For the most part this 1965 Italian horror/sci fi chiller is every
bit as goofy as you might expect, yet worthy nonetheless for the
stunning visuals, courtesy of the late, great Mario Bava.
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES/TERRORE NELLO SPAZIO, once known
by over a dozen separate titles (DEMON PLANET, THE HAUNTED WORLD, PLANET
OF THE BLOOD, SPACE MUTANTS, etc.), was one of several potboilers
directed by Mario Bava in the mid-sixties (see also KNIVES OF THE
AVENGER, ALAMO BILL and DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS), offsetting
more personal and artistic efforts like BLACK SABBATH and THE WHIP AND
THE BODY. It was partially written by Ib Melchior, who for a time in the
sixties specialized in scripting English dialogue for foreign language
monster movies (including
REPTIILICUS and JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH
PLANET, both emerging from Denmark).
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES was released in the US by
American International Pictures, who did their usual cut-and-paste job
on it, complete with the requisite crappy English dubbing. The film,
furthermore, is often cited as a direct influence on ALIEN (along with
IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE), and there are definite similarities.
A band of cosmonauts intercept a distress call from a
distant planet. Approaching the mysterious globe they find it covered in
fog, and upon touching their rocket down on the surface are overcome
with a strange lassitude. Many of the crewmembers begin behaving
strangely with no memory of their behavior afterward. Worse, they find
their rocketís battery power inexplicably drained.
But the horror really begins when the bloody corpse of
one of the shipís crewmembers is discovered. From there itís a nonstop
cat-and-mouse pursuit through the rocket and the strangely beautiful
multi-colored planet. It seems a previous band of cosmonauts crashed on
the planet prior to the protagonists, and the members of that earlier
crew were turned into vampires who still lurk, hungering for human
Yet thereís another, even deadlier force afoot. It
affects the cosmonautsí minds as they sleep, and causes them to do
untoward things. A guard is posted to keep the crew awake, but itís not
enough, as crewmembers continue to be picked off by the unseen
vampires--and then brought back to life!
The undead infestation gets so bad that before long
only the rocketís captain and a lady crewmember are left non-vampirized,
and are forced to deal with the undead horde on their own.
Much about this film is campy and downright laughable
nowadays (the ultra-primitive special effects no longer seem all that
special), and the camp factor isnít helped by the repetitive non-story
and stilted English dubbed performances.
Yet Mario Bavaís artful and atmospheric visuals are
beyond reproach. Bava as usual acted as his own (partial)
cinematographer, and creates an eerily beautiful landscape of mist and
darkness. This is without question the most overtly gothic science
fiction picture of all time, and there are moments of shivery horror
worthy of Bava classics like
BLACK SUNDAY and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE.
Thereís also some fairly intense (for the time, anyway) gore.
Another Bava trademark is the low budget ingenuity. The
Schufftan Process (named for cinematographer Eugen Schufftan),
popularized on films like METROPOLIS and THE 39 STEPS, is utilized here
to interesting effect; it involves placing a mirror before the camera
with select portions of the reflective surface rubbed out, thus allowing
actors to interact with miniature scenery. Beyond that, Bava creates
wonders with smoke effects and single-source lighting, proving yet again
that nobody could do more with a limited budget than Mario Bava.
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (TERRORE NELLO SPAZIO; DEMONPLANET; TERROR IN
SPACE, et al)
American International Pictures
Director: Mario Bava
Producer: Fulvio Lucisano
Screenplay: Ib Melchior, Luois M. Heyward
Cinematography: Antonio Rinaldi (and Mario Bava)
Editing: Romana Fortini, Antonio Gimeno
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda, Evi Marandi, Stelio
Candelli, Franco Andrei, Fernando Villena, Mario Morales, Ivan Rassimov,