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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
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 SuperPanoramico

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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