|“||Morgan! Morgan, come out! I'm going to kill you, Morgan!||„|
|~ The vampiric Cortman's nightly threat to his former friend|
Ben Cortman is the main antagonist of Richard Matheson's 1953 novel I Am Legend, and the 1964 film The Last Man On Earth, its first film adaptation. He is the neighbor of protagonist Robert Neville (named Robert Morgan in the film) who becomes a vampire after being infected by a virus, and leads his fellow undead in trying to kill his former friend.
He was portrayed by the late Giacomo Rossi-Stuart.
In the novel
In Matheson's novel, Cortman is protagonist Robert Neville's next-door neighbor and best friend. When the pandemic hits, Cortman succumbs quickly and, like most of the disease's victims, becomes a vampire after death. He leads a mob of his fellow vampires in trying to kill Neville, but Neville is too clever for him, fortifying his house against the mob's attack. Neville spends his days hunting and killing Cortman's vampire followers as they hide from the sunlight, and becomes obsessed with killing his former friend, believing that his death will destroy his followers.
When vampire half-breed Ruth infiltrates Neville's home, she tells him that Cortman is coming to kill him. Neville, who by now has invented a vaccine for the plague, manages to kill Cortman before being captured and killed by Ruth's half-vampire, half-human society.
In the film
The 1963 film The Last Man on Earth follows the novel's plot fairly closely, except for one deviation: where in the novel Neville and Cortman are ordinary factory workers prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, in the film they are both scientists who try, unsuccessfully, to create a vaccine for the disease. The film also characterizes Cortman, prior to his death, as being very close to Morgan's young daughter Kathy, who calls him "Uncle Ben", and trying to convince a skeptical Morgan that the pandemic reanimates the dead.