Terrore nello spazio (1965 Italy)

planet2This motion picture (known as Planet Of The Vampires to English speakers) is a talky, slow-burning science fiction entry from Italy. Although the film is pretty unremarkable, it has developed a fairly sizeable cult following down the years. This is due in no small part to the fact that the film has been heavily raided for ideas by makers of bigger, more expensive and more “mainstream” movies in the intervening decades. The likes of Alien, Event Horizon and X-Men all owe something to this atmospheric Mario Bava flick.

He whipped up the exteriors — a strange blend of fog and alternately red and blue pieces of stone. He also directed and received credit for adapting the story for filming. The weird feel of this set worked in the film’s favor. You never see too much, and what you do see is occasionally indistinct and open to some degree of interpretation. Another strong point was the production design, in particular the costuming. Aside from one scene in which two crew members don orange-and-grey duds to go explore a derelict spacecraft in a nearby valley, everyone’s wrapped in stylish black plastic with orange piping.

Overall, these are some of the most distinctive space costumes to come down the pike…Two spaceships, the Argos and the Galliot, are travelling through the far reaches of space towards a planet named Aura. They are responding to a weird distress signal emanating from the planet’s surface. Descending on Aura both ships lose control and crash-land. Upon awakening the crew of the Argos discover that their minds seem to have been possessed by an unknown force which makes them attack each other violently. Afterwards, they have no recollection of their actions. Captain Markary (Barry Sullivan) is eager to get away from the planet as soon as possible, but must hold on while repairs are made to his damaged craft.

planetvampiresIn the meantime he leads his crew out onto the surface – a strange, swirling, fog-shrouded wilderness – to search for the Galliot. But they are in for a nasty shock – the crew of their sister ship are dead, having apparently killed each other during a series of violent fights. The Argos survivors bury their comrades and return to their ship. The corpses rise from their graves and begin walking around. Captain Markary discovers that the distress signal from Aura was a trap, designed to lure space travellers to the planet so that their bodies can be ‘inhabited’ by Aurans who are fleeing from their dying solar system.

This is at its best when Bava gets to show off his visual style. He makes planet Aura a wonderfully creepy, mysterious place despite obvious budgetary limitations. The film creates a pretty effective atmosphere of dread throughout. Alas, there are a lot of problems with the movie which prevent it from ever truly capitalising on its strengths. Most notably, there is a lack of logic on display which becomes unintentionally funny as things progress. One example is the way Captain Markary confesses that he is scared on Aura, yet continually orders his crew to keep watch on their own even after it becomes clear their lives are in danger.

Similarly, there are a couple of very illogical twists at the end of the film – it would ruin things to say too much about them, but suffice to say they don’t stand up too well to close scrutiny. The acting is fairly forgettable throughout – rumours abound that the international ragtag of actors spoke their lines in their native tongues, often unaware of exactly what their co-stars were saying. It cannot be easy to act and react effectively when you don’t even know what the people sharing the screen with you are saying! Terrore Nello Spazio is all about the atmosphere and the style. For audiences who require nothing more, the film will probably be a perfectly satisfying experience. But if you prefer a bit more depth – story, character, logic, and so forth – Terrore Nello Spazio is likely to leave you somewhat disappointed.



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