Planet of the Vampires

by Glenn Erickson May 14, 2024

Radiance comes through again, giving us Mario Bava’s haunted space opera in multiple versions. The original Italian encoding improves greatly on everything we’ve seen so far — it’s dazzling. Barry Sullivan and Norma Bengell struggle to overcome the curse of a ‘demon planet’ — which rushes to possess every life form it encounters. The alien landscape is all rocks, smoke and colored light, and the ‘vampires’ are Sullivan’s own crewmates, transformed into murderous zombies.

Planet of the Vampires
1965 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 89+ 88 min. / Terrore nello spazio, Planet of Blood, The Demon Planet / Street Date May 27, 2024 / Available from Radiance UK / £22.99; or Diabolik DVD USA 33.99
Starring: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Ángel Aranda, Evi Marandi, Stelio Candelli, Franco Andrei, Fernando Villena, Mario Morales, Ivan Rassimov.
Cinematography: Antonio Rinaldi, Antonio Pérez Olea
Set Decoration: Giorgio Giovannini
Costume Design: Gabriele Mayer
Film Editors: Romana Fortini, Antonio Gimeno
Original Music: Gino Marinuzzi, Jr.
Italian writing credits:
Sceneggiatura: Ib Melchior, Callisto Cosulich, Antonio Román, Alberto Bevilacqua, Mario Bava, Rafael J. Salvia
American writing credits:
Screenplay by Ib Melchior, Louis M. Heyward, screen story by Ib Melchior
From the story ‘One Night of 21 Hours’ by Renato Pestriniero
Produced by Fulvio Lucisano
Directed by
Mario Bava

Wow — it’s gratifying to think of all the classic Eurohorror that’s been released in sensational remastered editions, tracing lost and variant versions, different language soundtracks, etc. Disc presentations previously sourced from export versions, American distributor versions and even projection prints are now being redone with original printing elements from the original rights holders.

We’ve previously seen Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires only through the versions held by MGM, which got it from Orion, which took possession when American-International folded. A.I.P. was a co-producer of the film, and their version incorporated an adapted/adjusted dialogue script from Ib Melchior. Instead of an A.I.P. logo, Radiance’s Terrore nello spazio version begins with a logo for ‘Lucisano Media Group/Italian International Film.’ This iteration of the Bava classic betters by far anything we’ve seen before — the gorgeous images are sharper and the color detail is much greater.

Instead of “The Horror!  The Horror!”  it’s “The Color!  The Color!”

Mario Bava’s early directing career ventured into science fiction as well as horror. As a cinematographer he reportedly directed most of Paolo Heusch’s 1958 La morte viene dallo spazio, aka The Day the Sky Exploded, and most if not all of Riccardo Freda’s  Caltiki, il mostro immortale. Adapted from an Italian short story, Planet of the Vampires is notable for its genre ambitions. As with MGM’s expensive  Forbidden Planet there are no Earthbound scenes. For a full 90 minutes we’re either in space, on the surface of a weird nightmare planet, or within the interiors of spaceships that needed to be designed from the ground up.


Mario Bava’s fanciful lighting style is its own kind of special effect. Most every shot applies the in-the-camera trick film techniques that made Bava the go-to guy for fantastic visuals in ’50s Italian cinema. Alain Silver and James Ursini tagged it as Gothic Sci-fi for its focus on resurrected astronaut corpses. In 1965, with the Italo horror cycle on the wane, an alien planet inhabited by undead spirits was a novel idea.

The nightmare begins when the twin spaceships Argos and Galliot alight on the volcanic, foggy planet Aura. Soon after landing, Argos’ Captain Mark Markary (Barry Sullivan) and Sanya (Norma Bengell) can barely restrain members of the crew from maiming each other in inexplicable fits of violence. Worse, when they trek to the Galliot they discover its entire crew dead, with evidence pointing to an orgy of killing. While the Argos is being repaired some crewmembers report seeing strange lights. Mark and Sanya then investigate a derelict alien craft nearby. It is littered with the skeletal remains of grotesque alien creatures. When the astronauts’ hastily buried casualties begin returning from their graves, a terrible secret finally becomes obvious: spectral Auran beings can possess dead bodies and turn them against the living.

Had it been released a couple of years later, Planet of the Vampires might have been given a ‘hippie-trip’ marketing campaign. Its atmosphere of colored smoke, weird lighting and the strange costumes are more expressive than the the psychedelic exploitation films that would follow. Bava could generate clever visual effects and complex lighting schemes at a dizzying pace. The dreamlike atmospheres he creates have nothing in common with the outer space of Stanley Kubrick. The spaceships could belong to Buck Rogers, and the planet Aura could be a mythic Hell from Bava’s  Hercules in the Haunted World.


Science fiction is the only genre in which success is routinely measured by the ‘realism’ of the special effects. Bava’s in-the-camera composite illusions do have their limitations. His planetary vistas often have a sharp foreground and background, but a fuzzy mid-ground, a photographic impossibility that unmasks many faked flying saucer photos. But Planet also features shots too clever to yield to easy analysis. When the film was new we certainly didn’t realize that Bava had filmed some spaceship shots underwater. Commentator Tim Lucas’s explanations point out things we missed, like an errant finger caught holding a miniature.

And who wants realism, anyway? This alien phantasmagoria is more interesting than the Death Valley scenery and fake studio caves of  Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Bava kept his films small-scale to avoid surrendering artistic control to his producers — or even the optical departments of labs. This autonomy made Bava a one-man effects artisan-genius. Nobody confuses Ray Harryhausen’s animation with that of anyone else, and the same goes for Bava’s work. We know a Bava picture as soon as we see the way scenes are lit.

Both the ship interior and the smoking, foggy landscape outside are largely assembled from modular units — sliding doors and blank wall panels inside, interchangeable rocks outside. Planet of the Vampires does suffer from one production decision. The Argos was meant to land intact and the Galliott was to be wrecked, but it was too tempting to keep both spaceships in good repair so that one studio set could serve for both ships. The result is that we lose track of which ship we are on at any given time. We never get a handle on spacial relationships — after judging the exterior of the Argos, its interior looks to be far too big. But nothing disturbs the eerie atmosphere.


Barry Sullivan’s captain and Norma Bengell’s assistant stay clear in our heads, but most of the the other characters are a blur lacking distinct personalities (or distinct voices). The spacemen fight, shoot ray guns, and dash from one place to another, and we quickly lose track of who’s who. It’s more rewarding to concentrate on the impressive designs and especially the excellent costumes. The The black leather space outfits look like warm-ups for the next year’s  Diabolik. Those high collars look great, but not very comfortable. The stylishness pre-empts any question about ‘pressure suits’ — even the helmets are great designs.

Robert Skotak’s excellent book on Ib Melchior has a chapter devoted to the film, understandably concentrating on Melchior’s contribution. The most novel idea in the screenplay could work in a ghost story as well: the spacemen perceive ‘peripheral vision’ Auran phantoms, that they only glimpse out of the corners of their eyes. Bava doesn’t attempt this kind of subtlety — we instead see flashing blips, and brightly glowing orbs. We can imagine an “Aura-Vision” effect with hints of phantoms in the corners of the frame…. but knowing how theatrical projection varies, any effect placed at the screen’s edge could easily be masked off, and go unseen.

We instead soak up the heady Auran atmosphere. The rising of the ‘Vampires’ from their impromptu crypts is certainly eerie. A slow-motion effect is achieved with optical step printing. It is there in the original Italian version. We know that Bava rarely used opticals, but this film also has a few spaceship shots that are optical composites.


The film’s most striking sequence is the investigation of a derelict alien spacecraft, where Markary and Sanya find giant skeletons that look like spiders with human skulls. Good sound effects add to a claustrophobic effect, as they work to free themselves before an ancient mechanism pumps all of the oxygen from the chamber interior. Back in 1965 we assumed that the skeleton was the remains of an Auran. Only after Ridley Scott’s Alien came out did we pay closer attention to the dialogue in these scenes. Tim Lucas notes that the skeletons outside of the wrecked ship are posed much like the dead human bodies found back in the Galliot, another detail that never occurred to us.

After finally seeing the original Terrore nello spazio in such amazing quality, we’re now much bigger fans of Planet of the Vampires. The Italian audio track is beautifully mixed and modulated. Is it possible that Barry Sullivan dubbed his own voice into Italian?  Although the Italo vocal artiste is an excellent match for the American actor, the answer is probably No: the voice of ‘Captain Markary’ is very similar to voices used for other Argos and Galliot spacemen.



In terms of quality, Radiance’s Blu-ray of Planet of the Vampires is a major leap forward — for the original Italian version Terrore nello spazio. Everything we’ve seen before has been the American-International adaptation, which looks several generations removed from the original negative. This disc is billed as a “4K scan of the film from the original negative under the supervision of Lamberto Bava and carried out at Fotocinema in Rome in collaboration with CSC Cineteca Nazionale.”

This Italo encoding is much sharper and much more colorful. Mario Bava’s quirky hues are more delicate and finessed. As the movie is so dependent on its visuals, what was before a parade of primary colors, now appeals as a more controlled visual feast. There’s so much to look at, we don’t tire of the repetitive storyline.


This was also our first time through with an original Italo cut and audio track, which is a big plus for me, a self-confessed language snob. Klunky dialogue can bog things down, and when it’s dubbed by the same voices we subliminally recall from Sons of the Gladiators and Sword of Ursus movies, I tend to tune out. Listening to a foreign voice (and learning new words) while reading subs puts the dramatics at a greater remove. Plus, I know I’m seeing something akin to what Bava approved back in the day. Yes, I saw A.I.P.’s  Voyage to the End of the Universe when it was new, but I have no desire to repeat that experience … not after seeing the magnificent Czech original.

Also included is an encoding of the A.I.P. cut as previously seen on a good Kino Lorber disc from 2014. After an opening shot not seen in the Italian cut, a tilt-down from a starfield window port, the images have been replaced with ‘good’ new video. It allows one to study the partial re-write by writer-director Ib Melchior; the Tim Lucas audio commentary is also wedded to this version. Repeated from earlier versions are two complete Trailers from Hell trailer commentaries, and the replacement music track added by Orion Video in the 1980s.

In space, nobody can hear Kendall Schmidt.


The opening title sequence lists a number of Italian writers not mentioned in A.I.P.’s credits. Tim Lucas’s fine commentary is still appreciated. He names the two kinds of smoke that Bava used; I particularly enjoy hearing Tim calmly explain the film’s umpteen alternate titles, one version after another. He tells us that there’s a good reason to become confused about the identity of at least one of Makary’s spacemen: Bava replaced one actor in mid-film, without no explanation as to why his character’s face has changed.

We didn’t receive the disc’s text extras with our check disc copy, but we’ve included Radiance’s descriptions of the contents of two booklets. That means we also have to add a disclaimer: even though our check disc is almost certainly final product, it is always possible that a production/release copy could differ in some way.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Planet of the Vampires
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Audio commentary by Tim Lucas (2014 for A.I.P. cut)
Documentary Transmissions from a Haunted World featuring interviews with Guy Adams, Xavier Aldana Reyes, Alexandra Benedict, Johnny Mains and John Llewellyn Probert (2024, 41 mins)
Archival interview with Lamberto Bava (2022, 13 mins)
Alternate Kendall Schmidt score (for A.I.P. cut)
Super 8 Version reconstructed cut-down version distributed as Planet der Vampire (17 mins)
Joe Dante and Josh Olsen Trailers from Hell trailer commentaries
Original trailer
Press and image gallery
Reversible sleeve alternating original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow
Illustrated 80-page book featuring new writing by Kyle Anderson, Martyn Conterio, Barry Forshaw, George Daniel Lea and Jerome Reuter
Limited edition 20-page booklet featuring a new translation of Renato Pestriniero’s original short story
Six exclusive postcards featuring promotional material.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
May 11, 2024

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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Jeffrey Nelson

Great review. I have this on order, can’t wait! I’ve never seen the Italian cut before so this is gonna be a real treat, especially with the colors looking better than ever before. And, it appears that, happily, the English cut is also restored, and achieved via seamless branching, according to DVD Beaver:

“This new Radiance Blu-ray package has both Italian and English language cuts of the film. The latter is two minutes shorter and was the only one available on the previous Kino Blu-rays. This is done with seamless branching exporting the image quality to the same level for both versions on the dual-layered Radiance Blu-ray.”

Chuck Shillingford

Great review Glenn. I just ordered this from Radiance and your analysis let’s me know what I have to look forward to. It’s amazing how much of Alien was cribbed from Planet of the Vampires and It! The Terror from beyond Space. I should also add The Thing From Another World. Thanks again, Glenn!

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