The Last Man on Earth (1964)
Richard Matheson’s brilliant, merciless sci-fi novel I am Legend posited a world where one man remained whole in a world where a mysterious plague had turned everyone else into sun-averse ghouls whom our hero stalked by day in order to keep himself safe at night. (So, basically, vampires.) The first film adaptation – you’ll find all three of them in this gallery – is the one that hews closest to Matheson’s text, with Vincent Price in a surprisingly complex performance as the shattered survivor. The Italian locations don’t quite stand in for Matheson’s ruined America, but oddly enough that sense of wrongness contributes to the film’s sense of panicked confusion. And when the fullness of Matheson’s plot is revealed, it’s properly tragic in a way that neither of the subsequent adaptations could manage.