B-Movie Review #2 – Queen of Blood (1966)

Usually, there’s only so far back that I will go when it comes to my consumption of movies. The 80’s and 90’s host the majority of my favourites and the 70’s sometimes gets a look-in as well but rarely will I watch something as old as Queen of Blood from 1966. It’s not for ignorance, more that the style of filmmaking, quality of sets and such from this period simply doesn’t captivate me as readily. I do want to try and address that though since I’m aware of many classics from the 60’s and previous. Back on-topic, I’m not sure that Queen of Blood should be classified as a B-Movie since I’m honestly not aware of how mainstream a release it was back in ’66 but for the theme and general sci-fi/horror premise, I’ve decided to cover it here in this particular series of reviews.

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Like a lot of movies from the period, the above poster is very creative with its visual advertisement of the film. Queen of Blood is far less dramatic and not as “hideous” in reality. In fact, I was pretty unimpressed with the slow, plodding pace of the movie in general and how long it took for anything to happen. I’d say that the first three quarters of the film were all very sci-fi with a lot of scene setting and plot revolving around space exploration and breakthrough contact with an extraterrestrial race. It was more suspenseful than anything, keeping me wondering when the first disaster or mishap would occur as is inevitably the case with sci-fi movies when mankind explores space or meddles in the unknown. It wasn’t until the latter stages of the movie when the horror element kicked in and I finally got to see what I was expecting to see.

To give a basic outline of Queen of Blood‘s plot, a small crew of astronauts are sent on a rescue mission from Earth’s forward base on the moon to find the craft of the extraterrestrials they have made contact with since their new friends have ran into trouble and crash-landed (apparently). The scientists see it as their responsibility to show mankind’s hospitality by rescuing these unknowns from their predicament. Unfortunately for the crew of the rescue mission, the sole-surviving female-shaped alien turns out to be more of a plant-like vampiric creature that sustains itself by consuming blood.

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The creature itself is actually quite unnerving and memorably creepy when she uses her hypnotic powers.

The film – in my mind at least – commentates on scientists and their desire to pursue knowledge and results above the safety of those they employ to do the dangerous work for them. Even as the crew is gradually killed off, the head of the project back at base (played by Basil Rathbone) remains calm and understanding of the situation but is ultimately more concerned with getting the specimen back in one piece to be studied. Even at the film’s conclusion when John Saxon’s character is adamant that the creature’s eggs (stealthily hidden around the ship without the crew’s knowledge) should be destroyed in the interests of Earth’s safety, Rathbone’s scientist ignores his main man’s warnings, choosing instead to have the eggs taken away at once for analysis. There’s a definite undercurrent of out-of-control science with the ends justifying the means and research taking priority over sense, something we can relate to when looking at many real-life inventions and current scientific/technological pursuits.

There are also numerous parallels with Ridley Scott’s Alien from the basic premise of a crew returning home with a killer creature from outer space aboard to those not on the frontline ordering that a dangerous species is successfully brought back even if it comes at the expense of the crew. Then there are the more obvious parallels such as the crew being killed off one at a time (despite their efforts to ensure that nobody else dies) and horror of the unknown from outer space. Some have speculated that Ridley Scott must have taken some sort of inspiration from Queen of Blood when working on Alien and even if we will never know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was the case.

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Seductive or evil? Any horror fan should be able to put their money on the creature’s true intentions.

The green-skinned alien herself (played by Florence Marly) is actually one of the highlights of the film despite the simplistic costume and make-up which don’t make her appear very monstrous or otherworldly at all. Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter because her sinister aura is born of the fact that she doesn’t appear to be evil at all to begin with, just unable to communicate with words. Close-ups of her eyes and seductive smile don’t necessarily signal any sort of malicious intent but at the same time, viewers will know that there’s something else behind the innocent, child-like personality that the creature projects.

This is one thing that I DO appreciate about older cinema: the fact that simple camera-work and clever close-ups as well as good quality acting can carry a movie with an otherwise straightforward plot. The creature in Queen of Blood is fairly one-dimensional and would be no more primal in nature than the Alien or any other murderous monster from the world of horror if she weren’t human-shaped yet Florence Marly’s facial expressions and the eery calmness about her lend the titular Queen some character. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t consider the Queen to be one of cinema’s iconic horror villains but the scenes involving her hypnotic gaze are genuinely creepy and there is legitimate suspense in waiting for that moment when the human charade will be dropped and a sci-fi film becomes more of a horror.

Sadly this never really happens. You don’t get to see the kills themselves and the film ends all too soon. That said, Queen of Blood is a pre-slasher era film from a time when evil concepts and grim implications were enough to chill their audiences. Once the graphic, excessively gory horror films came along in their masses, the slow build-ups and focus on suspense over outright terror were no longer enough. Queen of Blood certainly deserves recognition for creating an atmosphere and starring a sinister, unfeeling alien lifeform. Then there are the subtextual questions it asks about the morality of scientists and whether other races of creatures can be blamed for their behaviour when they don’t live amongst human society. The cast is mostly pretty decent and includes some good names such as the aforementioned John Saxon and also Dennis Hopper so there’s that too.

Overall, Queen of Blood is pretty much a film of its time but even so, I have to be critical and point out the fact that it takes so long for things to get moving (an issue with a lot of older horror, fantasy and sci-fi movies in fairness). It wasn’t really for me but I can appreciate what it brings to the table as a suspenseful sci-fi/horror.

 

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