So, having recently read I Am Legend, I decided to go back and rewatch all three movies that were based on it.
The Last Man On Earth
The Last Man on Earth (1964), starring Vincent Price, was by far the most true to Richard Matheson's novel. Aside from changing Robert Neville from a factory worker to a scientist, it actually follows the book almost exactly.
But oy, Vincent Price was a film legend because of his distinctive face and voice, definitely not because of his acting. He's barely less stiff and lifeless than the living dead. And the "special effects" were also pretty low budget, as was true of almost all sci-fi/horror films back in the day.
Of course, trailers and movie posters were no less misleading and pointlessly lurid than they are now.
("Can a zombie woman's hunger for love repopulate the Earth?" LOL! Did they even know what the movie was about before writing the voice-over for that trailer?)
The Omega Man
In contrast to the mild, almost timeless black and white camp of The Last Man on Earth, 1971's The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, is a great big technicolor cheese-fest.
In this version, Robert Neville is a former Army officer who wears fabulous track suits, officer caps, and Vincent Price get-ups while hunting vampires who wear sunglasses at night.
Although much less faithful to Matheson's novel than The Last Man on Earth, it does kinda sorta resemble the original story, at least in theme and the way it ends. Really, the whole movie is pretty incomprehensible, but Rosalind Cash kicks ass. And what's a 70s movie without a bad-ass black woman calling a white dude "honky" a lot before falling into bed with him?
I love how in the 60s and 70s, movie trailers pretty much gave a synopsis of the entire film.
I can't say The Omega Man is in any way, shape, or form a good movie, but it's still worth watching for a giggle. I suspect it requires smoking a doobie or two to derive full entertainment value from it.
I Am Legend
2007's I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, bears the least resemblance to the book, despite being the only movie that actually used the original name. This version is just pure big dumb Hollywood action movie, with no nuance or character development at all. The audience will miss the few tiny nods given to the original novel unless they've read it; all of Matheson's themes have been leached out of the story in favor of giving us a tidy ending following a bunch of car chases and explosions.
Despite being the most polished Hollywood product, I'd have to say the most recent version is my least favorite (and that's despite the fact that The Omega Man was really pretty atrocious). I mean, at least the first two movies kept the novel's L.A. setting, but the Will Smith version had to move it to New York City, just so we could get pretty CGI apocalyptic Times Square scenery. Meh.
I still recommend everyone read the book, which is a true classic.