Category Archives: Mario Bava

Assignment: Outer Space (1960, AKA Space-Men).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
Screenplay by Antonio Margheriti & Ennio De Concini
Cinematography: Marcello Masciocchi
Music by Lelio Luttazzi

Cast: Rik Van Nutter (Ray Peterson, IZ41), Gabriella Farinon (Lucy, Y13), David Montresor (George the Commander), Archie Savage (Al, X15), Alain Dijon (Archie, Y16), Franco Fantasia (Sullivan)


Antonio Margheriti worked on documentaries, did special effects work and wrote screenplays before directing his first feature, Assignment: Outer Space (1960). This kicked off a career that went from whacked-out Italian science fiction and spaghetti westerns to peplum and horror movies to spy movies and action films.

When you crank out more than 50 fad-chasing genre pictures, it’s understood that quite a few of them will be less than great. But Margheriti had a real knack for no-budget special effects — and he loved science fiction. He certainly knew how to get a movie done quickly and efficiently — using multiple cameras to get everything from master shots to closeups at the same time. With the Gamma One series, for instance, he shot four films simultaneously, using the same actors, props and sets — shooting scenes from four color-coded screenplays each day. Margheriti’s ingenuity and love of cinema is baked into most of his films, especially the ones from the 60s, and it helps put a lot of them over.

Space-Men — or Assignment: Outer Space, as it’s known in the States — is a picture with more ideas and scope than its budget could bankroll, but Margheriti manages to make it work. The story is pretty basic — a broken-down spaceship is on a collision course with Earth, and the team on a single space station are mankind’s only hope. The special effects are passable, nothing more. And its pacing is pretty leisurely for a story with so much natural suspense.

But these liabilities become assets in Margheriti’s hands. The story serves as a framework for some imaginative sequences that may, or may not, advance the story. Margheriti devotes lots of screen time to showing us the (speculative) ins and outs of space travel, in a way that plays a bit like a precursor to Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey (1968) — with a waking-up-from-suspended-animation scene that was clearly an influence on Alien (1979). The special effects are quaint, cool, surreal and charming — especially for those of use who consider CGI a nail in cinema’s coffin. (Larger models would’ve made a big difference, no pun intended.) It’s a very visual experience throughout, which makes it a real shame that it looks so consistently, and internationally, lousy on video.

They say that while Margheriti was shooting Assignment: Outer Space, Mario Bava was hard at work on Black Sunday (1960) on the soundstage next door at Scalera Film studios. One thing I found brilliant was the use of letters and numbers on the characters’ uniforms and space suits, so we know who’s who in longer shots — much like numbers on a baseball jersey. And one more thing: Rik Van Nutter would go on to play Felix Leiter in Thunderball (1965) — and was married to Anita Ekberg.

Antonio Margheriti would follow this with Battle Of The Worlds (1961), which is on its way to Blu-Ray from The Film Detective, and a few years later would come the Gamma One pictures (available from Warner Archive). In between, some spaghetti westerns and gothic horror — all of it worth your time. And though his work from the 70s and 80s doesn’t have the same ingenuity and creativity, it’s a real shame that Margheriti isn’t better known, and appreciated. 

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Filed under 1960, Antonio Margheriti, Mario Bava, The Film Detective, Warner Archive

Blu-ray News #391: Planet Of The Vampires (AKA Terrore Nello Spazio).

Directed by Mario Bava
Starring Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Ángel Aranda, Evi Marandi

Mario Bava’s supremely creepy Planet Of The Vampires (1965) is getting a new 2K restoration (with expanded supplemental stuff) from the folks at Kino Lorber. Even though their previous Blu-Ray was quite nice, this is very good news indeed.

Written by Ib Melchior, Planet Of The Vampires a bit more going for it than most, script-wise, that a lot of Italian science fiction movies, which tend to not make much sense. But with Mario Bava, it’s the visuals we’re concerned about, and Planet Of The Vampires doesn’t disappoint. This thing’s got enough style and atmosphere (and fog) for 20 movies (and oddly enough, no vampires). I see a lot of this film’s influence in Alien (1979), with a heavy dose of It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1957) thrown in.

VHS copies of Planet Of The Vampires in the Eighties replaced the original score with some dreadful synthesizer stuff. The MGM DVD and the later Kino Lorber Blu-Ray restored the music from the original Italian and AIP versions. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1965, AIP, Barry Sullivan, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kino Lorber, Mario Bava

San Francisco, May, 1964.

You couldn’t pay me to go to San Francisco today, but I would love to have been there in May of 1964. Look at this great twin bill — Mario Bava’s Erik The Conqueror (1961) and Hercules And The Captive Women (1963).

All that, and Jimmy Payne, a former Mr. America, was dropping by!

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Filed under 1961, 1963, AIP, Mario Bava, Peplum, Reg Park, Woolner Brothers

February 1975.

While researching something completely unrelated, I came across this ad for a double feature of Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959) playing a number of theaters in New York in February 1975, including the UA Rivoli, which was one of the only Dimension 150 houses around.

Seeing those great Steve Reeves peplum films, shot by Mario Bava in ‘Scope, on that deep curved Dimension 150 screen must’ve really been something.

By the way, the Rivoli ran Jaws that summer, which would’ve been cool on that curved screen.

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Filed under 1958, 1959, Avco Embassy, Mario Bava, Peplum, Steve Reeves

Blu-Ray Review: Hercules And The Captive Women (1963).

Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi
Produced by Achille Piazzi
Executive Supervision: Hugo Grimaldi
Cinematography: Carlo Carlini
Music Supervision (US Version): Gordon Zahler, General Music Corp.
Title Design (US Version): Filmation Associates

Cast: Reg Park (Hercules), Fay Spain (Queen Antinea), Ettore Manni (Androclo, Re di Tebe), Luciano Marin (Illo), Laura Efrikian (Ismene), Maurizio Coffarelli (Proteus, The Monster), Leon Selznick (Narrator, US Version)

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Let’s not take for granted the fact that Blu-Ray technology has become prevalent enough that niche genre films like Hercules And The Captive Women (1963) are getting the kind of deluxe treatment usually given to pictures widely acknowledged as “classics.” As someone who seems to only watch movies that fall into some kind of goofy niche, I’m so thankful to the companies putting these things out.

That makes reviewing something like The Film Detective’s new Blu-Ray of Hercules And The Captive Women a bit odd, since I’m overjoyed by the thing before I even know what it looks like. With that out of the way, lets get to it.

Hercules And The Captive Women was released in Italy in 1961 as Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide, which translates to “Hercules At The Conquest Of Atlantis.” Shot in Technicolor and Technirama, it was Reg Park’s first time as Hercules. The picture played in the UK as Hercules Conquers Atlantis.

In 1963, The Woolner Bros. brought it to the States. They re-cut it, re-dubbed it, replaced the score, gave it the title Hercules And The Captive Women and opened it with new animated credits from Filmation. This is the version The Film Detective has brought to Blu-Ray, and it’s beautiful.

This time around, Hercules takes on Antinea, the Queen of Atlantis (Fay Spain), who’s planning on taking over the world with an army of odd-looking blond warriors. Along the way, there are all kinds of fights, plenty of posing and posturing and lots of crazy dialogue — you know, the stuff that makes these peplum movies what they are.

Hercules And The Captive Women one was one of my favorite peplums as a kid, thanks largely to the lizard monster Hercules (Reg Park) takes on. Fay Spain appeared in everything from Dragstrip Girl (1957) to The Godfather Part II (1974). I liked Park’s next one, Mario Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World (1961), even better. This was probably the peak for peplum.

Thanks to the Technicolor and Technirama, Hercules And The Captive Women has a bigger, lusher feel than the rest of these things, which is where The Film Detective’s really pays off. The transfer — a 4K Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative — is as sharp as a tack. Sharpness and deep focus were the key benefits of Technirama, surely one of the best of the many film processes to turn up in the 50s. The audio here is, well, it is what it is. The dubbing and effects are as wonky as you remember, but quite a bit cleaner and clearer. You might recognize a music cue from Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) — it’s also in Bend Of The River (1952) and King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962).

There’s a mighty batch of extras: a commentary by Tim Lucas, a nice booklet with notes from C. Courtney Joyner, a documentary on peplums, Hercules And The Conquest Of Cinema, and MST3K’s take on the film. This is a really nice package. The Film Detective is a company to keep an eye on — they’re really on a roll these days. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Fay Spain, Mario Bava, Peplum, Reg Park, The Film Detective, Woolner Brothers

A Night At The Movies: Halloween – Illinois, 1967.

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Filed under 1959, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1967, A Night At The Movies, AIP, Boris Karloff, Dick Miller, Herman Cohen, Jack Nicholson, Mario Bava, Michael Gough, Roger Corman

RIP, Ennio Morricone.

Ennio Morricone
(November 10. 1928 – July 6, 2020)

The great composer Ennio Morricone has passed away at 91. Among his many terrific scores was the one for Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966).

Without his music, would spaghetti Westerns have been as impactful as they were?

His work that comes to mind with this news is Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1967).

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Filed under 1966, Clint Eastwood, Ennio Morricone, John Phillip Law, Lee Van Cleef, Mario Bava, Sergio Leone, Spaghetti Westerns

Blu-Ray News #278 – Danger: Diabolik (1968).

Directed by Mario Bava
Starring John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Adolfo Celi, Claudio Gora

You can have all 57 Avengers movies and those new Batman and Joker things. Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1968) is the best comic book movie ever made. And it’s a Blu-Ray folks (including me) have been screaming for for years.

Shout Factory is bringing Danger: Diabolik to high definition in May — and at this time, the specs haven’t been announced. There’s been some controversy over the years about the two different English dubs, so it’ll be interesting to see what they wind up with. But one thing’s for sure, Bava’s incredible use of color and whacked-out camera angles, along with Ennio Morricone’s fuzzed-out score, will be well-served on Blu-Ray. Highly, highly recommended.

Why take my word for it? A more qualified movie expert, Glen Erickson of CinemaSavant, is just as nuts over this thing as I am.

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Filed under 1968, DVD/Blu-ray News, Ennio Morricone, John Phillip Law, Mario Bava, Marisa Mell, Paramount, Shout/Scream Factory

Happy Birthday, Boris Karloff.

Boris Karloff (William Henry Pratt)
(23 November 1887 – 2 February 1969)

Here’s a perfect way to celebrate the great Boris Karloff — stay up all night watching a slew of his movies.

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Filed under 1963, AIP, Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Dick Miller, Hazel Court, Jack Nicholson, Jacques Tourneur, Joyce Jameson, Les Baxter, Mario Bava, Nick Adams, Peter Lorre, Richard Matheson, Roger Corman, Vincent Price

Blu-Ray News #263: Goliath And The Vampires (1961).

Directed by Sergio Corbucci & Giacomo Gentilomo
Starring Gordon Scott, Gianna Maria Canale, Jacques Sernas, Leonora Ruffo, Annabella Incontrera, Mario Feliciani

After their terrific Blu-Ray of Mario Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World (1961), I was hoping Kino Lorber would keep the peplum coming. Well, with Goliath And The Vampires (1961) coming in early 2020, there’s at least one more in the works. This one has Gordon Scott as Goliath and was co-directed by Sergio Corbucci (there’s some debate about how much input he actually had). Dino De Laurentiis is credited as executive producer — I think it’s the only one of these pictures he did.

AIP released it here in the States, but didn’t get around to it until 1964. Reynold Brown’s poster art was typically beautiful. Like Hercules In The Haunted World, Goliath And The Vampires stirs a little Gothic horror into the usual peplum stew, which I always appreciate.

These movies looked like crap when I saw them on TV in the late 70s and early 80s — usually faded color and always a brutal pan-and-scan job on the ‘Scope camerawork. Can’t wait to see this one looking like it should. Recommended.

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Filed under 1961, AIP, DVD/Blu-ray News, Gordon Scott, Kino Lorber, Mario Bava, Peplum, Reynold Brown, Sergio Corbucci