... aka: Haunted Planet, The
... aka: Haunted World, The
... aka: Outlawed Planet, The
... aka: Planet of Blood
... aka: Planet of Terror, The
... aka: Planet of the Vampires
... aka: Space Mutants
A pair of spaceships; the Argos and the Galliot, are orbiting around a foggy, mysterious and hereto unexplored new planet called Aura. Because they keep receiving signals from the same spot on the planet, they suspect it hosts some form of life and decide to land there to do a little exploring. As they start nearing Aura, radio communications strangely become blocked and an exceptionally strong gravitational pull forces them down. Many of the crewman pass out, but thankfully Mark Markary (Barry Sullivan), captain of the Argos, manages to keep it together long enough to ensure they make a safe landing. When various crew members come to, they find themselves possessed by an urge to commit crazed violent acts; with no memories of having done so. A few of the astronauts are still in their right mind and help restrain those who aren't until they can snap out of it. This is aboard the Argos. Those on their sister ship aren't so fortunate...
Once things are under control, members of the Argos decide to head out into the dark, quiet, rocky, misty and colorful planet (which has enough oxygen to sustain life) to look for the Galliot. They find it but discover they've gotten there too late; all of the members of the ship have killed one another. Before the dead can even be buried, the bodies mysterious vanish. The members of the Argos also finds their ranks quickly and strangely diminishing under strange circumstances. One man disappears, another is found dead, certain ones are temporarily possessed by an invisible force... Luminous globes of light make themselves visible in the skies and may be the alien force responsible. And the corpses of those who've been killed are miraculously returning to life and attacking the others.
As mechanic Wess (Ángel Aranda) hurries to try to return their ship to working order so they can leave, the aliens make their presence and intentions known. Essentially bodiless, they claim that their sun is dying, they need a new planet to live on, don't have the technology to create their own spaceships, have lured the humans there and want a symbiotic relationship with them. The survivors can either cooperate or they can die. Since Mark and the others refuse to submit to the extraterrestrial's parasitic ways, the aliens steal their "meteor rejecter;" a device essential to space travel, and plot to take the other ship elsewhere.
Plot-wise, there's not much new here. Alien possession was a staple of 50s sci-fi cinema, most notably in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956). Even the concept of an otherworldly force using dead human bodies can be seen in earlier films like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1956) and INVISIBLE INVADERS (1959). Some unavoidably cheap elements (toy spaceships, wobbly sets, plastic-wrapped corpses, etc.) creep their way in, as well. However, the creativity and visual presentation make up for all of the above.
In collaboration with cinematographer Antonio Rinaldi, set designer Giorgio Giovannini and the rest of his crew, Bava does for space operas here exactly what he did for peplum with his HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961); creating an extremely vibrant and colorful fantasy atmosphere that's absolutely perfect for the material. Aura is a dark, desolate, densely misty place with bubbling pits, flashes of red, green and blue lights illuminating the sky and all kinds of strange rock formations off in the horizon. Bava's ability to use lighting and optical effects to give this low-budget production a grander feel than it otherwise would have had is highly impressive. This was not filmed on huge and elaborate sets; the amount of scale that Bava is able to achieve for Aura is created using clever prop placement, matte paintings and sometimes ingenious photography.
Aside from the great look and feel of this one, some other interesting moments occur to help punch up the somewhat routine storyline, including the crew's discovery of another fallen spaceship containing skeletons of a giant alien species who'd made an ill-fated visit there before them. There's been some nice updating for the female characters (played by Norma Bengell and Evi Marandi), who get to do more than just stand around and scream and the ending is also unexpected and highly amusing.
The cast includes Stelio Candeli, Franco Andrei, Massimo Righi (from Bava's BLACK SABBATH and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) and young handsome devil Ivan Rassimov (who'd later become a regular in Italian giallo and cannibal flicks). Mario's son, Lamberto Bava, was one of his assistants. It's based on the story "One Night of 21 Hours" by Renato Pestriniero, which had previously been published in Science Fiction Magazine.