Face-Off: It! The Terror from Beyond Space vs. Planet of the Vampires

Ridley Scott's ALIEN has had a strong influence on a lot of films over the decades, including previous Face-Off contenders FORBIDDEN WORLD and CREATURE, but there are also earlier movies that obviously inspired ALIEN. Since today, 4/26, is officially ALIEN Day, this seemed like the perfect time to take a look at two films that are clearly reflected in Scott's sci-fi horror classic; Edward L. Cahn's 1958 film IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES from 1965.
The first mission to Mars is a total disaster, resulting in the deaths of nine of the ten astronauts who landed on the planet. A rescue mission is sent to Mars to pick up the surviving astronaut and bring him back to Earth to face trial for the murders of his fellow crew members, who he claims were killed by a monstrous Martian creature. He's not lying. During the rescue ship's brief time on the planet, the Martian sneaks on board. Once the ship takes off, the crew is trapped with the murderous beast for the duration of the four month journey back to Earth... But at the rate this alien kills people, they'll be lucky to survive just a few days.
Sister ships the Galliott and the Argos have picked up a distress signal being sent from the fog-enshrouded planet Aura. Their landing on the planet is far from smooth, but that bumpy ride is only the start of their problems. There is something very strange going on here, something that causes unusual light shows and has an effect on people's behavior. Something that has left several humans and aliens dead. And dying isn't always the end for the victims of this otherworldly force. While IT is straightforward about what's going on, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is driven by an intriguing mystery. However, that mystery unfolds so gradually that I start to lose interest before we get answers.
The theory is that there was once a thriving civilization on Mars, but it was brought down by something terrible. The survivors reverted to barbarism, becoming creatures like the hideous, clawed beast called IT! This Martian feeds on moisture, sucking every bit of blood, bone marrow, secretions, etc. out of its victims. Even those who get away from it with a wound may not survive, as it carries a bacteria that attacks a person's bone marrow, resulting in a leukemia-like condition. The creature may look and act a bit silly, but it's truly a nasty, dangerous monster.
Immediately upon landing on Aura, the astronauts are filled with an out-of-character aggression and turn against each other. Some of them are able to snap out of it, but others fight each other to the death. The dead crew members then rise as alien-possessed zombies... which might have been terrifying at the time, but don't have as much impact in these zombie-saturated days. The dying race of Aurans exist on a different "vibratory plane" than us and are seeking to take over human bodies so they can escape their planet and hopefully survive somewhere else. Like Earth.
IT is your standard low budget, black and white B-movie of the '50s. You have a rubber-suited monster rampaging around cheap space ship sets, and that's all part of the film's charm. If you have an aversion to this sort of movie, IT probably isn't going to rise above it. If you like this sort of movie, IT is a highly entertaining example of the old school Bs.
VAMPIRES was a low budget movie itself, made with a lack of resources and cast members speaking multiple languages to be dubbed over later. Bava made it with style to spare, though. The greatest thing about the film is its cinematography; how the on-set special effects were shot and the colorful lighting that splashes across them. This movie is really wonderful to look at.
IT doesn't waste any time getting to the point, giving us the first death within 20 minutes of the 68 minute running time. There's some down time on the way to the climax, but the characters spend the entire film on high alert, trying out different ways to solve their alien problem. Grenades are detonated, guns are gathered, rooms are flooded with radiation, booby-traps are set, characters even have to walk on the outside of the space ship at one point. IT is fun and fast.
My biggest issue with VAMPIRES is the pace. Even though the movie is only 88 minutes long, I still find that it drags a bit. Like Scott with ALIEN, Bava wasn't afraid to let scenes take their time playing out. The majority of the running time is spent building up a strange, creepy atmosphere, with most of the action being packed into the last 20 minutes. Even though that action involves (lazer) gunfire and explosives, it still doesn't do all that much for me.
Much like the crew in ALIEN, the astronauts in IT banter and laugh over a meal that wouldn't look too out of place in a lunch room on Earth. Once the chestburster ruins dinner in ALIEN, the film essentially becomes a remake of IT - Cahn's film is all about a fight for survival against an alien creature that stalks the crew of a space ship, making its way around the craft inside the air vents. The ALIEN crew had flamethrowers, an IT character keeps the monster at bay with a welding torch. Similar tactics are used to stop the different aliens, too.
The second half of ALIEN is IT, but the first half draws inspiration from PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES - a ship drawn to a planet by a mysterious transmission, the crew then making their way around the desolate planet surface. The ALIEN characters find the derelict spacecraft with the dead Space Jockey inside, the PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES crew find a crashed alien spacecraft with the skeletons of its long-dead, giant crew members scattered around. Scott and the writers denied ever seeing VAMPIRES, but the similarities don't feel like mere coincidence.
If you were to put these two movies in a blender, the result would be ALIEN, but if you put IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES against each other in a Face-Off situation, IT comes out the clear winner. While VAMPIRES is more stylish, I find IT to be a more entertaining, with a more interesting alien threat.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or do you think PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES should have taken the win? Do you prefer either IT or VAMPIRES over ALIEN? Share your thoughts on these films in the comments section below. If you have suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can contact me at [email protected].



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