Planet of the Vampires aka Terrore Nello Spazio (1965)

Planet of the Vampires aka Terrore Nello Spazio (1965)

20 years ago this came out!!

Film: There is no doubt that director Mario Bava is truly the Godfather of Italian cinema. Able to dance between genres like a ballet dancer at breakdance school, he did everything from horror to westerns, from historical to sci-fi proving himself to be a master of cinema.

American International Pictures hit a few home runs with the Bava films Black Sunday and Black Sabbath (as well as some other non-Bava Italian films) and were looking to invest more heavily in the production of films so they could have the rights in the USA. Planet of the Vampires was one such collaboration and is based on the short story, One Night of 21 Hours by Renata Pestriniero, originally published in Interstellar Science Fiction Magazine. The screenplay was adapted by Bava, along with Ib Melchior, Alberto Bevilacqua, Castillo Consulich, Antonio Román, Rafael J. Salvia and Louis M. Hayward.

Angry astronauts attack!

So, do many hands make light work, or did too many cooks spoil the broth?

Planet of the Vampires sees the deep space vessels Argos and Galliot answer a distress call on the planet Aura. As the ships descend into the atmosphere, a high gravity pressure forces the crews into unconsciousness, only finding themselves acting temporarily violently upon awakening.

When the ships land, the only person unaffected by the temporarily is the captain of the Argos, Captain Markary, who, after his crew come to their senses, organise a team to search the strange alien landscape for the Galliot.

The finest in astronautical fashion and equipment!

When they find the Galliot, they discover the entire crew has killed each other and so all are buried, only to come back to life and attack the surviving crew. What is causing the crew to return to life though, and what happened to the gigantic alien race whose crashed spaceship seems to have suffered the same fate…?

Essentially, this is more or less a stock standard sci-fi film of the 50s but with a little bit of blood and gore… I mean, a LITTLE bit… but it’s notoriety comes from the influence it had on films like Alien and Prometheus, and if I may throw a little suggestion in their as well, Event Horizon and Lifeforce, but not to the same extent.

Bava’ s use of studios for the planet’s exteriors make for a bizarre looking alien world that does use his amazing skill of depth of field using lights and forced perspective, and should be included in any film schools education repertoire.

The costuming is a highlight though because it’s out of this world (wink wink)!! The best way to describe the main suits of the astronauts would be… um… ok, imagine if Hugo Boss has designed the SS uniform based on Kiss-Ass’s superhero suit/ wetsuit, but with 70s shirt collars flipped up like a polo on a frat boy. Yep. Nailed it.

Ultimately it’s 50s sci-fi made in the 60s. It’s quaint and it’s fine but I wish I’d watched Alien again instead! Or Lifeforce.

Or Event Horizon.

Hell, even Prometheus!

Score: **1/2

Planet of the Vampires Menu Screen.

Format: I had a weird revelation whilst watching this DVD in that it’s 20 years old.

Yep. This release from MGM’s Midnite Movies brand is 20 years old at the time of this review, and for a DVD that old, it’s 1.85:1 image and mono audio wasn’t too bad. It’s not brilliant, but it was watchable and the audio was clear.

Score: ***

Extras: A trailer, and that’s it.

Score: *

WISIA: Like I said, I wish I’d watched Alien again.

SHOCK! HORROR!

A Bay of Blood (1971)

A Bay of Blood (1971)

Film: Truly, in English speaking countries and outside of the fans of horror or cult cinema, the name of director Mario Bava, unjustly seems to be ignored.

Bava was the son of a filmmaker and started as a cinematographer, and was also adept at screenwriting and special effects, but really, as a director is where his talent lies. In his career he directed over almost 40, with genres including horror, fantasy, science fiction and comedy… even a movie based on a comics character (yes, Marvel didn’t do that first OR best), and many directors including Dario Argento, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, Joe Dante, Lucia Fulci and others claim to have been influenced by his work.

This film, A Bay of Blood, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, Carnage, Ecologia Del Delitto (and many others) tells the tale of a series of murders that take place by the titular Bay.

The worst haircut ever gets it’s due punishment

First, the disabled owner of the bay is found hanging in her house in what was a murder made to look like suicide, but almost immediately, her murderer is also dispatched by a mysterious assailant. These events lead to a series of murders that all appear to be a cover-up for a real estate scam and an inheritance issue that just seem to escalate.

This film is clearly one of the templates for the slasher movies that came ten years later in the eighties: really just a series of gory murders, intercut with some images of boobs/ butts and a barely incoherent story to link it all together.

Not sure about the rest of you, but I don’t really have a problem with that!

Clearly, Sean Cunningham was inspired by this scene

Honestly, the story is REALLY stupid and doesn’t feel at all like any attempt has been made for any type of legitimacy for the story, and it assumes the viewer has NO understanding of how police investigations go. One could never remake this film now as the perpetrators of the film left fingerprints everywhere and even a rock with a slight understanding of forensics would have the ‘mystery’ solved within minutes. Also, so many unnecessary scenes drag on for far too long, and characters whose back stories we really don’t need to know are over-explained to the point of slowing down the story.

I say all that but it the end it is still charming, and the scenes of violence, considering this came out in 1971, are quite shocking and occasionally sophisticated in their execution. Sometimes the victim’s death scenes are just dumb though… for example, Brunhilda is clearly still breathing after her demise… for them not to ring too true, but they are excusable as not much of it feels realistic at all.

Island of Death director Nick Mastorakis said (and I paraphrase) that in making his film that he asked members of his team to come up with a bunch of horrible ways to die, and a bunch of perversions and he wrote a script around those parameters: this feels like it was made similarly.

This film also boasts the worst haircut ever seen in the history of cinema. It’s a pseudo-Afro-mullet that looks like a fake artist tried to flock a motorcycle helmet. It’s both the most horrifying and funniest thing in this film.

Having said all that, this film has a weird endearing honesty about it that makes it a joy to watch, even if the final scene is one of the most ridiculous things you’ll ever see.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This film was reviewed with the Arrow films multiregion Bluray release from 2010. It is presented in a clear, but artefact-filled 1.85:1 image with a fairly decent mono audio track.

Score: ***

Extras: Oh boy, it’s a smorgasbord of extras on this disc… are smorgasbords Italian? Do I mean tapas? No that’s Spanish… Buffet? Whatever: the point is there’s heaps of extras!

The Italian Version of the Film, with or without subtitles is included in the extras.n

The Giallo Gems of Dardano Sacchetti is an interview with the story writer of A Bay of Blood, Sacchetti, and his experiences in the Italian/ giallo film scene, including working with a Bava on this film.

Joe Dante Remembers Twitch of the Death Nerve sees director/ film enthusiast Joe Dante talk about Bava and his reception in America.

Shooting a Spaghetti Classic looks at how A Bay of Blood was shot through the eyes of assistant cameraman Gianlorenzo Battaglia.

There are also two Trailers from Hell narrated by Shaun of the Dead director, Edgar Wright, which are both for A Bay of Blood, but under two of its other names, Carnage and Twitch of the Death Nerve.

Finally there are two radio spots for the film.

Also, the review edition is the Arrow Films release from about 2010 and it has a choice of 4 different covers, a poster and a booklet about the film by Jay Slater.

Score: ****

WISIA: It’s kitschy and cute, and gory as hell! It’ll get watched again, for sure!

Baron Blood aka Gli Orrori Del Castello Di Norimburga (1972)

One from the re watch pile…

Baron Blood aka Gli Orrori Del Castello Di Norimburga (1972)

Film: I have to preface this review with a short story that I have told to many people, but it particularly refers to this film and my affection for it. You see, Baron Blood was probably the last film to really scare me… not because the film is particularly scary, but instead because of the situation that I found myself in after it.

As a early teenager, I was lucky enough to see this at a little independent cinema known as the Miranda Forum, in Miranda, NSW. The forum did stacks of double features and I was lucky enough to see this film, under the guise of The Torture Chamber Of Baron Blood with another horror film you MAY have heard of called An American Werewolf in London.

The experience of seeing the films was amazing, and after it finished it, my friends were all picked up by their parents and it left me to walk the 5km trip home alone, at about midnight, during a blackout that was effecting the street lights.

Sufficed to say, I ran like a rat up a drainpipe.

Due to this, Baron Blood sits in my brain as a particularly scary film… and let’s just say that the blonde-haired and green-eyed appearance of Elle Sommer set a stamp in my mind that would be permanent, and I have always been mainly attracted to that type.

Much later, after becoming a fan of the work of Mario Bava, whom I discovered through my love of Dario Argento’s body of work, I realised this was in actual fact a Bava film, from a script written by him, Willibard Eser and Vincent Fotre. Even at such a young age I must have instinctively been able to spot great talent!

Anyhow, Baron Blood tells of Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora), a young man who has travelled to Austria to see his family’s castle and there he meets the sexy… I’m not sure what she does actually… Eva Arnold (Elke Sommer) and the two of them have an instant attraction.

Peter convinces Eva, as a joke, to perform a ritual that he found written on a parchment discovered at a relatives house to see what happens, and unfortunately for them, and the many victims, it brings the evil legendary Baron Otto Von Kleist (Joseph Cotton) back from the dead, ready to reclaim his castle and murder everyone who gets in his way!

During the ritual, the ceremonial winds… you know the ones, every GOOD evil ritual has them… blows the parchment into the fire, the parchment containing the words to reverse the spell! Without that information, how will our lovestruck heroes survive?

Mario Bava is well known as one of the greatest Italian filmmakers ever, and he has an incredible fluid style with occasionally an almost cartoonish palette which creates a greater sense of depth within his images. His usual extreme colors aren’t present in this film, but it’s a beautiful film nevertheless, and a great example of modern gothic.

The film has a great cast too. Joseph Cotten from The Third Man, Massimo Girotti from Last Tango in Paris, Antonio Cantafora from Demons 2, Elke Sommer from A Shot in the Dark and even Nicoletta Elmi, an child actress seen in many Italian horror films, from Bay of Blood, to The Night Child and Demons.

This film is a particular interesting piece of Bava’s history too as it isn’t filmed in his native Italy, and instead in Vienna. This is interesting as Bava notoriously hated to travel and rarely filmed away from home.

It may be for strange reasons but I love this film, it’s easily one of my favourite Bava films and is well worth a watch, even if you don’t have to walk home in the dark after seeing it.

Score: ****1/2

Format: The reviewed copy of this film was on Arrow Video’s Region B Bluray/ DVD combo pack. The film, on the Bluray, is presented with a 1.78:1 image with a 2.0 Mono and both are fine considering the age of the film and the restoration has brought it back beautifully.

Score: ****

Extras: Oh, boy do we have some extras.

First, there are actually three different versions of the film available to watch on the disc: the ‘export version’, the AIP version and the original Italian version, aka The Horror Of Nuremberg Castle. Being able to watch the film in these three different formats is quite interesting, even though the story doesn’t change. Bare in mind though, the American International Pictures (AIP) version has had a solid 7 minutes cut from it and has a far less interesting musical track accompanying (it’s not bad, just a little horror-movie generic). The entire contents of the Bluray are also presented on two accompanying DVDs as well!

There is an audio commentary by Tim Lucas, the author of Mario Bava: All The Colors of The Dark (a seriously detailed look at Mario Bava’s history) and Video Watchdog editor, which really dissects the film both in its actual story, its place in Bava’s filmography and in Italian cinema in general. This is on the export version of the film.

Introduction by Alan Jones sees respected UK movie expert Alan Jones (not the Australian one) briefly introduce the film and its history.

There are both English and Italian trailers for the film, and some radio spots too.

Bava at Work is a series of photos of Bava making a bunch of different films. There is some interesting shots, but stills belong either in books, or in moonshiner’s backyards.

Ruggero Deodato Interview is a look at the golden age of Italian horror through the eyes of Cannibal Holocaust director Deodato. He has some amusing anecdotes and recollections of Bava and the period.

Also in this package is a booklet with an essay by film critic James Oliver, and details of the restoration process as well. The booklet is illustrated throughout.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s a permanent nostalgic favourite so it gets a lot of respins at the To Watch Pile Estate.

Italy Day Review: Cailtiki the Immortal Monster (1959)

One from the to watch pile…
Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)


Film: I was involved in a conversation the other day on Facebook about Italian horror film directors, and basically the question was ‘other than Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento and Mario Bava, who is your favourite Italian horror film director?’

This proposes an interesting point: most of us who are Italian horror fans rely on those three directors as our go-to men for European horror, and why not? Argento chills us with his deft hand with giallo, Fulci thrills with his gory-laden zombie output, and Bava… well, Bava is Bava: a director whose eye for setting, and lighting a scene is unsurpassed, and who is European cinematic royalty… no, WORLDWIDE cinematic royalty!

This film, 1959’s Caltiki the Immortal Monster, aka Caltiki il Monstro Immortale, is Bava’s first directorial attempt, though he is uncredited. Credited director Riccardo Freda left the project halfway through, claiming he wished the producers, who had previously mistreated Bava, would recognise what a talent he actually is. Bava himself described this as his first film.

Caltiki the Immortal Monster tells of a group of archeologists who are set upon by an amorphous thing when investigating an ancient Mayan temple. One of the expedition is killed, and another injured by the creature, and the only way to help him is to cut off the piece of the creature that is attached to his arm.


We make it back to civilisation and discover not only had the victim of the attack gone slightly mad (actually, he was somewhat of a jerk in the first case, so one hardly notices) but the now-removed thing on his arm hasn’t only grown, it has also multiplied… can mankind survive this creature, or is it doomed to suffer the same fate as the Mayan’s did many years before..

This film is very much a product of what some countries were doing in this time. The success of the Universal horror and scifi films, and their competitors, had changed cinema somewhat and had created an industry were professors were heroes, me monsters, alien or terrestrial, are the enemy.

One of the real surprising things about this film is that even though it’s origins in the American black and white scifi and horror films, it has a lot of European sauce through it. There is a scene of a native dance that is surprising in its explicitness for its time. Now I don’t mean there is full frontal nudity, but the native girl gyrates in a manner quite over the top for the time it was filmed. For that matter, it’s surprisingly gruesome for the same time!

The effects showing the gore is pretty good too, and really only falls over with a miniature scene of two, and honestly can be forgiven when the time is to be taken into consideration. There’s one particular matte painting which fails too due to an actor’s shadow being cast over the image, which reveals it has no depth of field.

The story by Fillipo Sanjist is a quaint mix of American films of a similar period, with smart adventurous scientists, a monster and a threat from space filling its script. It does borrow heavily from The Blob (Caltiki is a Blob like creature and attached itself to a man’s arm) and has elements of Quatermass and Lovecraft within its universe.


What’s really weird for me was that I got a real Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom vibe off the whole affair, and was mentally comparing it to that!

The best thing about the film is how you can actually see Bava’s use of light to create depth. Something he does much better in color, but it is still extraordinarily impressive when doing it with black and white. You can really see the beginnings here of what will become an amazing career.

I really liked this film and am happy to include it both my Mario Bava and Arrow films collection.

Score: ****


Format: The reviewed copy of the film was the UK Arrow films region B Bluray (which also comes with a DVD copy) which runs for approximately 76 minutes and has a strikingly good 2K restored, 1.66:1 image with an efficient mono audio track.

Score: ****

Extras: There is a real great bunch of extras on this disc. The first thing is two commentaries, one from horror historian and Bava buff Tim Lucas, which is a technically complete commentary with many insights into the making of the film and the other is from Italian horror movie expert Troy Howarth, writer of giallo bible So Deadly So Perverse, which covers a lot of the same ground as Lucas’, though Howarths is far more conversational and less formal.

From Quatermass to Caltiki sees writer Kim Newman talk about not just this film, but what influenced it and what it influenced.

There is a really cool full aperture version of the film which removes any in-camera matte work so the joy of Bava’s cinematography and effects work can be better appreciated.

Archival Features has some previously released extras of the film including a 20 minute discussion about Riccardo Freda, with film critic Stefano Della Casa. The Genesis of Caltiki which talks about the film with Luigi Cozzi. There is an Archival introduction to the film, again with Stefano Della Casa. There is also a US theatrical trailer and alternate US opening titles.

As with many of Arrow’s releases this comes with a reversible cover, and an illustrated booklet featuring essays by Kat Ellinger, Roberts Curti and Tim Lucas.

Score: *****

WISIA: This is exactly what WISIA is all about: I thoroughly enjoyed the film but can’t see myself visiting it again.

Black Sunday (1960) Review

It’s the 1st of June and the second day of my celebration for Italy’s Festa Della Repubblica, and so the second color on the Italian flag, and what better way to celebrate than with a black and WHITE film, Black Sunday!
So here is one from the re watch pile…

Black Sunday aka La Maschera Del Demonio (1960)


Film: One can’t celebrate Italian cinema without the name Mario Bava coming up. The son of special effects artist, Eugenio, Bava was born to make movies. His seemingly natural eye for misé en shot and his ability to be trans-genre made him a formidable director, and more importantly cameraman (It is out of respect I say ‘cameraman’ rather than cinematographer as he himself preferred that term). His eye for setting a scene is unrivalled and every new act in a film is a visual revelation.

Truly, Bava was a cinematic artist.

This review was done on the Arrow bluray release from the U.K. and upon watching, the first thing you will notice is the opportunity to watch either Black Sunday or The Mask of Satan. Black Sunday is the American International Pictures version of the film, whereas The Mask of Satan is the Galatea Jolly Film version of the film. I watched The Mask of Satan several times on this collection, but never bothered with Black Sunday as I knew it was an edited version. For this review I did watch both.


 In Moldavia in 1630, a vampiric witch Asa (Barbara Steele) and her consort Javuto (Arturo Dominici)are in league with Satan and are put to death by the the chief inquisitor, who happens to be her brother, and the townspeople by hammering the mask of Satan, a spiked iron mask onto her head. Of course before she is put to death she vows external vengeance in her brother’s descendants… Like we ALL do when being put to death by a sibling. They attempt to burn her body but the elements stopp it, so instead she is interred in a windowed coffin, which constantly casts the shadow of a cross onto her face to keep her there.

200 years later in the 1800s, a young doctor, Andre Gorobec (John Richardson) and his learned elder, Professor Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) are on their way to a medical conference in Moscow when their horse and cart loses a wheel in the forest they are travelling through. The horseman fixes the wheel, but the two go exploring in a tomb close by.: the very tomb the witch was buried in!!

The horseman requires assistance is resetting the wheel, and so Gorobec goes to help, leaving the Professoralone, but he is attacked by a bat and accidentally smashes the godly protections placed around the tomb to keep the witch in her stead. As they leave the tomb they are greeted by a young woman, Katia (also played by Steele) a descendant who looks like the original witch, and her good looks enchant Gorobec and they are soon on their way, accidentally taking with them one of the contents of the tomb.


What they don’t realise is they have revitalised the witch, and very soon she will returned reap her revenge upon the ancestors of those who killed and entombed her, but can she be stopped?

The two versions of this film on this disc have slight variations. Just by looking at the time codes you will realise the American version has had 3 minutes of ‘questionable’ material removed from it for American audiences, including a shorter ‘mask impalement’ and branding, and changed elements such as Asa’s brother Javuto now being her servant. The dialogue has also been altered slightly when it was entirely redone in the states as AIP bosses Samual Z. Arkoff and James Nicholson decided the Italian translations to English were stilted. The American version also has a title card with a small explanation as to what was happening in Eastern Europe during these times.

The first thing one must notice is just how damned grisly this film is for 1960. I remember when I first watched this film I checked and rechecked the date it was made as the special effects are stunning, and quite brutal. I completely understand why the American’s excised so much from it as in the 60s, even cut, it still must have created quite an impact.

Bava’s affection for special effects obviously comes from his father, but his skill as a cameraman and his understanding of lighting a scene is definitely on show here. His obvious and possibly natural comprehension of artists using chiaroscuro, the use of contrasting dark and light for effect, is used here in such an effect that the depth of each scene makes it almost three dimensional, and the way a closing door or a slight shift of light can change the mood of a scene is amazing.

I especially like the touch of having the emblem of the vampires being that of a dragon, which lends itself nicely and was possibly a tribute to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the character, and the actual real Vlad the Impaler, being of the ‘Order of the Dragon’, a chivalric order formed during the crusades in 1408. I also wonder if Amando De Ossorio borrowed his silent, slow motion horses from this film for his Blind Dead series, which was used here to great effect.

So is this my favourite Bava film? Definitely not, but there is so much to like here: the atmosphere is a tangible and the performances melodramatic and a joy to behold.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This viewing was done on the UK’s Arrow film’s bluray release which has been masterfully restored. Depending on which version you watch, the film The Mask of Satan runs for approximately 86 minutes whereas Black Sunday runs for 83 minutes, due to the aforementioned slicing and dicing by AIP. The film is present in 1.66:1 with a Mono 2.0 audio, both of which look and sound just fine.

Score: *****

Extras: You want extras? Oh boy, do we have extras in this package!


Disc 1 features a commentary by Tim Lucas, an Introduction with Alan Jones (the English Italian horror expert one, not the Australian one), and Interview with Barbara Steele, a deleted scene, the international, US and Italian Trailer, a TV spot and Bava’a ‘first’ film I, Vampiri, which when click upon take you to a sub menu that also features it’s trailer and trailers for other films from Bava including The Mask of Satan, Hercules in the Haunted World, Erik the Conquerer, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Sabbath, The Whip and the Body, Blood and Black Lace, The Road to Fort Alamo, Planet of the Vampires, Knives of the Avenger, Kill, Baby…Kill, Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, Danger: Diabolik, Hatchet for The Honeymoon, Five Dolls for an August Moon, Roy Colt & Winchester Jack, Carnage (Bay of Blood), Baron Blood, Four Times That Night, Lisa and the Devil, Rabid Dogs and Shock.

I have to quickly insert a mini review of I Vampiri here as well. This is a beautifully shot film that tells a modern (well, modern for the late 50s) version of the legend of Lady Bathory. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am glad it came as an extra on this disc… Honestly, I would say I enjoyed this film MORE than Black Sunday!

Disc 2 is a DVD featuring every thing above, except for the film I Vampiri, and the trailers.

Disc 3 is a DVD featuring the film I Vampiri and the other extras listed under the sub menu for I Vampiri on disc 1.

So that’s just the discs, also in the package we have a booklet with articles relating to the films on this disc: Black Sunday by Matt Bailey, a Barbara Steele interview, I Vampiri by Alan Jones and Riccardo Freda on I Vampiri and Mario Bava. It’s a cool booklet that is quite informative.

Honestly I think the only thing this package is missing is another run of Black Sunday, but instead with the U.K.’s less distressing title of the 60s, Revenge of the Vampire!

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s a Bava film so at the forbidden Castle of J.R. it gets a regular re-spin, as does a lot of his films, especially Baron Blood… But not so much Lisa and the Devil. It’ll be pulled off the shelf a lot more now though that I’ve experienced I Vampiri!