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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Queen of Blood

The 60s saw quite a few foreign sci-fi dubbed into english, with new english-speaking actor footage inserted. Queen of Blood (QoB) is a bolder and more expansive example of that sub-genre. While others stayed fairly true to their original stories, Curtis Harrington (writer and director) turned the original, Mechte Navstrechu, on its head. Much of the first half of QoB is made out of footage from the 1962 original. The second half of QoB is almost all new footage starring John Saxon, Basil Rathbone, Judi Meredith and Dennis Hopper. Harrington turned a sentimental soviet sci-fi romantic piece into a moody sci-fi horror story.

Quick Plot Synopsis
See the original plot synopsis here. Briefly, signals are received on earth from an alien spaceship on its way to earth. It crashes on Mars for unknown reasons. Earth sends one team of astronauts to mount a rescue. After that team encounters trouble en route and is low on fuel, a second ship is sent to help out. Turns out there were no survivors on the main alien ship. An escape pod is found on Phobos, with an alien woman still barely alive. They all regroup and take her aboard their ship for the trip to earth. On the way, she regains consciousness, but cannot speak. She does not eat, but has strangely hypnotic eyes. She feeds on Paul, drinking his blood. He is found dead the next day. Anders argues that she should not be killed, but studied on earth. She gets him the next night. Allan ties her up, but that next night, she uses her heat vision to burn the ropes. She is feeding on Allan, but Laura interrupts her. In a mild scuffle, Laura scratches the alien, who runs screaming. Allan revives and finds the alien dead. She bled to death (green blood). As they land on earth, Laura discovers dozens of pulsating eggs hidden around in the ship. Dr. Farraday wants them saved for study. Fade to black, The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Two reasons. One, is that it uses the very cool models and set shots from Mechte Navstrechu which are a visual treat. Two, is the well paced moody monster flick that is the (mostly) new material in the second half.

Cold War Angle
There is more of an ancient xenophobia in QoB than anything political or nuclear. In this, it is more akin to Bram Stoker's Dracula, in an era when people feared the influx of foreign immigrants, than an angst analogy over nuclear disaster.

Notes
Laungton's Nightmare -- In the original soviet movie, the token westerner, Dr. Laungton, is derided for his worry that first contact with aliens might be dangerous. QoB plays out perfectly as the alternate ending as imagined by Laungton. Ironically, QoB reinforces the soviet writers' assertion that westerners are fearful pessimists. Harrington takes their romantically optimistic vision (MN) and turns it into a grim horror piece.

Specimen or Beast? -- An ethical question raised during QoB, (a couple times) is whether the guilty party (the alien "queen") should be put to death for her "crimes" or preserved for science to study. Allan (John Saxon) espouses the cowboy justice point of view in wanting her killed for her first crime. Anders and later Dr. Farraday argue she is too valuable to science to kill. Anders even suggests that her survival is so important that he, Laura and Allan should give blood donations to the queen to keep her (a) from getting so hungry she kills them and (b) to keep her alive for study on earth. Science demanded it's "pound of flesh".

Foundations of Alien -- QoB is one of the movies cited as a precursor to the 80s blockbuster Alien. Great things seldom come totally out of the blue, but draw upon foundations set by others. It! Terror from Beyond Space ('58) featured the crew trapped in a ship with a killer alien theme. QoB repeats this, but with the feeding-upon-them twist. Of course, the other famous It was The Thing ('51) in which the alien used human blood to nourish its eggs. QoB draws on this too. Night of the Blood Beast ('58) featured an alien which implants embryonic "young" into the body of a living human host. QoB adds the eggs while it repeats the monster-onboard device.

Cut n' Paste -- While most of the first half of QoB reuses footage from Mechte Navstrechu, several model scenes (rockets, mostly) are used from Nebo Zovyot. Corman acquired the rights to both, so used them like a clip library. Viewers will note that the moon base "Lunar 7" is also reused from Corman/Harrington's prior re-edit movie Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet ('65).

Commie-ectomy -- Unlike most movies in the re-edit sub-genre, There is almost no dubbing. Only one TV announcer is kept and dubbed, as well as one small scene where a scientist talks via a videophone to an assistant. Other than that, all the original Russian actors are cut out Their roles are roughly filled with english-speaking stars. Distant shots of the Russians in their space suits are kept. The Americans are given roughly similar (though cheaper looking) spacesuits. The result was pretty well done, such that someone not familiar with the original would not notice any discontinuity.

Bottom line? QoB is actually a pretty well done mash-up of prior soviet sci-fi footage and new footage. While its story line is entirely new, it is well presented and develops a fair bit of atmosphere.

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