HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.
HCF REWIND NO.77. QUEEN OF BLOOD [US, 1966]
RUNNING TIME: 78 mins
AVAILABLE ON DVD
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Offical HCF Critic
1990. Space travel is frequent and we have colonized the Moon. Despite it being a dead place, an international collective of scientists is looking for evidence of life in space. A transmission is received from an alien species who announce they are coming to visit and are sending ambassadors. Shortly afterwards, one of the scientists receives a video log showing that the aliens have suffered an accident to their ship and crashed on Mars. A rescue team is assembled and heads for Mars, where they find the crashed alien ship but only one dead alien inside. It seems that the rest of the alien crew must have left in a rescue ship…..which may have crashed landed on Phobus, one of Mars’s two moons……
It’s probably well known amongst science fiction fans that Ridley Scott’s classic Alien was influenced by two much earlier films; It! The Terror From Outer Space and Planet Of The Vampires. It seems to me though that another influence was this B-movie from 1966 [which I suppose is a partial remake of It! The Terror From Outer Space and may in turn have influenced Lifeforce?]. As well as being about a spaceship which picks up a monster from a planet, only for it to start dispatching the crew, it even has not one but two scenes where astronauts find and go into crashed spaceships. An early effort by Curtis Harrington who a bit later seemed on the verge of becoming a really good horror director but never fulfilled his promise, it was a typically micro-budget production from B-movie producer king Roger Corman, a master at making the most out of almost nothing. It’s a fun space adventure that is sometimes ridiculous and sometimes a bit draggy even considering its brief running time, but also has moments of surprising effectiveness and is highly atmospheric. It also looks quite lavish for some of the time, as if Corman had really spent a considerable amount of money. In fact, there are special effects involving spaceships with model work and matting that are of very high quality for the time, even bettering Toho movies of the late 50’s/early 60’s..
Well…um….actually….Corman and co. didn’t film any of this footage. A few years before, he bought the rights to three 60’s Russian science fiction films; Mechte navstrechu [A Dream Come True], Planeta Burg [Planet Of Storms] and Nebo Zovyot [The Heavens Call]. These epics were rather too serious and worthy compared to the kind of stuff that Corman usually produced, so instead he cannibalised them for their special effects footage to enhance his own movies, Queen Of Blood not being the only one of his pictures that did this, but probably the best. Though I have not seen any of the original Russian pictures [Planet Of Storms being one of those films I keep meaning to obtain and always get sidetracked by something else!], it seems that Soviet footage takes up over half of this film, with some of the early scenes allowing long sections of it to play without interruption. The spacecraft have unusual shapes and the design of the interior of the alien spacecraft is very imaginative, full of odd bits and pieces and looking….well…..alien. Combined with really bizarre electronic sound effects, these sequences have a trance-like feel, something already created by the opening titles, which combine astonishing paintings of space and alien creatures [by John Cline] with eerily discordant music.
Queen Of Blood takes its time and around the half way point gets a little tedious with lots of to-ing and fro-ing from the Moon, Mars and Phobos. Of course the technical side of things is highly flawed because you have these lavish Soviet effects, but also some spacecraft interiors that are as lo-tech as they come, with papier mache walls that don’t even look finished and dime store props. There’s some laughable inaccuracy such as Mars being red and….yellow. Nonetheless the tension builds quite considerably when they find the green-skinned humanoid female alien and bring her onto the ship. Her first appearance, leaning against a doorway before she collapses, is startling, and the look on her face, with a cruel smile and evil glint in her eyes, when she awakes to find new sources of food looking at her, is chilling. That food is, of course, blood, so she’s a kind of vampire. The ‘feeding’ [which, it is hinted at, may not be just feeding] is mostly off screen, but Harrington makes the most of her appearances, in one scene seeming to appear and disappear as her victim-to-be is transfixed, and Czech actress Florence Marly acts the part superbly, being creepy and also rather sexy. Funny how she’ll probably be remembered most for this film and not the classic movies of director Pierre Chenal,the French director who was once her husband.
The climax is over before you know it though the film atones for this with a rather bleak ending. The cast which include a young Dennis Hopper and John Saxon plus a rather dignified Basil Rathbone in one of his final roles, all give decent performances even when given lines like; “what do we do, take turns playing dinner for her”? I cannot deny that this is, by the very nature of its conception, a somewhat messy movie, with a score that veers awkwardly from electronic soundscapes which are more like sound effects to heroic-sounding orchestral stuff [though it’s always good to hear the theramin!]. It does though have distinct qualities and an almost dreamlike atmosphere which similar films of nowadays rarely have, while I am more and more appreciative of handmade effects done without the aid of any computer. You may not feel you’re in space or on Mars watching Queen Of Blood, but you’ll certainly feel you’re in a weird and perhaps slightly wonderful world.