Mar 7, 2012

Queen of Blood

Queen of Blood is a result of Roger Corman, at his resourceful best, purchasing special effects footage from some big-budget Ruskie space opera and then hiring Night Tide director and Kenneth Anger chum Curtis Harrington to shoot a film around it (in about a week, no less). What could very well have been as slipshod and haphazard as something like The Terror, however, is instead a transcendent piece of pulp entertainment; the cinematic analogue of an EC comic like Weird Science with the dreamlike atmosphere of Night Tide and the color scheme of Bava's Planet of the Vampires.

The year is 1990. At the International Institute of Space Technology, while keeping an eye out for space signals, Laura James receives a transmission that the project's head, Dr. Farraday, recognizes as an attempt by an extraterrestrial race's attempt at communication. After Farraday announces the exciting news, Laura receives a video from the aliens, showing that they've crash landed on Mars. With this, Farraday sends Laura and two other astronauts aboard the spaceship Oceano to Mars to investigate, where they discover one humanoid corpse and evidence that it's companion took an escape ship to one of the moons of Mars. Laura's love interest, Allan, and his pal Tony convince Farraday to allow them to make the trips to one of Mars moons, where they can launch a satellite in order to locate the stranded alien ship, which they soon find. On board? An unconscious, green-skinned woman. The astronauts board the Oceano (save Tony, who stays behind to wait for the arrival of the Oceano II) with their inhuman cargo, who regains consciousness and wields an off-putting, strange countenance and refuses to touch the food they offer. Before you can say "space vampire", crew members begin dropping off like flies, seemingly by their own hands, and all but Laura seem susceptible to the space woman's otherworldly "charms." 

Why this flick works where myriad of its ilk fail is Harrington's sure-handed direction, the expert utilization of the Russian footage, and a winning cast. Harrington, responsible for both the direction and the script, manages to infuse the film with both the "gee whiz!" matinee attitude of sci-fi of the time and the haunting lyricism of his debut feature, beginning with a credits sequence of three minutes or so of unsettling, Lovecraftian avant-garde paintings by John Cline (if anyone has any info on the guy, feel free to share- some really stellar work I've been able to dig up next to nothing on) set to dependably foreboding music. When "The Queen" shows her true colors, stalking and killing members of the expedition, the cinematography shows ITS colors, which are vivid and assuredly dream-like, at times suggesting what Ken Anger himself might have done if he'd taken a very different route of independent film. The drawn-out special effects sequences from Mechte Navstrechu and Nebo Zovyot, respectively, actually add to the trippy vibe by being singularly odd (it's difficult to tell what precisely the aliens are doing in these sequences, but adds to their alien nature considerably) and dubbed over with the eerie music that makes sci-fi-horror of this time period such a joy to listen to (some I recognized as the Barron's score from Forbidden Planet). The costumes and set-direction take Bava's Planet of the Vampires to an even kitschier level of retro-futurist fashions and garish color filters, making this eye-candy of the first order.

And speaking of Planet of the Vampires, a double-feature of Queen and that masterpiece would account for a big chunk of the plot of Dan O' Bannon's Alien script (what with the space eggs and distress beacons, but save the whole stalk-and-slash by phallic Giger-grotesque element), and I for one definitely see just as much Queen of Blood in Tobe Hooper's genius Lifeforce, also scripted by O'Bannon, as I do Colin Wilson's Space Vampires, on which Lifeforce is ostensibly based (especially in the scenes within THAT film in which a hot alien chick systematically makes her way through all the men aboard a spaceship). What pushes this one out of the ranks of "fun time waster" into near-classic is the solid cast. John Saxon takes the lead as Allan, delivering dialogue in that slightly-off, wooden fashion that Saxon somehow manages to make inherently affable. Dennis Hopper, a Harrington pal and holdover from Night Tide, isn't yet the raving loon we'd come to love from a distance, but does manage some eye-bugging as The Queen grabs him by the nuts every bit that that mermaid chick did in his other Harrington outing, while Basil Rathbone collects his check as the head-up-his-ass Dr. Farraday (he reportedly filmed his scenes for this one concurrently- and on the same sets- with his scenes in Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet). Of particular note are the two female stars: Judi Meredith's protagonist Laura is all kinds of a mid-sixties Sci-fi babe, managing to keep her bouncy blonde bob whether rocking a stylish space helmet or cowering in terror from the Queen. As for the Queen herself, Florence Marly, with the aide of make-up artist William Condos, creates a uniquely inhuman humanoid, communicating through confused and confusing facial expressions, a ceaseless malevolent smile, strangely lit eyes (that glow once the stalk-and-killing gets underway), and rocking a beehive wig and eventual green skin that effectively invokes the praying mantis she ultimately is. While I'm not familiar with much of Curtis Harrington's work beyond Night Tide and this fun flick, on the strength of Queen, I definitely look forward to delving into his oeuvre.



Ivan said...

Great review of a flick that's usually either forgotten or denigraded (by people who haven't seen it). It's currently available as a streaming movie from Netflix, and I need to see those credits again.

665+1 said...

The credits are definitely a doozy- on far with the most nightmarish of PKD's covers from that particular decade. Neglected to mention in the review, but astute viewers will notice a quick cameo from the one and only Forrest J. Ackerman. - JC

Anonymous said...

For starters why not try "How Awful About Alan" (1970) and "Whats The matter With Helen" (1971).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Florence Marley (as the bird was in 1937 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously, which is long since dead). Scary to think that in this movie the bird was 47 and there-fore already 29 years past her prime.

Anonymous said...

Also try: "Games" (1967), "The Cat Creature" (1973), "The Killing Kind" (1973), "Killer Bees" (1974), "The Dead Dont Die" (1974), and "Ruby" (1977). I was also going to girl-tion "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo" (1972) but it was filmed in Britain which ensures it would be garbage by definition (i think all his other films were made in America so they will be OK).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

One possible thing that could ruin the entire "Harrington trip" (as it were) is that he might`ve been a faggot, theres no girl-tion of any marriages on IMDB and you said he was friends with that dirty pansy queer bastard (and annoying Soiled Sinema darling) Kenneth Anger, so i obviously feared the worst with regards to Harringtons sexual orientation, thats why i probably wont be watching anymore Harrington movies, i like to know for certain that everybody involved in the films that i watch are rampagingly heterosexual (and that they`re not British obviously).