Planet of the Vampires (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Oct 25, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Planet of the Vampires (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Mario Bava

Release Date(s)

1965 (July 26, 2022)

Studio(s)

American International Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A-

Planet of the Vampires (Blu-ray)

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Review

Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (aka Terrore nello Spazio) is one of the most popular and respected of his films, particularly for taking traditional science fiction subject matter with very little budget and creating something so aesthetically pleasing out of it. The story of a group of astronauts landing on a seemingly empty planet and being taken over in their sleep by dead alien beings, isn’t always solid in terms of its script, but gets by on beautifully-composed visuals. At the time of filming, vampires were more popular than ghouls or zombies, and the appearance of the astronauts, particularly the dead ones, is clearly more akin to what we refer to now as zombies. Regardless, the ends justify the means, and this Italian-Spanish co-production was released in Italy and the US in different versions, with the US version receiving its more exploitative title.

The most talked about aspect of Planet of the Vampires is its influence on 1979’s Alien, which even one of its original writers, Dan O’Bannon, admitted to having been aware of. And while there are definitely similarities to be noted, including finding the remains of a dead alien race that also came to the planet, it’s nonsense to think that the people who made Alien simply ripped off this and other science fiction films of the past, despite what filmmakers like Nicolas Winding Refn have said over the years. O’Bannon is quoted as saying that he didn’t just steal from this film, but from “all of them,” which is a blanket statement answer because the plot mechanics involving a group of astronaut-type men and women landing on a planet and encountering strange worlds or monsters of some kind is one of science fiction’s oldest staples—filmed or otherwise. It was done many times prior to both It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires, the two films that garner the most attention in regards to Alien. Other films with similar stories include Forbidden Planet, Queen of Blood, Battle of the Worlds, The Phantom Planet, Killers from Space, The Angry Red Planet, and many, many others. In other words, it’s a full-blown story trope, or a narrative zeitgeist. Hell, the Planet of the Apes franchise owes its entire existence to it. One has just as much of a case to sue The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its influence on Alien as Planet of the Vampires, so maybe that narrative, which has plagued Ridley Scott and others that worked on the film since Alien was released, needs to be put to bed already.

The other similarity between the two films is one that not many critics talk about, which is that both directors, Mario Bava and Ridley Scott, were and are extreme visual stylists. In the case of Planet of the Vampires, it’s nearly the whole ballgame as the story and the dialogue are not all that good, but the look of the costumes and the lighting, the use of colored gels, the smokey atmospherics, and the way that the shots are composed are all why Planet of the Vampires had such an impact on people like Tim Lucas at a young age. As stated previously, the monsters are more akin to zombies than vampires, which is interesting in that it predates the Italian zombie boom of the 1970s. Regardless, Planet of the Vampires remains an atmospheric science fiction horror film that’s gorgeous to look at, even if the other elements aren’t nearly as potent.

Planet of the Vampires was shot by director of photography Antonio Rinaldi on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Kino Lorber and Scorpion Releasing released a Blu-ray of the film in 2014, and now Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings the film to Blu-ray for a second time utilizing a “brand new 2K master,” which was likely derived from the same interpositive. The original Italian version of the film has not yet been made available, but one hopes someday for an all-encompassing boxed set of the various versions of the film. For now, we only have access to the most commonly available English-friendly version, which easily bests its 2014 Blu-ray counterpart. Grain is tighter and detail is boosted, particularly in the shadows. The color palette is mostly similar, outside of a slight blue tinge. It’s actually not that noticeable unless you look at side by side comparisons, with particular regard to flesh tones. Contrast and brightness levels have improved as well, allowing for deeper blacks, and only minor bits of speckling and occasional lines running through the frame are leftover. The bitrate is also very healthy, sitting comfortably in the range of 35-40 Mbps. In other words, it’s the best presentation of the film to date.

Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH (the latter of which the previous Blu-ray did not include). It’s likely the same track as the previous release, but it offers plenty of support for the various elements, especially dialogue and score. Sound effects also have impact and the track is clean overall.

Planet of the Vampires on Blu-ray sits in a blue amaray case with reversible artwork, featuring the original US theatrical poster art on one side and the original Italian theatrical poster art on the other, but with the US title. Everything is housed in a slipcase featuring the same Italian artwork. The following extras are included:

  • Audio Commentary with Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw
  • Audio Commentary with Tim Lucas
  • Alternate Music Score Highlights (SD – 20:30)
  • Original Italian Opening Credits (SD – 2:49)
  • Trailers from Hell with Joe Dante (HD and SD – 3:47)
  • Trailers from Hell with Josh Olson (HD and SD – 2:28)
  • Trailer (SD – 2:15)
  • Hercules in the Haunted World Trailer (SD – 1:33)
  • Black Sabbath Trailer (HD – 2:23)
  • The Whip and the Body Trailer (SD – 3:28)
  • Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine Trailer (HD – 2:09)
  • Hatchet for the Honeymoon Trailer (SD – 2:37)

The best new extra is an audio commentary with novelist and critic Kim Newman and writer and journalist Barry Forshaw. The two men discuss a variety of subjects, among them the film’s perceived influences on Alien, which they refreshingly point out that Ridley Scott is likely highly upset about after constantly being told that his film rips off two other earlier films. He also speak on aspects of Mario Bava’s career and relationship with American International Pictures, anecdotes about the actors and crew, the costumes and their possible influence on the X-Men film franchise, how the lighting and design help blend the effects together, and the state of science fiction films in the 1960s and 1970s. Kim Newman telling younger viewers who can’t enjoy the film because of its lower grade effects to “fuck off” is a particular highlight. Following that is the previous audio commentary with Mario Bava biographer and Video Watchdog scribe Tim Lucas, who gives much more detail and insight into the making of the film. He discusses many facets of the film’s production, sheds light on Mario Bava’s passion for science fiction, reads quotes from members of the cast and crew, examines many of the scenes and shots in the film, talks about the varying musical scores for the film, and highlights the differences between the two versions. He dips out occasionally, but mostly provides a wealth of information, as per usual.

Also included is roughly 20 minutes of the alternate musical score, which was composed by Kendall Schmidt and added to the film for its original home video release and subsequent cable airings by Orion Pictures (the original score was restored in 2001). The original Italian opening credits are also included, although it’s a bit of tease for the full Italian version of the film. Next are a pair of Trailers from Hell commentaries with Joe Dante and Josh Olson, both of whom appreciate the film and say similar things about it, though Dante has the edge, explaining that he saw the film in a dangerous neighborhood as a young man. Last is the film’s trailer, as well as a series of trailers for other Mario Bava Blu-ray releases from Kino Lorber. This Blu-ray release unfortunately drops the original story by Renato Pestriniero and stills gallery from the previous release.

Planet of the Vampires likely won’t hold up for many folks raised on a diet of more sophisticated special effects, but for genre fans, this is an essential section of the buffet. Kino Lorber’s new master certainly improves upon its predecessor with superior picture quality, and bulks up the extras with another fine audio commentary. For the time being, this is the copy of the film that fans will want to own. Highly recommended.

- Tim Salmons

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)

 

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