Saturday, July 28, 2018

Queen of Blood (Cinema West Productions, American International Pictures, 1966)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Mars movie night ( — held on the fourth Friday of the month instead of the usual third Friday to avoid competing with Comic-Con — consisted of two mid-1960’s cheapies, Queen of Blood and The War of the Planets, though the screening’s Web site advertised the latter with its alternate title The Deadly Diaphonoids. Both were pretty dreadful movies, but both were also in the frustrating category of bad movies with potentially good movies inside them struggling to get out. Queen of Blood apparently began live in 1963 as a Soviet sci-fi film called Mechte navstrechu, which means A Dream Come True, though sources differ as to whether Queen of Blood was a remake of the Soviet film or just plundered a lot of its stock footage for a different story. It was also shown in a dreadful print, with bizarre color values that gave a yellow cast to virtually everything — though the accidental psychedelic effects of the deterioration of the film’s color scheme may have actually made it more entertaining than a correctly color-balanced version would have been. The story consists of the U.S.’s first manned mission to Mars — the year is 1990 and humans first landed on the moon 20 years earlier (that part they got right!) and since then they have been industriously colonizing it to prepare for a mission to Mars. Only they get a distress signal from a spacecraft from a planet in another solar system, which has crash-landed on Mars and is asking for their crew to be rescued by Earthlings. 

Rather than land on Earth themselves, they send a drone containing a recording with this information, and accordingly the international space program headed by Dr. Farraday (Basil Rathbone, billed second and lending a well-appreciated bit of gravitas to the proceedings) decides to launch their Mars rocket six months ahead of schedule to pick up the aliens and bring them back to Earth. The Earth rocket to Mars contains a small crew, including astronauts Laurie James (Jeri Meredith), who’s understandably put out that her fellow astronaut and boyfriend Allan Brenner (John Saxon, top-billed) isn’t coming until the next Mars flight, scheduled for a week hence, and Paul Grant (Dennis Hopper, who looks like he wants to go to Mars because he’s heard you can score some really killer hallucinogens there), and they land not on Mars itself but on the Martian moon of Phobos. The shuttlecraft (or whatever they called it) that carried Grant and a fellow crew member to Phobos to effect the rescue can only carry two people, so Grant’s co-pilot agrees to stay on Phobos for the next week and Grant brings back the alien (Florence Marly in a quite clingy and very revealing all-red jumpsuit) to the main ship. They set off back for Earth, only — remember the title? — the alien turns out to be a vampire, sucking the blood out of the body of one of the crew members (she doesn’t bother with little puncture wounds on the neck; she goes straight for the arm and rips open the appropriate vein). The survivors reason (if you can call it that) that on her home planet they feed on some lower form of animal — “It’s not that different from eating a rare steak,” one of them says (who knew Queen of Blood would be propaganda for veganism?) — and they give her all their supply of blood plasma in hopes of keeping her alive for the trip back to Earth without losing any more people. 

Alas, they run out of plasma and she puts the bite on Dennis Hopper (one wonders how stoned she got from drinking his blood!) and nearly takes out John Saxon, only his girlfriend pulls her off of him in time and scratches her back in the process, causing such an immediate loss of her own blood that she dies. The film has one of those annoying trick endings in which the surviving crew members discover that the vampire queen has left a lot of pulsating red bulbs all around their spaceship which represents their species’ eggs — it seems they reproduce like insects do — and the astronauts want the entire ship fumigated before it’s reused, but Dr. Farraday, taking the same attitude towards vampires from outer space as Robert Cornthwaite’s scientist character did in the original The Thing, overrules them and takes the basket of eggs out to preserve it as a “The End” title comes up. Queen of Blood is a wretched movie but also an oddly haunting one; Florence Marly (whom director Curtis Harrington fought the studio to cast; they wanted someone younger and more nubile, but Marly is sexy enough and her wordless acting, especially in close-ups signaling her literal bloodlust for the human crew members, is fine) pulls off the central character beautifully and the rest of the acting is certainly more than passable for “B” filmmaking. The use of all that Soviet footage makes this look like it had a considerably larger budget than it did, and it’s a decently made film that could have been quite good with more incisive writing (Harrington was the screenwriter as well as director) and tougher suspense cutting.