Off-Season Reviews: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

When one thinks of B-movie grade sci-fi, one usually thinks of alien invasions. (As we’ve seen here, here, and here.) So leave it to Italian mastermind Mario Bava to find a unique way to create the penultimate sci-fi/horror film, Planet of the Vampires. A film that involves (obviously) vampires, a Star Trek aesthetic, and stylized black leather spacesuits. The genius behind the first giallo, Bava clearly understood the inherent power behind an image. And a healthy dose of misogyny.

This understanding would be essential here, as the story is virtually nonexistent. Two spaceships, the Argos and the Galliott, visit a mysterious planet, Aura, that’s emitting distress signals. Upon landing the Argos loses contact with the Galliott, and the Argos’ crew goes insane. The Captain, Mark Markary (Barry Sullivan), pummels(!) the(ir) senses back into them, then gives them guns(!!) to investigate the incommunicado Galliott.

Needless to say, it’s the black leather costumes, the inspired joining of sci-fi and horror motifs, and the landscaping that makes this film so well remembered. Bava has joked that his budget was so small on the film that all he had for sets was two plastic rocks, a smoke machine, and a lot of mirrors. How true this was is, of course, debatable, but while the sets do look cheap, they certainly don’t look bad. Some forced perspective special effect shots aside, the visuals in the film are certainly inspired and thematically consistent.

The crew make their way over to the Galliott, only to find its crew dead. They return to the Argos, take a nap, and, upon waking, find crew member Wes (Angel Aranda) dismantling “the meteor rejector.” Chaos ensues.

(Yes, an important technological wonder dubbed “the meteor rejector” is a major plot point in the movie. Which is why, presumably, they keep it sitting exposed on the flight deck where anyone, from the clumsy to the alien-possessed, can break it.)

It’s details like this that gives Planet of the Vampires its charm. The atmosphere will bounce from being foreboding to silly mid-scene. When Mark and Sonya (Norma Bengell) investigate an ancient alien ship they find, Sonya finds a glowing red button lying next to an alien skeleton; three times the size of a human. So naturally she touches it. And is shocked.

Mark, concerned, asks her what happened. “It shocked me,” she replies, so he touches it! Promptly getting a shock of his own.

Not to judge or anything, but it appears Mark gets the bigger shock out of the duo. Whether this is due to the not-to-subtle sexism pervading the film (i.e. the men on the Argos have roles they play – Captain, mechanic, doctor, while the women have names) or just evidence of the aliens’ supergeniusity (i.e. they realized that anyone touching the “shock button” after seeing their friend get shocked deserves to be shocked harder) is anyone’s guess.

Other evidence of sexism pervades the film, as crew member Tiona (Evi Marandi) seemingly plays a punching bag throughout. No one believes her after she see recently deceased Bert (Franco Andrei) rise from the dead. Not even after they investigate his grave and find it empty! Nor when she points out that crazy, wacked-out shit has been happening since they’ve landed. She’s given a condescending “we’ll consider it” line and is (begrudgingly) given extra time to recoup.

This in spite of the fact that Captain Mark actually saw some of the Argos’ corpses disappear. So either Mark is way out of touch, just plain sexist, or both. Though, in light of the fact that he ends up leading an alien invasion against Earth, he’s probably not the best example to use.

That’s right, the aliens win in the end. Which shouldn’t come as too big a surprise, given that they can reanimate corpses, and/or take over your mind when you sleep. While all our heros have is the confused directions of Captain Mark, who’s final assault on the alien-controlled Galliott sets the standard by which all horrible military maneuvers shall be judged.

Mark, Sanya, and Brad (Stelio Candelli), each armed with a pound of plutonium, plan to destroy the Galliott, swarming with aliens. So Mark decides the best course of action is to each infiltrate the ship individually, one after the other. Rather than combine forces and help each other out.

Making the “twist” ending of Mark and Sanya being aliens slightly less surprising.

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One Response to “Off-Season Reviews: Planet of the Vampires (1965)”

  1. Good review! 🙂 Planet of the Vampires is a personal favorite of mine, showing what Bava was capable of doing with just two sets and a smoke machine. 🙂

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