In a weird way, the pandemic has made me hungry for zombie content. That genre should be the last thing I would want to explore, but here I am watching Anna and the Apocalypse at Christmas time, doing a big The Walking Dead rewatch, playing my way through The Last of Us, and even revisiting Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead.
The zombie fever has made me curious about how this genre got its start — and I think I found the answer, and much more than I bargained for (see: vampires), in the form of this 1964 sci-fi film streaming now on Amazon.
The Last Man on Earth (not to be confused with the underrated Will Forte sitcom) is the classic sci-fi and horror hybrid in question. It stars the iconic Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, the lone survivor of a horrific plague living alone in a post-apocalyptic Rome. The movie begins with Morgan merely narrating his day as he checks on his defenses against "The Infected."
While it sounds like he's describing a classic, Night of the Living Dead-style zombie, his defenses are reminiscent of vampires: he hangs garlic on his door, collects mirrors because they "can't stand their own image" and attacks them with wooden stakes.
These "Infected" are basically a combination of the two monsters: plague victims who die, only to return ... as vampires.
We see the nightmarish specifics unfold in an extended flashback sequence showing how the "plague" was first handled: officials picking up bodies, tossing them in communal graves, burning them to keep them from turning. Morgan follows protocol when his young daughter succumbs to the illness. But when his wife dies? Morgan keeps it a secret.
It goes poorly.
Three years pass. Morgan is alone and still unharmed from the airborne illness. Like most stories concerning a final survivor on Earth, Morgan is not really alone. Aside from the many infected, there's another, much more sophisticated threat on its way — and it may prove even deadlier than the plague.
The Last Man on Earth is well worth a watch for many reasons, not the least of which is the source material it’s based on: the novel I am Legend, which was later adapted into the hit Will Smith film of the same name.
Comparing the two movies is a classic example of how adaptations can mold and reshape to fit any genre, from Golden Age horror to early 2000s action-adventure.
If you're curious about the origins of sci-fi and horror, love Vincent Price, or just want to see a new take on a beloved story, stream The Last Man on Earth, and get ready for some serious, nearly 60-year-old chills.
The Last Man on Earth is now streaming in full color on Amazon Prime in the U.S.