realize that this is how the world will end, not because of the disaster but because of the sheer stubborn stupidity of everyone in the world, Vincent Price included. He even opens the door for his soon to be Facebook official dead wife. And what that other guy Ben? He’s been wandering around outside his colleague’s house for years now since he just can’t find anything better to do I guess. Did he decide to let a really friendly milk man or something? He’s also a little passive aggressive, since he destroys the car Vincent Price had. Which is kind of dumb, since Mr. Price just goes to a car lot and picks out a new one, making sure it has plenty of trunk space of course.
That’s when everything changes. Vincent Price finds a dog. Naturally, the dog runs away when it sees Mr. Price as well it should, but the changes are just beginning. You see, Mr. Price then runs into a woman running around in the daylight who is clearly not dead. No, she is, you see this is the zombie cheeto vampire who hungers for unnaturally colored love. Did I lie? And this is where the movie pulls the drag chute and grinds to a halt. Vincent sees some bad zombies staked to the ground with iron stakes, not the wooden ones that he made. Now one would think that Mr. Price would see this setup coming from a mile away, but let’s just bear with him. He hasn’t had to deal with any subterfuge for a very long time, or really any human interaction at all. He does find the dog, but the dog is quite rightly scared of the idiot vampire zombies that are constantly trying to break down the door. You would think someone would have gotten some heavy construction equipment and just knocked the place down. Vincent Price and structures of any kind have a history together. But it seems the dog was not meant to last as it too had tasted the Cheeto virus. As the dog exits so enters our mystery woman. The interaction between Mr. Price and the woman grind things to a complete halt. You see, she doesn’t want him to know she’s a spy and he figures out pretty much immediately by ramming garlic right into her face. Our hero, everyone.
It’s at this point that we find out what I would call the twist of the film. Vincent Price, his blood is what could have killed the virus. He was immune the whole time. The problem is that she warns him more vampire not zombies are coming to kill him and he doesn’t run, he stays. She’s half infected one might say. Vincent Price finds out about this new society of non-infected people for whom he is the boogie man. Vincent Price finds it ironic that he was going to cure her when she was sent there to essentially kill him. Somehow it hits him that his blood can cure her and so he does it but that’s not enough to stop the hammer of justice from falling. One could say that he actually did this out of a twisted sense of revenge, or I will read it that way because it’s Vincent Price. When he dies, the last man on Earth, she’s now cured so that makes her the last woman. Will she spread the cure? Who knows? But for now, let’s get back to the cured woman waking up. I have to admit, the growing realization that she’s cured plays out really well. The last scene is essentially vampires of sorts chasing down Vincent Price and isn’t that something I never thought I would see. In point of fact, they’re even more brutally efficient about killing the really real bad vampires than Vincent Price ever could have been. They even have guns. Of course, Vincent Price has to die in a church, since we need a cross around when the dark one passes on into his kingdom.
I really loved this movie, so let’s be serious for a bit and with your leave I’m going to skip the ending in detail because you deserve to see it on your own. The best kinds of stories in many ways are the should haves and the almosts. This almost worked out if Vincent Price hadn’t mouthed off, he was the cure and yet he got killed, staked in much the same way that he had staked so many others. This is by far the best film that we’ve seen in this journey of ours so far. It’s a dark film with very little to offer in the way of humor and whole it does have some uplifting moments, the ending is appropriately flat. Life goes on despite the almost cure with a large overdramatic THE END sending us off to the ending credits. I love this movie and I can not recommend it enough. You can likely find it floating around the internet somewhere, though I would imagine finding it on DVD as I had would be more satisfying in its own way. Next week we go back to that wonderful year of 1963 because I missed one of the Edgar Allen Poe monstrosities and really who could blame me? Here’s hoping this one is less depressing than the Comedy of Terrors and just as bleak as this film. It’s Poe, I can’t be too far off.