For a review of I Am Legend from last year's Cannonball Read click here
Robert Neville is the sole survivor of a pandemic that has destroyed civilization. A disease has turned all other human beings into vampires. Neville survives on his own in a barricaded house. By day he scours the streets of Los Angeles experimenting on comatose vampires in an attempt to find a cure. By night he sits alone, listening to the vampires gathered outside of his home, as he retreats into a world of drunkenness and depression.
Matheson's book is an engaging, intelligent and terrifying read. A total of three Hollywood films based on Matheson's novel have been made over the years.* 1964's The Last Man on Earth, 1971's The Omega Man and 2007's I Am Legend have all attempted to translate the story from page to screen, with decidedly mixed results. Like many people I have spoken to in the last few days, I was unaware that the 2007 film was based on a novel. I saw the film prior to reading the book and found myself scratching my head, trying to determine what version of the book the film makers had actually read. The similarities between the two are few and superficial. The Omega Man offers a promising start, but ultimately falls short of translating Matheson's story. I have yet to see The Last Man on Earth but, from what I have gathered reading online reviews, it is a more faithful adaptation that suffers greatly due to the restraints of a limited budget.
Matheson has enjoyed a long relationship with the cinematic world. He went on to pen several screenplays, and his novel What Dreams May Come was also turned into a cinematic abomination, starring Robin Williams. I was initially drawn to this novel having read that it had been a primary inspiration for George A. Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead. It is striking that, in many ways, Romero's film feels a more faithful adaptation than its official counterparts.
It was my intention to review this book solely on its own merits. That proved impossible, however, as I found myself obsessed with it's various failed cinematic adaptations, as well as its influence in pioneering the modern zombie genre. Nonetheless, I was utterly engrossed the whole time I was reading the book. I recommend it to anybody that is a fan of the vampire or zombie genre, whether or not they've had the unfortunate experience of viewing any of the films that the novel was based on.
*In 2007 a film titled I Am Omega was released straight to DVD in hopes of cashing in on the Will Smith starring I Am Legend. As it was only loosely based on the film, rather than Matheson's original novel, this writer does not feel its inclusion necessary.