QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966) Blu-ray
Director: Curtis Harrington
Kino Lorber

Concerning QUEEN OF BLOOD (also known as PLANET OF BLOOD) writer/director Curtis Harrington was quoted as saying, “Roger Corman had acquired some spectacular Russian footage of spaceships. I saw the footage and wrote a screenplay around it. We shot the film in seven and a half days at a cost of $65,000.” The footage that Harrington was referring to originated from two Soviet Sci-Fi efforts, MECHTE NAVSTRECHU and NEBO ZOVYOT. For American International Pictures (AIP), Corman also bought footage from a third film (PLANETA BUR) which ended up in Harrington’s own VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET and Peter Bogdanovich’s VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN, but QUEEN OF BLOOD is arguably the best of the bunch, and it now arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

In the futuristic year of 1990, Earth scientist Dr. Farraday (Basil Rathbone, TALES OF TERROR) makes contact via radio transmission with ambiguous aliens concerning an impending visit. Things go wrong, and Farraday has to set up a rescue mission when the alien spacecraft crashes on Mars. A U.S. ship containing Laura James (Judi Meredith, JACK THE GIANT KILLER), Paul Grant (Dennis Hopper, EASY RIDER) and Anders Brockman (Robert Boon, SCREAMING EAGLES) arrives, but no living survivors are found. A second smaller ship containing Allan Brenner (John Saxon, BLACK CHRISTMAS), who happens to be Laura’s boyfriend, manages to discover an alien survivor, and while leaving his co-pilot (Don Eitner, BEGINNING OF THE END) behind, he boards the larger ship with the others, bringing the strange, sleeping being back to Earth. Their guest awakens as a mute female creature, with a human-like body (and a tight bodysuit to prove this point) with green skin, false eyelashes and an onion style hairdo. Much to the astronauts’ disgust, it turns out that this alien queen gets her nourishment through human blood, using a vampire-like hypnosis (and her glowing emerald eyes) to corner her preferably male victims.

Although any seasoned film watcher is going to have no trouble identifying where the Russian footage was inserted, Harrington does a good job of concealing the shoestring limitations and weaving the Russian film sequences (mostly long shots, technically superior outer space special effects and crowd scenes) with the well-directed scenes he shot, making for an interesting, if very cheaply prepped effort. If it wasn’t for the significant change of appearance in the film stock, the intercutting probably would have looked seamless. Starting with his first feature film, the Val Lewton-esque NIGHT TIDE (1961), also featuring Hopper, Harrington was always a diverse and distinguishable filmmaker, even when he was a director for hire limited to TV movies of the week. This mix of the science fiction/space and horror/vampire genre is no exception, and it still manages to carry some genuinely eerie parts while being fun enough to sustain its 80 minute running time.

Czech-born actress Florence Marly (DOCTOR DEATH: SEEKER OF SOULS) is effectively chilling as the alien queen, covered in heavy face paint and having to convey her role through devious grimaces and excitable eye movements. Forrest J. Ackerman (who has a bit part, as well as the privilege of carrying off a tray of gelatin-covered pulsating alien eggs in the final shot) would often pay homage to Marly in the pages of his Famous Monsters magazine, by making her something of a celebrity amongst horror fans. Saxon (who had already been in Mario Bava’s THE EVIL EYE, released here in the U.S. by AIP) makes for a very likable young hero, even when he’s spouting lines such as, “That's one bad thing about space trips - no banana splits”. It’s also fun to see a clean cut Hopper (as a young astronaut who becomes smitten with the alien blood queen) right before he started to grow his hair long and embrace the counter culture, starring in THE TRIP, THE GLORY STOMPERS and beyond. Second-billed Rathbone (who had just appeared alongside similar Russian sci-fi footage in VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET) is enthusiastic enough in what is essentially a supporting role, and he still appears to be in fairly good shape: he died the following year at the age of 75. On an interesting note, the film did actually predict more or less the accurate time frame in which man would first land on the moon (Rathbone’s character proclaims that the event happened 20 years ago, which in terms of the film's setting would have been 1970, just one year off from the real deal!).

MGM previously released QUEEN OF BLOOD as part of its Limited Edition Collection of manufactured-on-demand DVDs, with Kino now licensing MGM’s HD transfer on the fine suggestion of Walt Olsen of Scorpion Releasing. The film is presented in 1080p HD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and although the quality noticeably drops when the Russian footage is on display (obviously on an inferior film stock) the presentation on a whole is terrific. The image has excellent detail (especially on the actors’ facial features), with the vivid 1960s era colors (think “Star Trek” and “Lost in Space”) looking bright and beautiful (especially in the American-shot studio scenes), and grain structure is nicely accurate, even when it’s a bit thicker. Blemishes on the original source materials (at least for the bulk of the American-shot footage) are minimal. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is quite clear and the music and sound effects also sound strong. It’s a pleasure to note that QUEEN OF BLOOD’s original theatrical co-feature, Jack Hill’s BLOOD BATH, will also be making it to Blu-ray in the near future from Arrow Video USA.

Scorpion Releasing has produced two featurettes for this Blu-ray release. “The Russians Are Coming: Robert Skotak on Queen of Blood” (21:34) has the visual effects supervisor/writer/film historian detailing how after Sputnik, the Russians were encouraged to make high-budgeted space exploration films in the late 1950s and 1960s, with Roger Corman then seeing the films and buying some of them for re-cutting purposes, with Corman then getting in touch with Harrington to direct the “new” film. He also discusses how Harrington and company duplicated the costumes from the Russian footage so that they could be incorporated properly with the new scenes, and the clever editing techniques that the final American film employed. Skotak also touches upon the film’s exteriors and spaceship interiors, the special effects (including the eerie glowing effects on Marly’s pupils), and indicates that Harrington put a lot of care into making the film, and he also tells a great anecdote about Rathbone’s initial arrival on the set. Corman (the executive producer on the film) is also interviewed (6:27) as he tells of being amazed at the quality of Russian science fiction films of the time, wanting to buy the rights to some of them, and hiring Harrington to direct QUEEN OF BLOOD because of the great qualities he was able to bring to NIGHT TIDE. Corman says that Rathbone was brought in to shoot his scenes for one day, and also talks a bit about the other cast members and producer George Edwards. The original theatrical trailer is presented here full frame. (George R. Reis)