Planet of the Vampires (Terrore nello spazio) was Mario Bava’s only real attempt at science fiction and the result is a classic of gothic horror science fiction.
It’s often been cited as an influence on Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron's Aliens but Bava’s 1965 effort is vasty superior to both.
Two spacecraft, the Argos and the Galliot, have been despatched to an unknown planet in response to mysterious radio signals. They encounter what seems to be a kind of gravity vortex and both craft crash-land on the planet’s surface. The members of the crew of the Argos turn violently on each other for no apparent reason, and contact is lost with the Galliot.
With some semblance of order restored the commander of the Argos sets off with several companions to investigate the fate of the Galliot. They find the crew dead, and it appears that they have slaughtered each other.
Strange lights are seen by night and the atmosphere becomes more and more fraught with tension. The terror increases when dead crew members are seen walking about. It becomes increasingly clear that there is certainly intelligent life on the planet, but not life as we know it. And the life forms seem to be decidedly vampiric.
The Argos had been damaged when it crash-landed and even after repairs are completed there are doubts as to whether they will be able to take off successfully. And how many of the crew will still be left alive by then?
The twist ending adds a very dark touch to proceedings.
Visually it has the spectacular use of colour you expect from Bava and it displays his genius for making a very small budget go a very long way. There’s lots and lots of fog - Bava lays on the gothic atmosphere very thick indeed.
The model effects are very well done and the sets and costumes are (as you expect in Italian science fiction movies of the 60s and 70s) great fun. The costumes are especially outrageous and manage to be both futuristic and gothic and extremely camp.
One thing I love about Italian sci-fi is that the spaceship interiors are absurdly spacious and this is a particularly outstanding example. The metal tombs for the dead crew members are a nice touch and having the dead wrapped in plastic adds to the creepiness.
The acting is perfectly adequate by space opera standards. Barry Sullivan plays things very very straight as the commander of the Argos. Norma Bengell and Evi Marandi provide the necessary glamour as the two female crew members.
It was released on DVD as part of MGM’s Midnite Movies range. Picture quality is very good. It’s It’s unfortunately dubbed in English but the dubbing is quite good by the standards of Italian genre movies of this era.
As with all of Bava’s movies it’s a triumph of style over substance, a movie that creates terror purely by visual means and does it superbly.