Even though I wasn’t 100% invested in The Last Man On Earth, it did have several things going for it that I did like. First off, you’ve got Vincent Price, one of my all time favorite actors. Secondly, the film is based on Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend, which I haven’t read, but I did really like The Omega Man which is also based on that same story. And third, as I mentioned in my Omega Man review, I really dig when movies include scenes of large cities completely devoid of people. That’s no small feat.
All of these elements played pretty well for me. We open with Price long into an existence where he believes himself to be one of the few survivors of a plague that either killed people or turned them into zombie-vampires (they’re called vampires and can be killed with stakes, but act a lot more like zombies). He goes out for supplies, sharpens stakes, takes dead zombie-vampires to a giant fire, etc. The movie even does a good job of explaining how all this happened, the toll it took on Price’s character and why he’s still alive and not a zompire.
After that, things get a little complicated. First he finds a dog which was well kept, but carries the virus (he was a scientist working on a cure when the poo hit the fan). He later comes upon a woman who seems to carry the virus but isn’t all zombie-like. She explains SPOILER that she’s part of a group that was infected, but has a serum flowing through her veins that keeps them human. She and her people intend to destroy the zompires and restore humanity. Price discovers that his blood can completely cure them, but then the woman’s people show up and a chase ensues, one that does not end well for Price.
As if the layers of confusion weren’t enough when it came to the woman’s true identity, there’s just a lot of “huh” moments in the last reel. Price could have hidden and gotten away completely, but he does a few things that bring him back to the group’s attention. He also steals a gun and fires wildly at them. Why didn’t he just try to explain himself? Worse yet, there’s a scene where Price breaks into the police station’s armory and only grabs smoke bombs (or maybe tear gas?) so you’re treated to scenes of a 53 year old man running hunched over and tossing these seemingly useless bombs. It makes little sense, especially when he had so many guns he could have picked.
This film actually shares a lot with The Omega Man, but doesn’t really nail the whole point of I Am Legend as far as I know it to be. Like I said, I haven’t read it, but I’ve talked to people who have and the point is that the protagonist has been running around killing these vampires and is actually a legendary bad guy to them and their society. Price doesn’t do a lot of killing in this book, more like cleaning up (unless the ones lying on the ground aren’t actually dead, but just asleep?). So, while the message of the original might have been lost and the end was kind of jumbly, I still enjoyed my time with this film, though more so the first part than the last.
Man, the 70s must have been kind of a bummer. According to the three post apocalyptic flicks I watched the other day, we’d either be living great lives until we turned 30 and were killed, mostly wiped out by a plague or sleeping on every available staircase and eating processed people. Oh, also, chances were pretty good that Charlton Heston would still be around. He’s just awesome like that. I’m a big fan of these kinds of movies and Heston, so this was a good mini marathon for me. Let’s hop right in shall we?
LOGAN’S RUN (1976)
After a global holocaust, society has been rebuilt in domed cities where life is pretty good except for the fact that, when you turn 30, he get killed. It’s just how society works now. But some people aren’t too keen on the idea of entering the Carousel (a weird, anti gravity chamber that whisks the victims up into what seems to be a giant lazer zapper) so they try to run (and are thus called Runners). It’s up to the Sandmen to find them and either kill them or…well, we only see them kill Runners. Our hero is Logan, a Sandman (played by Michael Basil a.k.a. Basil from the Austin Powers movies), who gets tasked with a top secret mission to find a place called Sanctuary that supposedly hides Runners. Well, as you can imagine, things don’t go quite according to plan.
Logan hooks up with this girl who supposedly has connections to Santuary so the both of them go on this crazy adventure that includes operations to change face (with a sexy Farrah Fawcett), a run down ghetto filled with society’s crazies, a frozen wasteland lorded over by a crazy robot and even the outside world.
I really liked how far the creators went with the story. It wasn’t just about Sandmen vs. Runners or Logan getting to the outside world. He acts like a true hero and wants to tell the people in the domed city the truth about the outside world (to his own near peril). Plus, this is just a fun world to get a glimpse of with their age coordinated to the color of the clothing they wear to the jewels in their hand that change color with age. The whole concept is very cool and even the 70s cheesiness of some of the scenes (the robot for instance or the model of the futuristic dome city) add more than they detract from the overall enjoyment of the movie.
THE OMEGA MAN (1971)
After watching one interpretation of the future, I figured I’d check out another. This is one of many movies based on the book I Am Legend. From what I’ve read (I haven’t read the book) this is a pretty drastic departure from the book as it starts Heston as a scientist who was immune to a plague that hit mankind and either killed everyone or turned them into super-pale zombie weirdo cultists. The cult members want to kill Heston because they believe he represents the old ways and the old ways lead to the end of the world.
As it turns out though (of course), he’s not really the last man on Earth as he comes to find out when he runs into some fellow survivors (including a woman!). Things get really great for a while after Heston develops an antidote for the plague from his own blood, but it doesn’t last. Without spoiling anything, the ending is pretty harsh, much worse than I thought it would be.
The scenes of Heston cruising around an abandoned LA are super cool. I’m always a fan of something like this because it’s really the kind of special effect you’ll never see in real life, a city of that magnitude completely empty (I also love the scenes in 28 Days Later with Jim walking around an empty London). Heston also does a great job of carrying the movie pretty much by himself for the first 20-30 minutes of the movie (not counting the mutants or the bust he talks to). Frankly, I’d watch Heston do just about anything and with the unusual turn of events at the end, this ranks up there are a great flick in my book.
SOYLENT GREEN (1973)
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t paying really really close attention to Soylent Green. I can’t remember what else I was doing though I think it might have been writing a feature for the next issue of ToyFare (available in stores in February!). Anyway, I liked what I saw as Heston (yeah!) investigates a bunch of murders in a crappy feature where people sleep in run down apartments (or the stairs if they’re really poor). There’s also apartment complexes where the rich live with what can only be described as complimentary prostitutes. It’s one of these rich guys that bites it early on, spurring the story on.
There’s a lot of plot, most of which leads up to the completely spoiled ending that Soylent Green (a foodstuff sold to the poor) is actually people. I think it was first ruined for me in an SNL skit starring Phil Hartman. Oh well, no grudges held.
There’s also a subplot with Heston’s older friend and classic actor Edward G. Robinson in what would be his last role. There’s all kinds of subtext as the older man spends time with Heston, the only other person who know that Robinson was dying of cancer. In the end it’s a pretty dark and grimy film and even though we all know what Soylent Green really is, it’s not what the whole movie’s about. There’s a lot of emotion between Heston and Robinson that becomes all the more palpable when you know the real life history behind the shooting.
I also really like the dingy future. It’s definitely not the clean and crisp one of Logan’s Run, seeming moor like Escape from New York than anything else, but without all the weird gangs or kind of like Land of the Dead with the merchants and poor people surrounding the palatial high rise. Whereas the streets in Omega Man are completely empty, the ones in Soylent are packed with the dregs of society. It’s an interesting difference. Oh, also, the first murder victim’s in-house prostitute gets really excited when her john buys her a brand new arcade game (according to the IMDb, it was made by the same guy who would go on to make Pong). It was pretty funny. It’s fun to see what people 30 years ago thought the future would be like and how wrong they were. Fun stuff.