John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews. Today, the survivors of a crashed starship must defend themselves from a mysterious form of life.
While two spaceships explore a new far-off planet that emits a strange broadcast, a mysterious force pulls both vessels to the surface of the alien world. Some crew members go mad attacking their fellow astronauts. Later the dead shipmates rise from their makeshift graves to attack the survivors. That’s the setup for Mario Bava’s sci-fi horror classic Planet of the Vampires. With a ridiculously small budget, an international cast that all spoke different languages, two recycled plastic rocks, and some trick photography, he created a film that would go on to influence a new generation of science fiction auteurs. Although the movie doesn’t feature a single blood-sucker, it does have a thick atmosphere of tension, some creepy visuals, good makeup work and some interesting ideas.
The first thing you’ll notice about the film is its dynamic style. The black leather costumes have simple yellow lines for highlights, reminding me of the colorful piping on Elizabeth Shaw’s environmental suit and Wolverine’s uniform from the X-Men movies. The collars sit high, covering the actors ears. Sometimes the crew put on helmets that give them receding hairline like Bela Lugosi’s in Dracula. Strange, modern, and memorable: all words I would use to describe the crew’s clothing. The surface of the alien planet has smoke pouring into each scene. Sometimes it covers up the plastic rocks Bava had to recycle from another movie. Other times the director uses the smoke as a menacing force of evil that follows the crew. He uses forced perspective to alter the size of his recycled space rocks. Sometimes they appear as huge formations with his actors in the background or foreground depending on the scene. Other times mirrors were used to multiply the rocks into a surreal looking alien landscape. All of the effects had to be done in camera due to the films limited budget. This created a strange visual style, that was eerie, otherworldly and cost-effective.
The film has a slow and deliberate pace. I can see how someone could get bored by Planet of the Vampires. Either you buy into this strange world that Bava has created and you immerse yourself in its eerie ambiance, or you check out. I found myself at times a little restless, but overall the slow pacing created a nice sense of dread and contributed to the film’s tone.
The acting is not great, but that seems to be more of a bi-product from the multi-national casting. The ship has an American captain. His beautiful co-star is Brazilian. Other crew members hailed from Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Each spoke their lines in their native language. The voice-over dubbing does little to help differentiate all of the different crew members. On top of that, the script went a bit overboard with all of the technical mumbo jumbo.
Planet of the Vampires may not be for everyone, but it’s a fascinating look at the lineage of sci-fi horror. Clearly scenes involving the discovery of an ancient oversized alien spaceship complete with fossilized remains influenced Ridley Scott’s Alien. In a way, this movie is like a fusion of Prometheus and Alien, but told with a much, much smaller budget. It’s far from perfect, but Bava’s bold deliberate visual style makes it well worth a look.
Planet of the Vampires is streaming on Netflix. It’s also available on DVD here.
Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as a world-renown director almost ruins his career by making a vampire movie.
Here’s a look back at the Ain’t It Scary Review installments that you might have missed:
The Ground Rules to the Project
#1 Son of Frankenstein
#2 Scream, Blacula, Scream!
#3 Black Sabbath
#5 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
#6 Invisible Invaders
#7 The Mummy’s Curse
#8 Lord of Illusions
#9 Night of the Demons
#10 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
#11 The House of the Devil
#12 Dr. Phibes Rises Again!
#14 The Catman of Paris
#17 Werewolf of London
#18 Tales from the Hood
#19 The Keep
#20 The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
#22 Night of the Living Dead
#23 Pit and the Pendulum
#24 Tucker and Dale vs Evil
#25 The Stuff
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