Planet Of The Vampires

Planet Of The Vampires

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Caught between the optimistic futurism of the Fifties and the dark dystopias of Seventies science fiction, this curious 1965 space adventure movie is much more than it says on the tin. Filmed by the incomparable Mario Bava, it features stunning cinematography that transforms its B-movie styling into something it's hard to tear one's eyes away from.

Our heroes are the crews of two spaceships which suddenly get into trouble when approaching an alien world. Crash-landing, they seem to lose their minds, attacking one another until fortunate lapses of consciousness snap them out of it. This is a proper Sixties punch-up, all flailing arms and desperate women with heaving chests, but there's still something decidedly eerie about it. When the survivors set out to explore the planet, seeking to help their colleagues on the other ship, things quickly get stranger. They discover a giant ship of unknown origin with ancient skeletons around it. A sinister creeping mist seems to follow them everywhere. And that's before they realise that the graves of their fallen comrades are mysteriously opening, the bodies reanimated to deadly effect.

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It's a bit misleading to call this a vampire film. In some ways it's more of a zombie movie, but it's notable for having a real science fiction plot, not just using space as its setting. This doesn't mean the science is up to much - there's some ridiculous technobabble and quite a few liberties are taken with the laws of physics. But there's a real story underlying the action, building up to a beautifully played and pleasingly sinister denoument.

The film would benefit from tighter pacing - its plot doesn't really justify its length and too much time is spent running round the corridors. Female characters are weak and useless whilst the men often put being manly before using their brains - their casual approach to crew discipline is reminiscent of Star Trek, which the film closely parallels in other ways. But for all its flaws, this is a fascinating fusion of politically-inspired paranoia and seductive B-movie excess. Whilst it's a far cry from Bava's best work, it's something his fans would do well to check out.

Reviewed on: 04 May 2009
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The crews of twin spaceships find themselves in trouble on an alien world where their dead colleagues mysteriously return to life.
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Director: Mario Bava

Writer: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua

Starring: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Ángel Aranda, Evi Marandi, Stelio Candelli, Franco Andrei, Fernando Villena, Mario Morales

Year: 1965

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Spain, Italy

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