Sunday, November 7, 2010

Planet of Vampires

Today we continue looking at films from the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s look at vampire films with a look at Mario Bava’s Planet of Vampires.

The film really isn’t about vampires. The film is actually more akin to Invasion of the Body Snatchers with the “vampire” of the title being invisible creatures who rise up and take over the bodies of the people on a pair of spaceships when they lands on a planet in order to investigate a mysterious signal

Mario Bava is a cinematographer who pushed the art into wonderfully unexpected ways. Some of them mirrored some of the garish pop art we often associate with the 1960's. He was also a director who tended to specialize in horror, gaillo and exploitative fare with varying degrees of success

Full disclosure: I’m not really a Bava fan. I do like the films that he turned out but at the same time I don’t quite see why some people rave about. I don’t know if its because his films just don’t hit me the right way or because what he was doing has been stolen by so many others. I know that his work in gaillo genre, where we follow an unknown killer, basically started the genre but it really took off when it was then taken over by others especially Dario Argento. However the genre, like much of Bava's directing doesn't float my boat.

On the opposite side of the spectrum of love/ like for Bava is Tim Lucas who runs Video Watchdog. Lucas wrote the definitive biography on Bava called All the Colors of the Dark. It’s a massive book on every aspect of Bava’s life and career. Its almost assuredly one of the greatest book ever written on film and would be required reading for every film lover except that the price tag of 250 dollars puts it outside the reach of anyone other than a true fan. (I don’t own the book for that very reason- though someone at the screening of Planet had it with them and was reading on the film before it started)

To me this is probably Bava’s greatest achievement as a director, I don’t know if its a classic, but it is probably my favorite.

Filmed on the cheap, I mean real cheap, Bava was forced to come up with ways of hiding what was a sound stage bound production. Using a clever set and costume design that allows for colorful swirling clouds in the shy, skin tight black jumpsuits, huge cavernous sets and clever use of plastic sheets, Bava creates a world that is more dream than real with the result that the film etches itself deep into your psyche. The film works on you from the inside out with flaws and limitations being pushed aside by a slowly creeping unease. There is something creepy about what happens despite it being occasionally silly.

The unease comes from the film's refusal to tell a complete story. The film screened at BAM was choppy, but even looking at the full film on DVD you notice holes. Things aren't explained (the ending results in a real WTF moment) and things jump ahead but mostly the film moves along fast enough you don't mind, the questions don't linger, but the fear does.

Its not a perfect film. Seeing the film on the big screen you see how limited the effects effects are. You see how plastic the ships are, you see the poor compositing and you see the cheap sets. Its kind of embarrassing, but it it isn't fatal.

Its a good film, not a great one and worth a look.(if you want a taste here's the trailer)

This is out on DVD.

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