Our editor-in-chief Nate Yapp is proud to have contributed to the new book Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks, edited by Aaron Christensen. Another contributors include Anthony Timpone, B.J. Colangelo, Dave Alexander, Classic-Horror.com's own Robert C. Ring and John W. Bowen. Pick up a copy today from Amazon.com!
Planet of the Vampires (1965)
Director Mario Bava's usual mastery is unfortunately hampered by a sub-par script, cheesy dubbing, and bad special effects. A crew of the starship Argos crash themselves on a desolate planet and find themselves at the mercy of a mysterious alien race. Y'see, these non-human "luminous globes" want to get off-planet in a bad way. Lucky for them, they can possess the minds of the unconscious and the bodies of the dead, leaving the Argos crew members in a battle for their own willpower.
Actually, the story is near-brilliant, but the script could have used some polishing. For example, Captain Mark Markary (Barry Sullivan) and a female crew member are exploring another ship that has crashed, one inhabited by a huge alien species apparently killed off by the resident menace (I wonder what Dan O'Bannon was watching when he wrote Alien...). Anyway, they come upon a bizarre little device. First the crew member touches it, and she gets a huge electrical shock. So, of course, now Captain Markary must touch it, in order to confirm that the shock operates for both sexes (actually, I don't know why he touched it, but that's the only logical reason I could come up with).
The designs of the ships, interior sets, and the costumes are hopelessly dated. The Argos is an unwieldy plastic model that doesn't try to look like anything else and create the illusion of being a real spaceship. The bridge is quite obviously a huge sound stage with some control panels stuck around. The costumes are these leather suits with huge collars. Add the little skull cap, and you have a crew of Flash Gordon villain rejects.
All this aside, what makes the film is Mario Bava, someone who has proven, time and time again, that no matter how many bad elements you have in a film, a talented director can make the whole thing a masterpiece of a sort. This is a school of thought begun by Alfred Hitchcock, and furthered by Dario Argento and (to a certain extent) Sam Raimi. Foggy atmosphere and a tightening paranoia are all created by Bava's always fluid camera and rich uses of color, particularly blue and red. Nobody, not even Argento, beats Bava as a master of Italian terror.
Though certainly not as good as Lisa and the Devil or Shock, this is an example of how Bava is King. This is a film that has been copied numerous times, both plot-wise (the aforementioned Alien) and stylistically (Argento's color use in Suspiria enhances some of the concepts used here). Worth a watch for Bava fans or people who like to point out where ideas for their favorite movies come from.