In which I waste hours of precious life streaming a movie that is free or very cheap.
What Lured Me In?
Regret! I liked John Saxon in Battle Beyond the Stars, but didn’t say so because I was too busy complaining about George Peppard. Then, in comments, FRQ noted Saxon is in the classic Enter the Dragon. That warrants respect. A make-good was in order. So I researched the feasibility of a John Saxon Film Festival. Which means I did a one-minute image search to see if anything looked interesting.
Yeah, And? Is the Movie as Good as Its Helmet?
John Saxon plays an astronaut at “Space Institute” in the distant year 1990. He is very good at playing an astronaut in the 1966 mold: a no-nonsense problem-solver whose only personality flaw is that he is too competent. Fine, that didn’t change about astronauts from ’66 to ’90 in real life, so that’s accurate. But some things did change, and this movie forsakes street cred by making no attempt to address them. For example, there is no realistic 1990 scene of the competent astronauts in orbit blowing off steam by listening to C+C Music Factory.
At any rate, the plot is that humanity is finalizing plans to make the first-ever trip to uninhabited Mars, when a distress signal arrives from Mars. An alien spaceship has crashed there! So our first manned mission to Mars will also be a first-contact mission and a rescue mission. Neat!
NOT SO NEAT. The plot is actually that we are finalizing plans to make our first Mars shot when we get a transmission from “a far galaxy,” from aliens who want to meet us. They declare they’re sending emissaries. Everyone is excited. (No one is nervous.) But en route, the emissary ship crashes on Mars, so we have to go rescue them. Way to make a first impression, aliens! And on its way over, our rocket gets hit by a “sunburst” (in real life, called a solar flare), which knocks out its scanning instruments, so, when our astronauts land on Mars and find the crashed alien ship with one dead alien aboard, and assume there must be a second alien who ejected in an escape pod, UNFORTUNATELY knocked-out scanners means there’s no way to locate that escape pod. Thus our scientists back at moonbase hastily send a second rocket to place satellites around Mars that can look for the pod. But this rocket is smaller, with less fuel, so after placing the satellites, it can’t land on Mars or return to Earth. It has to land on the lower-gravity Phobos (moon of Mars, as you well know) from whence its crew will hop to Mars in an escape pod to join the first rocket’s crew. BUT LO and BEHOLD when crew #2 finishes placing satellites and lands on Phobos, they discover that by total coincidence they have touched down right next to the alien escape pod the satellites are looking for on Mars! Aboard this, they find a living alien. She’s out cold, so they pack her onto their own escape pod, flip a coin to decide which astronaut will stay behind because it’s only a two-seater pod, and then the winner (loser?) hops down to Mars with the out-cold alien to join the crew of the first rocket. Which has enough fuel to return to Earth. Right before takeoff, they radio the astronaut marooned on Phobos to assure him that in a week, moonbase will send a third rocket to rescue him. These shenanigans fill up two thirds of the movie.
The last third is what happens when the alien wakes up during the trip back to Earth. In other words, this is a two-act movie—a rarity! (Most movies have three.) Act I is astronauts doing what they do in present day: using math and personal sacrifice to advance humanity. (Or to put Act I less sympathetically: nothing happens.) Act II is astronauts doing what they will do in the future: getting trapped with a hostile life form whose limits no human can know as it preys on them one by one.
Oh yeah, worth noting, 1966 envisions a female Earthling astronaut. Movie even lets her be as competent and no-nonsense as the male astronauts, and her relationship with John Saxon (they’re engaged) makes perfect sense. It’s not that old-timey “I’m against gender equity, and so’s my wife” kind of relationship. Kudos to both of the actors and the script. They’re into each other like two scientists in space would be, no melodrama, and you just root for these kids to get home safe and vote for Nixon twice. Or whoever the movie figured in ’66 would run in ’92.
Anyway, the sets are cheap but fair, the lady who plays the alien is creepy, and three of the main actors (astronauts Saxon, Dennis Hopper, and Judi Meredith) seem like they got together at someone’s house before shooting and said seriously, “Oh brother. How can we work together to contain the blast of everything lame about this?” They have a grip on who their characters are, and they kick the shabby dialog up a notch and make it sound 15 IQ points less moronic than it is. Other actors were not invited to the meeting, with the result that watching a conversation, sometimes you’ll think,“Oof, they wrote the other guy like a bonehead; John has all the reasonable lines.” Only seconds later will you realize the conversation was universally boneheaded.
And man oh man but Saxon-Hopper-Meredith are facing long odds. I mean, glance at the basic premise here: we’ve got a scientist who exclaims, “Remarkable! These are obviously beings who have a very highly evolved technology!”—while he’s reviewing the SOS they sent because their stupid ship crashed into the completely wrong planet. That’s the deal you’re agreeing to, if you agree to this movie.
So Yeah, If You Want to Follow In My Footsteps…
Queen of Blood is free on Amazon Prime. Have at it! It would make a great Mystery Science Theater choice—which is not the same thing as saying Do not miss it. However, there are three reasons to consider it: 1) As part of a John Saxon Film Festival, because it’s admissible evidence he’s good at his job; it’s no small trick to bitch about “exobiologic food” and sound like an actual human being. 2) It’s fun to see Dennis Hopper play an astronaut. And 3) Some elements are verrry similar to parts of Alien (1979) and Aliens. If you have Alien and Aliens memorized like I do, make your stream a double feature of Queen of Blood and 1965’s eerie/stylish Planet of Vampires (Ranked DVD #213). You won’t be sorry (NOTE: you will be a little sorry).