If, George Romero, changed the course of the modern horror film with ‘Night Of The Living Dead’, then Italian-American duo Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow, possibly envisioned the beginning of that revolution on ‘The Last Man On Earth’ – a black-and-white masterpiece from the classic era, that depicts helplessness, hopelessness, isolation, and also meaninglessness.
Now, while watching, ‘The Last Man On Earth’, where revered actor Vincent Price (as Morgan) plays the last surviving human in a city full of living dead’s and narrated the whole tale by himself, there is a creeping sensation of desolation and essence of brooding darkness out of emptiness, always oozes out of its 86 minutes of running time. As in the beginning of the film, we see a series shot of bare buildings, empty roads, and many more bleak signs of some terrible catastrophe unearthed. There are no signs of life anywhere except piles of dead’s, those are waiting for the night to come and be the living dead – epitomizes and established the atmosphere of the whole movie ‘regardless of the story-line’ developed from here. “Fear is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.” Mastermind Shirley Jackson expressed that in her book ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, to express, there are no reasonable patterns can be found and fear, always defies logic. So, when the dead rise at night to become shuffling vampire/zombies bent on eating Morgan alive and among them, one is his best friend. It feels ominous. Also, when where the door knob is turning and calling to let her in, which was his dead wife who dug herself out of the homemade grave, that Vincent buried her in, then this unpredictability defies any logic, thus induce fear, which is the actual essence of anything horrific, that freezes mind and sense.
Also, when Morgan goes half-mad from paranoia, loneliness and boredom and muttered – “Another day to live through; might as well get on with it.“, that’s gives chills down the spine to think of, what anyone could really do, if facing in as similar fate as, Morgan! It defines helplessness, isolation, and some defiance also, in face of utter logic less horror unearthed.
Finally, while zombie-hunting one day, though, Morgan runs across the Last Person on Earth and takes her home; alas, she is infected as well, but is the vanguard of a whole community of survivors. They’ve been able to stave off the vampire syndrome with a crude chemical injection; but Morgan killed off many of their cohorts during his campaign, and they’re not too happy with him about it. Which finally brings the depressing ending of the film, where the surviving community finds Morgan out and killed him with utter rejoice. Such a fate Morgan faced, despite his greatest effort to survive the horrible disease, makes no sense, goes beyond logic and thus define what is ‘Horror’.
Adding with that, the whole atmosphere of isolation, dread and vengeance’s, found more life with the fitting soundtrack music, composed by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter. Also, it was interesting to find out that, these two composers also worked together on many such similar small budget films as: ‘The terror from beyond space’, ‘Kronos’ and ‘The cosmic man’. Their contribution made a huge impact throughout the movie, as the opening “Prologue” (1:29), which has a somber mysterious quality to it that nicely sets of the bleakness depicted in the film’s screenplay. That theme somewhere carrying the atmosphere of ‘The Twilight Zone’ television series from 1959. Also, beside the made soundtrack’s, whenever Morgan, plays a record in his fortified house, wished they could use the Ravel or Rachmaninoff music, as Matheson mentions in his novel.
With all those, no wonder, on ‘The Last Man on Earth’, Vincent Price, plays a character with no hidden agendas or evil schemes. He is merely Morgan: a man trying to survive, a brilliant scientist who lost his wife and daughter to a plague that swept the world and seemingly turned everyone into a living-dead mob with blood on their minds—namely his own. Through his somber performance, Price shows that there’s nothing exciting about being the last man on Earth, especially when you’re weary of the world, wallowing in your own loneliness, and haunted by the ghosts of your past… sometimes quite literally. These painful emotions gain even deeper meanings as the film unleashes empathy along with its creatures of the night, making it an entertaining, thought-provoking, and timeless. And, also, dark, gritty and distressing, which is surely matter of perspective, and in this way, The Last Man on Earth is timeless.
It’s not unlikely, average movie gores, would regard this classic as just another zombie flick and might abhor it’s simplistic black and white representations. But, in disguise, that would be a victory, as earlier mentioned, ‘horror’ is not forceful fear that can be injected with multimillion budget actions stunts or empty-to-the-core plots. Horror is inward, that comes from the irrational sensations generates from incompetence, inability and insignificance. This can’t be forced fell but always stemmed something beyond human capability to predict or take precaution. As in many of the classic’s horrors, that were made in the late ’80s and ’90s, with reportedly tiny budgets, never really made to entertain the masses, but rather to expose the hereditary fear of the masses about facing the unknown and unseen or uncalled for.
Whether old or modern, typical regular movies based on their out-of-this-world special effects, unbelievably life-like CGI, have always been in pursuit of exploiting such subject matters with highly marketable plots and acts. However, with set such paranoid, visual so brazen, horrifying soundtracks and clearly low budget, ‘The Last Man On Earth’ deeply encapsulated the essence of helplessness, hopelessness, isolation, and meaninglessness, from beginning till the end, and shall forever be the staple of a classic horror genre.