Synopsis: The year is 1990; man has been traveling to and from the moon for twenty years, and is looking to move on to bigger and better celestial bodies. Dr. Farraday (Basil Rathbone) is thrilled when he receives evidence of what he believes to be the first-ever radio transmission to Earth from an alien race. Sure enough, the aliens communicate that they are sending down a peaceful delegation to make contact with the earthlings. But trouble arises along the way; the alien spaceship crash lands on a distant planet, and they ask the humans to send immediate help. It comes in the form of astronauts Anders Brockman (Robert Boon), Laura James (Judi Meredith), Paul Grant (Dennis Hopper), and Allan Brenner (John Saxon), who immediately blast off to recover and assist their stranded allies. When the spacecraft is discovered they find only one survivor, a vivid green female (Florence Marly) whom they take aboard their ship. But is she the victim – or the predator?
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “What the hell is Queen of Blood, and what does it have to do with Dennis Hopper? There are definitely more notable Dennis Hopper films you could’ve chosen.” Well, you’re right. The truth is, while I’ve seen him in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, the bulk of Hopper’s body of work falls just a bit outside my area of expertise. I’ve never seen Easy Rider, and while I recognize its importance in the history and shaping of American cinema, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to review it on the blog just yet. Plus, come on, how predictable is that? So, recognizing that I hadn’t really done a proper scifi flick yet, I settled on Queen of Blood. It’s not that I think this is a great film that deserves more recognition – it’s not, and it doesn’t – but I wanted to jump into something a bit more obscure in the career of possibly the most famous actor we lost in 2010. I like to be different, but also, when I’m trying to write eight full reviews a month and juggle other daily-life responsibilities, I like to do what’s convenient. And Queen of Blood was on Netflix Watch Instantly. God, one paragraph in and I’m already spewing all my secrets.
Queen of Blood was made by Curtis Harrington for American International Pictures in candy-coated Eastman Pathécolor, a B-grade scifi staple. While I’m aware that it’s a color process associated with cheap and easy filmmaking, it’s one I’ve come to adore and find perfectly suited to the stark contrasts and illuminated backdrops of space-based science fiction. However, the majority of the more spectacular effects shots in this film were actually cobbled together from two cutting-edge Russian films, Mechte Navstrechu (1963) and Nebo Zovyot (Battle Beyond The Sun) (1960), both considered groundbreaking achievements in special effects wizardry in the USSR. All Harrington really did was re-shoot the interior scenes with recognizable American actors and attempt to sew up the seams. If you go into the film not knowing this, you might mistake it for a potentially decent little movie owing to some really lovely shots and effects; but you’d be sadly mistaken, as the scenes Harrington actually did shoot are fairly straight-forward and claustrophobic (aside from a few scenes with the alien, which just look like “Star Trek” B-roll). Once you know the edits and cracks are there, you’ll never be able to unsee them.
The acting is fine, with doomed astronaut Hopper sticking out like a sore thumb doing his naturalistic Method thing. Don’t get me wrong, I think Method acting is marvelous and don’t normally have an issue with it; but it is not befitting of an astronaut, particularly not in this context. Astronauts don’t slouch and mumble. At one point Hopper records in the ship’s log that the vibrant red of Mars indicates a “really deep” oxidation level; I wouldn’t even write that in a ninth-grade science paper, much less put it in a ship’s log. John Saxon walks around making John Saxon faces, which is what we pay him to do, and Basil Rathbone plays the Authoritative British Scientist who’s more interested in gaining knowledge than in the welfare of mankind. Florence Marly as the titular Queen is pretty freaky and doesn’t actually get any lines; she communicates entirely in Creepy Looks and Distracting Lip Quivers. I think I liked her performance the best out of all of them.
It’d be a campy rollicking good time, but what really dooms this film is the pacing. We don’t even get to meet the title character until the movie’s already half over. A lot of time is wasted on Incomprehensible Space Problems, like sending a rescue ship to meet the other rescue ship but not being able to launch a third rescue ship to rescue the second rescue ship because of “space wind.” Or something? I sort of stopped paying attention, because I figured why should I care when there was a QUEEN of BLOOD supposedly coming up sometime soon? Anyway, when they do finally find the Queen of Blood their rescue pod can only hold two passengers, so John Saxon leaves his friend on some moon somewhere and nobody even cares about him for the rest of the movie. They were really concerned with rescuing him for about a minute, but then the Queen of Blood started doing her thing and I guess they got distracted. No problem, I’m sure that guy you left without supplies or oxygen on that random moon will understand.
In case you haven’t gotten the hint by now, it’s just… not a very good movie. It’s like an over-long episode of “Star Trek,” and not even a very good one at that. They couldn’t even really decide on the form of their menace; the Queen of Blood is an alien, but then she’s a vampire, but then she’s a fire-starter, and then I think eventually a monotreme? She seemed to have every convenient ability in the book, and one very convenient weakness. It all gets a bit silly, not in a “one hilarious improbable plot twist after another!” sort of way but in an “oh jeez will you just END ALREADY?” sort of way. And it’s only 78 minutes long. I give it credit for the few stunning shots taken from the USSR films, but that’s kind of like praising the frame for the painting that’s in it. I’m much more interested now in getting my hands on the Russian gems Curtis Harrington used to smith this mess; I guess I can give it credit for peaking my curiosity. Not bad enough to be unwatchable, but not good enough to watch more than once, Queen of Blood is just so-so and only worth your time if you happen to have a lot of it.
Queen of Blood (1966) – 2/5 stars