QUEEN OF BLOOD/1966/CURTIS HARRINGTON
The film, along with Mario Bava’s lush and atmospheric 1965 masterpiece Planet of the Vampires (Terrore Nello Spazio), it could be argued, influenced some aspects of Ridley Scott’s horror/sci-fi film Alien, though as far as I know writer Dan O’Bannan has never cited the films as influences. The “subliminal” influences on Alien from Queen of Blood are astronauts responding to what appears to a signal or beacon from an intelligent life force in space and then a subsequent rescue mission that finds said alien intelligence and allows it aboard the rescuers space ship, only to have the creature begin to prey on the crew members one at a time. There is also the concept of the alien creature leaving pulsating, gooey eggs behind and had the sixties had the vision of franchised sequels no doubt Queen of Blood could have spawned at least based on the ending of the film where a beaming assistant (played by Forrest J. Ackerman) holds a tray of slimy alien eggs he is carrying back to earth for research purposes.
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The general story takes place in the future world of 1990 at the International Institute of Space Technology which is chaired over by the brilliant and esteemed Dr. Farraday, played by then AIP regular Basil Rathbone. Astronaut Laura James (Judith Meredith) has detected signals from deep space that are soon interpreted by Dr. Farraday as a message from an alien life form that they are traveling so that the two species may meet one another. Later a video log Laura intercepts shows that the aliens are in distress and have crash landed on the planet Mars. A rescue mission is put together quickly comprised of Laura, Paul Grant (played with amusing method style acting by a young Dennis Hopper), and crew commander and voice of science Anders Brockman (Robert Boon). Left behind and none to happy about it is Laura’s boyfriend Allen Brenner (John Saxon) who nonetheless supports his better half as she ventures off to the red planet on the rescue mission. The ship of course encounters trouble in the form of a sunspot and radiation and in the process loses critical fuel supplies. They manage to find the alien space craft and even find a dead alien onboard and as any person in a similar situation would do just leave it there when they leave.
After they have been on Phobos for a while and the launch window for the right area Mars is getting closer they look out their window and see the alien spacecraft they are all looking for. Damn. Now how much more lucky can you get. The alien escape craft had landed on Phobos and Tony and Allen take off (with less than a half hour before the launch window is closed) to investigate. Onboard they find a comatose, green alien woman and lug her back to the two man Meteor space craft. In one of the more flawed scenes of the film they decide to do a coin toss to see who has to stay behind in the alien ship while the other takes the Meteor to Mars. Later aboard the Oceano we discover that Allen Brenner won the bet, much to Laura’s relief. But basically the Tony Barrata character is written out of the story completely. It is a serious loose end and I wish his fate would have been more resolved, even if it meant the likable character had died in some fashion. Well it is not the end of the world and soon the Oceano get the fuel it needs and blasts off and is traveling back to Earth with a the alien female as its new passenger.
And what a strange and at times downright spooky passenger she is. Played by TV star Florence Marley the alien is human in appearance except for her green flesh. When she first comes around and sees the three men of the crew her smile is a combination of uncontrolled lust and hunger, yet when her gaze finally rests on Laura James it quickly turns to revulsion. It is decided that a male crew member will watch over and Paul Grant gets the honors. Hopper’s early pre-Easy Rider performances are usually pretty restrained and easy to watch and here is really at times rather charming. He tries to instruct the alien in the use of eating utensils but she does not want to eat, and does not want to drink water even after Paul shows her how to suck on a straw. She reacts violently when Anders approaching with the biggest blasted syringe I have ever seen to take a blood sample and knock it from his hands and breaks it. He seems sort of bewildered as to why the alien creature, surrounded by total strangers, is adverse to him jamming this elephant needle in her arm. Later when the crew is asleep we learn what nourishment the creature rally wants when she hypnotizes Paul and drains him of all his blood. He is found dead the next morning and she is sleeping off her night’s feeding. What follows is an interesting exchange between Anders, who is actually sympathetic to the creature, and Allen, who sees the creature as a murderer and danger. Anders seems to feel Allen is trying t impose his human sense of morality onto an alien being who may not have the same moral sense as a human being and Allen is disgusted and afraid of the creature who just killed his friend by draining all the blood out of his body. Anders wins, with Dr. Farraday’s approval, the debate and the creature is left free and fed some sort of plasma solution. Now I am all one for these high browed ethical debates that go around in circles about the nature of good and evil, as much as the next guy anyway, but Allen has a point: the thing just killed a crew member. Maybe restraining her or locking her in the supply closet is not a bad idea. And Anders himself realizes this soon enough when he becomes the next victim.
The film achieves an atmospheric quality not too common to American science fiction films of the period and the end is result is all the more interesting since the film was, as stated, patched together using footage from two Soviet films. It should be noted here that the year before Harrington had worked with Corman and AIP on another film using footage from yet another Russian made film (one I actually have here in undubbed or subtitled Russian) called Planeta Bur. The AIP film was called Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and starred Basil Rathbone as well as the space center commander who watched from the control room as the Russian actors speak dubbed English on the surface of Venus. Sadly I have never been able to finish the Russian film due to the fact I get bored watching a film where I cannot understand the dialog or plot, but it is a nice looking movie and I would definitely like to see more Russian sci-fi from the 1960’s. I guess these patchwork AIP films are as good a place to start as any until some high quality prints are subbed into English someday.