Film Review: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Also known as: The Demon Planet (US TV title), Planet of Blood, Space Mutants, Terror In Space, The Haunted Planet, The Haunted World, The Outlawed Planet, The Planet of Terror, The Planet of the Damned (alternative titles) 
Release Date: September 15th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Ib Melchior
Based on: One Night of 21 Hours by Renato Pestriniero
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr.
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda, Evi Marandi

Italian International Film, Castilla Cooperativa Cinematográfica, American International Pictures, 88 Minutes


“I’ll tell you this, if there are any intelligent creatures on this planet… they’re our enemies.” – Capt. Mark Markary

While Mario Bava is mostly known for his horror and giallo pictures, I really liked when he did more ambitious, larger scale things like this and Danger: Diabolik.

Bava was really good at making Italian blockbusters that looked more epic in scale and production cost than a typical ghost story or murder mystery. But I guess he was just a superb director all around because even his misses are still enjoyable and have enough positives to make them worthwhile.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this specific Bava film. So long in fact, that when I had seen it previously, I didn’t really know who Bava was and I certainly wasn’t as acclimated to his work, as I am now.

This was a favorite late night film of mine, as a kid, though. I remember it being on late night cable quite a bit when late night cable was still really fucking cool when you weren’t going down the rabbit hole of infomercials.

I always loved the look and style of this film and I didn’t even realize it was Italian/Spanish back then. While it looked like your typical ’50s and early ’60s sci-fi epic, it was a lot more colorful and vibrant. I think it’s visual allure is what drew me to it and it’s that visual allure that would eventually become the visual style of giallo.

Beyond that, though, I loved the costumes of the crew, I loved the design of the ships, the simple but unique and stylized sets, as well as the look of the planet and all its weirdness.

The scene where we see a giant alien skeleton was so ominous and cool that it asked more questions than it answered and I’ve always kind of felt like it might have inspired the “Space Jockey” from Alien.

Planet of the Vampires is just a really cool, great, old school sci-fi/horror thriller. It’s one of my favorite Mario Bava pictures and honestly, it’s something I should revisit more often.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)

Release Date: July 29th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Castellano & Pipolo (Italian version), Louis M. Heyward & Robert Kaufman (US version)
Music by: Les Baxter (US version), Lallo Gori (Italian version)
Cast: Vincent Price, Fabian, Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, Laura Antonelli, Mario Bava (cameo – uncredited)

Italian International Film, American International Pictures, 82 Minutes


“That’s not Rosanna. That’s a jigsaw puzzle.” – Bill Dexter

I haven’t seen this film in a long time and the two Dr. Goldfoot movies blended together in my memory. I was a bit intrigued to check this one out, though, as I noticed that it was directed by giallo and horror maestro, Mario Bava. He’s a director that has a fantastic style.

Sadly, this was a bit of a let down. That’s not to say that the first movie was great by any stretch of the imagination but it was entertaining and full of charming whimsy. This picture is a big step down.

I think that this may just be a problem with the American version of the film, however, as the jokes and gags don’t seem to land. This could be due to this being an Italian production, unlike its predecessor, and some of the humor got lost in poor translation.

The film does seem more concerned with showcasing gags than any sort of interesting, coherent story though.

I still enjoyed Vincent Price in this but his performance is weaker, overall, because he didn’t have his assistant from the first movie, who was a good goof for Price to play off of. They had good banter and decent chemistry but in this film, the new henchman barely speaks and just sort of follows orders.

The film’s humor is also goofier, as it relies pretty heavily on slapstick and people falling all over the place like a Benny Hill sketch.

Still, this isn’t a complete waste of time if you like ’60s era spy parodies and Vincent Price. He’s surrounded by a weaker cast but at least he’s still fun to watch when he gets to ham it up.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Dean Martin starring Matt Helms films.

Film Review: Caltiki – The Immortal Monster (1959)

Also known as: Caltiki, il mostro immortale (Italy)
Release Date: August 8th, 1959 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda
Written by: Filippo Sanjust, Riccardo Freda
Music by: Roberto Nicolosi
Cast: John Merivale, Didi Perego, Gerard Herter, Giacomo Rossi

Galatea Film, Climax Pictures, Lux Film, 76 Minutes


“The garden is filled with monsters!” – Policeman

In a nutshell, this was an Italian ripoff of The Blob. However, it is so much more than that and actually stands on its own with the extra elements it introduces into the story.

This film’s “blob” is some sort of ancient monster that feeds off of radiation. It is all tied into Mayan mythology and the film gives us some cool sets and architecture because of the Mayan spin on The Blob story.

This film gives us wacky science, multiplying blob creatures, cool sets and it carries a 1950s Tiki vibe, even if it set in Mexico. Back in the day, movies didn’t really care about cultural authenticity. I mean, this film has black people playing Mayan descendants and as far as I know, Mayans just look like badass Mexicans and not a Caribbean voodoo tribe.

Caltiki is co-directed by Mario Bava, which I didn’t even realize until I popped the movie on. This was early in his career and just before his big breakout with 1960’s Black Sunday. It is blsack and white and doesn’t have the colorful giallo look that he would become famous for.

This is a cheesy and hokey movie but it is well crafted and better than you think it would be. It’s not a horror classic but it’s a fun ride, flies by and is far from dull.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Hatchet For the Honeymoon (1970)

Also known as: Il rosso segno della follia, lit. The Red Mark of Madness (Italy), Blood Brides (UK), An Axe for the Honeymoon (alternate)
Release Date: June 2nd, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Mario Bava, Santiago Moncada
Music by: Sante Maria Romitelli
Cast: Stephen Forsyth, Dagmar Lassander, Laura Betti, Femi Benussi

Manuel Caño Sanciriaco, Mercury Films, Pan Latina Films, Películas Ibarra y Cía., 105 Minutes


“My name is John Harrington. I’m 30 years old. I’m a paranoiac. Paranoiac. An enchanting word, so civilized, full of possibilities. The truth is, I am completely mad. The realization which annoys me at first, but is now amusing to me. Quite amusing. Nobody suspects I am a madman. A dangerous murderer. Not Mildred, my wife. Nor the employees of my fashion center. Nor of course my customers.” – John Harrington

For those who read this site fairly regularly, my love of Mario Bava and the giallo genre in general should be pretty apparent. As I’ve been working my way through Bava’s oeuvre, I have come across several films I know and some I have never seen. Hatchet For the Honeymoon is one I have known of but never had the pleasure of experiencing.

While it is generally a giallo, it differs from what I’m used to in that the identity of the killer is known upfront. There is no mystery about the killer’s identity, although the motive isn’t entirely clear until the end and there is still a bit of mystery thrown in. In fact, this film takes some crazy twists and turns in the narrative, as you never really know what’s real or if the main character is just imagining things.

This film plays kind of like American Psycho well before American Psycho, the novel by Brett Easton Ellis, was even written. Our killer here is a high society type, incredibly insane and violently kills those around him. Except our main character isn’t a successful Wall Street player, he is the head of a very successful fashion house in Europe.

He has an obsession with brides and wedding dresses and believes that a woman should love once and die before marriage. While he is in a disastrous marriage himself, he often times seduces beautiful women he comes in contact with through his work. It doesn’t end well for these women.

Hatchet For the Honeymoon is an alluring picture. It uses the vibrant colors of a typical Italian giallo, employing the visual style that Bava helped to create and that several other directors have tried to emulate for decades. While this isn’t as overtly colorful as Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, it still looks like a painting come to life.

Mario Bava weaved an interesting tale with this picture. While it isn’t my favorite of his films, it still enchants like Bava’s more superior work. It draws you in with its strong grip and doesn’t let go until the final moments. It is engaging and beautiful in all the right ways.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Lisa and the Devil (1973)

Release Date: May 9th, 1973 (France)
Directed by: Mario Bava (as Mickey Lion), Alfredo Leone (English version scenes)
Written by: Alberto Cittini, Giorgio Maulini, Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale, Francesca Rusishka, Mario Bava, Alfredo Leone
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina, Alessio Orano, Alida Valli

Euro America Produzioni, Cinematografiche, Leone International, Roxy Film, Tecisa, 95 Minutes


“I prefer ghosts to vampires, though. They’re so much more human; they have a tradition to live up to. Somehow they manage to keep all the horror in without spilling any blood.” – Sophia Lehar

I’m a pretty big fan of Mario Bava’s work. Some of it is brilliant but some of it misses the mark. Unfortunately, Lisa and the Devil is one of the films that fits in with the latter.

I checked it out because I also love Telly Savalas and Alida Valli, due to her work with Dario Argento, most notably Suspiria and Inferno. Also, the premise sounded really cool.

The story is about an American woman who is sightseeing in Spain. She sees a fresco that features the Devil. She then bumps into a man that looks exactly like the Devil from the painting. She tries to avoid him but he keeps popping up. Eventually, after losing her tour group, she takes a ride from some aristocrats who break down in front of a Spanish mansion in the country. The mansion’s butler is none other than the man the American woman kept seeing. Stranded at the mansion, things get interesting.

Well, things should have gotten interesting but they really don’t.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it is so surreal that it is hard to follow. It is also disjointed and takes rapid twists and turns that don’t really do anything other than complicate the narrative. To be completely honest, I have no idea what the hell was happening in this picture from the midpoint on. The American edit of the film is even more confusing, from what I’ve heard, as it had major changes that complicated it further, as it tried to mimic The Exorcist and ultimately got critically torn apart for blatantly ripping off that superior film.

The positives of this film are too scant to really redeem it in any way.

Telly Savalas is cool as the Devil character but he just isn’t explored enough.

Also, the cinematography and use of colors was cool but it didn’t save the cheap looking sets and poor overall design of them. The mansion comes off as just pieces of ornately painted flat walls, which it probably was.

Lisa and the Devil was most likely a failure because it had too many chefs in the kitchen and Bava went too far over the top and needed to reel it in a bit.

Rating: 3.75/10

Film Review: Inferno (1980)

Release Date: February 7th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Based on: Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Music by: Keith Emerson
Cast: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Alida Valli

Produzioni Intersound, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes


“There are mysterious parts in that book, but the only true mystery is that our very lives are governed by dead people.” – Kazanian

For those that don’t know, Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria was actually the first part in what would become a trilogy of films. The second chapter in The Mother of Tears Trilogy is this picture, Inferno.

While this is not the masterpiece that Suspiria is, it is still a stellar companion piece that recaptures the beauty and dread of the first picture. It employs colorful tones and stark contrasts. It uses shadows and highlights superbly and is actually a bit more refined in this regard than its predecessor. Some of that might also have to do with Argento hiring his mentor and giallo master Mario Bava to create some of the optical effects, as well as matte paintings and some direction on trickier shots.

Additionally, Argento suffered a severe case of hepatitis while filming Inferno. He had to shoot some scenes while bedridden and then had to take some time off, as the illness got worse. Mario Bava stepped in to shoot some of the second unit material until production could commence. Also, Lamberto Bava, Mario’s son, was the film’s assistant director. So despite Argento’s health issues, the film was in capable hands and brought together three of the best Italian horror maestros.

Inferno is quintessentially a giallo in its visual style. While it isn’t a proto-slasher flick in the way earlier giallo’s were, it still employs the essence of one while there is much more going on than just a sole slasher cutting up victims in the night.

While shot mostly in Rome, the bulk of the film takes place in New York City. We find out that the evil witch from Suspiria was one of three sisters. This film deals with the sister that lives in New York. However, we also get to see evil forces at work in Rome and the appearance of a mesmerizing young woman that one can assume is the third sister. The third and final film in this series (The Mother of Tears) deals with the last sister and takes place in Rome.

If you are a fan of Suspiria, you should definitely like this film.

The narrative in this chapter isn’t focused on just one primary character like its predecessor. Inferno follows different people, in different cities, as they come to face the looming and growing danger. You kind of aren’t sure who you should be focused on until the film is rolling for quite awhile. There is the sister in New York, the girlfriend in Rome and the brother who travels across the Atlantic from Rome to New York. There are also other characters and you are never quite sure who might know more than they are leading on.

Suspiria was pretty straightforward with a lot of mystery and suspense. Inferno may initially seem a bit disjointed but its mystery has more layers and the suspense is still very effective. This picture enriches the mythos of the trilogy where Suspiria simply told its own singular story.

Inferno is a damn good movie. It is not Argento’s best but it still displays the exceptional work of an auteur with near perfect execution while still at the top of his game. Despite Argento’s health situation, he turned out an incredible motion picture that is just as enchanting and nightmarish as his magnum opus, Suspiria.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Kill, Baby Kill (1966)

Also known as: Operazione paura (Italy), Curse of the Living Dead
Release Date: July 8th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale, Mario Bava
Music by: Carlo Rustichelli
Cast: Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Erika Blanc, Fabienne Dali, Giana Vivaldi, Micaela Esdra

F.U.L. Film, I.N.D.I.E.F., 83 Minutes


Widely considered to be one of Mario Bava’s best pictures and one of the greatest horror films of its time, Kill, Baby Kill is also a pretty mesmerizing and hypnotic experience. It lures you in with its beauty and it holds you in place with its mystery and suspense.

The title may be a bit misleading, as it comes off as some sort of 1960s go-go dancer murder flick. The film is actually a gothic ghost story that takes place in Transylvania. Despite the location, it isn’t a vampire film.

A small Romanian village in the late 1800s sees its people being singled out and stalked by the ghost of a dead little girl. A science-minded skeptical doctor is sent there to do an autopsy. As the story rolls on, he begins investigating the strange happenings and deaths. He also comes into contact with the ghost girl.

Kill, Baby Kill is well directed, well shot and the cinematography is superb. The use of bright colors in contrast to darkness throughout the film is reminiscent of Bava’s giallo films but the added element of gothic looking mansions and graveyards gives the film a sense of atmospheric dread that doesn’t exist as strongly in those colorful giallo pictures.

Contrary to what was the norm, at the time, Kill, Baby Kill is not a very predictable mystery. You never really know if there are actual supernatural happenings going on or if our skeptical hero is going to uncover the truth and be able to explain the mystery scientifically, exposing an elaborate ruse. It is kind of like an episode of the X-Files, in a lot of ways.

Mario Bava was just as good at creating great gothic horror as he was at giallo. Kill, Baby Kill is just another example of this.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Also known as: Diabolik (Italy)
Release Date: January 24th, 1968 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Dino Maiuri, Brian Degas, Tudor Gates, Mario Bava, Angela Giussani, Luciana Giussani, Adriano Baracco
Based on: Diabolik by Angela Giussani, Luciana Giussani
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Adolfo Celi, Terry-Thomas

Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica, Marianne Productions, Paramount Pictures, 105 Minutes


Danger: Diabolik or just Diabolik is a movie based off of the famous Italian comic book character. I am not sure how closely the movie follows the comic but in the film, he is a master thief that elaborately steals pretty much anything of value in an effort to impress his hot girlfriend. Granted, she pulls her weight too, as she helps Diabolik with his overly complicated and crazy schemes.

The film is greatly inspired by the spy thrillers of the era. While the character is a thief instead of a spy, Danger: Diabolik borrows heavily from the style of 1960s James Bond pictures. Visually, it is greatly enhanced by its director, Mario Bava.

Bava frequently used vibrant colors and an opulent atmosphere to give his movies life. Now, Bava takes his style and really lets loose. Everything is bigger and over the top. All of which, is enhanced by magnificent cinematography and art direction.

The score by Ennio Morricone also helps enhance Diabolik‘s atmosphere. In fact, the score is great but when has Morricone ever failed to deliver? Answer: never.

The acting leaves a lot to be desired. It stars John Phillip Law as the title character. Granted, he is much better than his older self, which can be seen hamming it up in the worst way possible in 1988’s cinematic shit stain Space Mutiny. Marisa Mell, who plays Diabolik’s muse, is absolutely majestic and it was hard to concentrate on her acting chops when I found myself in some sort of mystical daze whenever she graced the screen.

Danger: Diabolik is not a good film, overall. It is a visually stunning experience but it doesn’t play nearly as good as other films by Mario Bava. Plus, a lot of it is just ridiculous. To be fair, James Bond films have always been full of completely implausible things. It is just really hard to suspend disbelief when I see party balloons lifting  20 tons of gold in a giant steel safe from the bottom of the Mediterranean.

It is also worth noting that this was the movie featured in the final episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Despite its flaws, it is much better than the typical MST3K feature.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Also known as: Sei donne per l’assassino, lit. Six Women for the Murderer (Italy)
Release Date: March 14th, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Mario Bava, Marcello Fondato
Music by: Carlo Rustichelli
Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Ariana Gorini, Franco Ressel

Productions Georges de Beauregard, Top-Film Produktionsgesellschaft mbH, Emmepi Cinematografica, 89 Minutes


If there is one thing Mario Bava knew how to do, it was to take a normal setting and make it unbelievably colorful, vivid and surreal. Blood and Black Lace is a perfect example of that.

Giallo at its finest, Blood and Black Lace is a classic. The story revolves around a masked killer who is picking off beautiful models one-by-one. The killer’s motive is initially unclear but once a diary revealing secrets about the fashion house is discovered and then stolen, the killer gets more aggressive and desperate.

The killer wears a featureless mask and sports a black trench coat and black hat, similar to the mysterious character The Blank from the 1990 film Dick Tracy. In fact, this movie may have influenced Dick Tracy in that regard, as the unmasking of these two similar characters treads the same territory. Plus, the vibrant color palate of Dick Tracy may take its cue from this film, as well.

Blood and Black Lace, like other giallo movies, is a sort of proto-slasher. It created the idea of a high body count, which would become a slasher trope once those films became popular in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Its style also influenced the likes of Dario Argento, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.

Mario Bava created a beautiful yet unsettling world for this picture to take place in. There is beauty, opulance and elegance at every turn and at the same time, there is dread, terror and unnerving suspense. The film’s colorful presentation, whether in the visual or narrative sense, is in stark contrast to its darkness. There is this sort of multilayered yin and yang: light and dark, beauty and horror, fantasy and reality.

Blood and Black Lace is an alluring motion picture. It is pristine in its presentation and almost enchanting. It also has one of the coolest opening credits sequences I have ever seen, which served to set the film’s tone perfectly.

It would have been impossible for Bava to know how influential this film would be to the future of his industry but without Blood and Black Lace, some of the great films to follow might have never existed or been drastically different.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: Black Sunday (1960)

Also known as: La maschera del demonio (Italy), The Mask of Satan, Revenge of the Vampire
Release Date: August, 11th 1960 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Mario Serandrei, Mario Bava, Marcello Coscia, Dino De Palma
Based on: Viy by Nikolai Gogol
Music by: Roberto Nicolosi
Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici

Galatea Film, Jolly Film, Unidis, 87 Minutes


Black Sunday was a pretty gruesome picture for its day. It was released in Italy unaltered. However, it was banned in the UK for eight years and the American version had a lot of the gore edited out. By today’s standards, it isn’t gory, at all.

The film opened a lot of doors for Barbara Steele, who would go on to become a horror icon. She appeared in other types of pictures but it was those eyes of hers that found work in the world of macabre.

Steele was phenomenal in her dual roles as the vampire Princess Asa Vajda and her descendant Katia Vajda. She almost played good twin versus evil twin, even though her vampire character was two centuries older.

The rest of the cast was pretty solid but it was Steele who stole the show and made this movie her own.

Black Sunday is also a great example of the work of Mario Bava. While it is a black and white film and doesn’t utilize the amazing color palate that Bava and other Italian horror directors would use, the lighting and cinematography are just as alluring. Bava’s use of lighting and contrast makes Black Sunday a very dreamy and hypnotic experience.

In fact, the visual style of Black Sunday is almost a throwback to the gothic horror style of the 1930s, made most famous by the outstanding Universal Monsters films. Truthfully, this film feels twenty-to-thirty years older than it actually is.

Mario Bava also directed the cast magnificently and utilized the sets around them very well. This is one of his most iconic pieces of work.

The special effects are impressive for a 1960 Italian film. For the most part, they are still effective today. A friend of mine who watched this with me recently, even winced at one scene when there was a quick gruesome reveal.

Today, Black Sunday isn’t a well-known horror film. As far as I’m concerned, it is a classic and a real gem among other Italian horror pictures. The Italians made great scary movies. Black Sunday is one of their best.

Rating: 9/10