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AT THE MOVIES

'I Am Legend' and other chilly Matheson progeny

December 13, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

"I Am Legend," which opens Friday, is the third official adaptation -- there's also a made-for-DVD poseur -- of Richard Matheson's seminal 1954 novel of the same name. Here's a look at the three previous versions:

(1964)

Released the same year as the apocalyptic "Fail Safe" and "Dr. Strangelove," this low-budget Italian production features the great Vincent Price in the title role. In this version, a plague attacks the Earth and turns the survivors into bloodthirsty vampires -- save for Price's Robert Morgan, who contracted a fever years ago that made him immune to the disease. His daily routine consists of taking the newly dead to a pit to be burned and then scouring the city -- Rome standing in for the book's setting of Los Angeles -- for the vampires who sleep by day. Though poorly received upon release, it has grown in reputation and was a direct influence on George Romero and his zombie classic, "Night of the Living Dead," made four years later.

"The Last Man on Earth"

"The Omega Man"

(1971)

Probably the best known of the versions of "I Am Legend" -- at least it is set in Los Angeles. Granite-jawed Charlton Heston is all muy macho as Col. Robert Neville. Thanks to an experimental vaccine, Neville is the only survivor -- along with a few hundred angry, nocturnal, bloodthirsty mutants -- of a nuclear and biological war. Neville barricades himself in the evenings from these light-sensitive mutants in his swank penthouse apartment and spends his days traveling the city with machine gun in hand, attempting to destroy them before they destroy him. Anthony Zerbe chews the scenery whole as the leader of the mutants who wants Neville dead. The majority of the film's exteriors were shot in downtown Los Angeles on the weekends.

"I Am Omega"

(2007)

Straight-to-video rip-off of "I Am Legend," released in November to cash in on the new movie. The film is from Asylum, the company that also released such films as "Snakes on a Train," "The Da Vinci Treasure" and "30,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Martial arts actor Mark Dacascos, known as the Chairman on "Iron Chef America," plays Renchard, supposedly the last man on Earth, who lives in a fortified home and spends his days getting rid of zombies and practicing kick boxing. L.A. goes ka-boom in the finale.

susan.king@latimes.com

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