Currently on the public domain hit list, “The Last Man on Earth” is one of the first and finest adaptations of “I Am Legend” that while not perfect, is infinitely better than most of the successors to follow. Set in 1968, Robert Morgan is a doctor who finds society at the mercy of a mysterious plague. Everyone in the world is gradually dying out from this disease, and he soon discovers that those who die inevitably return from the dead. Unless burned, the bodies will re-animate and look for the closest blood source. Cue director Ubaldo Ragona’s awfully gruesome imagery of a humongous pit of fire where bodies of the recently deceased have been dumped to burn.
During the day, he hunts down the civilization of the undead who hide in the darkness, but when the sun falls, he races back home to avoid the onslaught of the dead who call out his name and stand outside his house taunting him. Morgan has gone mad, thanks to witnessing his daughter’s death and soon his wife, and survives beyond everyone else. Ragona beautifully depicts so much disturbing scenes that add a bleak Gothic tone to an already mercilessly dark horror film. Ubaldo Ragona is relentless in the inclusion of devastation of not just humanity but of protagonist Morgan, featuring scenes of Morgan with his daughter at her death bed, and Morgan’s wife returning from the dead.
In possibly the most frightening sequence, Morgan makes a near fatal mistake of falling asleep outside to discover night has fallen and races home to seek safety as the dead emerge from all corners anxious to kill him. His surprising discovery of a woman named Ruth leads to even more obstacles in the doctor’s survival as he slowly learns of her vampirism that she thinks can be cured. Despite the bad dubbing, Ragona’s end of the world tale is grim with a sense of hopelessness especially since the last man alive has no one to turn to. While I love subsequent versions of Matheson’s tale including “The Omega Man,” Ubaldo Ragona’s horror film has much more of a sense of urgency and dread that keep it an unsuspecting horror masterpiece.