Friday, April 22, 2011

QUEEN OF BLOOD

When Roger Corman picked up some Soviet Russian science fiction films in the Sixties, the imaginative producer planned to scavenge the State-funded special effects footage - far more elaborate than anything he could have financed on his own - and build new films around the effects with American actors. Director Curtis Harrington (NIGHT TIDE, THE KILLING KIND) wrote and directed two such patchwork epics - VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET and QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966), the latter of which has just been released on DVD-R by the "MGM Limited Edition Collection."

In the distant future year of 1990, an alien intelligence makes contact with Earth via radio, and announces that they are sending an envoy to Earth. Unfortunately, the envoy's spaceship crashes on Mars en route, so Dr. Farraday (Basil Rathbone, THE BLACK SLEEP, THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES) dispatches a rescue ship - actually, two rescue ships - to the Red Planet to retrieve the alien ambassadors. A team of heroic Earth astronauts - portrayed by John Saxon, Dennis Hopper, and pretty Judi Meredith - manage to find the crashed ship and rescue one of the aliens: a mute, green-skinned siren with a pointed bouffant hairdo... and a taste for human blood.

Harrington's script is cleverly constructed around some quite astonishing effects shots from two Russian films (MECHTE NAVSTRECHU, 1963, and 1960's NEBO ZOVYOT), which gives the threadbare production some scope and spectacle that it could never have achieved otherwise. Impressive shots of alien landscapes and gleaming rocketships, extraterrestrial civilizations and futuristic cityscapes, as well as a really nifty Lunar moonbase are deftly integrated into Harrington's new footage, thanks to duplicated space-suits and look-alike sets.

The cast is also quite decent - John Saxon (ENTER THE DRAGON, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, FAST COMPANY) is a reliably heroic young leading man, and it's fun to see a clean-cut Dennis Hopper (EASY RIDER, THE TRIP) make google eyes at the mute, hypnotic space vamp. Rathbone is his usual professional self, delivering his dry dialogue with precision and something resembling conviction. As the titular Queen of Blood, Florence Marley is both seductive and repulsive, managing to convey a lot with her eyes and expressions, despite not having any lines.

The "MGM Limited Edition Collection" manufacture-on-demand DVD-R features a very decent 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which, reportedly, has been digitally remastered. While it still shows its age with slightly muted colors and infrequent specks and dirt, it looks far better than previous TV versions (or the Netflix Instant print). Because the Soviet footage was shot on inferior film stock, there is a noticeable difference in quality during those sequences, but overall, MGM's presentation is quite remarkable, considering the age and piecemeal nature of the material. Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, and is clear and mostly devoid of hiss or pops. There are no extras included.

QUEEN OF BLOOD is a fun, old school sci-fi/horror romp with a great cult cast and some remarkable special effects. Fans of 50s-60s sci-fi should definitely check it out.

BUYQueen Of Blood