Here’s a question: what happens when Roger Corman buys the rights to two Russian science fiction films, decides to jettison basically everything but the special effects footage, and then hires experimental filmmaker Curtis Harrington to shoot an entirely new film around that footage?
You end up with the 1966 film, Queen of Blood!
Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. Queen of Blood is actually pretty good and director Harrington manages to smoothly integrate the Russian footage with the new footage. Basically, it works out so that you’ll see a Russian shot of the spaceship taking off or landing and then you’ll see a shot of John Saxon, Dennis Hopper, or Basil Rathbone sitting on a set and pretending like they’re in space.
The film opens with Dr. Faraday (Basil Rathbone) discovering that aliens have been transmitting a message to Earth. They’re sending an ambassador to meet with the Earthlings but the aliens’ spaceship ends up crash landing on Mars! Faraday arranges for an Earth spaceship, the Oceano, to go to Mars and rescue the ambassador.
Aboard the Oceano is a cast made up of a few familiar faces. John Saxon plays Allan, who is the de facto leader of the expedition and also engaged to marry Dr. Faraday’s assistant, Laura (Judi Meredith). A young-looking Dennis Hopper is Paul Grant, an astronaut. Don’t get too excited about Hopper being in the cast. Queen of Blood was made when Hopper was still trying to pursue mainstream film stardom so he gives a rather bland performance here. There’s a few scenes where you can tells that Hopper is on the verge of smirking at some of his dialogue but, for the most part, he plays the role extremely straight. Rounding out the crew is Anders (Robert Boon) and Tony (Don Eitner), neither one of whom would go on to star in Easy Rider, Blue Velvet, or Nightmare on Elm Street.
It’s a difficult journey. The Oceano keeps running into Russian-filmed turbulence on the way to Mars. When they do land, they discover that the ambassador (Florence Marly) is waiting for them to rescue her. She doesn’t talk much nor does she have any interest in eating Earth food. She does seem to like every member of the crew except for Laura. Of course, the ambassador’s defining trait is that she likes to drink blood….
All things considered, Queen of Blood works pretty well. While none of the performances are particularly memorable (though Basil Rathbone does bring some old school class to what is essentially a cameo role), Curtis Harrington does a great job creating and maintaining a properly ominous atmosphere. It takes a while for the crew to finally find the Queen of Blood but, when they do, Harrington gets every bit of creepiness that he can out of the character. The film even ends on an appropriately dark note, suggesting that the human race may be just too stupid to survive.
Queen of Blood is an entertaining B-movie. Watch it the next time you’re in the mood for some intergalactic blood-sucking fun!