Sunday, April 22, 2012

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Mario Bava, loved by many, overrated by some. I must confess I've always belonged among those that think he's slightly overrated. Not that he's a bad filmmaker - he's damn brilliant with amazing effects, stunning cinematography and very competent directing. The only problem has been the scripts, which in their way has hampered the pacing of most of his movies. He as a director should have seen this and demanded rewrites or maybe solved it during the editing. But he's dead and long gone and he can't defend himself from this terrible hating so just pretend everything is fine and that I haven't said a thing. Anyway, I decided to give Planet of Vampires a new go after a few years. A movie I've started to watch a couple of times recently but often got stuck and lost interest after the excellent first half hour.

Two spaceships travels to the mysterious planet of Aura because of an odd SOS signal. Well down on the planet something, or someone, takes over their bodies and it's an ancient alien race who wants to find a new place to live! The crew at Galliot already killed each other and have become mindless bodies controlled by the aliens, but the Argos crew decides to fight back! They discover another, giant, ship with huge fossilized aliens aboard. It was also one of them who sent the signal...

The less said about the story the better, but it's quite clearly that Dan O'Bannon was inspired by this movie (and the brilliant It! The Terror from Beyond Space) when he wrote Alien (his own and John Carpenter's Dark Star also, of course), at least the basic premise with. But what's really striking is the alien spaceship they find with the dead alien crew - that's so similar to Ridley Scott's Alien that there's not doubt about the inspiration. But where Alien goes dark and realistic Planet of the Vampires continues Bava's fascination for comic books and ultra-stylish colour extravaganzas. There's very few shades of grey, everything has a strong colour, or strong light. The sets are big and not even close to realistic. It's like stepping into a comic book, which isn't surprising at all - Bava loved comics and got his bloodthirst satisfied some years later with the excellent Diabolik. But it's all here, just as a horror movie in space!

Which is interesting, like Alien - who basically is a haunted house movie in space, Planet of the Vampires is a gothic horror movie in space. Complete with people crawling up from graves, tombstones, fog and dark mountains. It also works a lot better as a grim horror movie than the cheesy sci-fi flick it pretends to be from time to time.

Planet of the Vampires was a lot better now, when I finally managed to watch that quite slow middle section, and I see now how it works fine as a preparation for the good finale and great twist ending (which I didn't see coming actually, totally forgot the details after these years). I've just seen the American edit, released by MGM/Midnite Movies, so now I need to get myself the Italian edit and give it yet another shot!


Alex B. said...

I love their amazing leather outfits, these are some kinky astronauts! Agree that even the best Mario's films tend to drag a little.

Anonymous said...

Ninja: SPACE JOCKEY!!!!´re right about the inspiration for Alien, but lets not forget Walter Hill/David Gliers rewrite on Alien.