FANTASIA OBSCURA: Recycled Russian Footage Meets a Futuristic Look at 1990

There are some fantasy, science fiction, and horror films that not every fan has caught. Not every film ever made has been seen by the audience that lives for such fare. Some of these deserve another look because sometimes not every film should remain obscure.

Sometimes, it’s just better to keep your damn mouth shut!

Queen of Blood (1966)

Distributor: American International

Director: Curtis Harrington

When last we were together, we looked at the film that most folks agree influenced Ridley Scott when he made Alien.

One person, however, feels differently…

What’s especially of note (and galling) is director Curtis Harrington’s claim as late as 2005 (two years before his death) that his film had more influence over Alien than Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. He states on the record his feelings that Dan O’Bannon “had probably seen my film and gotten some inspiration from it.” Harrington then goes on to state that, as of that year, he hadn’t seen Bava’s movie, and through that sticks to his contention that he’s the main influence.

To which there’s a quick reaction: Bitch, please!

The film Harrington defends is set in the far-off year of 1990, 20 years after having visited the moon and, later, setting up a colony there. In this “far-off” year, Earth gets a signal from an interstellar civilization, telling us that they’re willing to meet. We get a follow-up message that comes into our atmosphere via satellite, letting us know that their ship en route to us crashed on Mars.

Good neighbors that we are, we send a ship to meet them with jumper cables an offer to pick them up and bring them here. Their emissary, the alien queen (Florence Marly), gets hungry on the way over and starts to snack on her rescuers, which causes nothing but problems.

Perhaps on some level, Harrington (who is credited with the screenplay) might be able to claim exerting some inspiration on Alien. He could try and cite his story of astronauts going to another world and picking up an extraterrestrial that turns on them finds its way into the 1979 film as evidence that he came up with the scenario used later.

Problem is, his film is hardly that unique. Oh, definitely not.

At the same time Roger Corman picked up a stack of Soviet films that turned into Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, he also got the distribution rights to Mechte Navstrechu (A Dream Come True), a film from 1963 that also deals with Earth’s first contact with an alien race that reaches out to us, which he gives to Harrington to re-purpose.

In fact, like other Corman-recycled Soviet films, Queen of Blood is filled with both shots and plot of the original, re-purposed for an American audience. The big difference between the Soviet and American films is that in the original, the aliens coming here are not sanguivorous and, in fact, are rather pleasant; if anything, Contact owes a lot more to the original Soviet film than Alien does.

As happened in other cases of Corman’s pererabotka program, many of the wide shots of Earth and the moon from the original film ended up in Harrington’s final cut. But the economies didn’t end there; Basil Rathbone plays the head of the science program in this film, much as he did in Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet.

In fact, according to production notes, Rathbone shot scenes for both films the same day on the exact same set! A reading of Rathbone’s biography and his desperate need to keep working in the last decade of his life serve as evidence that the actor was easily available for the usually minimal fees that a Corman production would offer.

While the original film is a pleasant meditation on the possibility of meeting other minds out there, Queen of Blood limits itself to cheap and obvious scares. Marly’s alien visitor looks exotic and draws stares, but no one could ever claim to feel safe around her with the vibes she gives off. It should not have been that obvious on sight that she’s trouble, which makes the astronauts that come to pick her up look moronic in hindsight.

It should be noted, though, that said astronauts did move on from this Soviet-sponsored rescue to bigger and better things. John Saxon, playing Alan Brenner, would go on to other, more memorable projects, including two tries at bringing Gene Roddenberry’s Dylan Hunt to television. His fellow crew member Dennis Hopper, playing Paul Grant, would go on to have some fantastic far-out trips, though not necessarily in genre tales, ifyouknowwhatImean. If nothing else, seeing these two actors this early in their career surviving the process almost makes the film worth watching.

Almost.

What keeps us returning to this recycled Soviet film, in the end, is Harrington’s claim that “his” film was what inspired Alien and its subsequent follow-ups.

The closer you look at Queen of Blood, however, the more you feel that instead of watching an alien chest burster making an NSFW impression, we’re seeing something else entirely trying to burst out from a different quadrant on the torso.

NEXT TIME: So, Wonder Woman is getting a film in theaters after everyone else got a film based on their exploits released… and we do mean everyone else.

About James Ryan 117 Articles
James Ryan is still out there on the loose. He’s responsible for the novels Raging Gail and Red Jenny and the Pirates of Buffalo, as well as the popular history The Pirates of New York. He has also been spotted associating with the publications Pyramid Online, Dragon, The Urbanite, The Dream Zone, Rational Magic, and Rooftop Sessions. He has been spotted too often in the vicinity of Kinja. Should you meet him, proceed with caution. He is to be considered disarming and slightly dangerous…