Saturday, January 19, 2013

Planet Of The Vampires

It had been a while since I had watched this cool Mario Bava Sci-Fi film "Planet of the Vampires". I saw it first on late night TV as “The Demon Planet” back in the 70's. A co-production between American International Pictures and Italian International Film, with some financing provided by Spain's Castilla Cooperativa Cinematográfica. The italian title of the film was Terror Nello Spazio. Based on Renato Pestriniero's story “One Night of 21 Hours” The english language version of this films was scripted by Ib Melchoir (Death Race 2000, Reptilicus, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, etc.) and Louis Heyward.

The plot deals with 2 spacecrafts , The Argos and the Galliot, that are getting distress signals from the planet Aura. The Argos is forced to land on the planet after the sister ship crash lands. Upon landing the crew of the Argos unexpectedly starts trying to kill each other. The Captain seemly impervious to the madness and stops them. Unfortunately the crew of the Galliot were not so lucky and have killed themselves. As the crew explore the planet they find the dead crew members of the sister ship and bury them. There seems to be no signs of like on the planet. They find more dead crew members trapped on the ship. When they come back to get them them they are gone.

One of the most intriguing scenes is when the captain (Barry Sullivan, The Bad and The Beautiful, The Great Gatsby) explores the planet and comes across a giant spaceship with the skeleton of a giant alien lifeform inside. The similarity to this scene and the movie Alien is probably not coincidental. Dan O'Bannon the writer has said as much. 

Mario Bava the director, was a master of cinematic trickery done in camera and using mirrors, fog and colorful lighting he was able to achieve miracles with usually no budget. He was the director, cameraman, and SFX guy all rolled in one. He worked with a low budget on most of his films from Black Sunday all the way through Lisa and the Devil and Bay Of Blood (which is the prototype for the Friday the 13th movies) one of his his last features. Bava primarily a cinematographer for the early part of his career co-directed what is thought to be the first Italian horror movie I Vampiri after the original director Riccardo Freda quit halfway through the production. He also handled the camera work and special effects for the the 1957 Steve Reeves classic “Hercules. and co-directed The Day The Sky Exploded the first italian Sci-Fi movie.” 

As with most european genre films of the 60's the pacing is a bit slow at times but the dubbing by AIP is actually quite good. You might recognize a few of the voices in the cast from other dubbed foreign films and cartoons of the era.

MGM released Planet as one of their great Midnight Movies collection a few years ago. With a nice widescreen 35 MM print the movie looks superb. The only extra on the disk is the original trailer. Planet of the Vampires is now out of print but it can be found on-line at very reasonable prices. It is also on Netflix VOD. 

Black Sunday, Lisa and the Devil and Hatchet for a honeymoon are the only Bava films to have been released on remastered BluRay so far. Hopefully Planet of the Vampires will be next.

If you are interested in the movies of Mario Bava I recommend watching Black Sunday or Black Sabbath first, they are his “classic” films but Planet of the Vampires is also one of his best and well worth watching.

Mister X 

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