|The Last Man on Earth|
Vincent Price gives an atypically restrained performance as the sole survivor of a worldwide plague that revives its victims as bloodthirsty vampires. During the day, he canvasses his abandoned hometown, tracking down and stalking his former friends and neighbors, always making sure to return before nightfall, when the dead rise to assault his fortified house. Hope arrives in the form of an apparently normal young woman (Franca Bettoia), but her agenda proves to be even more sinister than that of the vampires.
The Last Man on Earth is based on the 1954 novel by coscripter Matheson (whose displeasure with the final product spurred the use of a pseudonym), this Italian-made production is best known for its influence on George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. The similarities between the two films go beyond the presence of shuffling zombies and housebound heroes; both feature taboo-breaking scenes of inter-familial murder, and both end on bleak, dystopian notes. While The Last Man on Earth lacks the political and darkly satirical shadings (and graphic gore) that make Night of the Living Dead a more memorable experience, the combination of Bava-esque Gothic atmosphere and bleak, documentary-style camerawork by directors Ragona and Salkow (the brother of Price's agent Lester Salkow) lend themselves to moments of pure frisson that compare laudably to Romero's film. Matheson's novel also provided the source material for the awkward 1971 Charlton Heston vehicle The Omega Man. A planned third version, helmed by Ridley Scott and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was shut down in its earliest stages due to skyrocketing budget costs.