Planet of the Vampires

Day Eight of the 2010 Silver Shamrock Happy Halloween Countdown!

Happy Halloween Countdown Day Eight

Planet of the Vampires:
Planet of the Vampires has three things going for it: One, it is regarded by film nerds as a work of genius because it was directed by famed Italian filmmaker Mario Bava.  Two, later filmmakers  swiped great big chunks of this movie for their own films.  Three, Planet of the Vampires is a totally great name!  It wipes the floor with titles like Twilight or Daybreakers.

Now, movie nerd or not, I’m not an especially big Italian cinema fan; however, anything directed by Bava is certainly worth a look.  The Bava films I’ve seen all are deliciously atmospheric, bringing a gothic flavor to what was becoming a more realism oriented genre. I think his films are the connecting point between gothic nightmare-scapes of the Hammer era to the surrealism seen in quite a bit of the contemporary cinema of the time.

Whatever you, or I, think of Italian cinema in general, or of Bava in particular, Dan O’Bannon and Ridley Scott certainly seemed to love Planet of the Vampires. They loved it enough to swipe parts of it wholesale and use those parts to build their own sci-fi – horror epic, Alien.  I’ve heard people take that even further, suggesting that Alien is a re-make of Planet of the Vampires.  I wouldn’t go that far, though I can totally see their point; the key concept of a dangerous species infiltrating and destroying society by using the bodies of others as a sort of host underlies both films.  The first part of Alien, where they investigate the distress signal, finding an alien crash site on a forbidding planet owes quite a bit to Planet of the Vampires.

While watching Planet of the Vampires, though, I wasn’t thinking about how it reminded me of Alien so much as the old EC comic book Weird Science.  The stiff, exposition laced dialogue, the wonderfully odd costumes, and anachronistic spaceship sets (Welcome to the world of tomorrow!)–  all seemed like they’d feel right at home in the little square panels that make up each page of the comic book.  Bava’s use of contrasting color (especially red) and the ever present smokey mist only make the movie more like a comic book for me.

The weaknesses in Planet of the Vampires are the weaknesses of Italian cinema of the era: very small budgets, voice dubbing and weak plotting and characters.  The pace is a little slow, running 128 fractions of megron long.

6 Responses to “Planet of the Vampires”

  • TreverT:

    Bava did Black Sunday, didnnt he? I need to dig that one out to watch again.

  • Captain Midnight:

    He certainly did. He also directed Black Sabbath with a horribly dubbed Boris Karloff. Of the two, I prefer Black Sunday. It’s like watching a nightmare. A low budget and dubbing don’t hurt this film at all. Bava’s gothic atmosphere and Barbara Steele dark seductive flavor combine in Black Sunday to make a very effective film.

  • TreverT:

    Ever seen “Whip and the Body”? He also did that one, with Christopher Lee. A really good flick too, very eerie. Here’s a good Netflix description:

    “This visually striking Mario Bava film is neither very kinky, nor particularly scary by today’s standards—and it does moves slowly. But looking past all that and taking it on it’s own terms, it is a lovely blend of psychological thriller, ghost story, murder mystery, and study of emerging insanity. It is sumptuous, with a wonderfully garish color palette and fine overall camera work that creates a very sinister and moody atmosphere.”

    It isn’t nearly as lurid as the title and plotline suggest. Plenty eerie, though. For a long time it was the only Bava movie I’d ever seen.

  • Captain Midnight:

    I’ll add that one to my queue. 😀

  • TreverT:

    Beware, on Netflix it appears to come on a double feature disc alongside a Fulci film about a father sexually abusing his daughter, eww. “Whip” deals with some kinky issues (Lee has a forbidden sadomasochistic relationship with his brother’s wife, gets murdered for it, and comes back to haunt everyone… maybe?) but overall, it’s no racier than most Hammer films of the time. It’s a bit like Wuthering Heights if someone had murdered Heathcliff and his ghost had returned to drive Cathy insane. Some great screen caps here give a sense of what a lavish movie it is:

    http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film2/DVDReviews37/whip_and_the_body.htm

  • Captain Midnight:

    I have it added to the queue. I’ve heard this one talked about recently, perhaps on a podcast. The plot sounds rather familiar. No matter how bad it might be, it certainly can’t be worse than Attack of Clones, perhaps the worst Christopher Lee movie ever. What kind of epic climax is having an eighty-year-old man fight a muppet?

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