Planet of the Vampires (1965)
I love this movie. Let me just get that out of the way first.
Even though this film is called Planet of the Vampires, it has nothing to do with vampires. Planet of the Zombies would be a more accurate title. Basically, the story here is like one of those old EC comics, or a more sombre version of Forbidden Planet. Two spaceships, the Argos and the Galliot, are exploring a planet when they lose radio contact with each other and get drawn in by the inordinately powerful gravitational pull of the planet. The captain of the Argos, Mark (played by Barry Sullivan), manages to stay conscious long enough to bring the ship in on manual. The rest of the crew is knocked out, but when they come to, they are filled with aggression and begin attacking each other. Mark manages to snap them all out of it and they head out to search for the Galliot. They find the ship and all the crew members dead. Obviously, they succumbed to the same aggression that the members of the Argos felt and ended up killing each other. Yet when they return to the Galliot later, the bodies are gone. What is going on?
I’m not going to tell you. Watch it for yourself.
This film lacks an exciting score and explosive special effects, but it moves along at a nice clip and has plenty of style. Just look at that still above. Have you ever seen such stylish space suits? Leave it to the Italians. The rest of the film is suffused with Mario Bava’s signature style. Garish stage colors wash the sets and the faces of the actors, being at once both unreal and unsettling. Apparently, the budget for this movie was nonexistent, but Bava made the most of it and actually used it as an opportunity to be minimalist. The bridge of the Argos is surprisingly bare, especially in comparison to the rows of flashing lights in most movie spacecraft. Also, this lack of budget meant the actors had to convey the “special effects.” For instance, Barry Sullivan had to show the effects of extreme gravity and being shocked with electricity without any help from post-production. In fact, all the effects in the movie were done “in camera,” meaning everything was captured in the moment. All this gives the film the feeling of an elaborate play, which I think adds to its charm. Overall, Planet of the Vampires is pure pulp and I love it.
Beyond all this, it is also fun to watch this film to see what it inspired. Alien is the most obvious offspring of Planet of the Vampires. There is one scene in particular that is an clear inspiration for Ridley Scott’s film. At one point, Mark and Sanya (Norma Bengell) explore an alien spacecraft. While the design of the craft is different than the one in Alien, in the heart of it is a large corpse, much like the “navigator” found in the later film.
(written October 30, 2012)