Planet of the Vampires

On a scientific mission to the planet Aura, the twin ships Argos and Galliot prepare to descend to the planets surface. As the descent turns problematic, communications with the Galliot are cut off and the automatic controls of the Argos go berserk raising the internal gravity on board to 40g’s. As the crew passes out, Captain Mark retains his cool and brings the Argos in for manual landing. Firmly on the surface, gravity returns to normal and the crew begins to regain consciousness. However, when they come too, they come too in a crazed state and begin attacking Captain Mark! Rousing his crew out of their frenzied state, they locate the missing Galliot, and set off on a mission to discover what has become of them. Upon arrival they learn that they too were subject to the crazed attacks upon awakening, however they didn’t have a captain as cool under pressure as Mark, and killed each other in a frenzy of fists and leather clad brutality. Once the Galliot’s crew is buried, the Argos folks prepare to leave again for home, until the Galliot crew comes back to life.

Sci Fi and Vampires? On my TV? No way!

Mario Bava, Italian Sci Fi/Horror director supreme brings us this tale of outer space mayhem. Showing us a glimpse at the glory days of sci fi flicks with bright colors and blinky lights, Planet of the Vampires is a fun little visit to 1965 and what passed as horror at the time. Aiming for horror in a sci fi setting, Planet is a creepy tale in a sci fi setting, filled with plenty of hokey!

Bava, spending the first half of his career as a cinematographer, gives us a lush and colorful view of life on another planet. Rolling fog, gargantuan space ships and barren landscapes, a high point of Planet of the Vampires is in the scenery itself. We have giant outcrops of outspace rock, bubbling lava fields, glowy green horizons, and lots and lots and lots of fog. Combined, the Planet itself comes to life and to an extent, stands for as a character all in itself. Also of note is Bava’s take on special effects and props. The space ship interiors show us a spartan design with concrete floors and steel walls, all festooned hundreds and hundreds of bright blinky lights. You can’t have a 1960’s space ship without blinky lights! As the crew sets foot on the surface, we are given a sense of scale of the ships with elaborate set pieces. Gigantor landing gear, sleek spaceship lines and amazingly thick steel bulkheads all hold major moments throughout the film, and we see them all repeatedly. Finally, is it just me, or is there a startling coincidence between the crew uniforms and Bryan Singer’s X-Men? There’s something for you to chew on.

The vampires inhabiting Aura are not the typical vampires that you and I know and love. Comparing to the standard, these outer space creeps rise from the dead and destroy anything living in their path, however there are neither fangs nor neck biting. What we get instead is a tale of a dying planet, inhabited by a dying race that lives in a separate ‘vibratory’ plain from our own. Seeing existence of a space faring race, the invisible baddies take steps to lure the curious on their planet enabling them to take over their bodies once they have died. With new body and left over space ships, our bad guys now have to the freedom to leave in search of a new home.

All of this combines for a fun little sci fi creep fest, with a share of action (albeit hokey) and a touch of suspense as well. As we see the dead Galliot crew rise from their graves and plod head long for the Argos and it’s ‘Meteor Deflector’ the movie takes on more of a zombie feel than what it’s title would imply. With a feel of Night of the Living Dead, our rebirthed baddies slowly stalk the remaining crew members. Now, how do you tell the living crew members from the dead ones? From the face wounds they all made sure to inflict on each other during the initial fight! Thanks for that evil aliens, it would get a little confusing without that.

Planet of the Vampires is a fun little sci fi/horror that displays all of the trademark sci fi trappings. Brought to life by the artistic eye of Mario Bava, this one stands a notch or two above the rest in that era. Where many alien films of the time were stocked with black and white, wooden acting and slapped together plot line, PotV’s has wooden acting, bad dubbing paired with solid scenery and a semi solid plot. Throw in a surprise twist and the end, and we have a film that stands the test of time and is still a fun watch forty two years later.

Fun note: Many Italian films were dubbed in Italian originally, to help make up for shoddy recording equipment. So from the start, we’re set to have the lip synching off from the very start. To add to this, we mix in foreign actors all allowed to perform in their native tongue. So as you watch along and notice that the lip synching is all over the board, there’s good reason! We have people speaking English, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, dubbed over into Italian for it’s initial release, and then dubbed back again in English for the US release. Fun stuff!

3.5 plodding protagonists out of 5

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