Planet of the Vampires (1965) movie poster

director Mario Bava
viewed: 06/04/2012

The world of On Demand film content continues to grow, will doubtlessly one day be the primary norm, but I’ve resisted it to a degree.  My largest problem with it has been that films from Comcast channels On Demand mostly deliver content in the classic “pan and scan” or “modified to fit your television”.  Which is a drag because I really, really hate to watch anything like that if an alternative is available.

But lo and behold! now on Comcast, a channel called “Impact: Action on Demand” offers a variety of movies, and oddly enough, some pretty interesting ones.  Lo and behold further, they are running Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, a film that is currently not available on DVD from Netflix (though I’m sure that it was at one time).  Though I’d had it in my queue at some point, I was reminded of it most recently as it was cited as one of two films that are considered to have influenced the original Ridley Scott film Alien (1979), and of course, with Prometheus (2012) opening tomorrow, Alien fever is teaming around.

So, it’s happenstance that brought us together presently.  And sadly, while the title sequence was letter-boxed, giving me hope that the whole film would be, this strange horror-cum-sci fi affair was overall diminished and scrunched.

I’m no expert on Bava, but I’ve been establishing an appreciation for him.  It’s little surprising that he started as a cinematographer before moving into the director’s chair.  His films have a wonderful luridness in their oversaturated colors.  Imagine a Bava film in Technicolor!  That might blind you.

That and his penchant for the horror and giallo genres, his films bear a kind of candy colored surrealism.  Actually, Planet of the Vampires vaguely struck me as a “goth” version of the original Star Trek.  The acting and effects reckon of James T. Kirk and crew but the darkness and shadows are of a very different ilk.  And then those spacesuits!  Those high-collared faux leather spacesuits and caps!

A space crew lands on a dark and misty planet after experiencing some strange behaviors.  They discover that the crew of another ship has apparently attacked and killed one another.  But something is animating the dead!  Is it really a “planet of vampires”?  No, it’s not.  It’s dematerialized beings who take over the bodies of the dead.  They seek symbiosis with living beings to continue living and escape this planet which is doomed in its relationship with a dying star.

The key element that triggers the Alien reference is the discovery of a couple of giant skeletons and another foreign, unknown spacecraft.  Apparently, years, centuries, aeons before yet another species mistakenly landed on this planet of parasitic creatures and their bones are all that’s left to tell their tale.

A lot of people seem to disdain Planet of the Vampires.  But I don’t know.  The reason that Bava supposedly had the set so dark and misty was because it was so damn cheap.  He was trying to hide it.  The acting is corny and the typical post-dubbing of Italian cinema always gives the air of comic badness.  It’s truly a campy affair, and I suppose if you’re shooting higher than that with your expectations, maybe you would be disappointed.  The discovery of the alien giants is oddly evocative and I kind of liked the weird irony that comes in at the ending.  But I guess the real point is this: When I started watching it, I was thinking to myself that “this is exactly the kind of outdated science fiction that I love!”  Pre-lunar landing science fiction, hopelessly campy and disproved.  A vision of the future that could only have come from the past.

Whatever.  I liked it.  And it was an advantage to see a film not currently available on DVD from you know who.