Cinema Sunday: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

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Title: The Last Man on Earth

Distributor: AIP (American International Pictures)/ MGM

Writers: Richard Matheson (book and assisted with the screenplay), William F. Leicester, Ubaldo Ragona, Furio M. Monetti

Directors: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow

Producers: Samuel Z. Arkoff, Robert L. Lippert, Harold E. Knox

Starring: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart

Released: March 8, 1964

MPAA: NR

 

As many people know, Vincent Price was an outstanding actor. Of course he’s most known for his horror roles, and that was his best genre, without a doubt. I’ve covered his perennial classic “House of Wax“, on my blog before, and that will always be my personal favorite, but this film, is a close second! Post-apocalyptic movies are always intriguing to me, some obviously fall very short of being good, let alone great, but this one does not. A strong nod to the work of Richard Matheson, as he wrote the book and assisted on the screenplay for this one. If you don’t know his work, get cracking, because he’s one of the good ones! Alright, let’s get down to the movie!

LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE (1963)

As the movie begins, we see that a worldwide devastation has left the planet in a barely livable state. We see some corpses lying around, buildings smashed to bits, and absolutely nothing happening. That is until we see a house in the suburbs, and an alarm clock that awakens a man, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price). His internal monologue pretty much sums up what we’ve already seen with our own eyes. We see him go about a mostly routine, but then we see a wall in his kitchen, and he has used a pen to create a monthly calendar, and he remarks to himself that he “inherited the world” in 1965. According to his home-made calendar, it’s 1967.

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He enters the garage, and readies his car for a trip. Outside, there are two dead bodies, and he kicks one of them aside, as if he tires of this routine. On the front door to his house, we see a ring of garlic, and a cross, and you can begin to formulate what’s happening. He next attempts to use a short wave radio to contact someone, but he gets no answer. He checks his supply closet, and realizes he needs more garlic. He drinks a cup of tea, and checks out a map of the city that he’s been searching, block by block. He also is fashioning some wooden stakes, as well. He remarks (internally) that “they want my blood”, and “how many more will I have to kill.”

As he loads the two dead bodies into his car (from outside his home), he remarks that he needs to stop for gas for the car. He does that, and then we watch, as he drives to a ravine where a fire is burning. He tosses the two bodies into it (after putting on a gas mask), and then throws a torch into the pit, and an explosion follows. Next, he enters a grocery store, and grabs what he needs, including the garlic. He drives to another area, searching for life, and also, more supplies. We watch, as this routine of gathering supplies, killing these “infected” with a stake and hammer, dumping bodies in that pit, and so forth, continues for the rest of the day.

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As night comes, he attempts to get some sleep, but a few of the infected gather around his house, and begin to try to smash their way in. They’re unsuccessful though, because he’s fortified it very well. A scream awakens him, and he plays a few records to try to keep his mind from going off the deep end. The next day, Morgan heads off to the church, and loses himself in his thoughts. Before you know it, he realizes it dark outside, and runs out in a panic towards his car. Two of them attack him, but are tossed aside fairly easy. He reaches his car, fighting off a few more of them, but as he returns home, his house is surrounded. He uses his car to knock some of them over, and as he leaps out of the car, he brandishes a mirror, to keep them off long enough to get into the house.

Then, he watches some home movies, to try to relax. The infected ruin that quickly though, and push him over the edge, and he begins to weep. He flashes back to a time before the plague came upon the Earth. We see Dr. Morgan talking with a relative about a plague that’s sweeping through Europe. Dr. Morgan doesn’t believe its’ as bad as people are saying, but he soon finds out differently. His daughter is the first to get ill, but his wife soon follows. Morgan talks with his wife about the hope of a vaccine, and he believes everything will be fine. As he gets to the lab, he and the other doctors mention the word vampire, but Morgan wont have any of that talk.

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Morgan is still holding out hope for his daughter, but his wife thinks they need to send for a doctor. As Morgan leaves for the lab, a neighbor is screaming, because the military is taking her child (or husband) away to be burned in the before mentioned pit. Morgan drives to his co-workers home to pick him up for work, but he wont leave the house. Morgan shows up at the lab, but everyone is gone, save for one doctor. He returns home later that day (in the evening), and a truck has just pulled away. He sees that his daughter is gone, and his wife tells him that she called a doctor, and then the truck came to take her away. Morgan quickly jumps into his car, and tries to follow the truck to the burn pit. After he arrives, he asks the driver if that truck was just in his neighborhood, and the man doesn’t know. We assume she was in the truck and is now dead.

He returns home, and his wife cries out that she cannot see. He finds her, lying on the bed, unconscious. He keeps her under his constant supervision, but she dies rather quickly. He removes her from the house (wrapped in a sheet), then drives to a remote location, and buries her. He returns home, but soon hears a voice whispering. Someone is at the front door, attempting to get in. He opens the door, and it’s his wife, not looking so good.

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We now flashback into the present, and the infected are trashing his car and house. They call to him the entire time, but get careless, and stay out until sunrise. Morgan awakens the next morning and heads outside to assess the damage. Morgan does some car “shopping” , and picks up a new station wagon. He returns home, and locks it in his garage. Seemingly out of nowhere, a dog appears, and seems to be fine. He scares it though, and it runs off. He chases it, but can’t seem to find it. He does stumble upon some dead bodies that were taken out with metal spears. He now knows someone else must still be alive. He heads back home and once again uses his radio to try to make contact with someone.

As he does, he hears the dog whimpering outside the house. The dog is injured, but how, is unknown. The usual band of infected return and start beating on his house once again. Morgan sees the dog is frightened, and he assures it that things will be fine. It hits him just then, that maybe the dog was infected, so he checks out its blood under a microscope. It was indeed, so then he’s shown burying the dog (that has a stake through it). He looks up, and sees a woman walking through the field. He calls out to her, but she’s afraid. After running her down, he convinces her that she should come with him, and they can fight together.

I’m going to leave off  now, and let the rest to your imagination, but rest assured, this is one you must see!

OK, here are my thoughts:

You’d think that a movie dominated by one actor wouldn’t be something excellent, but Price delivers such a great performance, it’s proof that it can happen. His inner monologue is the driving force for this movie. He really has you convinced there is no hope and that the world is doomed. How then can he carry on everyday? That’s the question everyone would have to answer if they were in this situation. Most people would go insane, no doubt, but a select few would soldier on, no matter what the circumstances.

The ending is quite good, and holds some very dramatic scenes. This story has been remade a few other times- The Omega Man (Charlton Heston, 1971 and I Am Legend (Will Smith, 2007), but don’t hold the power that this film does. Let’s be honest, most remakes don’t touch the original material they’re based off of, and this one is no different. Definitely see this one in black and white, because even though it was redone in color, its way more creepy the way it was intended. Vincent Price isn’t known for being one of the greatest for no reason!

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: House of Wax (1953)

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Title: House of Wax

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Writer: Charles S. Belden (play), Crane Wilbur (screenwriter)

Director: André de Toth

Producer: Bryan Foy

Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Charles Bronson, Carolyn Jones, Phyllis Kirk

Released: April 10th, 1953

MPAA: NR

To say that Vincent Price is an icon, is a bit of an understatement. The guy has been in more great horror movies than I can count. All of the great Edgar A. Poe adaptations, The House on Haunted Hill, The Last Man on Earth, The Fly, and all the others that will just creep you out. Of course, everyone has their favorite, and House of Wax, is mine. I love a story that revolves around a good guy done wrong, then turns evil. When you have a character that goes off the deep end mentally from some sort of trauma, it isn’t too far away from reality, so that is a fascination. This film was part of the 3-D craze of the decade, and like most others, wasn’t defined by it, and the effects were mostly forgettable, but the film is not. So, from 1953, I give you, House of Wax…

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The movie begins with a scene from inside a wax museum, and Professor Jarrod (Vincent Price) is working on one of his figures. His partner, Matthew Burke drops by to take a look at the financial records. He isn’t pleased with the moderate business they’ve done, so he suggests to Jarrod that they set fire to the building and collect the insurance money. This infuriates Jarrod, who looks at his figures as if they are real people. Burke scoffs at his partners feelings, and lights the building on fire anyway. He and Jarrod get into a fist fight, and Jarrod ends up on the wrong end of that scuffle. He’s presumed dead, although we never actually see it happen.

The next thing we see, is Burke, as he’s romancing a girl (Carolyn Jones) that looks young enough to be his daughter. She’s a gold digger though, and doesn’t care about his age. He tells her about the twenty-five thousand dollar insurance money that he received, and they make plans to go to Niagara Falls, and get married. They both go home, and Burke immediately goes to his safe, and grabs a wad of cash. He doesn’t realize that there is someone else in the room with him, and this creepy looking, cape wearing dude, throws a rope around his neck, and strangles him to death. Next, the creepy guy drags the body out into the hallway, places a rope around Burke’s neck, and tosses him into the elevator shaft, making it look like suicide.

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The next day, Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones), is talking with her roommate, Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk), as she prepares to go out on another date…with another older man with money. She does, and Sue heads out to find a job. Sue comes in later at night, and after she gets harassed by her landlord, she heads upstairs to ask Cathy if she can borrow some money for rent. She discovers that Cathy has been murdered, and not only that, but the killer is still in the room! She jumps out of the window to the roof, and using a fire escape, gets to street level. The killer follows her, and a chase scene follows. Sue manages to get to a friend’s house, and she’s hysterical about the nights events. The next day, Sue tells the police what’s happened, and they’re skeptical about her story. As this is going on, the killer steals the body of Cathy Gray from the morgue.

We then see that Professor Jarrod survived the fire, and he meets with a rich finance man about opening a new museum. The man agrees, and Jarrod tells him that this museum will be different from the last, because he’ll be showcasing more macabre displays and not historical events. Jarrod also has two henchmen at his side, and they assist him because he’s now crippled and in a wheelchair.Sue and her boyfriend, Scott Andrews, (a talented sculptor) head to the new museum to check out what all the excitement is about in the city. They’re astonished at the reality of the wax figures, and especially, the Joan of Arc display. Sue is freaked out by the display, because it’s a dead ringer for her friend, Cathy Gray. Jarrod tells her that he uses photographs from the newspaper to use as reference for his wax figures. Jarrod then invites Scott to come over and sculpt at his museum, and he agrees. Scott then takes Cathy to a show to get her mind off of the murder, but she can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong about the museum.

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The police go to the museum to check things out (since Jarrod was supposed to be dead), and one of the officers remembers the face of the on assistant. He’s suspicious, so they bring in his assistant for questioning. They find a gold watch in his possession, and it has an inscription on it. It has the name of one of the murdered people on it, so they know he has something to do with the foul play. They question him, and he cracks and tells them everything. While this is going on, Sue went tot he museum to meet Scott, but he’d already left. Jarrod and his assistant grab Sue, and take her to the waxwork downstairs. Jarrod wants to use her to recreate his Marie Antoinette, and he’ll stop at nothing to do it.

Scott returns to the museum to check and see if Cathy is there, and he hears her scream. As he attempts to get down to her, he’s stopped by Igor, the other assistant. Igor knocks out Scott, and puts his head in the guillotine. Just as he’s about to decapitate him, the police arrive and stop him. They bust in downstairs, and a fight breaks out. Jarrod seems to have superhuman strength, as he fights off half a dozen officers. Eventually though, the knock him off of a staircase, and he falls into his own boiling barrel of wax. The police rescue Sue from her chains, and Scott and her are reunited.

Here’s my take on the movie:

This is undoubtedly one of the best horror movies of all time. It holds up over time, and Vincent Price performs wonderfully. He executes the wild imagination of an artist perfectly, and then in the same movie changes into a mentally deranged fiend. The policemen were both good actors (Frank Lovejoy, Dabbs Greer), and you’ll recognize both of them if you’re a fan of old T.V. and cinema. Phyllis Kirk is a good “damsel in distress”, and even though he didn’t speak (his character was deaf & mute), Charles Bronson was pretty good too, as the evil henchman! It was one of his earliest roles on the big screen. The music score was also very good, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the name David Buttolph.