Synopsis: Get sucked into a “chilling” (Film Daily) black hole of cosmic creepiness when an evil alien race zeroes in on a crew of unsuspecting astronauts, turning them into zonked-out zombies! Packed witth space-age suspense and extraterrestrial terror, this “eerily-photographed” (Leonard Maltin) and “electrifying” (Vampire Movies) thriller drips with an “intoxicating, feverish atmosphere of dread” (Village Voice)!
A band of space travellers has just intercepted a distress call from a distant world! Is it a desperate cry for help…or something far more sinister? After landing on the shadowy planet, the crew s attacked by a horde of disembodied aliens with a diabolical plan: to conquer the universe by controlling the crew’s minds and stealing their souls–proving that even in outer space, possession is 9/10 of the law!
eyelights: its stylish sets and costumes. its aesthetics. its creative filmmaking. its tension-building.
eyesores: its unrealistic sets. its shoddy maquettes.
“I’ll tell you this, if there ‘are’ any intelligent creatures on this planet… they’re our enemies.”
‘Planet of the Vampires’. That’s what ‘Terrore nello spazio’ is called in North America. And that was reason alone for me to ignore it entirely and wholeheartedly. Seriously, a planet of vampires sounds stupid enough. That it’s supposed to be a sci-fi film suggests hokey Ed Woodism.
Of course, when I discovered that the picture was helmed by Mario Bava, I was a little bit more curious; though I knew he was versatile, I didn’t realize he’d made a sci-fi film. But when I read a glowing review (mostly for the visuals) of the latest blu-ray release I became intrigued.
‘Terrore nello spazio’ (which more appropriately means “Terror in space”) has nothing to do with vampires. At least, not in the classic East European tradition as we know it. Yes, there are vampiric beings in this picture. But the undead threats here are more of the zombie variety.
Zombies in space? Not quite.
The 1965 motion picture recounts the adventures of the crew of the Argos who, along with their sister ship the Galliott, receive a jumbled distress signal from a planet called Aura and proceed to try to rescue whoever sent it. Once there, however, they discover that it was a lure.
And they are all being tracked and killed, one by one.
But they’re lucky: the Galliott lost its whole contingent during its incredibly difficult landing – and in the most unusual of ways. The crew of the Argos are stranded until they repair their ship and will soon discover who is behind this plot – and what happened to previous missions.
‘Terrore nello spazio’ is actually a pretty engaging picture. In many ways, it echoes the feel of a few classic ‘Star Trek’ episodes and even ‘Alien‘: a crew lands on an uncharted planet and, while exploring it, face untold dangers. It even has that low budget feel that ‘Star Trek’ had.
Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it inspired Gene Roddenberry with its tone (as ‘Forbidden Planet‘ likely did). And, despite Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon’s denials, there are unmistakable similarities between the scenes of the crews exploring marooned alien ships.
What really distinguishes ‘Terrore nello spazio’ from these other sci-fi classics is in its visuals: this was a super low budget production, but Mario Bava’s genius made it look incredible anyway. Yes, the maquette work looks shoddy. Yes, Aura’s surface looks like a set. It’s not perfect.
But the costumes look cool, the sets are stylish (though largely impractical), the colours pop and the smoke creates quite an ambiance. Even the aliens are impressive. That Bava had to do all his effects on camera and cobbled a planet with two hunk of plastic is pretty amazing.
(True story, b-t-w…)
What’s astonishing about ‘Terrore nello spazio’ is that it was made a decade too late: had it been made in 1955 it would have stood high next to, if not above, the science fiction classics of that era. It looks the part. And it’s delivered so earnestly that it adopts enough credibility.
Though late to the party, this is a winner in the genre.
I was particularly impressed by the strength of the cast and the ratio of male to female here. In 1965, it still wasn’t common to find women astronauts on the screen, let alone in so many numbers. Even in ‘Star Trek’, women were part of the crew, but they were often used as eye candy.
Here, the women wear the same jumpsuits as the men and are out in the field handling security as much as the men are. They’re equal partners on this journey. That’s pretty impressive. Yes, the Captain is a man. But at no point does one get the impression that the women couldn’t have been.
Even today we often can’t expect as much.
I also enjoyed in the picture just how tense the picture can be for a hoaky sci-fi/horror picture: Bava built up a potent creep factor with atmosphere and striking visuals – some of which involved a ghastly amount of red paint for its time. The rising of the undead scene is unforgettable.
There are editing issues, of course: for instance, we can see a camera crew’s shadow over an actor’s shoulder at one point, or sometimes the cast have guns one moment and not the next. And the script stretched credulity at times. But, given that it was a cheapie it’s pretty darned good.
Even its finale is near-perfect.
I like ‘Terrore nello spazio’ so much that I’d put it up there with ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still‘ and ‘Forbidden Planet’ as ’50s sci-fi must-sees (right: ’60s, in this case): It’s entertaining, it’s creative, it’s original and its delivery is nearly spot-on. It’s really worth a look.
Lord knows that I’ll be revisiting it.
Date of viewing: July 3, 2017