NOVEMBER 3, 2010
I wonder how long Planet Of The Vampires (Italian: Terrore Nello Spazio) has been on Netflix instant, because it’s the sort of thing I would have watched even without HMAD “responsibilities”. Usually I have to dig around for a while to find something that I might enjoy (contrary to some belief, I’d prefer to watch only good movies), and end up getting stuck with something I’ve never heard of or don’t have much hope for. But this is a Mario Bava movie, and one that influenced some great films like Alien and The Thing - I WANTED to see this.
If you’ve read my other Bava reviews, you’d know I’m hardly a die hard fan of the guy. I haven’t DISLIKED any of his films, but I rarely have any desire to revisit them either. They look gorgeous, but there’s always a sort of indifference to the execution of the story, keeping me from ever getting truly engaged in it. Planet is no different, but at least this time I can pinpoint some of my issues (odd since overall I actually enjoyed it more than most of his other films).
For starters, I’ve never had more trouble telling characters apart in a movie, or how many were alive/dead. At one point I thought there were only three left, but then there’s a makeshift funeral scene and there are about seven folks standing around. And they all have the same goofy “space movie” jumpsuit on (with a giant collar for good measure, which covered a lot of the things that would help me identify people (i.e. hair colors and styles, or even basic build). It’s like if Captain Kirk decided to leave Spock and Bones on the ship and just took a dozen redshirts with him on a mission. It doesn’t help that the bulk of the movie takes place on two ships that are pretty much identical - I often got confused as to which ship the characters were on.
Plus, the dialogue’s no help, since a lot of it is just nonsensical sci-fi mumbo jumbo like “The intensity of the gravitational field will be maintained at the wave moment of force G7. Synchronize the Meteor Rejector on the electromagnetic control device.” And if any of the characters divulged something personal about themselves, I must have missed it (though one guy did have a brother on the other ship). So we have a bunch of people I can’t tell apart saying things that might as well be stereo instructions, running back and forth between identical (and not very impressive) spaceships.
But to do that they have to go outside, and that’s where Bava’s visual prowess comes into play. They obviously didn’t have a lot of money, but they did a good job of making an actual alien world to traverse, with his usual primary colors added to a lot of weird formations and a bunch of fog machines cranked up to 11. I mean, look at Predators – they didn’t do a goddamn thing in that movie to make it look like anything but Hawaii. Here, cheap as it may be, I can at least buy that they are on some odd, dangerous planet.
And I liked that it was legitimate sci-fi, not just a horror movie in outer space. As we eventually learn, this race of beings (the “vampires”) is dying out and seeking a new planet to live on, but they need host bodies to get there. In other words, they are just doing what they have to in order to preserve their species, which is not unlike the plot of any number of Trek episodes (which hadn’t started yet, I should point out). They’re also intelligent; the best little scare in the movie comes when one of the living is trying to get a dog tag (or the movie’s equivalent) off of her dead crewmate. But the guy is UNDEAD, and we see his hand start to come to life, preparing to strike... only to drop back when someone else enters the room. I love little things like that.
The stiff dubbing actually adds something to the movie, I think, because they are monotone and slightly “off”, which of course would make sense if someone was being controlled by an alien vampire. Especially in the final scene, where our hero suspects one of his crewmates has been taken over by the vampires and goes to ask the heroine for her assistance. Her monotonous replies could be construed as a sign that she is infected as well, or that she simply doesn’t believe him, but it could ALSO mean nothing, and was just the result of an unspirited dubbing actress. So it allowed for a little bit of extra suspense and tension. It also makes some of the villain’s big explanation speech sound hilarious; I love when he nonchalantly explains “We arranged for several of you to kill each other.”
Ultimately, it’s a pretty entertaining and weird little movie. The goofy jumpsuits will never let you forget you’re in the 60s, there are some decent scare scenes (though the final gun battle is the clunkiest climax I’ve ever seen), and the sort of twist ending combines a good “Ohhhh...” moment with the most inept model work I’ve ever seen. Add in some spooky over-fogged atmosphere and giant skeleton discoveries, and you have yourself a good flick.
What say you?