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Saturday, October 17, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2015-Day 17: PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965)

Fetish wear...IN SPAAAAACE!!!

In a nutshell: Travelers in deep space intercept a distress call from a remote, uncharted planet and land there to investigate. Once they arrive, very bad shit happens. If that sounds somewhat familiar, it should, because if you take the Italian/Spanish-made PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965) and threw it into a blender with the American-made IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) and hit purĂ©e, you'd pretty much end up with Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979), the ne plus ultra of horror movies set in outer space. While IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE provides the archetypal DNA for the whole "trapped in a spaceship with a malevolent xenomorph" thing, but what PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES brings to the mix is an unrelenting air of dread and a visual sensibility that transplants the haunted house/spookshow ethos into the cosmos.

The dead rise.

As a movie, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES has not aged particularly well. It's glacially-paced (a common problem for Italian sci-fi films of its era), has a distracting dubbed English soundtrack voiced by actors familiar from SPEED RACER cartoons (the unmistakable voices of Peter Fernandez and Jack Curtis being prominent), and there are no vampires per se (the threat is actually disembodied alien presences that reanimate the dead). But what remains is a work that somehow manages to be colorful while simultaneously manifesting an ambiance of spookiness straight out of childhood fears. If anything, it brings to mind an episode of LOST IN SPACE as directed by H.P. Lovecraft, only minus any tentacled wigglies (unfortunately). Several of the building blocks of ALIEN are present, including a foreboding, fog-shrouded planet, a giant skeleton of another hapless space-traveler who crashed there (in this case the remains indicate that another life form attempted to investigate the distress call and also met a grim fate),

Not quite the "space jockey" from ALIEN but close enough for rock & roll.

and the and-then-there-were-none whittling down of the cast.

Bottom line: I include PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES in this year's roundup solely to alert ALIEN fans who were not in the know about its existence. It's totally worth seeing to absorb legendary director/cinematographer Mario Bava's evocative visuals, though if you really want to see the ALIEN precursor that offers up actual shocks, I strongly recommend schlamping IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE into your DVD player.

Poster for the original American theatrical release.

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