Planet of the Vampires (Mario Bava / Italy, 1965):
(Terrore nello Spazio; The Demon Planet)

Dante nello Spazio. The crew of the Argos follows a distress call from fellow explorers, and at once you recognize Woman in the Moon. The planet is populated not by vampires but by an expiring breed of parasites aching for a new environment (namely, the astronautsí bodies), Barry Sullivan and the latex-jumpsuited Euro-babes must face "the madness thatís touched us." Stranded in a crater-cracked world, Mario Bava decorates it until the sulfur in the air glows: Colored mist creeps over jagged landscapes, blue metallic wreckage is adorned with red turbines smoldering on opposite sides of the screen like eyes (cf. Mon Oncle), the camera prowls in and out of caves and oversized skeletons. The pictorial highpoint is a slow-mo tableau of a trio of freshly mangled crew members rising from their graves, tearing off their cellophane wrapping, and skulking out of the frame. "I confess now," Sullivan records in the log, "I am experiencing fear." A clear harbinger of Star Trek and, in the mammoth intergalactic carcass slumped over the control panel, the original Alien. But itís also Poeís "The Gold-Bug," a peerless example of a bravura visual imagination abstracting cheap sets into psychedelic textures, and a hallucination on the idea of "puny civilization" thatís closer to the New World of Aguirre: The Wrath of God than to standard sci-fi terrain. In Bavaís haunted cosmos, the moral is voiced by an alien-controlled corpse ("On your planet, you humans have fought and killed down through the centuries. Did you really expect us to be any different?") and the Earthís eminent invasion plays like the natural culmination of an ominous-ethereal reverie. With Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda, Evi Marandi, Stellio Candelli, and Fernando Villena.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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