I Am Legend Zombies: What’s Their Story and How Close is the Movie to the Book?

Richard Matheson’s 1954 horror novel I Am Legend has been adapted into feature films three times. After The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971), the third—and currently, the latest film based on the novel—came out in December 2007. Aptly titled I Am Legend, it only made sense that the audience expected the storyline and details to be entirely truthful to the source material. Despite the identical titles, the film took too much liberty. Both the film and the novel tell the story of Robert Neville, supposedly the sole survivor of a strange epidemic where people transform into terrifying monsters. Unfortunately, the similarity pretty much ends there. One of the biggest differences lies in the nature of the horrifying creatures that terrorize the city where Neville lives (The I Am Legend Zombies).

I Am Legend Zombies

Infection Source

An unknown disease turns an otherwise healthy person into a monster hungry for human blood. It is highly infectious, and soon enough the human population is on the brink of extinction. The film cannot even agree with the novel’s idea of the infection source. 

Film Version

Robert Neville, who thinks he is the last surviving human on Earth, is working on a cure for the infectious disease. If he succeeds, the cure will kill “only” the disease and everyone reverts back to being a normal human. He is working inside a basement laboratory, using captured monsters as test subjects for any drug he develops. The monsters are like vampires, with a strong aversion to sunlight and garlic.

I Am Legend Zombies

In the opening sequence of the film, Dr Alice Krippin (portrayed by Emma Thompson) is depicted as having an interview with a news anchor about an experimental drug. The conversation ends with Dr Krippin claiming she has developed a cure for cancer. It is a scientific breakthrough; the drug is developed from the measles virus and is capable of killing cancerous cells. But then a global-scale vampirism happens. Later on, Neville mentions the disease is caused by the Krippin Virus, referring to the doctor behind the drug. As it turns out, the newly developed virus becomes unstable and mutates inside the human body, transforming the hosts into monsters known as the Darkseekers.

Novel Version

The monsters in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend are simply referred to as vampires. During the day, Neville finds a safe hiding space inside his well-fortified house. When the night comes, he becomes a fierce hunter, killing as many vampires as possible. Like in vampire myths, Neville kills them by driving stakes through their hearts.

I Am Legend Zombies

As the storyline progresses, Neville decides that he has to do more than just survive. It is true he can stay perfectly safe under the light of day and hunt down vampires at night, but none of those things can bring back normalcy. Pure survival mode doesn’t solve the problem, so he is determined to find a cure. On the mission to find an antidote or vaccine, he discovers that vampirism is caused by a germ. In the wake of the bombings during the most recent war, the germs spread all across the world via dust storms. To make things worse, the mosquitos carry and transfer them to humans. 

Monsters’ Behaviors

As mentioned earlier, the film’s monsters are known as Darkseekers; the novel calls them vampires. They are different creatures with distinctive sets of behaviors.


A person infected by the Krippin Virus will be either killed or transformed into a Darkseeker, an aggressive monster with a high heart rate and body temperature. During the early days of the outbreak, a healthy person can only get infected via a Darkseeker’s bite; it has to be a direct injection into the bloodstream. The infection then becomes airborne, attacking everyone in its path. Darkseekers retain some of the intelligence from their human forms but lose their ability to speak.

Matheson’s Vampires

There is barely any physical transformation involved. The vampires in Matheson’s novel are nearly indistinguishable from humans, so they basically are the same as the modern interpretation of the blood-sucking monsters. Furthermore, they can speak. 

Impacts of the Differences

As a consequence of the distinction, the film does not really grasp the novel’s true intention. Matheson’s storyline, with all the vampire-hunting and last-survivor vibe, carves the path for Neville to be a boogeyman to the monsters. In the end, Neville comes across a female vampire named Ruth, a high-ranking member of the newly-formed society of transformed humans. She also is a spy, sent by the society to help capture Neville. To all the vampires, Neville is the biggest threat to their existence. He has killed countless vampires and will be executed once apprehended. Neville comes to realize that he is part of an obsolete species, a brutal hunter feared by the ruling society. He ended up committing suicide, knowing in his mind that all those vampires will forever remember him as a legendary human.

Either with the theatrical or the alternate ending, the screen adaptation essentially depicts Neville as a legend to all humans. He also hunts and kills, but the Darkseekers never really display any sign of hesitation to attack him; they do not fear Neville. When Neville dies as the theatrical ending shows, he does it to save Anna and Ethan, who in the end find a refuge for many other survivors in Vermont. If Neville survives as the alternate ending suggests, he also is a legend to humans for he has fought for so long without help from anyone and managed to stay alive.

It seems that the Darkseekers are more in line with the types of monsters Hollywood likes. They are zombies with an insatiable hunger for human flesh, and the hero will prevail. A human cannot end up being the monster in a world full of undead. On the other hand, Richard Matheson retains many human characteristics and qualities in his vampires. Robert Neville comes to realize he is the last remaining piece of the old world and has no place in a new world ruled by vampires.

If you’ve seen the movie and read the book, you probably have an opinion about which is better. Or maybe you just want to ask the age-old question, why can’t Hollywood produce a movie like the book instead of making it unrecognizable?

Got an opinion? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

Other things you might want to know about.

What do we know about author Richard Matheson?

According to mentalfloss.com Matheson is best known for his novel I Am Legend which was written in 1954. Here are 8 facts about his life and works.

  1. Dracula (1931) inspired Richard Matheson to write I Am Legend.
  2. He served during World War II.
  3. Matheson’s writing career began with short stories.
  4. Many of his works were adapted into films.
  5. Matheson was disappointed with the movies based on I Am Legend.
  6. He was a prolific television and screenwriter, notably for The Twilight Zone.
  7. I Am Legend inspired Stephen King, Anne Rice, and George A. Romero.
  8. Three of Matheson’s four children became writers.

Go to mentalfloss.com and read more about these interesting facts about Richard Matheson. The article is called 8 Fascinating Facts About Richard Matheson by Lorna Wallace (April 2022)

Could the measles virus cause a pandemic?

According to the World Health Organization (who.org), measles is one of the most contagious diseases humans have ever faced. It remains a worldwide epidemic disease to this day. Antibiotics help control complications but are powerless against the virus itself. Some of the complications are bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, croup, diarrhoea and encephalitis. There are about 30 million cases and over 2 million deaths each year.

Vaccines have been instrumental in drastically reducing disease rates worldwide. A minor setback happened in 1998 when a research paper was published stating that the MMR vaccine and autism were linked. The influence of this paper caused a resurgence of measles cases in England, Wales, parts of the USA and Canada. In 2010 the British General Medical Council ruled that the study’s lead author was engaged in misconduct and the author was banned from practicing medicine. Between 2000 and 2020, measles vaccinations prevented an estimated 31.7 million deaths worldwide.

So even if the I Am Legend movie depicted the vampire outbreak of the measles virus, this disease is still a very serious illness for babies and young children.

Go to who.org to find out more details about the measles virus and how the vaccinations came about.

What are other books by Richard Matheson?

According to thriftbooks.com here is a list of other books by Richard Matheson.

  • I Am Legend and Other Stories
  • What Dreams May Come
  • Hell House
  • Bid Time Return
  • Vampires: Two Centuries of Great Stories
  • A Stir of Echoes
  • Hot Blood: Tales of Erotic Horror
  • The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories
  • A Treasury of American Horror Stories
  • Duel: Terror Stories by Richard Matheson
  • The Shrinking Man
  • Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
  • Hunted Past Reason
  • 7 Steps to Midnight
  • The Best of Richard Matheson
  • Other Kingdoms
  • The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok

If you enjoyed this then try out this afterwards! https://storiesatworldsend.com/odd-thomas-books-in-order