The Film (4/5)
In the world of EuroCultAV.com any Bava film released to Blu-ray is a cause to celebrate. If there were a Holy Trinity for this website (and I'm not speaking as a religious person), Bava would certainly be amongst them. Bava's Planet of the Vampires is quite possibly his film most closely associated with the horror genre most needing of a Blu-ray upgrade. It was released by MGM in 2001 in a Non-Anamorphic edition, and has not been touched upon since. We are almost a decade into Blu-ray's existence and we have finally gotten this Bava Sci-Fi gem on to the format, in a lovingly restored edition from those wonderful folks at Kino Lorber with contributions from Scorpion Releasing.
Mario Bava is primarily known for his work within the horror genre such as his debut Black Sunday, the later anthology Black Sabbath, or the proto slasher, Twitch of the Death Nerve. However, Bava would spend his career as a director working in a variety of genres from the western (Roy Colt & Winchester Jack) to the Sword & Sandal (Knives of the Avenger), Crime (Danger: Diabolik) and to sci-fi with this film Planet of the Vampires.
Sci-Fi in the U.S. was a very 1950's phenomenon that helped to reflect post World War II atomic fears. By the time that decade has ended the horror film had become more trendy again stateside, leaving the Italians to make the Sci-Fi film their own. During the early to middle part of the 60's Italian directors turned out quite a few low budget sci-fi films, most notably the work of Antonio Margheriti. It is in the midst of this that Bava would make Planet of the Vampires with the assistance of AIP. AIP had distributed a number of Bava’s films in the early 60’s including his debut Black Sunday, and his anthology Black Sabbath, impressed with the director’s work and the profits his films would bring in they not only distributed, but helped to invest in Bava’s lone sci-fi epic.
The film concerns 2 exploratory spaceships, the Argos and Gaillot. As the film begins both ships receive a series of radio transmissions from the surface of a barren planet and attempt to investigate the source. While attempting to land the crew of the Argos begin to act out violently toward one another. Upon landing they have no recollection of this behavior, and it turns out the Gaillot experienced the same behavior, unfortunately, they crashed, and had no survivors. The crews of the Argos then begin to disappear or die, until it is discovered that they are dying and then returning to life possessed by an invisible alien life form intent on using the corpses of the deceased crew and their ships to escape the planet and take over the universe.
The plot is a bit by the numbers science fiction, and the acting while decent is a bit typical of the material. Where the film excels (of course), is in Bava’s splendid visuals and atmospherics. Bava uses the threadbare plot to create an excellent springboard to a true sci-fi spookshow. He creates a truly oppressive atmosphere of dread, that would influence the later Dan O’Bannon scripted Alien. His use of in-camera FX, and colors is absolutely masterful here, and he uses the both primary locations (the ship and planet) to its full effect with the ship creating a claustrophobic tense environment, and with the planet itself a colorful and enticing, but also foreign and unknown world where anything can and is happening.
Kino Lorber/Scorpion Releasing has issued Bava’s Planet of the Vampires in a glorious 1:85:1 1080p transfer that is a significant upgrade all around. The colors truly pop, fine detail is excellent, and flesh tones are largely accurate. We are treated to a nice organic grain structure and everything aside from a bit of source damage and here and again seem to look quite excellent.
The audio is presented in a DTS-HD 2.0 track in English. The track sounds quite nice with dialogue coming through clearly, as do the score, and FX. I did not notice any issues such as pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
Kino has put together an excellent slate of extras for their release of Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampire. The most substantial is a new commentary track recorded by Video Watchdog editor/Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark author Tim Lucas who goes highly in depth in the film of course, and provides his usual insightfulness into Bava’s work without ever seeming too academic or dry. His Bava commentaries (Hell, any of his commentaries) are a pleasure to listen to, and this is no exception. We then get two Trailers from Hell for the film one with commentary by Joe Dante another by Josh Olsen. Following that we get 20 minutes of alternate soundtrack cuts, the Italian opening credits, and the original theatrical trailer in SD. The set is concluded by a stills gallery, and a text based version of the short story on which the film is based.
Finally, we get a Blu-ray upgrade of Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. This has been a long time coming, and the wait has certainly been worth it. The A/V looks and sound great, and the extras are top notch. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.