Friday, August 27, 2010

Planet of the Vampires (also a brief Atlas Comics tangent)

Planet of the Vampires.  A classic SciFi/Horror movie made in 1965, Planet of the Vampires was Directed by Mario Bava (Famed horror-director of such classics as 'Black Sabbath') and based upon an original Italian science fiction story by Renato Pestriniero's "One Night of 21 Hours," which I've never been able to locate in English anywhere.  And that's probably for the best.  Like the brief review in The Essential Monster Movie Guide by Jones and Ackerman, the plot almost makes sense.  But don't take my word for it; you can find a few other folk's reviews and coverage of this movie here, here and herePlanet of the Vampires is far more memorable for its costume design and use of in-camera effects than the plot, acting or cast.  But the sets are interesting, the effects are clever for a B-movie getting done on the ultra-cheap back in the Sixties, and it has exerted a strange influence over later SciFi directors including Dan O'Bannon (Alien).  Here's the trailer:

As you can see from the trailer, Planet of the Vampires is definitely a movie of its time.  A real Spaghetti-Raygun movie, if you will.  One of the more interesting scenes that you've probably seen in another movie...like say Alien is the following scene:

Another thing that is memorable about this movie are the costumes.  The all-leather, high and notched Dracula-collars and the bold yellow racing stripes kind of resemble something that you'd find on an Italian race car driver and might have been designed by Gucci or one of the more fashionable houses of haute couture.  These costumes must have been hotter than blazes to wear, but they are still cool, they're very reminiscent of motorcycle leathers for outspace motocross.  Check them out:


These costumes also remind me of Northwest Smith's "Spaceman's Leathers," as Leigh Brackett once described his apparel.  Even Freddy Mercury very likely wouldn't have been able to find spacier leather gear outside of a Leather bar in Munich...
Back in 1975 Atlas Comics produced a short-lived comic series adapting Planet of the Vampires into a Post-Apocalyptic Free-For-All that actually was a lot of fun, even if it only lasted for three issues.   The comic series essentially re-wrote things so that a bunch of astronauts (as in Planet of the Apes) returned from a manned-mission to Mars (around 2010, plus they had one woman crew-member), and as they approach Earth they can't raise mission control.  There was a nuclear war.  They land in the middle of a royal mess, getting 'rescued' by dome-dwelling humanoids who turn out to vampires who are caught-up in a doomed never-ending cycle of internecine geurilla warfare with the more barbarous survivors outside the domes, sanguinous predation upon said survivors, and their own internal political squabbling within each of the various domes which have become xenophoobic, paranoid and ripe for overthrow by the heroic astronauts leading the assembled masses of the barbarian riff-raff hordes who would like nothing better than to destroy the bloodsuckers once and for all...except maybe kill one another off over various tribal squabbles.

It's a very fundamental RPG setting that retains the cool leather outfits for the vampires, but essentially rewrites everything else from the ground up.  Which, upon reflection, isn't a half-bad way to deal with this particular movie/story/setting.

I'm not sure who owns Atlas Comics' or rather I should say Atlas/Seaboards' IP right now (I originally thought that it was Marvel...but...Goodman left/was forced out from Marvel and started-up Seaboard/Atlas in the early Seventies and they were the ones who produced Planet of theVampires, Scorpion, Wulf the Barbarian, etc. not the Pre-Marvel Atlas, which is an entirely other entity), and I'm not sure if there is any hope to revive/resurrect the old Seaboard/Atlas version of Planet of the Vampires, but I, for one, would like to see it happen.  Those three issues from 1975 had a lot of untapped potential and it could easily be shifted into a more Pulp-ish sensibility, lifting tropes and trappings from related/parallel B-movies and possibly re-integrating the franchises' roots into the bargain.  It would be cool.  Just as long as you kept the leather spacesuits...

You can find a list of Seaboard/Atlas comics at the Grand Comics Database.  Steve Ditko's off-the-wall Destructor was a lot of fun, as were the first three issues of Howard Chaykin's Doc Savage-esque Scorpion which has long since been abandoned / re-worked into Dominic FortuneIronjaw was just plain weird, and The Grim Ghost always felt like a rip-off of a Charlton comic especially as it was drawn by Ditko...and I won't even mention the weirdest title Atlas ever put out: Tarantula...
Yeah.  A guy gets cursed by a witch being burnt at the stake.  He transforms into a humanoid tarantula.  A bipedal, green spider-dude.  Bizarre stuff.  Not exactly their most enduring nor exactly memorable work, but also not entirely or totally derivative either.  In any case, out of all the Seaboard/Atlas titles that I remember the best and most fondly, it is Planet of the Vampires. It only has a tangential relationship to the movie it is derived from, but it is fun and boldly took things forwards in a very, very Seventies manner.  SyFy could easily adapt the comic into one of their schlocky productions...that'd be ... weird ... Maybe we'll see a Planet of the Vampires supplement for Terminal Space or Xplorers someday?  Heck, the alien-possessed crew of a returning atomic spaceship could get written into a War Rocket scenario even.  That'd be fun.

They don't make movies like this any more.
Or do they?


  1. What's that you say? You see more of those pulp War Rocket miniatures?


  2. This is on Xfinity/Comcast as a free movie right now until 7/9. Watched it twice this AM instead of going to CONvergence. Will watch it once more tonight. Am thinking about what here is FATE-worthy at the moment.

  3. We'll probably swing by the library and check it out again later. It's a fun movie to watch after seeing Alien again, there is a lot in common between the two, only Planet has the better space suits. Very old school pulp. Very Italian. In the best fashion sense.

    We tend to miss CONvergance locally. It's scheduled over the July 4th weekend, and we haven't been able to go yet. Maybe some time other time we can finally go to this one.

    I'm not sure about what all constitutes good elements for use in FATE, but this movie was mined heavily by more than one screen-writer, so it seems that it would have a bit to offer a FATE GM...

    ...and it has the best space suits after Forbidden Planet...


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