Saturday, June 9, 2012

Planet Of The Vampires AKA Terrore Nello Spazio (1965)

Ridley Scott´s “Alien (1979)” is a highly regarded masterpiece, but it´s sometimes forgotten that it has taken some strong influences from two films; “It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)” from director Edward L. Cahn, and “Planet of the Vampires AKA Terrore Nello Spazio (1965)”, from Italian director and cinematographer Mario Bava. This doesn´t take anything away from “Alien”, but it´s well worth a look at how the visual master of his own right, Bava, created a highly enjoyable horror and Sci-fi movie almost 15 years earlier, with a significantly lesser budget.


The story takes you straight into outer space. For 2 years, strange radio signals have been transmitted from an unknown planet. Two spaceships, “Argo” and “Galliot” are sent to investigate, which are closing onto their target in the opening scenes. Suddenly the radio contact of “Galliot” is lost for some reason, and the Captain of “Argo”, Mark Markary (Barry Sullivan) and his crew will encounter some serious troubles of their own, when their ship goes out of control. Their autopilot doesn´t work anymore, and gravity increases drastically. They manage to land by operating the ship manually, but more sudden events take place right after that, when the crew attacks each other violently, only to be stopped by the clearheaded Captain. When his crew comes to its senses, they don´t remember anything about their actions. On the ground they´ll hear the weak radio transmitting from “Galliot”, which is asking for help. The ship is located in the distance behind the swamp, and once they reach it, they´ll find out that half of the crew have killed themselves, and the rest have disappeared. It´s clear that some strange powers are surrounding them, and from this moment on, the crew of “Argo” will face the fight for their lives, when the hostile alien life form is ruling the planet, and the dead will rise again in the form of the living.

“Planet of the Vampires” (film doesn´t have any real “vampires” btw) has everything that you could hope for in a low budget horror and Sci-fi movie, and Bava once again proves how good he is of creating strong visual images with relatively modest production values. Futuristic settings in the space ship might be a bit silly at times with all the beaming lights and stripped interiors at the soundstage, but you still have a very warm feeling inside by looking at them, since somehow they “fit in” with the film of this nature. With the exteriors of the planet surrounded by rocks and fog, and the inside of the “alien spaceship” later on in the film, Bava really starts to shine. He´s creating several imaginative scenes, and all the tricks in the book are in effective use; inventive camera movements and compositions, matte paintings, miniatures, and a strong colour palette of blue and red, not forgetting the ambient sound design. The general art direction and the “leathery outfits” of the crew are there to make it all feel “futuristic”. The horror-elements are also effective, and e.g. the scene where the dead rise from their graves in slow motion takes the story to another level, both story wise and also visually, and a sense of claustrophobia is present almost throughout the film. In the end it feels that “Alien” is not the only film that has been influenced by Bava´s “space opera”.

Mario Bava gained his reputation with gothic horror and Giallo –movies, but he has also tried some other genres during his career; Spaghetti western (“Roy Colt and Winchester Jack AKA Roy Colt e Winchester Jack (1970)”), James Bond-style of action (“Danger: Diabolik AKA Diabolik (1968)”), and comedy (“Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs AKA Spie vengono dal semifreddo (1966)”) are all part of his CV. Fantasy is not exactly anything new to him (Bava did a few “Peplums”, like “Hercules In The Haunted World AKA Ercole Al Centro Della Terra (1961)”), but when it comes to Sci-fi, this was his only pure Sci-fi film. He wasn´t alone, since many other Sci-fi-films were made in Italy during the “golden age” of 1960s-1970s (e.g. Antonio Margheriti did several), but “Planet of the Vampires” is again probably one of the most remembered one. At least most of the horror-fans have learned to respect the film, even when it´s “low budget” all the way through. It was distributed in the US by “AIP”, which also had other Bava-films under their sleeve.

“Planet Of The Vampires” is no “2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)” when it comes to Sci-fi, nor “Alien” when it comes horror, but what you have is a great old fashioned Euro cult-film from the 1960s, which probably was ahead of its time in many ways, although this is sometimes buried under the weak production values. Some of the back-and-forth -type of walking between the ships and slow pace can be a bit confusing, and actors are all on the wooden side. Still, among the lead actor Sullivan, Brazilian actressNorma Bengell (as “Sanya”) does a fairly good job, and we also see the familiar Euro-actor Ivan Rassimov in very early in his career. The ending is also unique (at the time at least), and works great for the film. Regardless of its few minor flaws, “Planet of the Vampires” is a solid, retro entertainment, and more proof as to why all horror-fans love Bava´s work.


Video
Italian -release from “IIF (Italian International Film)” is presented in Anamorphic 1.85:1, and based on the back cover and the look of it, the transfer is restored. Some grain and minor softness can be spotted in certain scenes, but generally the film looks very good, showing Bava´s rich colour palette and solid black levels. The transfer itself is not a huge improvement over the earlier US-release by “MGM” (probably a bit sharper and brighter), but since the Italian-release is Anamorphic, it´s obviously a big advantage. R2-release includes the original “Italian version” of the film, with different opening and end credits sequences, and apparently some slightly different editing and alternate footage in certain scenes. By quickly skimming through the R1-release, I didn´t see any major differences between that and the R2-release (apart from credits), so I´m sure that the differences are indeed only some bits and pieces here and there (MGM-release includes a “hybrid-version” of both US and Italian-versions, with original Italian score). The film runs 83:54 minutes (PAL), and it has 12 chapters. “Dual layer” disc is coded “R2”.


Audio
The disc includes only one audio track, and it´s Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. Optional English and Italian HoH –subtitles are also included. The audio is not as restored as the image, and some background “hiss” and distortion during the louder scenes can be heard, but nothing major enough to lose any sleep over it. To many Bava-fans this release gives a change to see the film in Italian audio and with English subtitles, since there are people who aren´t that keen to hear the sometimes a bit humorous English dub of the film (even when e.g. lead actor Barry Sullivan clearly speaks English). English subtitles are pretty good, but there are a few lines in the film where they are absent.


Extras
Pretty much all quiet on the extras department. Section called “Film Cult Di Venezia 2005” refers to the retrospective of Italian film at the 2005 Venice Film Festival, and includes 4 theatrical trailers and poster still for each film:
- Planet Of The Vampires AKA Terrore Nello Spazio (1965) (US trailer - 2:17 min)
- Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs AKA Spie vengono dal semifreddo (1966) (Italian trailer - 2:32 min)
- The Cursed Medallion AKA Il Medaglione insanguinato (1975) (Italian trailer - 2:22 min)
- What Have You Done to Solange? AKA Cosa avete fatto a Solange? (1972) (US trailer - 3:05 min)
Photo gallery includes 14 stills from the film, which might be just taken straight from the DVD. There´s also DVD credits.

Overall
What can I say other than if you´re not familiar with this Bava-classic, then grab this release at once. Nice, restored transfer and solid Italian-audio will most likely make you happy, and it´s great that optional English subtitles are also included for all non-Italian speakers. This probably also interests all the more serious Bava-fans, since it offers the alternate Italian-version of the film.

This DVD is available at Xploited Cinema.

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