Friday, November 14, 2008

Film Review: PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965, Mario Bava)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Barry Sullivan, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Antonio Perez Olea, Lamberto Bava, Ivan Rassimov.
Tag-line: " This was the day the universe trembled before the demon forces of the killer planet!"
Best exchange:
Captain: One entire crew lost; two of our own crew gone. Bert dead, Eldon disappeared. And this unknown enemy keeps getting closer.
Doctor: The enemy is also becoming visible.
Captain: What do you mean by that?
Doctor: Well, you saw something. Something not quite identifiable out of the corner of your eye.
Captain: Ah, yes. As if it were composed of little globes of light, something fleeting, nothing definite. And the minute I looked at the things directly, they were gone.

Alternate titles: Demon Planet, Planet of Blood, Space Mutants, Terror in Space, The Haunted Planet, The Haunted World, The Outlawed Planet, The Planet of Terror, The Planet of the Damned, Terrore nello spazio (original title).

Bava strikes again, with basically FORBIDDEN PLANET meets DANGER: DIABOLIK. This film has been a tremendous influence on subsequent sci-fi/horror from ALIEN to GHOSTS OF MARS, but its American title is about as appropriate as if THE THING had been named THE VAMPIRE, or if MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE had been called MAXIMUM VAMPIRES. The setup is this: starships investigating a phantom signal decide to land on a mysterious planet, whereupon the crew starts, without provocation, whaling on and beating the crap out of each other.

Then they investigate and find some enormous alien skeletons. If that doesnt sound like a terrific setup to you, then you probably shouldnt be watching these sorts of (Italian) movies. In fact, theres a line near the beginning of the film that is a beautiful metaphor for this type of cinema (lets say Bava, Argento, Leone, et al.): "Without this meteor rejector, we'd look like a piece of Swiss cheese, our ship would be down in less than a minute." In this metaphor, the meteors are plot holes, incomprehensibility, and bad dubbing. They can kill any movie in seconds for almost anyone. But what is the meteor rejector, you say? It's the mise-en-scene. It's style over substance that works! It's imaginative sets, colored fog, breathtaking matte paintings, inspired theatrical lighting, kickass costumes-

(black and yellow leather uniforms with insanely popped collars), blinking control panels and other made up technology- in short, it's the crazy Italian spectacle. And in the hands of an operatic virtuoso director, it works almost every time. Bravo, Mario!

-Sean Gill

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