Queen of Blood directed by Curtis Harrington
In November 1966, television audiences were introduced, via the two-part Star Trek episode entitled “The Menagerie,” to a green-skinned, hypnotically beautiful alien woman, an Orion dancing girl played in an unforgettable manner by the great Susan Oliver; a character who made an indelible impression despite not having a single line of dialogue. (Indeed, the excellent, 2014 DVD biography of Oliver’s life would be called The Green Girl, a tribute to one of her more fondly remembered roles.) But this was not the first such olive-toned alien siren to appear on screens that year! In March ’66, in the Curtis Harrington-directed, AIP film Queen of Blood, audiences had been exposed to another such character, but this one was of a far, far more inimical variety. As the story goes, producer/director Roger Corman had acquired some footage from two earlier Russian sci-fi epics, 1959’s Nebo Zovyot (The Sky Calls) and 1963’s Mechte Navstrechu (A Dream Come True), the FX and story lines of which were used by Harrington in the formation of his screenplay. Harrington would go on to say that his film was shot in just over a week at a cost of around $65K, although those figures have been contradicted elsewhere. The result, to my great surprise, was not the Grade Z shlock fest that any viewer might be reasonably expecting, but rather, an atmospheric and at times genuinely eerie — not to mention compact and colorful — entertainment.
The film transpires in the futuristic year of, uh, 1990, when the Moon has already been colonized for two decades. At the Terran headquarters of the ISST (International Institute of Space Technology), a signal is intercepted from another galaxy by astro communications whiz Laura James (Judi Meredith). When it is finally decoded, the Institute’s headman, Dr. Farraday (the great Basil Rathbone), releases the news that aliens from that galaxy are coming to visit our fair planet! But disaster strikes when the alien ship crash-lands on Mars. Thus, Earth sends to the Red Planet a rescue craft comprised of Laura, Paul Grant (Dennis Hopper!), and commander Anders Brockman (Robert Boon). The team finds the alien craft with only one alien male aboard, quite dead. Another ship is sent to the Martian moon of Phobos, containing astronauts Allan Brenner (John Saxon) and Tony Barrata (Don Eitner), and these two find, in a wrecked alien capsule, one survivor: a green-skinned alien woman (played by the Czech actress Florence Marly, with whom I was only familiar by dint of her appearance in the middling Humphrey Bogart vehicle Tokyo Joe, of some 17 years earlier).
This sole alien survivor is flown to the Terran ship on Mars and our band of heroes sets out for Earth with the silent mystery woman. Grant does his darnedest to communicate with the alien, and tries to get her to eat, but to no avail. “Perhaps she’s only accustomed to some sort of liquid nourishment,” Capt. Brockman suggests, a statement that is soon borne out in a very unfortunate manner. Before long, the crew is preyed upon by the sinister female, who turns out to be nothing less than a bloodsucking, trance-inducing monstrosity. No wonder the promotional poster for the film would sport the headline “Hideous beyond belief … with an inhuman craving”!
Harrington would also later claim that his movie was an indirect inspiration for the 1979 film Alien, and I can almost see how that might be the case (although 1958’s It! The Terror From Beyond Space is surely a more obvious and direct precursor). Indeed, the best parts of Queen of Blood are the claustrophobic scenes in which our small crew is trapped aboard a relatively minuscule craft (around 1/100th the size of the Nostromo in Alien, perhaps) with a mysterious killer. And Marly, it should be mentioned, is absolutely aces as the enigmatic Queen. Without a line of dialogue, she manages to convey both menace and mystery. With her olive-green skin, blonde (with greenish tints) and pointy beehive hairdo, and reddish lipstick, she really is a sight to behold. And just look at her sneering, mocking, silent leer! No, we never really learn anything concrete about this Queen, or her background, but somehow, that only makes the film’s quotient of cosmic awe all the greater.
As mentioned, the film features those unique Russian special effects shots, brought to vivid life here using Pathe color, and those FX are both endearing and capable of engendering an almost surrealistic atmosphere. The landscape of and interior sets on the (unnamed) alien world are truly disorienting, and the aliens’ unusual spaceships, featuring interlocking and circular tubing on their outsides, are like nothing you have ever seen before. The film’s music, by one Leonard Morand, and atmospheric and haunting sound effects, by Nelson-Corso, add greatly to the freakiness factor here (never more so than in the film’s opening credits, featuring beautiful and abstractly alien artwork by John Cline), while Harrington’s direction is both competent and clean. (Harrington had previously impressed this viewer with his legendary B&W thriller Night Tide, from 1961, which had starred Dennis Hopper, as well as the terrific horror film What’s the Matter With Helen?, from 1971.)
And how nice it is to see Basil Rathbone, here nudging toward the end of his legendary career but giving his all as the head of the IIST. (Rathbone had appeared in the Harrington film Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet in the previous year, which picture was filmed at the same time as Queen of Blood.) Sadly, Rathbone would go on to end his cinematic career with such embarrassments as The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) and Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967), and thus, Queen of Blood just might be the last film in which the great British actor would retain a semblance of dignity. And really, where else can the viewer get to see Rathbone, Saxon and Hopper all in one film? (I forgot to mention that Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman is supposedly somewhere in this picture’s impressive little cast as well, although I never did quite spot him.)
I don’t want to oversell Queen of Blood here, but I must again stress that this film turned out to be far less cheesy, and a lot more artistically brought to the screen, than I had anticipated. Ending on a bleak note of unresolved menace, the film just might prove a nice diversion for those sci-fi AND horror fans who are in the mood for something different…