Sunday, October 28, 2007


This was the first film based on Richard Matheson's classic apocalyptic sf novel "I Am Legend," but not the last; it was remade as THE OMEGA MAN in the 70's with Charlton Heston, and a third version starring Will Smith is due out at the end of this year. It was also, I imagine, a direct influence on George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and therefore almost every zombie movie that came after. The '07 version will undoubtedly be superior to this low-budget, black and white film in terms of special effects, but this is still worth seeing. There's a nice opening sequence of stark, deserted cityscapes (shot in and around Rome) before we meet Vincent Price, waking up alone to trudge through another day, hanging garlic and mirrors around his dilapidated house, then roaming the neighborhood, collecting dead bodies to burn. We learn through flashbacks that a plague of unknown origin (perhaps natural, though there is a hint that it could have been something man-made that got out of control) has swept through the world, killing people off and bringing them back as vampires who roam at night and are inactive in the day. Price, a scientist who was working on a cure, seems to have acquired a natural immunity to the plague and is, as far as he knows, the only non-undead human left on the planet. At night, alone in his house, he is surrounded by the vampires banging on his doors and windows, though so far he has been successful in keeping them out. One day, while out collecting corpses, he meets up with a woman who is one of a slowly growing group of infected people who have been able to stop the plague's progress even though they remain infected, and Price has become a legendary (hence the book's title) vampire fighter in their eyes, but not necessarily in a good way, since he's responsible for killing off several of their number. The last confrontation is grim, but there is an inkling of hope held out in the final moments. This film isn't particularly gory, but the images of scattered dead bodies on the roads and shots of grasping hands ripping through doors and windows are still a bit unsettling. There is an especially creepy scene of Price dumping bodies into a flaming pit at night. At times, I was reminded (visually and thematically) of recent films such as 28 DAYS LATER, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and CHILDREN OF MEN. Price is low-key and effective, though the score is infuriatingly loud and overripe. The film is in the public domain, and should be letterboxed, so beware shoddy DVD prints; the MGM release in the Midnite Movies series is apparently the best print out there. [TCM]

No comments: