Planet of the Vampires (1965)
Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.

Release Date: October 27th, 1965 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Mario Bava Actors: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda, Evi Marandi, Stelio Candelli, Franco Andrei, Fernando Villena, Mario Morales, Ivan Rassimov

 


 

A

board the exploration vessel Argos, Captain Mark Markary (Barry Sullivan) prepares his crew for disembarkation on a nearby planet that is suspected of emanating distortive cosmic radiation, which obscures the potential life-sustaining capabilities of the surface. Sanya (Norma Bengell), Wess (Angel Aranda), Tiona (Evi Marandi), Brad (Stelio Candelli), Eldon (Mario Morales), Dr. Karan (Fernando Villena), and several other officers are in for a shock when the arrival doesn’t go smoothly. Upon suffering through the debilitating physical pressure of crash landing (or miraculously touching down) on the rocky, foggy planet (with an unheard-of 40-G descent), the shipmates immediately begin attacking one another, but each member retains no memory of the incidents – mere seconds after attempting to choke or club the nearest person.

After collecting themselves and assessing the situation, the Argos group determines that their companion vessel, the Galliott, has also crashed, some distance across a plain of craggy formations. The commander of that ship, Captain Sallas, sends out a distress call, further prompting the Argos’ complement to venture across the hostile terrain for a rescue attempt. But when they arrive, they discover that no one is left alive to rescue – they’ve all beaten one another to death with whatever instruments were handy, as if possessed by some unspeakably evil entity.

The music by Gino Marinuzzi Jr. is instantly notable for its eeriness. It’s far grimmer than most sci-fi pictures of the ’60s, making sensational use of prickling string notes, dissonant instrumental sounds, and lingering electronic/mechanical vibrations. The lighting, sound effects, and imagery aren’t nearly macabre enough to match, but the score sets a distinct tone of dread. “Planet of the Vampires” is far more frightening thanks to this indispensable inclusion, making up for interiors that are entirely too crisp and bright, and makeup/gore that isn’t distressing enough – even for 1965 (one of the better examples of this is the use of translucent plastic wrap rather than viscous fluids for the eventual emergence of the zombielike denizens).

“Wes, you come with me. The rest of you … be careful.” The costumes, set designs, and props (particularly with switchboards, computer displays, and various glowing wall panels) all betray the low budget of a mid-’60s B-movie, but the actors take everything quite seriously – even when delivering stale dialogue. Humidity, hypothesized hallucinations, and ghostly voices help to compensate, generating an atmosphere that is spookier than what is typical for a production that is virtually a feature-length precursor to a “Star Trek” episode. Despite unconvincing technology, pitiful gravity efforts (the cast essentially acts out their own G-force immobility and turbulence), and mediocre shots of spaceships dangling above glossy (or fuzzy) planetoids, the premise makes clever use of an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” notion, where paranoia, uncanny manipulation, and alien doppelgängers toy with a sense of identity and self-control as reality is blurred (ideas that would also be used in John Carpenter’s “The Thing”). But perhaps the most pronounced contribution of this obscure Mario Bava thriller is its influence on Ridley Scott, who, as many critics in 1979 speculated, appears to have borrowed a derelict ship, oversized mummified beings, a small crew dying off one by one, and a self-destruct scheme for his legendary horror film, “Alien.”

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10