APES ON FILM: Aliens, Vampires, and Italians – Oh, My!

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES – 1965
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Ángel Aranda , Evi Marandi
Director: Mario Bava
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region: A (locked)
BRD Release Date: July 26, 2022
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 88 minutes
5 Disc Set
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Mario Bava is high in the pantheon of admired and revered film directors among film lovers, with good reason. He never failed to create an eminently watchable film, many of which were then copied incessantly by admirers and detractors alike. Starting his career as a cinematographer, Bava applied his unique vision as a colorist and scenarist to the kind of story material that appealed to him, most of which consisted of horror, science fiction, or fantasy. The list of directors and writers that he inspired is long and varied, but for the sake of this review, let’s confine that list to Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, and Ridley Scott, the men behind ALIEN (1979).

The trio were heavily influenced by Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES in which; a spaceship (or two) responds to a distress signal from an uninhabited planet, descends to the surface to find an abandoned alien craft with giant skeletons (an idea Shusett admitted stealing from Bava) and crew members begin to die one by one. Scott denied ever seeing it at the time of ALIEN’s release, and O’Bannon admitted to only seeing part of it many years before writing his screenplay. Somehow, the film seeped into their collective groundwater, as did Edward L. Cahn‘s IT! THE TERROR BEYOND SPACE (1958), in which a malevolent alien stalks the inhabitants of a rocket in space, and several other sources including Clifford Simak’s story Junkyard,” published in the May 1953 edition of GALAXY Magazine.

Bava’s film is seminal and stylish, truly worth the watch whether you’ve seen it before or not. While Scott’s movie provides more character definition and development, Bava achieved incredible visuals without the use of a single optical process shot. All of the special effects were achieved in-camera, and the planetary landscapes and vast interior shots of the ships were achieved with the Schufftan process. The art direction and production design would go on to influence many movies and television programs, especially as U.S. broadcasting moved into the “…IN COLOR!” era. The film’s costumes, sets, and props show a consistence of style that was only equaled by directors like Hitchcock or John Ford at the time.

Kino Lorber’s presentation of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is sourced from an exclusive new 2K master. Color saturation is gratuitous – as it should be here – and picture sharpness is only slightly softer than would be my preference having seen the film on 35mm several times. The single audio track is perfectly adequate and recreates the eerie atmospheric sounds and music of Gino Marinuzzi Jr. (of which I wish there was more) well. Supplemental materials include an exclusive new audio commentary by writers Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw; an archival audio commentary by critic and Bava biographer Tim Lucas; episodes of Trailers From Hell with Joe Dante and Josh Olson; the original trailer for the film and more.

Planet of the Vampires should be an old favorite for just about anyone with an interest in science fiction, horror, or Italian movies. Bava’s resume is filled with fantastic films that should be on every cineaste’s list; this one is near the top of the heap for me, superseded by both earlier and later works. Add this disc to your collection without hesitation.

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatcH*Dog, and many more.

 Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

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