Director: Curtis Harrington
Release date: 1966
What can I say about this film, but what a little gem. This is a low budget sci-fi flick with big ambitions. A lot of the stock effect scenes were taken from the Soviet movie “Nebo Zovyot” (1960), but added seamlessly into the film and the cast is superb. Also note that horror staples Samuel Z. Arkoff and Roger Corman were involved in this as Producer and Executive Producer respectively.
The year is 1990, man has bases on the moon and is preparing for trips to Mars and Venus when a signal is received from an alien planet – they are to send an ambassador to earth. A probe arrives and the pictures it contains tell chief scientist Doctor Farraday (Basil Rathbone) that the alien ambassador has crashed on Mars. The starship Oceana was due to visit Mars for the first time in 6 months but the project is brought ahead of schedule. On board are Commander Anders Brockman (Robert Boon) and astronauts Laura James (Judi Meredith) and Paul Grant (Dennis Hopper). The ship encounters trouble, in the form of a sunburst, but is able to land. They find the alien ship, but only one dead astronaut.
Allan Brenner (John Saxon), Laura’s fiancé, suggests that they take a smaller ship, the Meteor, to launch search satellites to look for a rescue pod. The Meteor has less fuel capacity so they would then have to land on Phobos and take their own rescue ship to Mars. They do this but find the alien rescue pod on Phobos. Flipping a coin, fellow astronaut Tony Barrata (Don Eitner) is left on Phobos to await further rescue as they have found a survivor (Florence Marly) and their pod can only take two.
The build up to this point is rather slow in places, Harrington doing his best to draw a real world around us, but perhaps gets lost in minutia – but hereafter the film really kicks up a gear.
The alien is listed on imbd as “Alien Queen” but the films credits call her “?”. She has green skin, pointy silver hair and a very tight fitting suit. She never speaks and all emotion is portrayed in facial gestures – it is clear she does not like Laura. As they return to earth Paul gets her to drink but cannot get her to eat, they want to test her blood but she is afraid of the needle. Then, whilst on shift alone, she approaches Paul. Her eyes glow hypnotically silver and she attacks. In the morning Paul is found dead, his body drained of blood and wounds are on his wrist. It doesn’t take them long to realise what has happened as ? is in deep sleep, digesting her meal, with blood round her mouth. Allan wants to destroy her but Anders steps in the way, he suggests that they feed her plasma from their supplies and, back on the moon, Farraday agrees. Interesting to note that they refer to her always as a specimen, and doing tests on her when back on earth.
The plasma runs out and Anders' plan is to give her their blood donated by the crew in a none lethal fashion, however this plan never comes to fruition as Anders finds himself attacked and killed. The next morning Allan ties her up.
He is on shift, with Laura sleeping, when ? awakens. She uses her hypnotic eyes to burn through the rope. Laura wakes and finds Allan being fed upon, she fights with ? and scratches her, which causes ? to scream and run. They find her dead – she has chronic haemophilia - hence being afraid of the needle earlier. When they land on Earth they realise that ? has secreted eggs all over the ship. Allan wants to destroy them but is overruled by Farraday who wants to study them. Here the film ends, with a shot of jelly like eggs and Allan’s warning that she was not an ambassador but had been sent to Earth to colonise us as a feeding ground still ringing in our ears.
The cast obviously loved making this film, especially Rathbone who is marvellous as Farraday and most interesting is the similes that can be pulled to the classic sci-fi/horror movie “Alien” (1979). The elements from “Alien” are all their from the distant signal, the need of the scientists to posses the creature, the picking off of crew members and the depositing of eggs (admittedly more to do with “Aliens” (1986)) it is impossible to think that this film had no influence on Dan O’Bannon when he wrote the script for his opus – even if it were only subconscious. The big difference was that the creature was a space vampire, and vampire she certainly was - this is a prime example of the vampire being an alien creature rather than a supernatural creature.
Scoring this is difficult. Many will be lost within the kitsch that makes up the look of the film, but given when it was made that can be forgiven. However the start of the film does become bogged down in minutia that perhaps is not needed. After thought I settled on 7 out of 10, but must add that I did thoroughly enjoy this and anyone who loves 60s sci-fi should get something out of this.
The imdb page is here.