Monday, April 18, 2011


Planet of the Vampires (1965)
Dir. Mario Bava

The second half of Sunday night's double-feature was the classic, Planet of the Vampires, an Italian film based on the short story "One Night of 21 Hours" by Rafael J. Salvia.  This film was directed by the legend, Mario Bava, who is best known for the films Black Sunday (1960), Black Sabbath (1963), and one of my personal favorites, Danger: Diabolik (1968).

The film is another science fiction approach to the zombie genre, telling the story of the crews of two spaceships that have crash landed on a foreboding, unexplored planet, while attempting to investigate a mysterious repeating signal that may be a sign of intelligent life.  Oh, it's a sign all right.  The planet is inhabited by bodiless beings who can take over the bodies of the unconscious, or the dead.

And as you can probably guess, mostly they take over the dead.

So the title is a little misleading.  There are no vampires to be seen here.  It's all zombies, baby!

The story itself is fairly straight forward.  The ships rely on a device called the Meteor Rejector to, um, reject meteors.  If it weren't for this device, the ships would be turned into Swiss cheese by all the meteors of varying sizes that are constantly zipping through space.  The device had deflected 999 meteors on the way there alone.

The Meteor Rejector on the Galliot was damaged in the landing, and her entire crew has been possessed and turned into zombies.  So when they steal the Meteor Rejector from the still functioning Argos, it's up to Captain Markary (Barry Sullivan) and Sanya (Norma Bengell) to sneak on board and steal it back.

They do so, of course, and escape with the only other survivor, Wes (Angel Aranda).  But on the way back, Wes notices that the others are acting strangely and discovers that they've been possessed by aliens and are planning on taking over their planet when they return.  Wes, however, destroys the Meteor Rejector (at the cost of his own life), and the aliens are forced to land on a nearby planet instead of their own.

And that nearby planet is... Earth!  Oh nos!

This is a fun one, although it does kind of drag here and there.  It's in color and the bloody bodies of the dead are liberally doused in that classic bright red Italian horror movie blood.  The film also has a number of very moody scenes that raise the creep factor significantly.  This is especially true when the survivors discover the ruins of huge spaceship and the bones of its gigantic former occupants.

Some critics have noted the similarities to some of these plot elements and Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), although both Scott and screenwriter Dan O'Bannon say they hadn't seen the film at the time of Alien's release.  I tend to believe them on that.  The elements that are echoed in Alien, the distress signal, the giant derelict ship and its gigantic fossilized occupant, don't really share much with Planet of the Vampires beyond surface similarities.

And I can't imagine why they wouldn't just admit it.

Regardless, this is a pretty enjoyable Italian classic where everyone on set spoke their own native languages, so only some of the actors are dubbed into English in the version we watched.  The story was creepy, the zombies were bloody, and the twist ending was enjoyable.  For a first night of the 2011 Easter Zombie Movie Marathon, we're batting a thousand!

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