Planet of the Vampires

Planet of the Vampires is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

“A spaceship lands on the mysterious planet Aura to search for a missing vessel. They discover the wreckage and realize that the crew members killed each other. The planet is populated by disembodied beings who need host bodies so they can leave aura and conquer Earth. Like zombies, the dead crew rise and kill off the search team.”

Planet of the Vampires is an Italian movie. The original title translates as Terror in Space. Like many European movies of the time they had an American star so that they could sell the overseas rights. Typically the aforementioned star was on loan because they had passed their prime or had problems with pills or alcohol. Word has it that Brian Donlevy used to constantly have a coffee cup filled with booze on the set of Quatermass.

The nominal star here is Barry Sullivan. Sullivan had made a career in movies in the 1940s and 50s which led to two television series Harbormaster (1957-8) and The Tall Man (1960-62). By the time Planet of the Vampires came around, Sullivan’s days as a lead actor were numbered. After Planet, his career consisted of smaller distinguished parts, mostly on television.

Barry Sullivan adds a bit of gravitas as ship Captain Mark Markary. The acting by the Italian crew is fine as is that of the voice actors. There are several female astronauts (yay for forward thinking). One of them collapses in fear on the captain (okay maybe not so forward).

The real star of course is Mario Bava. He not only wrote and directed but also did the cinematography and special effects. The look of the film is fantastic, even if some of the story is lacking. Planet of the Vampires looks like a comic book come to life and this was decades before they started doing justice to comic book adaptations.

Ib Melchior and Louis M. Heyward handled the English translation. Melchior was writer/director of The Angry Red Planet and The Time Travelers and wrote Reptilicus, Journey to the Seventh Planet and Robinson Crusoe on Mars so it is not surprising that he would be tapped to assemble this as an English-language film. Heyward was a producer and, among other films, produced Die, Monster, Die!, the other half of Vampire’s double bill in the United States.

Set design is awesome. I love how none of the myriad switches, lights, and dials are marked in any way. The alien ship is even more mysterious with all sorts of circular doorways and conic controls.

The wonderful black leather spacesuits with yellow striping are not that dissimilar from superhero outfits in the X-Men movies (except for the rad cowled section). Later in the film an away team changes into orange and gray leather outfits. I’m not sure whether the color change affords them more protection or not.

After a shaky landing on the planet that damages the ship, the crew investigates the rocky, foggy, eerily lit alien landscape. They discover an over-sized spaceship, complete with over-sized ancient alien skeleton.

While it seems obvious that Planet of the Vampires heavily influenced Alien, both director Ridley Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon stated in a 1979 interview that they had never seen the film. There are a number of other films that seem to have been directly influenced by Planet of the Vampires such as Pitch Black and Prometheus.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Black Sabbath (1963)

“In this 1963 trilogy of chilling tales, a beautiful woman’s ex-lover terrorizes her, a father returns home a vampire, and a ghost haunts a nurse. The vampire story — probably the most famous of the three — stars a poignant Boris Karloff, who also plays host for the anthology. Italian horror impresario Mario Bava served as writer, director and cinematographer for the film, and composer Les Baxter serves up the martini-soaked lounge score.”

First off I have to admit that having an aging Boris Karloff narrate the film as a disembodied head is more than a little cheesy. I love portmanteau films but having Karloff narrate as a framing device for these three stories does not work very well.

As noted in the Netflix description, Mario Bava wrote, directed, and did the cinematography for Black Sabbath. He loved using colored lighting to great effect, something Roger Corman quickly picked up on and many horror directors have since adapted. Bava was extremely influential on modern horror.

Bava was also literary minded. While he was one of the writers for Black Sabbath, the stories themselves are not originals, but adaptations. The first story, “The Drop of Water” is from Chekhov. No, not Anton but rather Ivan though they carefully omit that part. The best segment, “The Wurdalak”, is an adaptation of a story by Tolstoy. No, not Leo but rather Aleksei (though strangely introduced in the movie as Ivan).

“The Drop of Water” is a good tale of greed and, naturally, comeuppance. The distractions are reminiscent of Poe but it is the body of the Countess that is most striking. I could see children having nightmares from it and it is very creepy, especially for 1963. The distorted features of her face appear to have an influence on films as recent as The Gravedancers.

The second story, “The Telephone” is a disappointing mess. It does not fit in with the Italian version of Black Sabbath as it is really just a noir with a lesbian subplot. For the American version, they make it supernatural by stating that Frank is dead (in the Italian version Frank just got out of prison) and completely eliminating all lesbianism, though you can pick up much from the body language and the rather strained, dubbed dialogue.

The final story, “The Wurdalak” is the real reason to watch Black Sabbath. The story is about a rather different sort of vampire. Boris Karloff appears in this story and gives one of his better performances. Mark Damon, who made a career out of being the American ‘star’ in Italian productions, is the male lead here.

People Watch: Yes, this Italian horror movie is where heavy metal rockers Black Sabbath got their name.