Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Callisto Cosulich, Antonio Román, and Rafael J. Salvia
Based on the story “One Night of 21 Hours” by Renato Pestriniero
English version written by Louis M. Heyward and Ib Melchior
Starring Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, and Ángel Aranda
A crew of space travelers investigating a signal of unknown origin land on a murky planet, where they fall prey to an unknown stalker. Oh, and there’s an ancient alien craft populated by giant skeletons. Sound familiar?
It’s impossible to watch Planet of the Vampires without thinking that it greatly influenced Alien. Not just the high-level plot similarities, or the probable coincidences such as U-shaped spacecraft, but what really strikes you is the creative emphasis on creating a style-driven science-horror experience. It’s just that those styles couldn’t be more different.
Where Ridley Scott choose claustrophobic darkness, Mario Bava elected for bright openness. The bridge sets of the investigating travelers are ludicrously cavernous. The only trace of the creatures preying on the crew are fleeting glimpses of glowing light in a landscape of mists and garish hues. The result is an eerie fantasy world that looks amazing, but unfortunately it’s too ethereal to believe in.
The place where it works best is in the least necessary part of the movie. The interiors of the derelict craft are cramped, especially for the giants that used it. Strange equipment lies everywhere, and attempts to use it activate electric shocks, unintelligible recordings, and the bulkhead door — leading to a panicked effort to reopen it and escape. It’s a terrifically moody scene, and although it lends to the atmosphere and verifies that this planet is a trap, it’s a mostly superfluous diversion from the main story.
It’s a neat movie, and I adore it, but I’m afraid it’s not very good. The dubbing is never great and is often downright silly. While there’s a lot of visual interest (the costumes and some of the set designs are nifty), there are many times in which it’s painfully apparent that you’re looking at cardboard with a lick of paint. If you like style over substance — and when it comes to Italian cinema, I most definitely do! — then it can be a rewarding view.
One more note: if you’re expecting vampires, you will be frustrated and potentially aggrieved. The vampires exist solely in the minds of whatever marketing team came up with the American title. The original name was the less inaccurate Terrore nello spazio, or Terror in Space. There are some corpses that walk around. They aren’t exactly zombies, but they certainly aren’t vampires. Thank the marketing team at AIP for the misleading title. So now you know.
Directed by Mario Bava and Lamberto Bava
Written by Allesandro Parenzo and Cesare Frugoni
Based on the story Man and Boy by Michael J. Carroll
Starring Lea Lander, Riccardo Cucciolla, Maurice Poli, and George Eastman
Wes Craven made his writing and directorial debut in 1972 with The Last House on the Left. The film has its flaws, but its commitment to showing the denigration and torture of the teenage victims makes for unparalleled cringing horror. Not to be outdone, two years later legendary Italian director Mario Bava turned out the suspenseful crime movie Kidnapped. (Originally Rabid Dogs, it was renamed when it was restored.)
This is a tense and uncomfortable film. The only peace occurs during the opening credits, which are plain text over a black background. Almost immediately, the audience is thrown into a bloody heist. From there, it’s pretty much a feature-length car chase. You’re wondering how that’s horrific. Imagine a car with six passengers: three desperate criminals, a woman held hostage, an unconscious young boy wrapped in a blanket, and the owner of the hijacked vehicle. Now have one of the thieves (“Stiletto”) be quick to flash a knife and another (“32”, played enthusiastically by George Eastman) obsessed with having post-caper coitus. The driver, meanwhile, keeps begging them to let him go so that he can take the boy to the hospital. The mastermind (“Doc”) has only fragile control of his thugs, and he’s frankly a sociopath himself.
So it’s not a pleasant trip. If, like me, you grew up dreading family outings, this creates exactly that horrible, stomach-churning anxiety. Only more so. It induces nausea, and I swear that every time Maria is accosted, I just want to turn it off and walk away. It’s not quite as awful as watching parts of I Spit On Your Grave, but it’s not easy to witness. In addition to the ever-present threat of sexual assault, there’s the tension of the child who needs emergency surgery and the constant presence of weapons.
As if all that’s not enough, there are incidents along the way that raise hope in order to tighten the screws. Riccardo, the driver, runs into a friend while under the watchful eye of 32 at a rest stop. A gas station attendant notices something peculiar about this anxious group of travelers. A police car pulls up to a tollbooth moments after their quarry passes through going the other way. It’s all maddening, and it keeps you on edge. It’s so engrossing that even clunky English dialog and dubbing doesn’t break its grip on your spine.
I enjoy the experience of watching Kidnapped, of draining my own anxiety by expending it on the behalf of the imaginary characters in an impossible situation. I also feel like I need a really long bath, a therapy session, and the PayPal address of a good cause. It’s not I movie I recommend lightly; but if you can stomach assault, high tension, and bleak depravity this is a film that applies them with the assured hand of an experienced director. And his son.