Queen of Blood (1966)

It can be a bit of a surprise to revisit a film you haven’t seen in a long time.

This is particularly true if you’ve learned — or watched — more since the last time you saw it.

Queen of Blood is perhaps the best of the films Roger Corman spliced together from other movies he’d bought, in this case a Soviet Era film called Mechte Navstrechu (aka, A Dream Come True) from 1963.

As strange as this may sound, the Roger Corman version is better than the original.  Mind you, this is because the Russian version is slow and ponderous (despite a very short runtime), with little personality to characters whose ultimate choices are very ideological.

The other surprise is that most of the film follows the original fairly closely.

Curtis Harrington claimed that he actually directed about Ninety percent of the film.  I think that figure is a bit high, although it is true that the second half uses a lot less of the original footage.  It starts out more or less the same way as the original, with a scientific institute receives a message from outer space and learns that an alien spacecraft is on the way here.

However, when the alien ship crashes on Mars, we send a rescue mission to find their ambassador and bring her home.

I was a little surprised to see that it took half the film to get this far.  Most summaries focus on the second half of the film and virtually ignore the first part.  And, I’ll admit, that last half-hour or so is what lifts it above the level of a mere retread of a Fifties-style space drama and into something far more watchable.

One of the things I do find particularly intriguing is that, in the original, the aliens have a strange, almost sinister-looking set of vehicles and planetary bases, with weird, circle based designs and lots of atmospheric lighting, while the Earthmen have bland, grey Soviet era movie space craft.

However, Curtis’ spacemen fly ships full of heavy ribs and curious geometries, which are lit like a spooky space castle.  The basic style is similar to that of the alien ships, although I suspect the real influence was Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires which came out the year before.  It does make sense to bring a bit of Gothic style into a space horror film — particularly when it harmonized so well with some of the existing effects from Mechte Navstrechu.

But let’s face it, it looks way better than most of the very utilitarian spaceship designs which showed up in most of the movies of the era.

As you would expect of a Roger Corman film from this era, we have a solid cast, some of whom went on to better things.  The most notable are John Saxon and Dennis Hopper, although the standout is Czech actress Florence Marly’s wordless performance as the Alien Ambassador.  She gives the alien a lot of presence mostly with her eyes and a bit of a smile.

Despite the fact that the film only comes into its own when the Alien first boards the rescue ship, the best sequence in the film is one borrowed from the original, a nearly surreal sequence as the crew of one ship fights to reach a wrecked lander while the astronaut from the lander stumbles through a Martian sand storm carrying the rescued alien.

However, at the end we are also given a powerful moment courtesy of Curtis Harrington’s script, as the crew reaches a creepy utilitarian solution to the problems posed by their new passenger.  Queen of Blood is frequently listed as one of the major influences on Alien and I can’t help but think that you might come up with an equally compelling version of the same idea within the confines of an Alien sequel, with a crew that finds and captures a Xenomorph doing what it takes to keep it alive till they get it back home.

I’ll confess, I didn’t enjoy Queen of Blood as much this time around.  It’s not as good as Mario Bava’s space vampire film, or some of the other space horror from the Sixties or late Fifties.  But it is definitely an improvement on the original, and offers a few interesting ideas, solid performances and a weird sense of design which unifies the two very different halves of this film.  It is well worth a look, particularly for those of you who love these older science fiction films.

Oh, and if you look fast, you might spot Famous Monsters of Filmland’s legendary editor, Forrest J. Ackerman carrying a tray out of the ship…

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