Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1963), an incredibly faithful adaptation of Richard Matheson's novella "I Am Legend." In that classic '50s science fiction story, a plague turns the entire population of Earth into vampires; it was later remade somewhat ridiculously as Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, and strongly echoed in the recent 28 Days Later.* Spoiler: Robert Neville (Price, called Robert Morgan in the movie) thinks he's all alone in the world, killing vampires by day and sharpening stakes at night inside his boarded up house. Turns out the plague has mutated; some people can survive with a pharmaceutical cocktail of defebrinated red cells and a bacillus-killling drug. In his ignorance, Price has been slaying these non-vampiric day sleepers, and they view him as the most unspeakable monster of all. As Stephen King wrote in his excellent culturecrit book Danse Macabre:

For a nation whose political nightmares still include visions of Kent State and My Lai, this is a particularly apt idea. The Last Man on Earth is perhaps an example of the ultimate political horror film, because it offers us the Walt Kelly thesis: We have met the enemy and he is us.
Actually, I'd say Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are our latter-day Robert Nevilles. The poor deluded Cold War relics truly think they're doing some good in the world by killing thousands of Iraqi civilians. Unlike Neville, though, they aren't horrified when they discover Iraq is WMD-less, and even think getting rich is their reward for being so "noble." Talk about a monster movie!

*Hat tip to Sally for reminding me of this movie--the DVD retails for six bucks!

UPDATE: The brilliant blurb writer(s) over at Atomic Cinema believe that "[t]he real plot [of Last Man on Earth] is that an aging man loses everything dear to him, and finds whatever purpose to his senseless existence he can." I've been emphasizing the story's politics, but it's the undertow of melancholy and loss that makes it so powerful, an aspect of the Matheson story that the movie captures very well.

- tom moody 10-05-2003 2:37 am

i saw it the other night, based on your recommendation. also have omega man in the netflix queue.
- martin (guest) 2-08-2008 7:01 am

Great--I hope I didn't raise expectations too high. The book is still the definitive treatment and casts a powerful spell.
- tom moody 2-08-2008 7:22 am

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