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John Ary's Aint It Scary Reviews #27 Of 31!! PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES!!


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
#4 Maniac
#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!
#13 Audition
#14 The Catman of Paris
#15 Kuroneko
#16 Chillerama
#17 Werewolf of London
#18 Tales from the Hood
#19 The Keep
#20 The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
#21 Equinox
#22 Night of the Living Dead
#23 Pit and the Pendulum
#24 Tucker and Dale vs Evil
#25 The Stuff

For more video news, reviews and interviews subscribe to the AICN Youtube channel and follow me on Twitter.


Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 27, 2012, 9:48 a.m. CST


    by ass clown

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 10:23 a.m. CST


    by chance72

    ...this film. Bava did so much with so little (as he usually did). Very stylish.

  • Night of the Living Dead 1990 during the title sequence when he has that weird reverberating sound that you hear in PotV?

  • MARIO BAVA'S STAR TREK (1969) It’s early 1969 and Star Trek is in production on its last season as it has just been announced that the show is being cancelled for good. Gene Roddenberry persuades Paramount to finance a feature length movie based on Star Trek with the intent of using the same sets and costumes, which will save money, and will be shot right after completion of the third season’s episodes. At the pitch, Roddenberry name drops Fox’s Planet of the Apes, reminding Paramount that Sci-fi can be hugely profitable. Robert Evans, who recently took over as head of Production at Paramount and sired the hit Horror flick Rosemary’s Baby, says “Eh, why not” but stipulates that it must be done for the cost of a weeks worth of blow. Roddenberry needs a Director and remembers a great little Sci-fi movie loaded with mood and atmosphere he saw a few years back called Planet of the Vampires. He learns that the movie was Directed by an Italian called Mario Bava. This gets Roddenberry excited because he figures this must be the same Mario Bava that Directed Danger Diabolik (1968), a movie he saw and LOVED the year before. He calls Producer Dino DeLaurentis and asks him about Bava. DeLaurentis praises Bava and reveals that he offered him a 3 million dollar budget for Diabolik but, in the end, he only spent 500k. This convinces Roddenberry that Bava is the man for the job. As a part of his deal with Paramount, Evans wanted William Castle to Produce the Star Trek feature since he had done so on Rosemary’s Baby and was known for getting movies done at a very reasonable cost on his own low budget productions. This doesn’t bother Roddenberry as he and Castle get along very well from their first meeting and onwards. Castle and Roddenberry decide to commission a screenplay that mixes Sci-fi with Horror as Castle specialized in cheapo Horror flicks and both men admired Planet of the Vampires creepy style. They are also big fans of The Twilight Zone and decide to hire Rod Serling to script since he worked on Planet of the Apes. Serling recommends that they also hire Richard Matheson as Serling teaches part time and can’t focus all his time between writing Star Trek, teaching and his other writing jobs. Matheson and Serling agree that the screenplay should focus on exploration, adventure, Horror and if they can get a bit of social commentary in there, all the better. The two collab for several weeks until a suitable screenplay is produced with input from Roddenberry and Castle. Bava is presented with the script and is more then happy to work for a major studio. He also happens to like the script very much. They hire a few Italian speaking production assistants and AD to help with the language barriers but everything runs very smoothly. The cast loves working with Bava, who even manages to get Ennio Morricone to score the flick. There was talk about trying to compete with the visual FX of 2001 but Bava decided that would clash with the cheap and cheerful style of Star Trek, not to mention being ridiculously expensive. No, Bava acts as visual effects supervisor, as he had on his previous movies, and pulls off wonders with his crew back in Italy where he works on Post-Production. The Star Trek feature film is completed and given a late November release date. Everyone is excited as they believe their film is quality and will do well at the box office. Millions of Star Trek fans are anticipating the release since the cancellation of the show. Unfortunately tragedy strikes as there is a massive fire in Paramount’s labs which destroys all of the prints including the negative. Evans writes off the disaster and even makes a profit as the insurance covers everything. Luckily, none of the other major productions of that year are affected. A crushing blow to everyone that worked on the movie, the cast and crew go back to their usual grind. Roddenberry struggles to recapture the success of Star Trek until the box office of Star Wars renews interest in putting Trek on the big screen. He clashes with the studio as he forgets what made Star Trek special as he now envisions Star Trek as a tone poem about the evolution of man. Director Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) is pulled between the studio and Roddenberry who fight over script issues. The movie goes wildly over budget but manages to be a success in late 1979, although critics deride the film as Star Trek The Motionless Picture given its glacial pace. Roddenberry is kicked upstairs as the studio turns to its TV division where Producer Harve Bennett succeeds in re-invigorating Trek with the help of a young Writer/Director named Nicholas Meyer. The new Trek is a hit and several sequels are created to varying levels of success including one Directed by a egomaniac about the search for God. Roddenberry gets into bitter arguments over the studio taking control of his creation but successfully re-launches it in the form of The Next Generation before dying in 1991, age 70. Mario Bava returns to Italy where he laments the accident that destroyed Star Trek but remembers enjoying every moment of his days in Hollywood. He makes one more masterpiece, Bay of Blood in 1971, and several other flicks until his death in 1980. Today he is remembered as a pioneering Director and one of Italy’s greatest filmmakers. William Castle dies in 1977 at age 63. He is fondly remembered as a schlockmeister who made cheesy movies but managed to squeeze out a few gems along the way. Both men gain a whole new generation of fans with the advent of video tape players which make their many movies available for audiences in the comfort of their own homes around the world. The internet helps their work reach even more in the future. Robert Evans was one of the great flameout stories of the 1970’s. Under his tenure at Paramount, he helped to revolutionize Hollywood with several classic movies (The Godfather 1/2 and Chinatown among them) that exemplified the decade as America’s greatest in cinema history. However, drugs lead to his ruin as he got deeper into addiction with the nadir of his life being his suspected involvement in a murder of which he was eventually cleared. He later releases a book based on his life, The Kid Stays in the Picture, and continues to work as a producer although he never manages to recapture the magic of his run at Paramount during the 1970’s. He currently lives in LA, age 80. Rod Serling continued to write and teach until his death in 1975 from complications during surgery at age 50. He is remembered as one of the icons of Television and a profound influence on its development while The Twilight Zone is considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Richard Matheson still lives in California at age 85. He is known, rightfully, as one of the greatest writers of Horror, Sci-fi and Fantasy fiction in history and continues to produce new work to this day. Back in 2008, in a dusty old film storage warehouse in Rome Italy, a young man is on his first day at the job, working as an inventory assistant, hired to go through the thousands of film cans and assess the quality of their contents. In a few weeks he comes across a box initialed MBSM69. He opens it and discovers several cans with the words Mario Bava Space Movie 69 written on the side. Upon inspection it appears to be a copy of the original negative of Bava’s lost Star Trek feature. Once word reaches the internet, fans the world over are overwhelmed with joy at the re-discovery of this legendary movie. The negative and soundtrack is digitally re-mastered and the movie is finally released theatrically on November 2011 to coincide with Star Trek’s 45th anniversary not to mention cash in on the blockbuster success of the new Star Trek feature, based on the original TV show and characters, that was released in 2009. The lost Star Trek movie is quickly declared a masterpiece by the shows fans as well as general audiences despite its dated style and visual effects which were left as is by the studio. The Blu-ray release has a commentary by the shows surviving cast members who suppress their seething hatred for each other long enough to reminisce about their glory days aboard the USS Enterprise.

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 11:32 a.m. CST


    by vermicelliknid

    Lots of fun and interesting choices mr ary. Worthy of your incisive reviews!

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 11:53 a.m. CST


    by MooseMalloy

    10-page essay coming soon.

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 11:55 a.m. CST

    The original tile translated is "Terror in Space".

    by Bob

    Yes, this is a very good movie. The costume work, is pretty cool even by modern standards. As was the miniature model work they did. That and having Bava in the directors chair make this well worth watching. If you can track down the original Italian film, I very much recommend it, as it is cut slightly differently than the english version, but both are still very good. The planet and their ships served as the inspiration for the original Alien movie Engineer derelict ship.

  • ... Now you tell me that Bava made a sci-fi horror flick that inspired Ridley Scott's Alien?! You just made my day! And thanks to your vid review I finally got around to watching Kuroneko. It's utterly brilliant!

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 1:28 p.m. CST

    It would be nice...

    by cloudyP

    ... if you'd include the year of release in these reviews. (Or did I miss it?) Fun project though, and well done.

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 1:38 p.m. CST

    So it's better than Prometheus? Sounds about right.

    by dahveed1972

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 3:41 p.m. CST

    You should have said...

    by Raymond Shaw

    "Clearly scenes involving the discovery of an ancient oversized alien spaceship complete with fossilized remains influenced Dan O'Bannon’s Alien. " It's pretty well known that O'Bannon said something like: "I didn't steal from anybody, I stole from everybody." Writers just can't get no respecatability

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 3:51 p.m. CST


    by DrGogol

    fanfic. I totally readn't that whole thing.

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 3:56 p.m. CST

    jet_jaguar, his silky smooth voice is the best

    by Talkbacker with no name

    The X-Men 2 costumes also bear an uncanny resemblance to the ones in Planet of the Vampires

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 4:32 p.m. CST

    they look like they're wearing Singer's X-men uniforms

    by sunwukong86

    am i the only one?

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 9:06 p.m. CST

    sunwukong86, no you are not. I just said that

    by Talkbacker with no name

    36 minutes before

  • Oct. 27, 2012, 10:30 p.m. CST

    It's also in the article, geniuses

    by DrGogol

    People who don't read the article and still comment annoy the crap out of me.

  • You almost expect them all to start doing Elvis the Pelvis impressions.

  • Oct. 28, 2012, 1:26 p.m. CST

    Alien and Prometheus owe a lot to this movie

    by rev_skarekroe

    Right down to the horseshoe spaceship design.

  • Oct. 29, 2012, 12:36 a.m. CST

    An original work is one that's good at hiding its sources.

    by spire_walk

  • Oct. 29, 2012, 7:52 a.m. CST

    drgogol, you don't read John Ary articles.

    by Talkbacker with no name

    You watch them for his silky smooth voice. duh.