Returning from the first working day of 2006 I'm not in the mood for shake beat or cinematique funk. I need something atmospheric (you know, something heavy and oppressive) to unwind to. Long one of my all time favorites films, Mario Bava's gothic scifi classic Planet of the Vampires (AKA Demon Planet, AKA Terrore Nello Spazio) has been patiently waiting for its ERRguitar close-up.
Welcome to the fog-shrouded planet Aura where the crew of the Galliot is fighting for its life against an fleeting and unseen enemy. The Yahoo! Movies summary is impressively economical: "A sexy, creepy space thriller featuring a crew of leather-clad astronauts stranded on a malevolent, mist-shrouded planet who find themselves prey to body snatching aliens."Gino Marinuzzi Jr.'s score was recently released by DigitMovies) and perfectly complements Bava's saturated visuals.
The justly celebrated set design and costumes practically scream 'space fever'. I have very fond memories of watching The Demon Planet in the early seventies on J. Brown's Night Owl Theater, a low budget movies-till-dawn program that catered to "the Night People" on UHF channel 36. This was long before 24 hour TV so choices were slim for "the Night People" of this era. How magic to discover (or revisit) Terrore Nello Spazio in the middle of the night.
Everyone will admit to the importance of casting but there's something wonderfully displaced (when it works) about a sole American actor headlining a European production, especially those modest-to-low budget affairs that aren't afraid to be ambitious in their story telling. Maybe it's that small bonus of alienation (dubbing is generally present too) that trips up or distracts from a contrived plot, or maybe it's watching in the dead of night.
Veteran actor Barry Sullivan (he has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for film and one for TV) is no nonsense as the captain who takes charge in the chaotic descent and aftermath. His co-star is the shapely former Miss Brazil Norma Bengell who has gone on to a long career in the Brazilian cinema. Sullivan was no stranger to working overseas and was already a seasoned veteran of American TV (he starred in the 1960-62 NBC-TV western The Tall Man (75 half hour episodes) as Sheriff Pat Garrett to Clu Gulager's Billy the Kid, with original music credited to Juan Garcia Esquivel).
There's more to share but it's getting late. Not "Night People" late, but late enough. When we return to the Demon Planet we'll bring along tales of Ib Melchoir and Sidney Pink (and draw some connections to Arch Obler, Gerald Mohr, and Greta Thyssen, among others).
Terrore Nello Spazia does has a neat trick ending, nothing too original or earthshaking (so to speak), just pleasantly appropriate: "It is a young, a primitive world..."
Main titles - 1:14
Astronaut lands on the surface - 0:54
Another macabre discovery/ ship's abandoned bridge - 1:27
The living dead - 1:15
Inside the starship - 1:06
A new victim/Tiona attacked by the living dead - 0:46
"I know they're dead"/empty grave - 1:18
The living dead appears - 1:04
"A young, primitive world..." - 0:38
End titles - 0:53
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