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MGM Studios DVD presents
Planet of the Vampires (1965)

"10,000 years ago or 10,000 years to come. Are they beings of the Future or of the past; these 'men' who rule the demon planet?"
- Promotional tagline

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: August 28, 2001

Stars: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda
Other Stars: Evi Marandi
Director: Mario Bava

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:27m:27s
Release Date: August 28, 2001
UPC: 027616865649
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BBB+ D+

DVD Review

While director Mario Bava is well known for his many Italian horror films (many reviews of which appear here on digitallyOBSESSED), one of the more unique entries in his career is the bizarre and wild sci-fi/horror story Planet of the Vampires, known by many other titles depending on the video release and the country. It is also a unique project in that it is one of Bava's few American productions. Frankly, I've wondered why Bava was so attracted to horror when he made such great movies of other genres, and usually brought amazing flair to them. For example, compare the drab, original, Hercules films to Bava's elaborate and colorful Hercules In The Haunted World. Such is the case with Planet Of The Vampires, an amazing horror film that ranks, in my opinion, amongst the classics.

Though there is little backstory, Planet essentially tells the story of two spacecrafts; the Argos and the Galiott. Both ships are researching a planet called Aura, a planet where strange, electronic communications have been heard for years. They decide to finally land and investigate, but in the process, almost get themselves killed. After the rough arrival, problems begin immediately. First, crew members on both ships begin acting strange and violent, then things get progressively worse. The crew of the Argos sets out to investigate what's become of the Galiott, only to discover that the violence has killed the whole crew. Before anyone can figure out what's causing the strange behavior, Argos crew members think they've seen other people on the planet; people that look suspiciously just like the Galiott crew. The dead are returning to life to attack the living, but the causes remain the mystery, and one that must be solved in order to leave Aura. Technically, there aren't really any vampires, but there is a mysterious force bent on making everyone kill each other for reasons unknown.

Now, before I get to the good, I'll touch on the bad. Planet of the Vampires is, admittedly, pretty dated. It distinctly works in a certain way, and that way probably seemed radical in 1965, but looks a bit goofy now. There are unintentional laughs, and most of the acting is a bit wooden or overdone. So, there are some flaws here, and they're pretty much the usual culprits of older horror movies. What cannot, in my opinion, be disputed, is the gorgeous visual style and expert set design. This is one "cheesy horror film" that actually got the budget to make it convincing and atmospheric. The core set is that of the spacecrafts, and it's a weird, minimalist structure that reminds me of the bold, ambitious ideas you'd see in big-budget American sci-fi from the 1950s (stuff like Forbidden Planet or This Island Earth). Bava uses amazingly smart camera work to make a fairly cold and barren set come to life with active dolly shots and fantastic, multi-color lighting. As usual for Bava, he also throws a few radical ideas into the special effects mix, including some ahead-of-its time dye-tank usage, and the idea of putting little rooms behind "data screens" so that the actors are really "inside" the monitors, adding a strange, visual twist.

Costumes are equally as bold, but stealing some of the spotlight is the actual planet Aura, a weird hodgepodge of all sorts of textural ideas, laced with tons of fog and strange lighting schemes. Virtually every shot is loaded with color and oozing with creepy ambience, adding something very important to the story: a believable setting. This all adds up to an impressive experience, and one that has a decent story on top of it. Mario Bava proves once again that, despite working with some shortcomings, he can produce quality work; even if it is a little laughable.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Sadly, Planet Of The Vampires is not anamorphically enhanced, which is a big disappointment for such a visual film. At the very least, it's widescreened. It looks extremely good, though, with its wild color scheme and cinematography preserved well. There are no major issues, and the quality of the print is pretty surprising. Even with all the smoke and fog, the transfer stays solid, without artifacts or pixelation. Things are a little soft, but this seems an intentional diffusion effect used on some scenes.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The Pro-Logic Mono audio is pretty much what you'd expect. It sounds impressive, actually, especially given the age. All the great sound effects and weird electronic music sound really nice (almost passing for stereo), and the dialogue is clear and understandable. Of course, since Planet of the Vampires was dubbed, there's a lot of lip-flap, but that can't really be helped.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: It's really too bad Image wasn't able to add this to their Mario Bava Collection, as MGM's treatment is pretty lackluster. Other than subtitles and an original trailer, the disc is pretty bare. The menus look very much like other entries in the "Midnight Movies" series (including the Rocky Horror font), and the lack of even a simple insert is very disturbing. I hate the awful new cover MGM has made for the film, and I REALLY resent the ridiculous tagline, "Close Encounters of the UNDEAD Kind," being placed right under the title on the cover, which was not an original, promotional phrase.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

While the disc is pretty short on quality presentation, at least we finally get a decent looking, widescreened version of Planet of the Vampires. It's too bad that a few of Mario Bava's movies fall into the domain of studios that seem to have little interest in doing them justice. In any case, a rental is definitely in order.


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