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Last Man on Earth (Special Edition), The
Based on Richard Matheson's classic novel I Am Legend, 1964's The Last Man On Earth stars Price as a man named Doctor Robert Morgan. When we meet him, it seems he is the only survivor left on Earth after a plague whipped out much of the population and turned everyone else into nocturnal vampire/zombie like creatures. In order to survive he's had to become quite resourceful, placing mirrors in opportune locations (they do not like to see their own reflection, his narration tells us) and hanging cloves of garlic near entrances to his home. By day he disposes of new bodies by burning them in a giant pit and looks for supplies while by night he does what he can to defend his home when the hordes inevitably come for him.
Things change for him when he comes across a contaminated woman named Ruth Collins (France Bettoia) he uses his own blood to save her which leads him to come into contact with a group of survivors, but they see him not as a help, but a hindrance.
This one has a lot in common with George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead though it was made a few years earlier. The black and white cinematography combined with Price's deadpan but completely appropriate narration really helps to give this post-apocalyptic chiller a seriously impressive sense of dread and co-directors Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow do a great job keeping the tension strong and the pacing effectively deliberate. The Italian locations used for the shoot are generally ‘destroyed' and ‘abandoned' looking enough that, thankfully, we never really stop to think that this is a European nation standing in for America (the film was an Italian-American co-production, though it was initially intended to be made by Hammer Films who passed on it).
Price is the real reason to watch this one, however, as he's great in the part. Integral to the movie is how he tries to maintain a sense of normalcy in his life even though everything has gone to Hell around him. He is a very routine based man, and this seems to give him some peace even while he's obviously still upset about the loss of his family. Price plays the role straight, never hamming it up but bringing a palpable sense of loss and sadness to the role. Of course, the fact that Matheson's screenplay is as strong as it is on this picture certainly helps here a lot too. The author's writing and Price's acting turn out to once again be a great combination. This one holds up well as a low budget but genuinely eerie take on how it could all go wrong…
The Last Man On Earth is presented in AVC encoded 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen. The black and white transfer takes up 27.3Gbs of space on the 50GB disc. Picture quality is strong. The contrast looks really nice, giving us bright, clean whites and nice, deep blacks with good greyscale in between. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues and the transfer is devoid of edge enhancement. Detail is really nice, there's good depth here as well. There's almost no print damage to discuss at all. This doesn't appear to differ much from the transfer used on the Shout! Factory boxed set from 2014 and obviously a new 4k scan would have yielded better results but overall, this looks quite nice.
The English language 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track sounds good. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No problems here, the audio sounds nice and clear, very clean. The track is properly balanced and free of any noticeable hiss, distortion or sibilance. Range is a bit limited due to the original elements but overall it sounds just fine.
The main extra on the disc is a new commentary from Richard Harland Smith. He starts by talking about the origins of Matheson's original novel and how it was received and the influence that it had, before then going on to cover changes that were made between the novel and the screenplay, how Hammer was attached to the adaptation and what happened there, how Ubaldo Ragona came to direct and why the movie was made in Italy and, of course, the importance of having Vincent Price cast in the lead. As the track progresses we learn about all sorts of stuff, from the history of Italian-American supermarkets, the score and those who created it, how the film compares to The Omega Man, notes on the supporting players in the film and details on the different crew members that worked on the picture, the disconnect that exists between the adults and the children in the film, the cinema verite look to certain scenes, Sidney Salkow's involvement in the film and plenty more. Like most of his tracks, it's interesting and informative and also delivered with a nice sense of humor.
Carried over from the previous MGM DVD release is a featurette called Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Last Man On Earth. In this six and a half minute piece the man who wrote the book and the screenplay for the film talks about his feelings on the picture and it's never been much of a secret that he's not all that enamored with it.
The disc also includes a Trailers From Hell entry with Joe Dante, English and Italian theatrical trailers for the feature, seven bonus trailers for other Price films that Kino has released or will release soon, some TV spots, an alternate ending, menus and chapter selection options. Kino packages this release with a slipcover.
The Last Man On Earth is a really good movie, letting Vincent Price delivery a powerhouse performance and offering some nice chills and suspense along the way. Kino's Blu-ray presents this adaptation of Richard Matheson's classic in very nice shape and with some decent extras, highlighted by a solid commentary track. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.