Italian Horror Cinema month continues with 'Planet of the Vampires'

by Joey Paur

This is a 1965 classic Italian Sci-Fi Horror film directed by Mario Bava. ‘Planet of the Vampires' is based on Italian science fiction short story called ‘One Night of 21 Hours'. The film is about the horrific experiences of the crew members of two giant spaceships that have crash landed on a forbidding, unexplored planet. The disembodied inhabitants of the world possess the bodies of the crew who died during the crash, and use the animated corpses to stalk and kill the remaining survivors.

‘Planet of the Vampires' was a very entertaining film. It has that great retro 60's sci-fi look to it, because... well, thats when it was made. I love the designs of the costumes, sets and special affects. This is such a fun movie to watch. You can't help but laugh and smile as you watch the story unfold. It's a very charming sci-fi horror film. The tag line for the film read:

This was the day the universe trembled before the demon forces of the killer planet!

How can you not be sold on a tag line like that! The films major down fall is the bad acting but it doesn't kill it. It adds to what the movie is... a classic. There is a very good reason why the acting was so bad though. Most of the cast members in the film spoke in different languages and while filming each cast member used their own language so most of the time they didn't know what the other actors was saying! I couldn't even imagine how frustrating that would be for Bava.

The film was done on such a small budget that Bava couldn't fully realize his vision. Bava said:

"Do you know what that unknown planet was made of? A couple of plastic rocks - yes, two: one and one! - left over from a mythological movie made at Cinecittà! To assist the illusion, I filled the set with smoke.

It is also said that the two plastic rocks were multiplied in several shots by mirrors and multiple exposures. This must have been one hell of a hard movie to make, and you can't help but love the final product.

Planet of the Vampires actually heavily influenced one of the greatest sci-fi films ever. Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), was influenced in both in terms of narrative details and visual design.

Watching ‘Planet of the Vampires' is like watching a pulp magazine cover come to life. The movie is a fun watch. It is very much like watching a Twilight Zone episode.

Here is a trailer for the film which will give you a good idea of what I am talking about.

If you want to know what it is about, below is a full story line of the film which includes spoilers:

In the far reaches of outer space, two spaceships crash land on a uncharted, fog-eglulfed planet in response to a distress signal. During the course of the landing, both crews go through a strange transformation. In a semi-hypnotic state, the crew of the Galliott savagely kill each other off. The only thing that prevents the Argos' crew from doing the same thing is Captain Markary resistance to the power that has overtake the others. Following some initial mayhem, Markary successfully manages to shake the others out of their trances. Not realizing that the other crew of the other spaceship is entirely decimated, the captain and several others make their way across the strange, uninhabited landscape, which is full of bright colors and swirling mists, to see if they can be of any help. To their horror, they find the entire crew of the Galliott, including Markary's younger brother, to be dead.

The men bury several of the bodies, but as most of the Galliott's crew are sealed into the control room, Markary and his men return to the Argos to retrieve the tools necessary to break through the doors. By the time he returns, the bodies in the control room have disappeared. The control room doors are now open, and all signs of violence has been erased. Only a puddle of blood, discovered by Wes remains, but it is enough to convince Dr. Karen that the captain did not imagine his discovery. The crew return to the Argos thoroughly mystified by their situation. Soon after they leave, the grave markers start to shift outside the Galliott, heralding the return of the undead astronauts.

Strange events begin to transpire. Though both ships were guided to the planet, no sign of life presents itself. Tiona, one of the crew persons, swears to Markary that she has seen some of the dead men from the Galliott walking nearby. Dr. Karen tries to assuage her fears that some unearthly force is at work, but soon even the captain is convinced that if there is any form of life on the plant, it is their enemy. The surviving crew attempts to leave the planet, but the damage done to the ship makes it impossible. Wes tells Markary that they will have to wait at least two days before the damage can be repaired.

As more astronauts are mysteriously killed, tension among the crew continues to grow, and although Markary puts on a brave face, he confesses in his diary that he fears for the worst. During a land survey, Wes discovers another ship just a few miles from the Argos. Markary, together with Sanya and Carter, walk over there to investigate the alien ship. Finding the calcified remains of the former crew, they determine that they are not the first ship to be lured into this trap. Narrowly avoiding being entombed in the interior of the ruined ship, Markary and Sanya escape back to the Argos, where they later find that Carter has mysteriously disappeared.

Soon after, Kier and Sallas, two apparent survivors of the Galliott, appear at the Argos. Dr. Karan and Markary are both worried by their peculiar behavior and by the fact that neither one can explain where they have been since the landing. Karan observe that there is no disputing the fact that they are alive, to which Markary responds so it seems. Hearing this, Tiona reminds the captain the nothing is really what it seems on this planet. To set her mind at ease, Markary has several of the graves opened. In each one, nothing is left but the transparent plastic funeral shrouds in which the bodies were interred.

Later that same night, Kier and Sallas are caught stealing a meteor rejecter from the control room. Though Kier is able to escape with the rejecter, Markary captures Sallas. Sallas real identity is revealed when the captain accidentally tears open the top of his uniform, revealing the body to be a mess of rotting flesh and exposed bone. 'Sallas' reveals that he is actually and alien being making use of the dead man's body. He goes on to tell Markary that since their sun has burned out, the planet is becoming uninhabitable, and that they are desperate to escape before they too perish. It is therefore necessary that they take possession of the astronauts in order to exist in a different atmosphere. 'Sallas' assures Markary that resistance is useless saying either all of us go back, or none of you will get there. The captain replies that he and his crew are willing to die in order to save their world, prompting the alien to vacate Sallas dead body. Markay realizes that one of power accessed through conformity. In order to maintain absolute control, it is necessary for the parasites to take posession of the entire crew, so as there is the slightest danger of rebellion, their control if thwarted.

In a race against time, Markary and the final few survivors, whom include Sanya, Dr. Karan, and Tiona, go to the Galliott to retrieve the meteor rejecter, while Wes stays behind to guard the Argos. Markary decides that in order to ensure the destruction of the aliens, he plants a large explosive device on the Galliott while Sanya makes off with the meteor rejecter. But Dr. Karan and Tiona are killed in the subsequent battle with the re-animated astronauts. Markary and Sanya make it back to the Argos. The ship takes off with the three survivors just as the Galliott explodes.

With the meteor rejecter in place, everything seems to be fine. But Wes is frightened by Markary's strange behavior. He confides his fears to Sanya, and together they confront the captain. Unfortunately for Wes, both Markary and Sanaya are now possessed by the alien beings. They offer to let him live in exchange for helping them fly to their home planet. Like Markary before him, Wes assures them that he would rather die than submit to them. Before being killed, Wes destroys the meteor rejecter.

Without the meteor rejecter, the possessed Markary and Sanya realize that there is no way for the Argos to make it home. Instead they decide to stop at a closer planet less then a light year away. They are going to land on a strange planet called Earth, revealing that the astronauts are in fact not human at all, but from another distant planet. 'Sanya' tells 'Markary' that Earth is so small and thousands of years behind their planet in technology that its not even listed on most navigation charts since its population doesn't have the resources to travel beyond their planet. 'Sanya' asks 'Markary' how he thinks the people of Earth will react to them. "I hope well... for them," he sneers.

This is a must watch film for anybody that have a love for the movies.

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