QUEEN OF BLOOD/1966/CURTIS HARRINGTON

QUEEN OF BLOOD

1966/Director: Curtis Harrington/Writer: Curtis Harrington
Cast: John Saxon, Basil Rathbone, Judi Meredith, Dennis Hopper, Florence Marly, Robert Boon, Don Eitner, Forrest J Ackerman
ALSO KNOWN AS: Flight to a Far Planet, Planet of Blood, Planet of Terror, Planet of Vampires, Space Vampire,The Green Woman
At first I was a little disappointed when I read that some of the stylistic and stunning space scenes from Curtis Harrington’s 1966 Queen of Blood were taken from a couple Russian sci-fi periods from a couple years earlier, one being Meshte Nastreshu (1963) and the other Nebo Zovyot (1960). I have never seen either film and understand they are pretty hard to locate online, though Nebo Zovyot was released in some sort of edited fashion by producer Roger Corman and then fledgling director Francis Ford Coppola. But I cannot find that version of the film either. Harrington as well was working for Corman as an upcoming director and writer when Queen of Blood was released and the copy/paste type technique of filmmaking, “borrowing” scenes from obscure, foreign films, was a common practice for films produced by Corman at AIP at the time. Other filmmakers, some mentioned here at the Café like Al Adamson, also used this technique in patching together film projects. Adamson often pieced together fragments and sections of his own films made over a period of years but sometimes, as with Horror of the Blood Monsters, did something similar as was done by Harrington and Corman with Queen Blood, and used footage from an unknown Filipino film. The difference is that Horror of the Blood Monsters looks like crap basically and Queen of Blood appears almost seamless in the way the films merge together. I admit that while watching it, before reading any reviews which is how I usually watch films and avoid sites like my own brimming over with spoilers, I noticed a few odd moments but never thought I was seeing more than one film. I think the film looks marvelous really and the sets have that stylized science fiction look and feel of the sci-fi pulp paperback covers of the period.

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.

Somehow Farraday concludes that the aliens must have abandoned their mother ship on a rescue ship and that the ship is somewhere on the surface of Mars. This is just the excuse Allen Brenner and pal Tony Barrata (Don Eitner) have been waiting for and they convince Farraday to allow them to go on a rescue mission that will take them to Phobos, one of Mars’ moons, and from there they will go to the Planet in a small rescue craft whose fuel will be conserved because of the gravity on Phobos or something. This is all explained in long winded and overly complicated classic sci-fi lingo and even a blackboard drawing that is priceless.

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.

Laura and Allen find her feeding on his dead body and in a brief conflict the alien receives some scratches on her shoulder which prove to be fatal for her as she bleeds to death. Secreting green blood all over the space ship floor. The films concludes with Laura and Allen finding batches of disgusting, pulsating eggs all over the ship but there is no time to destroy them as eager an excited Farraday comes aboard to gather the eggs and alien body and take them all back to earth, where we can only guess what will happen next.

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.

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