Queen of Blood

November 8, 2011 at 2:29 am (7 Heads, Queen of Blood) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Queen of Blood – 1966 – United States

Queen of Blood is an odd mix of creature-horror and space-faring sci-fi by American International Pictures. Director Curtis Harrington also made the dumb Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) under the pseudonym John Sebastian. Queen of Blood and Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet both feature John Cline’s beautiful otherworldly title paintings. Cline has no other credits that I’ve found, but his intricate watercolor work is highly original. The cast of John Saxon, Basil Rathbone, and Dennis Hopper isn’t shabby either.

The year 1990: World peace is real and mankind traverses the stars. Scientists intercept an alien music transmission and launch a rocket to Mars to investigate. The disastrous voyage faces deep space danger laced with zappy sci-fi jargon. Eventually Earth’s astronauts discover a wrecked ship containing a mute semi-intelligent woman with rubbery green skin, bloodshot eyes, and an onion hairdo. After she drinks an astronaut’s blood, it’s determined she’s a vampiric plant-person. Fiery John Saxon wants to murder the vampire but scientific Basil Rathbone defends her survivalist morality. In the interesting anti-climax, the vampire is tied up and then starves to death. But not before laying eggs all over, with which Earth’s naive scientists will certainly unleash calamity.

Queen of Blood has a peculiar structure. The flick’s first part deals with the technicalities of deep space travel and is mostly unrelated to the later alien encounter. Equally weird are the crew’s low-key interactions with the vampire, containing a minimum of scares and action. It seems that Curtis Harrington had intentions to make serious speculative fiction. Unfortunately, that’s probably impossible while working for American International Pictures. Queen of Blood’s exploitative title is certainly the brainchild of producers Samuel Z. Arkoff and Roger Corman.

While Queen of Blood’s writing is merely interesting, its art direction is extraordinary. Elaborate sets, models, and matte paintings depict a futuristic landscape of pulsing lights and spherical architecture so unfamiliar that it’s almost abstract. The unearthly environs are washed in lurid green, red, blue, and purple light, complimented by deep shadows. Style seeps from every frame. Unfortunately, some of Queen of Blood’s most striking scenes are clips from the Russian flicks Nebo Zovyot/Battle Beyond the Sun (1962) and Mechte Navstrechu (1963).

At least the vampire she-plant is all American. With her witless yet sardonic smirk, she’s horrific, sexy, and utterly alien. The coolly innocent way she sleeps after killing and slurping blood is chilling. And her hypnotic blue-glowing gaze is the flick’s biggest shock. She’s a great example of simple but effective creature design.

Lest I seem overly kind, Queen of Blood isn’t perfect. Scenes drag and are disjointed. The characters are bone-headed. But Queen of Blood is unusual. Having slept through hundreds of dumb sci-fi alien encounter flicks, I value that highly. Plus, there’s a Theremin on the soundtrack.

Rating: 7/10 Shrunken Heads. I don’t buy the dubious claims that Queen of Blood inspired Alien, but watch closely for interesting parallels.

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