It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

Hideous Beyond Belief!


Back in February of this year, I wrote about a film that had really impressed me, Divine Intervention by Palestinian director Elia Suleiman. In my post, I mentioned that I prefer foreign “art house” films to Hollywood blockbusters – I’d much sooner watch the sort of stuff directed by the likes of Aki Kaurismäki, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Werner Herzog

However, I also have a small cinematic guilty secret: I enjoy really bad sf films. You know, those dreadfully earnest B-movie sf films from the 1950s and 1960s, with rubbish effects, lots of stock footage, and alien invaders that are quite clearly men in rubber suits. And those straight-to-video Star Wars rip- offs from the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially the Italian ones…

Like Starcrash. This was released in 1979, directed by Luigi Cozzi, and starred Caroline Munro, Christopher Plummer and David Hasselhof. Its plot is very nearly incoherent (unlike Cosmos: War of the Planets, whose plot is incoherent). The Hof is best thing in the film, which probably tells you all you need to know. Classic lines in Starcrash include: “Look! Amazons on horseback! I hope they’re friendly.” and “Imperial Battleship, halt the flow of time!” and “A floating spaceship is about to crash into us!”

Not all of these films are so dreadful, however. Some are much better than appearances would suggest. Galaxy of Terror has been a favourite since I first saw it on VHS back in the mid-1980s. And only a few nights ago, I watched another Roger Corman-produced film from 1966 which is bizarrely good…

Queen of Blood is one of those 1960s American sf films created by overdubbing English dialogue over a pirated Russian sf film and adding additional scenes featuring US actors. It stars Basil Rathbone, John Saxon, and a very young Dennis Hopper. All of the special effects shots, Martian exteriors, and alien spaceship interiors are from Niebo Zowiet, “The Heavens Call”. Queen of Blood‘s plot also clearly inspired Ridley Scott’s Alien – there are obvious resemblances.

Aliens send a message to Earth requesting a meeting, but the spaceship carrying their ambassador crashes on Mars. The International Institute of Space Technology puts together a rescue mission. However, they find only a single alien body in the wreck. The aliens’ rescue ship must be somewhere else on the Red Planet. A second IIST rocket makes its way to Mars in order to place observation satellites in Martian orbit to aid the search. This rocket lands on Phobos… and discovers the alien rescue ship. Which contains a single survivor, a green-skinned woman. During the return journey to Earth, the alien woman kills off the IIST crew one by one and drinks their blood…

It’s not the most profound plot in the history of sf cinema. And Queen of Blood‘s half-Soviet origins hardly bode well. But somehow the film manages to be more than the sum of its disparate parts. The footage from Niebo Zowiet is… weirdly compelling: lots of long shots of huge colourful sets, which seem strangely other-worldly. The film also features some Russian crowd scenes, intercut with close-ups of the American cast. The sudden changes from long to short are a little disconcerting. The title role is played by Florence Marly who, despite green make-up and a very peculiar beehive hairdo, manages to convince without actually speaking a word.

Interestingly, one member of the crew of the first IIST rocket is Judi Meredith. Her character is chosen for the mission because she’s best qualified. And her boyfriend, John Saxon, happily acknowledges as much. For a film made in 1966, that’s quite remarkable. In other areas, perhaps Queen of Blood isn’t quite so forward-thinking – or even scientifically accurate (green-skinned blood-drinking alien queens notwithstanding). There’s no evidence of one-sixth gravity in the scenes set on the Moon, or micro-gravity when the second rocket “lands on” Phobos. But that’s not unusual in science fiction films of the time. Even in the good ones.

Films like Queen of Blood – i.e., not exactly “good”, but very much interesting – are not entirely common. The vast majority of sf films available on cheap B-movie DVD collections are truly dreadful, and often near unwatchable. And sitting through them one after the other over a period of several weeks is probably not a very clever thing to do. I’m a little bit afraid that if I now watch anything directed by Ingmar Bergman, my head is likely to explode. But, joking aside, I’d very much like to see Niebo Zowiet, the Russian film from which Queen of Blood so freely stole. Sadly, no copy with English subtitles appears to exist. Ah well. I’ll just have to keep on watching sf B-movies and hope I stumble across another gem…

2 thoughts on “Hideous Beyond Belief!

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Obscure SF Films « It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

  2. Pingback: As Good As I Remember It? – Frank Herbert’s Dune | It Doesn't Have To Be Right...

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