Planet of the Vampires (1965)

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*. Even if you didn’t know this was a Mario Bava film, would that long opening dolly shot around the spaceship’s interior give it away? Bava certainly didn’t invent such shots, but in a film like this it can’t help but make you think of him.
*. If you were in any doubt, once the spaceship Argos has landed we know we’ve arrived on Planet Bava. At least now, however, those bright clouds of colours have an explanation, being emanations given off from “luminous globes” flitting about the atmosphere. Usually the bright reds, greens, and blues in a Bava film are without any clear source.
*. Despite such notes, Planet of the Vampires is a surprisingly stiff film, with no strong suspense sequences even though there would seem to be plenty of opportunities to work them in. The basic idea, after all, has its roots in films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (crew members are possessed when they fall asleep or unconscious), and it would later provide the model for Alien. Though the extent of Alien‘s debt is still argued over, the connections are far too obvious to be denied, especially given the discovery of the wreckage of the previous visitors’ ship and the oversize skeletons.

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*. Instead of being scary or suspenseful it gets by on style. What this mainly means is the fetishy leather biker uniforms that also have a Dracula effect, what with their towering collars and sleek widow’s peak bathing caps. They also have somewhat Nazi-like insignia that take on even more sinister implications when we realize that these guys have been taken over and are coming to get us.
*. The uniforms are what stand out the most, but other design elements are just as good. The giant skeletons aren’t quite Giger, but they’re getting there, and the Modernist tombstones, IKEA coffins, and transparent cerements make the scene where the dead come back to life refreshingly different. The empty plastic wrap flying out of the grave is another nice touch.

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*. Most of Bava’s films don’t bear much thinking about. This one has a great idea but a lousy script and no memorable scenes (some of the sensational poster art I’ve seen is wildly misleading). Really, it’s more interesting than it is good and leaves a lot lying on the table. But, as always with this director, it’s certainly fun to look at.

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