REMEDIAL SF 101: Planet of the Vampires

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Before there were zombies, vampires were the living dead of choice.  In this atmospherically-shot but dreadfully scripted 1965 sci-fi thriller, the crews of two space ships sent to investigate a distress beacon coming from an alien planet encounter more than they bargained for when invisible entities force them to fight and kill each other, then take over the dead bodies in an attempt to escape from their dying planet.


That's pretty much all you need to know. The plot feels like it was lifted from a Twilight Zone scrap heap, and dragged out to its hour and a half running time by having the cast constantly ask, "What's going on?  Why is this happening?" alternating with "Mark!  Mark!  Mark!" which happens to be the name of the lead character--Mark Markley, the only guy who seems to have a brain in his head.


The sets are pretty interesting, looking like a mod volcanoscape, with colored lights and steam, and several of the props are pretty cool.  But the big guns they tote around barely see any action, and the pacing is so lethargic and disjointed that I started to suffocate while watching this dog.


That said, the plot twist at the end, where just when you think the good guys have won, they lose big time, was kinda interesting, mainly because I wasn't expecting it, but it's not anything that hasn't been done many times over the years in similar B-movies.  This is more of a horror movie with a sci-fi theme than a science fiction film, and it mistakes "interminably dragging out the action" with "building suspense."


The eponymous "vampires" are actually more like zombies, because they're re-animated corpses, and they don't drink blood.   


The uniforms worn by the spaceship crew are sorta neat, in a black leather bondage gear sort of way.  The high collars look really dorky and uncomfortable, though.


There is one really (unintentionally) funny trick, though--you could hardly call it a special effect; when one ship is talking to the crew of the other ship, the actors are standing behind the control panel, visible through a window.  This is just about the cheapest way of simulating a vidscreen you could possibly do.  And it pretty much sums up the quality of the film.


Searching for the source of a distress beacon, the two space ships are pulled down to the surface of the mysterious planet Aura, but land safely.  One crew immediately begins fighting amongst themselves, and are only prevented from killing each other by their leader, the amazingly stalwart Mark, who was the only one able to remain functional under the force of "twenty g's" as the ship plummeted groundward.


They find their sister-ship, but the crew, which include's Mark's younger brother, is dead.  They bury the dead, only to be attacked shortly thereafter by the gristly resurrected corpses.


This goes on for a while, until the dead captain of the mission, when cornered, tells them that the life-forms of the planet are on a different plane of being, and are going to use the bodies of the crew as symbiotic hosts to get off their world and start their species anew.  The infesting aliens are able to come and go invisibly.


Captain Mark decides to blow up the other ship and its cargo of the living dead, and then he, the girl, and the engineer manage to escape in the other ship, which the engineer managed to repair.  Oh, and they've got this thing called a meteor rejector that somehow protects the ships from being hit by meteors, that is vital to the operation of the ships.


So when the engineer discovers that Mark and the girl have actually been taken over by the aliens, he vows not to let them live, and goes and destroys the meteor rejector before being electrocuted by it.


Mark and the girl calmly realize that they now cannot make it home without the meteor rejector, and so decide to land on a nearby, habitable world instead--and look in the viewscreen at Planet Earth.


As I said, this would have been a pretty good half-hour TV show.  At an hour and a half, it's boring as hell.