Planet of the Vampires (1965)

PlanetOfTheVampiresPosterThis is a well aged slice of 1960s Italian sci-fi cheese from Mario Bava (Hercules In The Haunted World, Baron Blood) that tells the horrifying tale of some astronauts who get in a whole heap of trouble on the mysterious planet of Aura.

Two spaceships, the Galliot and the Argus use their space TVs to contact one another regarding their mission. There has been a radio signal emanating from Aura. This means either one of two things – that there is intelligent life there or more probably, that there is intelligent life there that is laying a dastardly and nefarious trap to enslave the human race!

Suddenly contact with the Galliot is lost and the gravity on the Argus increases dramatically. This forces the actors to make pained expressions with their faces and move with great difficulty. You can almost hear Bava saying, “okay, you’re really heavy! I mean really heavy! That’s it! Make love to the camera with your heavy and stretched out face!”

Now since the gravity has been drastically increased, some superduper button needs to be pushed to save everyone. I think I also heard the captain say that he needed to switch the ship to manual so that he could get all the credit if they somehow managed to survive this crisis.

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The captain of the Argus makes a heroic effort to stretch his arm (and face) toward the control panel (I assumed it was a control panel because it had a bunch of blinking lights and switches) and punches a button and then the ship seems to be okay and they land, but the trouble is just beginning because the crew decides that now would be an excellent time to mutiny.

The captain’s name is Mark and he looks and sounds like the K-Mart version of Lloyd Bridges. The crew starts beating each other up and tries to ruin the ship’s equipment before everyone settles down and wonders why they were just trying to mutiny on poor old Captain Mark. God only knows what that did to the Depends he wears under his space suit!

Once on the planet, Captain Mark sees the wreck of the Galliot and decides that something isn’t quite right about it, so he takes a squad of cannon fodder crew members and investigates, finding that everyone is dead.

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Captain Mark’s crew members begin disappearing and there are weird sounds and lights all over the planet. Also some of the dead crew members have gotten up out of their graves, ripped their body bags off, and started to wander around to intimidate the crew members who are still alive.

Captain Mark knows his crew is looking to him for answers so when he spots another wrecked ship, he figures the heroic thing to do is head over there, check it out, and see if he can’t rustle himself up some more mysterious planet trouble.

Once inside the ship, Captain Mark manages to touch a glowing object that shocks him, accidentally hits some switches that gets he and his lady friend trapped (the doors close and the oxygen gets sucked out!) and then tries to escape using a tuning fork! (It didn’t work.) So he throws the tuning fork down and it hits something that eventually gets the door open and they escape. That’s the kind of leadership you can’t teach at Starfleet Academy.

Then things really get out of control before one of the undead crew members finally explains everything. More fighting follows, folks get themselves possessed, and a shock ending is unveiled.

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This is a micro-budgeted affair that manages to generate a fair amount of chills and eerie alien atmosphere in spite of that fact. Bava does a good job with lighting as is usually the case and the film’s sets and costumes (which includes black leather space suits!) give it an odd sort of look. He uses the equipment in the space ship to good effect, adding in colored globes and various shaped equipment that emitted different colored lights along with the standard control panels of switches and dials.

The emphasis here isn’t on a ton of action (there’s a lot of Captain Mark babbling about what to do next), but there is a mounting sense of dread as the surviving crew members try to figure out what’s going on.

Yes, it can be argued that the sets are straight out of the original Star Trek TV show and the space ships aren’t too convincing when they fly around or land, but scenes like the one where the dead break out of their graves in slow motion are particularly effective and show Bava’s ability to wring as much as possible out of what he was given. It’s really a very effective and creepy film, with a memorable look that’s perfect for late night viewing and good warm up for some of its later (and more violent) imitators.

© 2014 MonsterHunter

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