Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Ten Days of Terror!: Planet of the Vampires

Film: Planet of the Vampires (Terrore nello Spazio)
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

I’ve never been quiet about my issues with Italian horror movies. They tend to be visually interesting but have serious issues when it comes to the plot. This is true of almost every Italian horror movie I can name, even classics like Suspiria. With Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, the biggest problem is the English title of the movie. The original Italian title, Terrore nello Spazio, or “Terror in Space” is much closer to something that makes sense. What’s the problem? There isn’t a single vampire in this movie.

There are some very strange connections here, though. There is a feeling in some ways of Planet of the Vampires following a film like Forbidden Planet in a lot of ways. While the plots are very different, a lot of the shots feel like they belong in the same movie. It’s also a movie that oddly presages Alien in a lot of respects. The movie follows the very basic outer space horror movie plot—ship intercepts distress beacon—but we also get a crashed alien ship with giant corpses and a lifeform on the planet that feeds on invaders in a unique way.

Two spaceships are travelling through the reaches of space when they receive a distress signal from an unexplored planet named Aura. The two ships proceed to the planet and land, but while they are coming down to the surface, the crews become possessed of a murderous rage and start attacking each other. Only the captain of the Argos, Mark Markary (Barry Sullivan) manages to resist the urge to attack others. Eventually, the Argos lands and some of the crew go in search of the other ship, the Galliot.

Eventually, the other ship is found with no survivors. Bodies are buried, but the crew locked on the bridge cannot be reached without special tools. Markary goes back to the Argos to get them, but by the time he returns, the bodies have vanished. Back on the Argos, several killed crewmembers are seen walking around. While repair on the Argos take place, more killings occur, and a number of the bodies don’t seem willing to stay down. Eventually we’re going to figure out that the planet itself is inhabited by beings that can take over the bodies of other creatures. While this doesn’t explain all of what has happened, it certainly explains the dead bodies on the march and might have something to do with the murderous rages that occurred.

Honestly, I kept expecting to see some vampires pop up. The fact that the film features walking corpses is about as close as we’re going to get for that, though, and that’s a bit disappointing. While vampires have a tendency to be trite, this is a film from more than 50 years ago, and the vampires could be a lot of fun. Instead, what we get is just something akin to zombies, and the Voodoo-related kind, not the flesh eating kind.

A lot of the problems that I have with Italian horror movies still plague this one. I find it very difficult to keep a lot of the people separated. It’s not that they all look alike, but that there aren’t a lot of distinct personalities. The entire crew of the ship is one-dimensional, and aside from hair color, there’s not a lot to tell me who one person is versus someone else. There aren’t really any distinguishing characteristics or traits for much of anyone.

Mario Bava, though, while a director who frequently seems to have problems with plotting and making a coherent story (my opinion, admittedly), was a damn good cinematography. His films all tend to look great, and this one is no different in that respect. Planet of the Vampires is art directed to hell and back, so even if it’s not always coherent, it’s at least interesting to look at.

A case in point is the uniforms, which were my favorite part of the movie. They are, admittedly, a sort of wet dream for authoritarians, but they are unlike anything else I have seen before. The extreme collars, for instance, would seem to make turning one’s head difficult, but they work for some reason. Everyone’s head looks like it’s in its own egg cup.

Honestly, I probably liked Planet of the Vampires less than most people do, but to be fair, that’s a sentence I can say of almost every Italian horror movie I have ever seen. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Why to watch Planet of the Vampires: Cool uniforms.
Why not to watch: Based on the story, the name is ridiculous.

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