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Movie Review: Planet of the Vampires

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On a scientific mission to the planet Aura, the twin ships Argos and Galliot prepare for descent. As their approach turns problematic, communications with the Galliot are cut off and the automatic controls of the Argos go berserk. As the crew passes out, Captain Mark retains his cool and brings the Argos in for a manual landing.

Firmly on the surface, gravity returns to normal and the crew begins to regain consciousness. However, when they come to they awaken in a crazed state and begin attacking Captain Mark! Once roused out of their frenzied state they locate the missing Galliot and set off to discover what has become of them.

Upon arrival they learn that they, too, were subject to the crazed attacks upon awakening, but unfortunately they didn't have a captain as cool under pressure as Mark; they killed each other in a frenzy of fists and leather-clad brutality. Once the Galliot's crew is buried the Argos prepares to leave for home, until the Galliot crew comes back to life.

Mario Bava, Italian sci-fi/horror director supreme brings us this tale of outer space mayhem. Showing us a glimpse of the glory days of science fiction flicks with bright colors and blinky lights, Planet of the Vampires is a fun little visit to 1965 and what passed as horror at the time. Aiming for horror in a sci-fi setting, Planet is a creepy tale in a sci-fi setting filled with plenty of hokey!

Bava, having spent the first half of his career as a cinematographer, gives us a lush and colorful view of life on another planet. Filled with rolling fog, gargantuan space ships, and barren landscapes, a high point of Planet of the Vampires is in the scenery itself. We have giant outcrops of outer space rock, bubbling lava fields, glowing green horizons, and lots and lots and lots of fog.

Mix these together and the planet comes to life and to an extent, stands as a character all in itself. Also of note is Bava's take on special effects and props. The space ship interiors show us a spartan design with concrete floors and steel walls, all festooned with hundreds and hundreds of bright blinky lights. You can't have a 1960s space ship without blinky lights! As the crew sets foot on the surface, we are given a sense of scale of the ships through elaborate set pieces. Gigantic landing gear, sleek spaceship lines, and amazingly thick steel bulkheads all hold major moments throughout the film and we see them all repeatedly. As a final aside, there is a startling coincidence between the crew uniforms in Planet of the Vampires and Bryan Singer's X-Men. There's something for you to chew on.

The vampires inhabiting Aura are not the typical vampires that you and I know and love. Compared to the standard, these outer space creeps rise from the dead and destroy anything living in their path; however there are neither fangs nor neck biting. What we get instead is a tale of a dying planet inhabited by a dying race that lives in a separate 'vibratory' plane from our own. Seeing the existence of a space-faring race, the invisible baddies take steps to lure the curious to their planet, enabling them to take over their bodies once they have died. With new bodies and leftover space ships, our bad guys now have to the freedom to leave in search of a new home.

All of this combines for a fun sci-fi creepfest with a fair share of action, (albeit hokey action) and a touch of suspense as well. As we see the dead Galliot crew rise from their graves and plod headlong for the Argos and its 'Meteor Deflector' the movie takes on more of a zombie feel than what its title would imply.

With a feel of Night of the Living Dead, our newly awakened baddies slowly stalk the remaining crew members. How do you tell the living crew members from the dead ones? From the face wounds they all made sure to inflict on each other during the initial fight! Thanks for that evil aliens, without that it might get a bit confusing.

Planet of the Vampires is a fun little sci-fi/horror flick that displays all of the trademark sci-fi trappings. Brought to life by the artistic eye of Mario Bava, this one stands a notch or two above the rest in presentation and atmosphere. Where many alien films of the time were stocked with black and white imagery, wooden acting, and a slapped together plot line, Planet of the Vampires has wooden acting, bad dubbing paired with solid scenery, and a semi-solid plot. Throw in a surprise twist at the end and we have a film that stands the test of time and is still fun to watch forty-two years later.

Fun note: Many Italian films were dubbed in Italian originally to help make up for shoddy recording equipment. From the start, we're set to have the lip synching off. Adding to this, we mix in foreign actors who were all allowed to perform in their native tongue. As you watch along and notice that the lip synching is all over the board, there's good reason! We have people speaking English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian, dubbed over into Italian for its initial release and then dubbed back again in English for the US release. Fun stuff!

Three and a half plodding protagonists out of five. 

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