If you’re excited about the promos for the Ridley Scott science fiction movie coming out this summer, Prometheus, which is all by all evidence a prequel to the original Alien (which Scott directed in 1979) it might be a good time to visit some protean pre-prequels, i.e. the films from the late 1950s-60s that inspired the original, and it just so happens they’re all pretty short and all available on Netflix streaming – a perfect weekend triple bill.
IMPRESSION: This AIP marvel comes to us in digitally semi-restored colors (it must have been headed for a DVD release before the market fell apart) and with copious footage lifted from a couple of Russian science fiction films (incl. 1965’s MESTRE NASTRESHU). Director Curtis Harrington brilliantly uses the sharp difference between the style of the Russian film and his cheapo American sets to parallel the Russo-American sociopolitical divide: Russia = Mars, via ornate deep red baroque tracking shots for the scenes of the female vampire Martian’s ship interior; the USA = Earth, on threadbare gray sets, flatly lit and blocked. But when the two sides merge it’s like an unholy union written in the stars and read by
lovers sharing a blood float with straws that stretch across the Berlin wall.
INSPIRATION: Once the hypnosis starts and the orders from on high come through to not to harm the specimen on the return flight, the similarity is clear. “Take steps to preserve life form – crew expendable.” Also, the queen lays eggs all over the place, and feeds them with the blood of the crew. Still, unlike in ALIEN, however, everyone in the crew (but John Saxon) agrees with the order: save the queen! (more on this film here)
IMPRESSION: Sure, the alien suit in this tale of a monstrous space stowaway has its problems–astronauts carrying .45 automatics on their space ship seems pretty suicidal and the monster’s zipper is occasionally showing, but IT was never meant for close scrutiny but for scaring impressionable kids both in 1958 in theaters and drive-ins, and via fuzzy UHF signals in the 1970s.
INSPIRATION: An extended scene where the hero is trapped on a deck of the ship behind some oxygen tanks, armed only with a blow torch while the alien stalks him is reminiscent of the whole second half of Alien. The big, amazing climax mirrors Alien‘s. It would be fascinating to compare the rampant sexist militarism (the women are aboard ship to darn socks and serve coffee) of the crew here vs. the relative equality (and even supremacy) on the Nostromo.
IMPRESSIONS: Third on the bill, Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires is actually the best of the three. Yet, though I’ve watched this dozens of times, I seldom make it all the way to the end without falling asleep. That doesn’t mean it’s not great of course, and as any Jean Rollin fan can tell you, just because it makes you doze off doesn’t mean a film is bad. Sometimes you can dream yourself right off the couch and into the narrative. The plot concerns a rescue mission to a strange foggy planet where the dead rise from their plastic coverings and hot Italian girls in leather jumpsuits (the sexiest and most high fashion space crew uniforms ever) become possessed and turn against Cameron Mitchell.
INSPIRATION: Alien inspirations here are the SOS signal calling a spaceship to a strange planet where they discover an ancient crashed spaceship with dead giant aliens now reduced to calcified bones that make them look like they were giant elephant men, a bit like the huge elephant man-looking pilot discovered in Alien. There’s also a great ending which in its way harkens to Alien: Resurrection.
So there you have it… and if you’re still awake after that, try Journey to the Seventh Planet (directed by Sid Pink! Dude, “Interstellar overdrive!”) a sort of Lost Horizon meets Forbidden Planet Swedish import zz-fest, starring John Agar and featuring, among other things, a squadron of cool Nordic blondes and a one-eyed rat rendered in stop motion animation and a straight up Esquivel-style moon lounge lullaby over the end credits that will sweep you off to the dream lounge like a bottle of Nyquil…3rd eye open, spaceman! Countdown to the old freezerino begins in 10 seconds… 9
On the other hand, if you want to suddenly be jarred awake in one of the typical ALIEN post-climax climaxes, check out some of the amazing footage on youtube of alleged actual aliens and ancient spaceship wreckage ala the Alien ‘space jockey’ atop. Here’s what could be a huge ship on the moon that’s been there for millions of years (and is pock-marked by asteroids); and here’s a possible example of a real-life calcified space jockey, the Mona Lisa of the moon! Though little details indicate it may be a hoax, it’s still pretty spooky to imagine it as real, and if you want to go deeper into the line between the real and the vividly imagined, check out this linked-leaked 1950s governmental footage of grey aliens on my secret blog Divinorum Psychonauticus — and then back to the freezer with Jones you go — 8 — 7 –6 — credits