Planet of the Vampires (1965)
To a horror film fan, there is absolutely no mistaking a film directed by Mario Bava in color. Especially during his run of 1960 terrors that included Black Sabbath, Kill Baby Kill and this sci-fi thriller that once you’ve seen it, you’ll always retain the look and feel to the film. That’s thanks to it’s foggy lit colors and the black leather outfits worn by the space travelers headed by a graduate of the western and noir genre, American, Barry Sullivan. He’s taken up the Captain’s duties on a vessel bound for a world of blood curdling aliens.
Sullivan and his crew are following the tracks of a sister ship to an unchartered planet. As they near the planet surface most of the crew members seemed to be struck by a brief attack of insanity that they have no recollection of when they finally regain their senses. Barry will lead a scouting party to find the other downed ship. He’s also hoping to find his younger brother who was aboard it alive and unharmed. What they find is a ship littered with corpses doused in heavy doses of blood. His brother among the dead. It would seem as if they all killed each other. Perhaps during a bout of insanity?
In fine western fashion Barry lets his crew know, “Anything moves, shoot first ask questions later.”
Shockingly after laying the dead to rest they find the corpses have risen and are preying upon them. One of the coolest sets in the film is when Barry and lovely Norma Bengell discover a large skeletal figure in the inner chamber of another downed ship they encounter. Yes this is another sci-fi opus like It! The Terror From Outer Space that it’s hard not to wonder if they had a distinct impact on a particular sci-fi terror that made good in 1979.
Hell, this atmospheric thriller’s plot could have served as a template for any number of Star Trek episodes in the very near future for Roddenberry and company. I couldn’t help but think of Shatner when Barry records his thoughts aloud for the Captain’s log minus the star date comment.
This Mario Bava effort is all about style and there’s no doubting he delivers the goods in that department. Once again he successfully mixes fog and rainbow like colors on the screen in an attempt to thrill us with a plot that mixes elements of both the horror and sci-fi film genres. For more trivia than I’ll ever know on Bava, look for the writings on him from historian Tim Lucas. If you can get your hands on a copy, pick up his book, All The Colors of the Dark. I missed my chance and now it’s a bit pricey if you do find one.
Mainly because of his name being rather odd, I recognized the screenplay is credited to Ib Melchior. Ib also gave us titles including The Angry Red Planet, Robinson Crusoe On Mars and Journey To The Seventh Planet. That list of titles should make it very clear that Ib enjoyed coming up with space thrillers for the movie screens. His most well known title is probably Death Race 2000 for which he received a “story by” credit.
Discovering the films of Bava was somewhat of a journey for this film fan. I’d see pictures of the films like Black Sunday with Barbara Steele and The Whip and the Body in various publications, both hardcover library books and horror magazines growing up. The advent of the VHS market gave us a look at some of them but even those in many instances were cut/dubbed and bootleg copies picked up at horror film conventions. Slowly they would finally be given official releases and now can for the most part be easily found for today’s youngsters.
But what’s the fun in that? Things are just too easy now. My journey to discovering these titles was far more exciting than any youngster’s will be today. In some cases years of anticipation coming to a successful climax. As long as today’s kid has a few bucks he can just get them delivered in a day or two by the mailman. Sure he’ll love them as much as I do but he never experienced the journey.
If you haven’t experienced the fantasy films of Bava, give them a look and marvel at their use of colors and ability to thrill. I’d recommend starting with Black Sunday and move forward from there. One last thing, if you know of a store that sells those ultra cool leather space suits, let me know. They’d make a great “con” fan outfit.