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By Jerry Renshaw

MARCH 29, 1999: 

The Last Man on Earth

D.Ubaldo Ragona/Sidney Salkow (1964)
w/ Vincent Price, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart

A mysterious bacterium has swept over the world and left everyone dead except for epidemiologist Morgan (Price), who picked up an immunity to the germ years before while working in South America. Unfortunately for him, the dead rise at night to become shuffling vampire/zombies bent on eating him alive. By day, his routine involves shopping for garlic and mirrors to repel the undead and grid-searching the town block by block to exterminate them with the dependable wooden-stake method. He piles the corpses in his station wagon and takes them to the local landfill where he makes a bonfire out of them; by night, he returns home to play old records and ignore the ghoulish goons outside his door. He keeps a generator running in his house for electricity (as well as at the local grocery) as he goes half-mad from loneliness and boredom ("Another day to live through; might as well get on with it."). His situation would be improved greatly by stealing a few guns and several cases of ammo, but no matter. Eventually he finds the Last Poodle on Earth and chases the dog through the streets until the mutt turns up on his doorstep. Morgan discovers, though, that the pooch is a zombie/vampire dog, so it's stake time for man's best friend. While zombie-hunting one day, though, he runs across the Last Babe on Earth and takes her home; alas, she is infected as well, but is the vanguard of a whole community of survivors. They've been able to stave off the vampire syndrome with a crude chemical injection; Morgan killed off many of their cohorts during his campaign, and they're not too happy with him about it. Based on a story by Richard Matheson ("I Am Legend," later remade into the rather limp Omega Man with Charlton Heston), The Last Man on Earth shows its low-budget seams at times; Morgan cruises around in his '56 Chevy wagon on narrow Italian streets filled with bulbous Fiats. It's nonetheless a chilling study of loneliness and an acting tour de force for Price as the last survivor of a dead race, and not exactly the feel-good movie of 1964. --Jerry Renshaw



Freeway

D: Matthew Bright (1996)

with Reese Witherspoon, Amanda Plummer, Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke Shields


Reese Witherspoon as Venessa Lutz in 1996's Freeway. Just call her "Red."

The opening credits for this film show R. Crumb-ish drawings of sexy Little Red Riding Hoods being chased by a lascivious wolf and that's exactly what it turns out to be; a modern-day Little Red Riding Hood story. When we first meet heroine Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon) she's in a class with her boyfriend learning how to read at kindergarten level. Her coke-whore mom gets arrested by an undercover cop while her stepdad paws her in the motel room where they all live. Rather than go to foster care, Vanessa handcuffs her probation officer to the bed and sets off for her grandma's house, basket in hand. She says good-bye to her boyfriend, who gives her a gun to sell to finance her trip. On the way, she's picked up by yuppie/solid citizen/youth counselor Kiefer Sutherland, who also happens to be the big bad wolf in the form of the "Highway 5 serial killer." Maybe you've gotten weary of serial killers in movies, but Sutherland brings a new twist to his part, oozing real malevolence as the hideously (yet somehow comically) disfigured Bob. Freeway is disturbing, terrifically violent, and funny as hell, breaking free of clichés you'd expect to see in this kind of film. The Vanessa character is a real switch as well; when you think she's going to be another helpless victim, she turns out to be self-reliant and tough. She's smart, sexy, and takes absolutely no shit from anyone, not even the cops. All in all, an original, inventive twist on a too-familiar theme, with great dialogue, believable characters, and bizarre set-pieces. Best line: Vanessa calling anyone a dumbass in her Southern twang. --Jerry Renshaw


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