Queen of Blood (ala, Planet of Blood) (Curtis Harrington, 1966)
“Ridley’s film is like a greatly enhanced, expensive and elaborate version of Queen of Blood.
Having just finished up (or thought I had anyway) most of the extensive all-things “Alien” retrospective — all viewed on the home projector system, that included the “Alien” quadrilogy, the “Predator” cross-overs as well as the original “Predator” films themselves (for context!), the two latest Ridley Scott-helmed awful “Alien” continuations (and I include the pretentious bore Prometheus), as well as side readings of the entire voluminous Dark Horse comics, which revealed themselves to be consistently imaginative and mature speculative off-shoots from the “Alien” franchise, and, naturally, the earlier films that were said to have acted as direct inspirations for the original Alien itself – doing all my little write-ups along the way (sans one film – still haven’t scribbled down my thoughts on that last Scott Covenant silliness… ugh) — when suddenly I stumbled across the above, somewhat ‘huffy’ quote from Hollywood outlier filmmaker Curtis Harrington, celebrated as a leader of the 90’s Queer Cinema Movement, noted for having done some satanic meddlings with Kenneth Anger (hey, what do you expect, it was Hollywood) and some interesting movies along the way, such as Night Tide with Dennis Hopper and the Exorcist rip-off Ruby (neither which I’ve seen, though “Tide” has been buried up there in DVD form somewhere on those shelves behind me), and quickly realized, if I was to believe Harrington’s claim, I had missed one… which was fine as it likely meant another tasty treat; an enticing addition to what had proven to be a tremendously fun section of films to watch, the ones that were have said to have inspired (some more than others) Ridley Scott’s original 1979 masterpiece; and the wildly compiled low-budget drive-in quickie Queen of Blood, thankfully, proved to be as enjoyably tripped-out and seductively weird as any of them.
With a story initiated by an intercepted call from a crashed alien ship on Mars — a signal that turns out to be not one of distress but (surprise, surprise) of danger! – then evolving into a tale of our good-intended spacemen (including John Saxon, who might have been second-tier in Hollywood but was first in the hearts of us knowledgeable genre fans, and a young pre-nutso Dennis Hopper) stuck helplessly in space on the way back to Earth, preyed on by the hostile alien creature they thought they were rescuing (one that looks an awful lot like a human female – a striking one, mind you — spray-painted green), hypnotizing the easily seduced men one at a time with her succubus-like powers (those damn women and their desirability!), then vampirically sucking out their blood, similarities to Alien certainly start to show themselves (minus things like the terrifying face huggers and razor sharp toothed xenomorphs with the acid for blood)… but what I’m starting to realize is as I watch these earlier Alien inspirations (with many of them, such as Mario Bava’s ultra-colorful and other-worldly Planet of the Vampires and the one with the mind-blowing, ahead-of-its-time experimental electronic score, Forbidden Planet, being pretty great in their own right)… that a lot of these similarities are simply the standard template for this kind of long-existing sci-fi monster-in-space film… a lineage of cinema that acknowledged original writer and film nerd Dan O’Bannon (who acts as the finally appreciated hero of Jason Zinoman’s enjoyable Shock Value, a look at the emergence of our favorite cinematic genre filmmakers of the 70’s) had been heavily entrenched in for much of his childhood years. (Then again, Queen of Blood does end on a tray full of mysterious and throbbing gelatinous egg-like things left behind by the alien queen herself — and being carried off the ship by none other than Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman – that seem a bit suspiciously specific to the Alien mythos…. so who knows how closely O’Bannon tapped into the film… ).
The making of Queen of Blood is legendary producer Roger Corman at his penny-pinching-est, creatively sheister-ish best; buying up a coupla 60’s Russian sci-fi films on the cheap, cutting them up, shooting some barely-funded footage with his eager, under-paid (yet almost all soon-to-be-famous), talented and aspiring filmmaking staff, and re-shuffling it all into a barely-comprehensible bunch of drive-in films, with short enough running times to be paired with a second feature. Another element would inevitably be to throw in some long-faded star with just that last bit of face recognition clinging to him; which in the case of “Queen”, being Basil (Son of Frankenstein) Rathbone, quite aged, yet still achieving a level of thespian respectability, for a full day’s work (I can only imagine starry-eyed Harrington incessantly prodding the poor old man for as much Hollywood gossip as he could pull out of him).
Right from the wonderfully abstract scifi-ish series of painted images enveloping everything around the opening credits, on into the lushly colorful and evocative Russian sequences presenting the mute aliens on Mars, communicating through some kind of telepathy, in their wildly funky spaceships, with impressively imaginative landscapes just outside the portals, all brilliantly conceived and executed (in camera, I’m assuming, much similar to how Bava was achieving it in Italy with his own unforgettable Italian mini-budget majestic achievements, such as Hercules in the Haunted World and Planet of the Vampires – ie, lots of overlapping exposures, mirror-work, and miniatures) mixed in with the more-sparse yet still enthusiastically shot (including some nice miniatures and super-clever cross-cutting between the footage) plot-minded Harrington footage, Queen of Blood ends up as a kind of joyous, stimulating avant garde experimental piece masquerading as drive-in fodder. It’s a triumph from the Corman producing mind-set, in which overwhelming creative chutzpah (and a bit of cheating) not only overcame, but imaginatively emboldened, many a budget deficit.
So while the ‘films that inspired Alien retro may now be officially done (unless I stumble across another), I was so captivated while watching Queen of Blood – and considering I’ve found a bit more time on my hands these days with this virus thing some of you might have heard going on – I’m thinking might as well check out the film it was paired with back in the day, Blood Bath (ah, I see a theme between the two titles!) which also apparently had a similar cobbled-together history as Queen of Blood. And, while I’m at it, I’ll even go a bit further down a mini-retro rabbit hole and watch the other coupla films cobbled together from whacky Russian scifi flicks bought by Corman (which included, along with another Harrington one, the creative efforts of a coupla future cinematic greats named Bogdanovich and Coppola!).
Basil Rathbone and Forry J. on the left
To be fair, the all-things Alien retro isn’t quite completed either… there’s still the last on-going sub-section, namely, films that were inspired by Alien (more appropriately known as, Alien rip-offs)… a series of wayward cinematic treats that so far have ranged from the amusing and head-scratchingly inept (Bruno Mattei’s Shocking Dark), to the colorfully absurd (Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination)… and right on into even the brilliant (Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro). And there’s still a lot more in that till, waiting for me to get around to them.
Who woulda thunk all the viewing pleasures that nasty shape-shifting xenomorph would bring with him?