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TERRORE NELLO SPAZIO (1965, Italian/Spanish co-production)
Director/Cinematographer: Mario Bava
Story: Based on "One Night of Twenty-One Hours," by Renato Pestriiero.
Screenplay: Callisto Cosulich, Alberto Bevilacqua, Antonio Roman, Rafael J. Salvia, and Mario Bava (U.S. version credited to Louis M. Heyward and Ib Mechior)
Camera Operator: Antonio Rinaldi
Editing: Romana Fortini
Music: Gino Marinuzzi, Jr. (U.S. video version re-scored by Kendall Schmidt)
Main Players: Barry Sullivan (Captain Mark Markay); Norma Bengell (Sanya); Angel Aranda (Wes); Evi Mirandi (Tiona); Fernando Morales (Dr. Karan); Ivan Rassimov (Carter); Massimo Righi (Sallis); Federico Boido (Kier)
Alternate titles: Planet of the Vampires; Terror en el Espacio; Planet of Blood; Demon Planet; The Planet of Terror; Terror in Space; The
Outlawed Planet; The Planet of the Damned
Two spaceships land on an uncharted, fog-enshrouded planet in answer to a
distress signal. During the course of the landing, both crews undergo a
strange transformation. In a semi-hypnotic state, the crew of the
Galliott savagely kill each other off. The only thing that prevents the
Argos' crew from doing the same thing is Captain Markary's resistence to
the power that has overtaken the others. Markary successfully manages
to shake the others out of their trances, after some initial mayhem.
Following this, Markary and several other crew members make their way
across the strange, uninhabited landscape, which is awash with bright
colors and swirling mists, to see if they can be of any help to the
others. To their horror, they find the entire crew of the Galliott --
including Markary's younger brother -- to be dead.
The men bury several of the bodies, but as most of them seem to be sealed into the control room, Markary returns to the Argos to get the
tools that are necessary to break through the doors. By the time he
returns, the bodies have disappeared.
Strange events continue to transpire. Though both ships were guided to
the planet, no sign of life presents itself. Several of the crew
members are killed, while Tiona goes into shock after seeing a few of
the dead crew members walking about. Dr. Karan tries to assuage the
fears that some malevolent force is at work, but soon even Markary is
convinced that they are in mortal danger so long as they remain on the
planet. However, damages sustained by the ship during landing hinder
all attempts at fleeing, and so the crew continues to be killed off by
some invisible force.
Soon after, Kier and Sallis -- apparent survivors of the Galliott -- appear at the Argos, and are caught trying to steal the ship's meteor rejecter. Though Kier is able to escape with the device, Markary
captures Sallis. As in LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO, Sallis' real identity
is revealed when the catain accidentally tears open the top of his
uniform, revealing the body to be a mass of rotting flesh and exposed
bone. "Sallis" reveals that he is actually an alien being making use
of the dead man's body. He goes on to tell Markary that since their sun
has burned out, the planet is becoming uninhabitable, and that they
lured the two ships to the planet in a last desperate attempt at escape.
Now that they have taken control of the Galliott's crew members, they
plan to use the ship to escape. As they exist on a different plain from
man, they need to take possession of the astronauts in order to survive
in a different atmosphere. "Sallis" assures Markary that resistance is
useless, but the captain answers back that he and his crew will
sacrifice themselves rather than allow the aliens to take control of
their home planet. With this threat, the alien departs Sallis' body.
In the race-against-time climax, Markary and the others go to the Galliott to retrieve the meteor rejecter, while Wes stays behind to
guard the Argos. Markary plants a large explosive charge in the
Galliott, in order to insure the destruction of the aliens, while Sanya
makes off with the meteor rejecter. Dr. Karan and Tiona are killed in
the subsequent battle with the aliens, but Markary and Sanya make it
back to the Argos. The ship takes off, with only three survivors.
With the meteor rejecter in place, everything seems to be safe, but Wes is frightened by Markary's strange behavior. He confides his fear to Sanya, and together they confront the captain. Unfortunately for Wes,
both the captain and Sanya have been taken over by the alien beings.
They offer to let him live. In a suggestive line of dialogue, Sanya
tells Wes, "Just let one of us join you. It will give you this wonderful
new complexity." Like Markary before him, he assures the aliens that he
would rather die than submit to a breed of parasites. Before being
killed, Wes sabatoges the meteor rejecter.
Without the rejecter, it is impossible for the ship to make it to home.
Instead, they decide to stop off at a closer planet, with conditions
comparable to the astronauts home planet. In a delicious, brilliantly
conceived twist, Bava reveals that the seemingly human astronauts are not
in fact human at all, and that the alien beings inhabiting their bodies
are going to land on a strange planet called Earth, which is so small
that it is not even listed on most navigation charts. "Sonya" asks
"Markary" how he thinks the people of Earth will react to them. "I hope
well," he snees. "For them."
TERRORE NELLO SPAZIO is one of those wonderful films that is much better
than it has a right to be. As a melding of horror and sci-fi, Bava's
film is uncommonly successul. Of the subsequent horror/sci-fi hybrids
that came along in this film's wake, only John Carpenter's THE THING
(1982), Roy Ward Baker's QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967), and Gordon
Hessler's SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1969) proved to be as satisfying. In
common with those later horror/sci-fi films, Bava's film proposes a kind
of paranoid fantasy. Both SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN and QUATERMASS AND
THE PIT -- and to a lesser extent, THE THING -- deal with the idea of
alien beings influencing the course of society by taking on human form;
in Hessler's film, these creatures are artificially created "super
beings," while Baker's movie proposes the idea that Martians genetically
implanted the dark side of human nature as a means of surviving after
their own world died out -- as one character observes, "We're the
Martians now." Though Bava's film stops just short of showing the
aliens landing on Earth, it is fairly obvious what course of action Bava
is hinting at -- the complete, and systematic, destruction of our
"great" civilization. Ironically enough, the "alien" characters, before
becoming infected by yet another form of "alien" influence, are much
more positively drawn than many of the human protagonists of Bava's
other films. Captain Markary, for instance, is a resourceful and
likeable hero who sacrifices his life in an attempt to save his crew.
Throughout Bava's directorial career, he reveals an obsession with the illusory nature of appearances. Every single one of his films deal with
this idea in some form or another, and in relation to Bava's profession
(as a filmmaker and a cinematographer) it is perhaps not surprising that
he should be so aware of this contradiction. As a cinematographer, for
example, it is Bava's job to make the actors and actresses look as
appealing as possible, while as a director of horror films and
thrillers, his job is to keep audiences guessing every step of the way.
TERRORE NELLO SPAZIO is literally founded on this concept, and in some
ways it is among the most richly satisfying explorations of this notion
of Bava's career. The viewer is lulled into thinking that the
characters are of Earthly origin simply because this appears to be the
case. Likewise, the audience is led to believe that the film is set in
the future, yet when Markary and Sanya look at images of the Earth, it
appears as it would have when the film was made. When the dead crew
members become possessed, they still appear to be alive, yet this is not
the case. True, they are marked by the violence of their death throes
-- the idea of the stigmata, carried over from LA FRUSTA E IL CORPO --
but to the rational Dr. Karan, there is no denying the fact that "they
are here, and very much alive." Bava's suggestion is that people, at
large, lack the capacity to see and interpret things correctly. It is
far simpler to accept the surface appearance, and when confronted with
the idea that things are not always as they appear to be, his characters
are frequently unable to fend for themselves. This is certainly the
case in this film, in which the characters are all forced to pay with
their lives for being unable to discern the reality of their situation.
Ultimately what TERRORE NELLO SPAZIO depicts is the futile attempt to
rebel against Evil. Bava recognizes that there is some good in the world
-- even in this one -- but his perspective is that Evil is a dominating
force. In many of his films, the director shows essentially decent
people who are trodden on and destroyed by their greedy and amoral
peers. The astronauts of this film may possess more redeeming qualities
than are usual for Bavian protagonists, but these characteristics
ultimately go for naught. This point of view finds its most graphic
depiction in Bava's later masterpiece LISA E IL DIAVOLO, in which the
forces of darkness, embodied by the smiling and genial image of Satan
(Telly Savalas), are omnipotent.
Review © Troy Howarth
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