The Movies That Made Me Weird(er): Queen of Blood

23 05 2011

When I was just a wee girl I used to check the TV listings for the local stations that played movies all night long. If I found an intriguing title (anything with ‘damned’ or ‘blood’ in it was a surefire winner) or a cool old horror story or space opera that would be playing on the late late movie, I’d set my alarm and creep downstairs to watch it–usually sitting about two feet from the TV with the sound low so I wouldn’t wake my parents. The Movies That Made Me Weird(er) is a look back at the films that populated my childhood dreamscape.


Queen of Blood (1966; trailer here) was one of my all time favorite movies, before cable and puberty drew me in the direction of MTV. It left quite an impression on me; I always remembered the super-spooky psychedelic paintings featured over the opening credits, the seductive lady alien’s totally awesome space helmet (and stylish spangled bathing cap underneath), the dream-like sequences of alien astronauts piloting their craft, and the end shot of a cache of pulsating eggs surrounded by green Jello.

Seriously, I would wear that helmet every time it rained.

A recent rewatch revealed that the movie holds up nicely–it’s a well-made, charmingly retro-futuristic SF fantasy with some interesting and (for the time) subversive things to say. Written and directed by Curtis Harrington (who also directed the deathless Satanic ’70’s classic Devil Dog, the Hound of Hell), Queen of Blood was cobbled together from pirated clips of Russian SF films and original footage shot by Harrington. Some of that Russian footage is below, and it is gorgeous:

The cast is a good one, including John Saxon, Basil Rathbone, and a young (and pretty goofy) Dennis Hopper. The story takes place in 1990, when manned spaceflight is routine. Laura James (Judi Meredith), an astronaut and communications expert with the International Institute of Space Technology, has been monitoring an unusual transmission from space. Dr. Faraday (Basil Rathbone), your standard-issue Clueless Ivory-Tower Science-Type Guy, translates the message and announces that an alien race is sending an ambassador to earth.

John Saxon tells Basil Rathbone about the birds and the bees.

Everyone on Earth seems super excited about the impending visit and in no way concerned that it could turn out badly. Another message follows soon after, indicating that the alien craft has crashed on Mars. A rescue mission is mounted, introducing a bit of subplot tension when Laura is chosen to be part of the crew over her fiance, Allan Brenner (handsome beefsteak John Saxon, who played Roper in Enter the Dragon – and if that means nothing to you, then we can’t be friends) another astronaut with the IIST. Laura worries about how Allan will take the news, but he’s actually pretty cool about it, though disappointed.

Our intrepid heroes model cutting-edge '90s fashion.

The rescue crew–Laura, Paul Grant (Dennis Hopper), and Commander Brockman (Robert Boon) locate the alien craft on Mars after sustaining some damage to their own rocket due to “sunbursts”. Inside, they discover one dead alien, in a scene that features some of that gorgeous Russian footage to nice visual effect but sacrifices a lot of story logic in the process. But who needs logic, anyway? Back on Earth, Dr. Faraday deduces from the dead alien in the crashed ship that the rest of the alien crew must have taken off in a rescue ship and is somewhere else on Mars and blah blah they make up some nonsensical science plot thing to get Laura’s Beefy Boyfriend John Saxon on the same ship as her and eat up some minutes with more Russian footage.

Reunited, and it feels so good.

Thoughtfully, he does not arrive empty-handed–he’s brought an unconscious, green-skinned alien female (a silent, awesomely creepy Florence Marly). When she wakes up, she shows a definite interest in the male members (hah! Puns!) of the crew. She is decidedly less taken with Laura, who pretty much returns the sentiment.

They decide to put Dennis Hopper in charge of her, which leads to a hilariously squirmy scene where he’s showing their guest how to suck water through a straw with NO ORAL SEX SUBTEXT WHATSOEVER.

NONE WHATSOEVER.

Marly is absolutely great in this scene, ravenously working the straw while staring deep into Hopper’s eyes. He still manages to come off creepier than her, though. Especially when he starts seductively demonstrating how to eat a protein biscuit.

I am not making that up.

Anyway, she refuses the solid food–which, thank God, because I don’t think I could handle the sexual tension of TWO people seductively gnawing on unappetizing brown space crackers. After declaring her to probably be some kind of plant due to her green skin and lack of enthusiasm for protein biscuits, and rather cavalierly discussing all the tests they’re gonna do on her once they get to Earth, the Commander decides to go ahead and get a blood sample from their guest. The Alien Lady is not down with this, and reacts violently.  They decide to give her some space after that, and leave her alone with Dennis Hopper.

Seriously, you people are leaving me alone with this dude?

Cut to later that evening (we know it’s later in the evening because the light marked SLEEP PERIOD is on, rather than the one marked MEAL PERIOD. No clocks in 1990) and Dennis Hopper is recording an entry for the ship’s log. Just as he mentions that he’s noticed something about the Alien Lady that nobody else has, his attention is drawn to the alien’s room. He goes to check things out (without finishing the log entry, naturally) and the Alien Lady greets him with a seductive sparkle in her eye, clearly unconcerned that right now is not MEAL PERIOD.

Unconstrained by human customs like SLEEP PERIOD.

The Commander later discovers Dennis Hopper apparently asleep at his post–but no! He’s actually dead! His blood has been drained from his body–and Laura has discovered the Alien Lady bloated and bloodstained and sleeping it off in her bunk!

At this point, instead of destroying or locking up or otherwise attempting to restrain the creature who just killed 1/4 of the crew, the Commander (backed by Dr. Faraday, who never met a bad idea he didn’t like) decides that when the Alien Lady wakes up, they’ll just feed her from the ship’s supply of blood plasma. When that runs out, they’ll just take turns, you know, donating. Because, you see, the Alien Lady might not UNDERSTAND that she murdered a dude because her culture might not have morals and stuff. Or, alternatively, she might view the crew as lower creatures and therefore OK to eat. Either way, no reason to take precautions or anything.

Laura and her Beefy Boyfriend John Saxon are none too thrilled at this turn of events, and even less thrilled when the plasma supply runs out. Before the Commander is able to get the blood donation schedule up and running, he ends up on the menu himself. Having had enough of the Alien Lady’s shit, the two remaining astronauts tie her to her bunk. With regular old Earth rope instead of, I don’t know, future handcuffs or space restraints or whatever. Bad idea, because the Alien Lady’s eye trick burns through rope as well as men’s self-preservation instincts. She creeps past a sleeping Laura, who awakens after a moment and notices the Alien Lady is gone. Laura searches the ship and finds the Alien Lady slurpin’ on Beefy Boyfriend John Saxon.

My girl Laura is not having any of that, and she and the Alien Lady throw down. During the fight, Laura delivers a seemingly superficial scratch to the Alien Lady, who reacts with a horrified wail (the only sound she makes in the movie) and flees. Laura bandages up Beefy-B’s booboo, he revives, and they set off in search of the Alien Lady. They find her sprawled face-down in her bunk, a pool of green blood collecting beneath her. She has bled to death, leading Beefy-B to conclude that the Alien Lady was a.) a hemophiliac and b.) thus probably royalty (which I find just awesomely dumb for reasons too complex to articulate here but which drive my love of low-budget, scientifically naive SF.)

So Laura and and her man manage to land on Earth. Just after landing, they discover that there are caches of Alien Lady eggs hidden all over the ship. Instead of BURNING THE SHIP AND DESTROYING THE EFFING EGGS they let Dr. Faraday and his assistant come on board and collect some of the eggs. Beefy-B is all hey guys, this isn’t such a great idea, Laura tells him they ought to trust the scientists because they know what they’re doing (HAH!), and Beefy-B goes oh, well, I tried to tell them. Then he goes off with Laura to presumably enjoy what remaining time humanity has left on the planet now that the Space Vampire Eggs are here and ready to hatch.

Scrumptious.

In retrospect, it’s obvious this movie was a childhood favorite for me because it had a competent female hero (with a handsome, supportive, and not overbearing boyfriend) AND a scary female villain, but no painfully self-conscious statements on contemporary gender politics. The Alien Lady is obviously  more interested in the men than in Laura, but AS FOOD. There is no specious “Bitches always be competing over men” subtext here. Laura is not “the chick” in this movie, she’s the protagonist. The only story element that (maybe) comments on Laura’s gender is the Alien Lady’s apparent lack of interest in feeding on her, which gives Laura an advantage over the male crew. None of this is lampshaded in any obvious way, which is refreshing.

Plus, Laura’s Big Beefy Boyfriend John Saxon is actually proud that his fiancee has been chosen for the mission, and later when she saves him from the Alien Lady he’s not tweaked in his manhood about it–although he can’t help pulling the old protective male “Don’t come any closer!” when they find the Alien Lady’s body. Which is adorable.

Another interesting thing here is the nature of the alien visitor herself, and the implications that has for humanity’s place in the galactic food chain (in the film, only Beefy Boyfriend John Saxon seems to grasp these implications–and he’s presented as a bit of a big dumb guy. All the Smart People exhibit blind faith that Everything Will Turn Out Fine.) Prior to the ’60’s, most space operas followed the template of westerns set among the stars, where humanity was following its Manifest Destiny and any aliens encountered were lower life forms to be exterminated (Indians) or imperialistic conqueror types who wanted to enslave us and take our stuff (Cowboys). The Alien Lady is neither of these. Queen of Blood never directly addresses the question of why the aliens contacted Earth in the first place, and what purpose they have for coming here–though the eggs hidden all over the ship give us a clue as to their true motivation. Earth looks like a restaurant full of yummy food to them.

Many of the tropes that 21st century audiences take for granted in SF cinema were first introduced and developed in low-budget but stylishly shot B-features like this one. Queen of Blood borrows a lot from films like It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, not to mention the Russian movies the space footage was cribbed from in the first place. In turn, Alien and its modern thematic brethren owe an obvious debt to Harrington, Bava, et al.

I give Queen of Blood 3 out of 5 space bouffants. Check it out if you like theremin music, super-cool rocket models, or green ladies in skin tight velour spacesuits.

(Currently available for streaming on Netflix.)

Next up:

Five Million Years to Earth (1967) aka Quatermass and the Pit

Coming Soon:

These Are the Damned (1963)

Prince of Darkness (1987)

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

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3 responses

23 05 2011
Jesse

Ha – love their “Century 21 from the future” mustard outfits

11 06 2011
robert s.

I did an extensive series about the Russian sf films for Filmfax a few years back, and covered this film’s making in detail. If you’re interested, here are a couple of notes for your appreciative/appreciated write up: PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES came later/wasn’t an influence on Curtis Harrington. Harrington–who wrote and directed–had no knowledge of IT either. Similarities just a coincidence. But he was aware that ALIEN probably owed something to this film inspiration-wise. Harrington came from sort of “underground/expiremental film” background, and a student of Val Lewton-type of lower-keyed horror. He was far more interested in that aspect than the sf angle.
Anyway, for what it’s worth. Best/rs

12 06 2011
Chris

Thanks, Robert. I appreciate the input.

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