Planet of the Vampires: Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Radiance Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (2nd May 2024).
The Film

When the two exploratory spaceships Argos and Galliot pick up a distress signal from an unexplored, fog-shrouded planet, they lose contact when landing on the planet. A force overcomes the crew of the Argos and they attempt to kill each other, but they are able to regain their senses. Fearing that something similar has happened to the crew of the Galliot, Argos Captain Markary (Queen Bee's Barry Sullivan) and his crew - including Sonya (Mafioso's Norma Bengell), Wess (Satan's Blood's Ángel Aranda), Tiona (Paris When It Sizzles' Evi Marandi), and Carter (The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh's Ivan Rassimov) - disembark in search of the other ship. The crew of the Galliott were not so lucky, and the Argos crew bury some of the dead only to discover that the bodies of the others have disappeared in the interim. When members of their own crew begin to behave strangely and die, their exploration of the planet leads to the discovery of the ship and remains of another non-human species. Other presumed dead members of the Galliott reestablish contact with the Argos crew, but they are no longer what they seem to be, and the graves of the buried crew members are now empty. The surviving members of the Argos crew race to repair the ship to escape the "demon planet", but whatever haunts the planet has other plans for them.

Long considered a major influence on the plot of Alien, Planet of the Vampires shows cinematographer-turned-director Mario Bava (Beyond the Door II) achieving maximum atmosphere and chills on a minimal budget thanks to lighting and composition – Bava lit the film while the camera was operated by credited cinematographer Antonio Rinaldi (Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs), the sets of Giorgio Giovannini (The Name of the Rose) - although the ships have wooden soundstage floors - miniatures and mattes by Bava, his sculptor father Eugenio Bava, and special effects by Carlo Rambaldi (who would later work on the Ridley Scott film). Rather than the stomach-bursting horrors of the Scott film, this film's "vampirism" takes the form of a spiritual possession – which makes the realization that the giant skeletal remains the crew discovers might not be the original inhabitants but previous explorers who stumbled upon the planet – that seemingly rapidly erodes the flesh of dead hosts over which the entities assume full control (presumably that is not the case if they can fully control living beings given both Melchior's original twist ending and that both versions of the finished film).

Despite the sci-fi setting and themes, the film is as much a gothic spook show as any of Bava's other works (and much like Scott who denied seeing the film described his film as a "haunted house in space"). Several set-pieces show Bava refining and establishing scares that anticipate similar sequences and shots in future works. For instance, the slow motion shots of the astronauts rising from their graves recall Javutich's resurrection in Black Sunday which also contains a shot in which a character's undead status is revealed by the accidental exposure of their rotting innards as seen here as Markary scuffles with Argos captain Sallas (Blood and Black Lace's Massimo Righi). A crash zoom into a lurking undead figure revealed by the closing of a cabinet door here would be repeated in the later Baron Blood while the fog-shrouded planet both recalls the misty environs of earlier Bava films as well as Kill, Baby... Kill!'s backwards middle European village and the even more "alien" landscape of Hercules in the Haunted World. The cast also includes Stelio Candeli (Nude for Satan) and Federico Boido (Spirits of the Dead).

Planet of the Vampires was an American/Italian/Spanish co-production between American International and Italian International Film – initially the Italian arm of AIP but later its own company through which produced films like What Have You Done to Solange? – along with Castilla Cooperativa Cinematográfica (who later produced the western Savage Gringo quota-credited to Antonio Román but directed by Bava). After acquiring Black Sunday for distribution, American International redubbed the English export verison and replaced the original score – in addition to trimming some of the graphic violence – and their subsequent co-production involvement with Italian producer Galatea on Bava's Black Sabbath and The Evil Eye allowed them to better tailor the English-language versions of the films to their markets. This was also the case with Planet of the Vampires which was based on the short story "One Night of 21 Hours" by Renato Pestriniero, the original script adaptation of which was rejected by American International who brought in Ib Melchior (The Angry Red Planet) to do a full rewrite (with some polishing done by AIP line producer Louis M. Heyward). In post-production, the parties prepared separate English and Italian versions, bothof which made use of the same rough cut but featured some exclusive dialogue, shots, alternate angles, and scene extensions. While the English version perhaps better represents Melchior's screenplay, the Italian cut has better pacing in the setup and better transitions to the more sinuous dreamlike feel of the latter half, along with more graphic imagery.

Both cuts feature the an original score by Gino Marinuzzi Jr. (Jekyll), credited in the Italian version as "instrumental and electronic music" and the English as "music instrumentation and electronic effects" which weaves its way in and out of the sound design like more of a "sound score." Apart from the fantastical elements of Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs and Bava's comic adaptation Danger: Diabolik, Bava did not subsequently dabble in science fiction, being as much a jobbing director as he was a visual stylist. While fellow journeyman director Antonio Margheriti was the primary mover behind Italian science fiction in the sixties with films like Battle fo the Worlds – Margheriti was less of a stylist but created his own special effects and was even consulted by Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey – it was primarily Luigi Cozzi took advantage of market demands in the wake of Star Wars to revive Italian science fiction with the likes of Starcrash along with jobbing director Alfonso Brescia (Star Odyssey) along with Aldo Lado's one-off The Humanoid. The Italian exploitation industry, however, had a hard time keeping up with the budgets and effects of Hollywood, and the most prolific sci-fi output in Italy post-Star Wars would in the wake of the more economical and Earthbound Mad Max and The Terminator.


Planet of the Vampires was released in Italy in September of 1965 and in the United States the following month. When American International released the film to television, it was under the title "The Demon Planet" while the original title was restored when the film was released on VHS in the eighties and laserdisc in 1990 – in a double feature with Queen of Blood (rather than its theatrical co-feature Die, Monster, Die!) – unfortunately, by the time Orion Pictures had acquired the American International library through Filmways, music rights to some of the foreign co-productions and domestic pick-ups had become an issue and the company hired Los Angeles musician Kendall Schmidt to rescore a handful of the titles for home video including the Bava film.

When MGM acquired the American International library through Orion, they began a program of readying their assets for home video and television. When they inventorying the assets for Planet of the Vampires, they discovered that the available materials were in poor condition and commissioned a new interpositive off the negative from Italy and set about not just rebuilding the English version using all of the available materials but also using any additional material from the Italian version where there was no dialogue – see Video Watchdog #71 for a detailed account – as such, the transfer released to cropped fullscreen VHS and non-anamorphic letterboxed DVD in 2001 presented a somewhat different version from what was previously available in English-speaking territories (the original score was also restored). An anamorphic upgrade turned up in Germany in 2004 but even more interesting was an Italian DVD the following year featuring a new HD master struck by Italian co-producer Fulvio Lucisano (What Have You Done to Solange?) as part of series of restorations of his productions for the 62nd Venice Film Festival. This release featured the Italian version of the film but it also featured optional English subtitles and more saturated colors (not always a good thing with early Italian HD masters but the grading has persisted in subsequent restorations).

Stateside, the film skipped 16:9 DVD and made the leap to Blu-ray in 2014 by way of Kino Lorber which boasted more vibrant colors than the MGM SD master but still dialed back compared to the Italian disc, and also slightly cropped. The Italian version made its leap to Blu-ray in France in 2017 (followed by a standard edition in 2020). When Kino Lorber renewed their license for the title from MGM in 2022, however, they issued a new Blu-ray from a new 2K master that featured improved detail and a slightly darker image with richer colors. Planet of the Vampires would be the first Bava film to make the leap to 4K UltraHD with a German limited edition mediabook featuring a 4K transfer – struck by Lucisano in 2015 this time for the 2016 Cannes Film Festival – of the Italian version with Italian and German audio tracks as well as the English track composited to fit this version as well as a 1080p transfer of the English version. Unfortunately, while the 4K disc spec is supposed to be region free, the German disc was subjected to a licensor-stipulated workaround to be Region B-coded, meaning that UltraHD disc players that were region B-locked for Blu-ray could play the disc but not those locked to Region A (modded multi-region 4K players could play the disc).

Radiance Films' region free Blu-ray features branched 1080p24 MPEG-4 1.85:1 widescreen transfers of the English and Italian versions derived from the same 4K restoration; as such, the English version (87:32) features the more generous framing of the Italian version (89:28) as well as the richer saturation (prefatory text reveals that the grading referenced a 35mm archival copy in the National Film Library). The MGM grading might not be technically "incorrect" since the English version's intermediate elements and prints were struck by Pathé, but the Italian grading just more vividly evokes the "haunted world" from hot reds to striking lavender accents and "alien" greens. Textures are better defined in the new transfer from the facial features, effects make-up, and vinyl costumes and the odd studio flooring of the ship to the various papier-mache creations and models. The in-camera effects generally hold up well – even when they reveal their artifice to us film fanatics – although once it has been pointed out in the commetnary you can never un-see the finger of a crew member holding down the model ship when its landing is simulated by being submerged in a water tank. Unlike the previous Luciscano HD master which presented the opening credits on a black screen, the new restoration presents the same credits over a star field background.


There are three playback options in the main menu: the Italian version which features Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, the English version which features English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, and the English version with the Kendall Schmidt score in Engish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono (16-bit versus the 24-bit of the other two tracks). Due to branching, the viewer can toggle between the two English tracks and the commentary but the Italian track can only be accessed by selecting the Italian version through the main menu.


From the Kino Lorber editions, Radiance Films has ported over the audio commentary by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas for the English version. The author of the ultimate tome on Bava "Mario Bava: All the Colors of Dark" and audio commentaries for almost all of Bava's films that have made it to disc thus far, Lucas provides comprehensive background on the source story – which Bava discovered and optioned even before he had a producer – and American International's involvement including imposing Sullivan onto the production (as well as Bava's and Sullivan's initial attitudes towards one another and how that changed) along with Susan Hart (Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine) who had just married AIP's James H. Nicholson and arrived in Italy to discover that she was barred from production by a mandate from Nicholson's partner Samuel Z. Arkoff forbidding the casting of the family of any AIP employees. Lucas covers the troubled shoot including Sullivan having to act in close-up in the absence of a co-star until Bengell arrived half-way into production and upset the production with her own demands, along with rewrites and "line balancing" and the odd substitution of Righi in possessed form for the actor playing the living Sallas. Even more fascinating are Lucas' accounts of how Bava's in-camera effects were achieved including his preference to actually have actors on the other side of a glass screen rather than matting in pre-filmed material due to optical degradation (also apparently the reason why one impressive optical shot only appears in the English version) including Bava's ability to combine miniatures, glass mattes, and mirrors into single effects (Lucas also credits Bava's father Eugenio with combining miniatures and mirrors a decade before the technique became associated with Eugen Schüfftan). Lucas notes that this is the first film on which Rinaldi worked as directo ro photography following the end of Bava's working relationship with Ubaldo Terzano – who subsequently became the regular operator for cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller (Deep Red) – and notes Rinaldi's tendency to zoom and pan in contrast to Terzano's more dolly work. He also discusses the differences between the English and Italian versions – including shots from the Italian version that were incorporated into MGM's reconstruction of the English version – as well as noting the presence in the English dub of Speed Racer's Jack Curtis and Peter Fernandez (who was already working as a dubbing director on Italian productions like A Fistful of Dollars).

"Transmissions from a Haunted World: Mario Bava and the Space Gothic" (41:00) is a new collection of insights on the film from British genre film historians Guy Adams, Xavier Aldana Reyes, Alexandra Benedict, Johnny Mains and John Llewellyn Probert. There is a lot of overlap with the commentary regarding production anecdotes, and some of the other discussion may be familiar to Bava fans but it is as much a primer on the director as a discussion of the film. Benedict makes the remark that Bava's films regardless of genre are "saturated with gothic" and reads some passages from the source story that convey just how much the adaptation strays from the source both thematically in the writing and in Bava's visualization of the setting.

Ported from the German 4K release is "Shadow World" (13:09), an interview with assistant director Lamberto Bava (Demons), the director's son who recalls the film as his first film job and his position as "third assistant director" requiring him to keep track of all parts of production – presumably a choice by his father to give him an overview of the business – including the special effects unit with his father, grandfather, and Rambaldi. Whereas one can assume that Bava merely promoted Rinaldi to cinematographer to replace Terzano, Bava recalls Rinaldi as a longtime family friend and that Bava trusted him to shoot without supervision while he focused on other aspects of the production.

The disc also includes a recreated German Super 8 version (17:10) in either English or Italian with English subtitles – using their respective title cards – along with porting from the Kino Lorber editionthe "Trailers from Hell" introductions by filmmakers Joe Dante (3:49) and Josh Olson (2:30), along with the U.S. theatrical trailer (2:15) and an image gallery.


The limited edition is presented in rigid box and full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings, and comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow, eighty-page book featuring new writing by Kyle Anderson, Martyn Conterio, Barry Forshaw, George Daniel Lea and Jerome Reuter, a twenty-page booklet featuring a new translation of Renato Pestriniero’s original short story, and a six exclusive postcards featuring promotional material (none of which were provided for review).


As much a jobbing director as a visual stylist, Mario Bava did not often dabble in science fiction but the gothic Planet of the Vampires is compelling evidence not only of his capability with special effects in the genre but also that the concept of a "haunted house in space" did not originate with Alien.


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