Mario Bava‘s Planet of the Vampires (aka Terrore nello spazio, literally ‘Terror to Space’) is a campy, visual feast of 60’s Italian cinema. Released in 1965, Bava’s inventive tale of interstellar terror is said to have influenced Ridley Scott’s later masterpiece Alien. The plots harbor some similarities: the crew of two spaceships, the Gallia and the Argo, find themselves stranded on an alien planet and are soon victimized by the world’s spectral inhabitants…but the inspiration seems to be more visual than anything else.
Bava was nothing if not adept at using his limited resources to good effect. It’s easy to dismiss the visuals as dated and silly, but frankly from a design perspective they’re superb. The crew’s uniforms – all black leather with raised collars and yellow striping look cool if not entirely functional. Without the funds for optical effects, all of Bava’s shots had to be composited in-camera and numerous camera and set-design tricks were devised to make the sets look larger than they actually were. Assisted by cinematographer and camera operator Antonio Rinaldi (who a few years later would work with Bava on the Danger: Diabolik) Bava bathed his sets in gorgeous hues of green and purple, providing an effective otherworldly ambiance.
It’s especially interesting to watch this film in light of Ridley Scott’s subsequent foray into the Alien universe Prometheus, as the giant Aureans are noteworthy to consider alongside Scott’s Space Jockey / Engineers. One can’t point a finger and say Scott lifted it from Bava, but the contextual similarities will make you nod knowingly more than once.