A plague has wiped out most of mankind, and those who survived have become bloodthirsty vampires. The only “normal” human left on earth, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) — who was spared by a twist of fate — spends his days methodically hunting down the undead mutants and his nights barricaded against their attacks. But when he meets the beautiful but contaminated Ruth, he discovers a secret that will unravel what’s left of his existence.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The 1954 novel “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson has always been one of my favorite sci-fi/horror novels. This 1964 film directed by Sidney Salkow and shot on a meager budget in Italy is the first adaptation of Matheson’s zombie tale. Many consider it to still be the finest of the 3 that have been done thus far. The film carries on, faithfully, the idea of an apocalypse started by disease. Vincent Price portrays Robert Morgan, the only survivor who seems immune to the plague which has obliterated mankind. During the day he goes about routine and mundane things. He fixes his home, looks for vehicles and hunts and kills vampiric zombies created by the contagion. He then takes them to burn in a crater like hole where he dumps them in. He endures attacks at night by the same horde of monsters, one being a close friend of his.
It is the versatile Vincent Price that really carries this film far and beyond the already great material. He is a lonely man and Price deftly emotes such realism in his performance. He is grieving, sorrowful, angry and at times desperate. His survival instincts, though, are always finely tuned to the dangers that lie beyond the threshold of his sanctuary. His story is told in flashbacks and it is here where we learn the origin of the contagion and we begin to feel for him and his plight. At night he endures the ghouls who want him to succumb. That is his plight.
The film is dense, dark and scary. It is eerily lit with emotion and fright highlighting the menace of the cinematography. Price is joined by a capable cast and the Italian actresses are beauties. But it is the desolation, dread and futility that stirs us. The score is disquieting and effective for this type of film. It is a hidden gem of the genre.