American-International Pictures had made some money in the U.S. with Mario Bava’s Black Sunday and Black Sabbath. It just made sene for Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson to gain more control by producing the films themselves instead of just buying the rights.
Working with Italian International Film and Spain’s Castilla Cooperativa Cinematográfica, AIP provided the services of writer Ib Melchior (The Angry Red Planet) to create the American version of this movie, which was based on Renato Pestriniero’s short story “One Night of 21 Hours.”
This movie was quite literally the Tower of Babel, as each major cast member performed in their respective languages: Barry Sullivan spoke English, Norma Bengell spoke Portuguese, Ángel Aranda Spanish and Evi Marandi Italian. And the low budget would have made a cheap-looking movie with any other director, but Bava was the master of in-camera effects and flooding his sets with color and fog. In a Fangoria article, he would say, “Do you know what that unknown planet was made of? A couple of plastic rocks — yes, two: one and one! — left over from a mythological movie made at Cinecittà! To assist the illusion, I filled the set with smoke.”
When 1979’s Alien came out, those that had been exposed to Bava’s work would let people know that many of the ideas in that film came directly from this modest film with its $200,000 budget — I know Joe Bob, everyone lies about budgets. While Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon would claim for years that they had never seen this movie before, the writer would later say, “I stole the giant skeleton from the Planet of the Vampires.”
Want to know how I know those claims are true? From the very start of this film, two large ships — the Galliott and the Argos — in deep space respond to an SOS call and are lured to a planet where alien beings either take their bodies over or murder them. The crew of the Argos instantly begins murdering one another — with only Captain Markary (Sullivan) able to pull his crew out of madness. When they arrive at the other ship, everyone is already dead, including Markary’s brother.
Soon, the bodies of the dead are walking as if alive, the ships are damaged beyond repair, and crew members are getting wiped out (look for a young Ivan Rassimov — later of the giallos The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and All the Colors of the Dark, and the Star Wars clone The Humanoid — as one of them!).
While this film is 55 years old, I have no interest in ruining the ending for you. Instead, I want you to sit and bask in its colorful glow, awash in fog and mystery, with pulpy science fiction heroes running around in fetishy costumes and discovering skeletons that could in no way be human. It is everything that is magic about film.
Atlas — the comic company that tried to challenge Marvel and DC in the 1970’s — combined I Am Legend with this film to create the comic Planet of the Vampires. Much like all of their books, it only ran three issues, but the first one boasts a cover with pencils by Pat Broderick with Neal Adams-inks and other issues have great work by Russ Heath. The first issue was also written by future G.I. Joe mastermind Larry Hama. I have no doubt that Atlas did not pay AIP for the rights to this.
— Sam Panico
In 1972 Marvel Comics founder and publisher Martin Goodman left Marvel, selling the company in 1968—a company which he founded in 1939. When Marvel failed to honor Goodman’s retirement agreement to allow his son Chip to run the company, Goodman Sr. created Seaboard Periodicals and the Atlas Comics imprint in June of 1974 to go head-to-head with Marvel.
And by April of 1975—it was all over.
During Seaboard’s ten short months of existence, they published between two to four issues across 31 titles (comics and magazine-periodicals) for a total of 72 issues. In addition to creating original superhero characters, Seaboard attempted to acquire the rights to Japan’s Toho Studios’ stable of monsters, such as Godzilla, along with TV’s then popular Kolchak: The Night Stalker (check out our “Exploring: Dan Curtis” featurette) and a series of pulp-action spy novels.
Another one of Seaboard’s choices for adaptation came courtesy of Charlton Heston’s back-to-back hits with Planet of the Apes (1968; check out out “Ape Week” of reviews of the franchise), The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973) (check out our September 2019 “Atomic Dustbin” of Apoc film reviews)—so began the legal processes to acquire the rights to and create a comic book version of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.
And Matheson refused.
So Seaboard’s staff of writers and artists came up with their own variant of Matheson’s tale: a hybrid of Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man that also bared a striking similarity to Yul Brenner’s New York-based post-apocalyptic entry: The Ultimate Warrior (1974). And, of course, as Sam pointed out, the writers at Seabord dumped a heaping, radioactive helping of the Master Bava’s Planet of the Vampires into the atomic dustbin for good measure. (You don’t think so? Check out those black leather-yellow piped uniforms in Bava’s film against the white-blue piped uniforms of the Ares IV crew.) And, as with their rips of those 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.’ apoc properties, Seaboard didn’t pay AIP a dime for the rights.
And while surely John Carpenter was influenced by those four films, an apocalypse film critic can’t help but wonder if Carpenter read those three mid-1975 comic issues of Seaboard’s Planet of Vampires in creating his vision of a dystopian Big Apple for his own game-changing science fiction film: Escape from New York (1981)—all that was missing was The Empire State Building’s use as an architectural spine to support a domed city on the isle of Manhattan.
But at least we got the awesome Michael Sopkiw as Parisfal in 2019: After the Fall of New York out of the deal.
And Sergio Martino didn’t pay AVCO Embassy a dime.
And, as Sam explored, a whole bunch of people ripped off Alien (read a rundown of his reviews of those Alien rips HERE and HERE) . . . which ripped off Planet of Vampires . . . and no one paid Dan O’Bannon a dime. So it all evens out. Bava wins the apoc sweepstakes.
You can watch Bava’s incredible film on Amazon Prime.
— R.D Francis