Screenwriter and novelist Richard Matheson is up next in the Sci-Fi Chronicles book, specifically his story, I Am Legend, so today, we’re looking at the first film iteration of his apocalyptic tale. Released in 1964, this version stars the incomparable Vincent Price as Doctor Robert Morgan.
Price’s distinctive voice gives us an opening narration that introduces us to the facts and situation of the story. He is literally the last man on Earth, humanity has been wiped out by an airborne virus that infects the body, and turns the victim into a vampire-like species, that cannon bear the sight of themselves in a mirror, or stand the pungent smell of garlic.
He spends his days making sure his car still runs, policing up and burning bodies to prevent any further infection, carving stakes, and investigating the city block by block, grid by grid, a new section everyday, to find where the creatures are hiding so he can confront and destroy them.
These creatures seem to have more in common with the concept of cinematic zombies than vampires, they are slow-moving, lumbering about slowly, though some of them are still capable of speech.
But he’s not living. He’s simply surviving, and is haunted by the memories of his wife, Virginia (Emma Danieli) and his daughter Kathy (Christi Courtland) who both succumbed to the disease, even while Morgan was studying it trying to find a cure, an answer. We also see his interactions with his friend and co-worker, Ben (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) who now bangs at Morgan’s door every night, threatening him.
Things take a bizarre, and what will become a frightening turn, when he encounters what looks like a fellow survivor in the form of Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia).
Through the events that follow, we learn that humanity is truly doomed, and that this new vampiric species is inheriting the planet, for as long as they can survive.
And while Price is more than capable to bring the script, story and character to life, the film seems to lack the emotional punch that such revelations and moments that fill the film should have, never really rising above the B-movie trappings it seems confined to.
Despite the film’s ending, which is wonderfully dark, it could have been so much stronger, and pack a real wallop. I almost feel that Price wasn’t given a real challenge with the material.
Not that it’s a bad film, but watching it today, you can see the potential for the film to be dark, threatening and frightening. We’ll see in a few days, when we hit the most recent remake if Hollywood felt the same way…
I will say this, I never get tired of hearing Price’s voice, refined, intelligent, and occasionally very chilling.