Ok, first rule: when you land on a planet that is nothing but thick mists and weird multi-color lights, unless you previously set your course for Planet Rave, it’s probably a good idea to leave right then and there. Especially if your crew experienced psychotic murderous impulses on the way down. I’m just saying... NASA makes enough mistakes as it is (“Hello Mars Climate Orbiter... oops! Goodbye Mars Climate Orbiter!”).
Planet of the Vampire was a doomed movie to begin with, seeing that it was based on the story “A Night of 21 Hours” which, again, sounds like the NASA engineers were in charge of keeping track of time. Departing from his usual Horror genre, Italian director Mario Brava made this film under the assumption (and maybe not incorrectly) that style will trump content. Especially if there’s a LOT of style and the content is as wide-spread as the trees in this movie (Spoiler warning: no trees).
Distracted from their deep probing of space, the ships Argos and Galliott respond to an S.O.S. signal from a hellishly depressing looking planet, setting up the paradigm the Aliens films used so well: DON’T answer distress signals from creepy planets. In many ways this movie served as a template for Alien, with its dead aliens serving as an obscure clue that other, nastier aliens are about to mess your shit up. On the way in, the crew of the Argos become violent and try to kill each other. The captain manages to keep everyone from murdering anyone. The crew of the Galliott were apparently not so lucky, as by the time the Argos crew find that ship all the crew are dead, some of them still locked in the bridge. Then, mysteriously, those bodies vanish, but are seen later, walking around and killing people. It seems the planet is the unchosen home of immaterial aliens that possess other living creatures and make them want to killkillkill!!! Not really vampires, per se, but pretty creepy. Perhaps even creepier.
The rest of the movie involves more dead people walking around and more killing. Finally, the last three space explorers blow up the Galliott and escape aboard the Argos. But as they say, two survivors is company (especially a male/female hellish Adam & Eve metaphor) and three’s a crowd, so one of them dies in a valiant, but useless, attempt to keep the mystery twist ending from happening. Alas, the ending, it twists. Dear God help us, it twists.
American International Pictures had already had relative success with earlier Brava films, such as the much-banned Black Sunday and Black Sabbath (starring Boris Karloff), and brought in writer Ib (“Reptilicus” and “Robinson Crusoe On Mars”) Melchior to punch up the script, as it were. It was fairly successful, given its cheap budget (In some scenes two plastic rocks are made, via mirrors and movie magic, to look like... many, many rocks!), and retains a certain charm even now. Especially in the leather uniforms that evoke Grant Morrison-era X-Men along with John Byrne-era “Madrox the Multiple Man.” It’s too bad this movie doesn’t feature traditional vampires, as those high, stiff leather collars would have come in handy had the aliens been more bite-y and less possess-y.
Given its uneven reception amongst critics (the reviews range wildly between “a triumph of bringing pulp sci-fi to the screen” and “Oh dear weeping Jesus, pluck out my eyeballs... NOW!”) the film has secured a certain legacy due to its quite obvious influence, as I pointed out earlier, on Ridley Scott’s Alien. This is especially obvious in the sequence where the crew climb aboard a older crashed spaceship, only to discover the long-dead skeletal remains of giant aliens that, no doubt, succumbed to the inviso-vampires before. While Scott maintains that he never saw Planet of the Vampires before directing Alien, I’d have to say that, either he’s lying through his film-maker teeth, or its a remarkable coincidence. In Ridley Scott’s defense, maybe he was just on a lot of drugs and forgot where his source material came from. I hear Shakespeare had that same problem a lot.
One thing I like about Sci-Fi/Horror movies is when the endings are neatly wrapped-up, “Thank God the good humans won!” easy endings. Here, without giving the ending away, things go bad, stay bad, then get worse. Today, that would mean the obvious imminence of Planet of the Vampires 2, but back in 1965 it was kinda hardcore.
Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals. He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.