Film Imitating Film? Nicholas Winding Refn Compares Alien To Planet of the Vampires

Is Alien a rip off of the Mario Bava flick Planet of Vampires?

They say that life imitates art, but what happens when art imitates art? Well, sometimes lawsuits, but most of the time we see great homages to movie scenes taken from classic (and not so classic) films. This often gives the scenes new life in someone else’s vision.

Filmmakers are influenced by everything around them, and in many scenes, we see films that mimic famous pieces of art. This can be seen perfectly in this short film by Vugar Efendi.

And since film can be art, it should be no surprise when films mimic each other. And this actually happens more often than you would think. In an age of reboots and reimaginings, many of these examples are obvious. But sometimes we see a totally new  film and can still instantly recognize things from previous movies. This can signal a sense of appreciation there from the director of their influences. Or they could just be ripping off a scene they like! Either way, it’s interesting as a film fan to see. Recently Nicholas Winding Refn said at Cannes that he felt Alien (1979) was a clear copy of Mario Bava’s classic low-budget horror Planet of the Vampires (1965).

Planet of the Vampires is the film that Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon stole from to make Alien. We found the elements; we have the evidence tonight. This is the origin!

When you look at the two movies, it’s not just similarities. It’s lifted structure, scenes, characters, dilemmas, themes that are very apparent. I think it’s wonderful; everyone steals from everyone. And with Alien, which is another masterpiece, it defined genre movies as having a very high artistic standard. But the irony is that it all comes back to this Italian movie that I don’t think has gotten the recognition it deserved.

This may seem like a shock to Xenomorph fans, but Dan O’Bannon doesn’t exactly deny it;

I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!

From Wikipedia here is a selection of movies Alien “borrows” from, including one of the scenes from Planet of the Vampires.

The Thing from Another World (1951) inspired the idea of professional men being pursued by a deadly alien creature through a claustrophobic environment.

Forbidden Planet (1956) gave O’Bannon the idea of a ship being warned not to land, and then the crew being killed one by one by a mysterious creature when they defy the warning.

Planet of the Vampires (1965) contains a scene in which the heroes discover a giant alien skeleton; this influenced the Nostromo crew’s discovery of the alien creature in the derelict spacecraft.

Alien 1979 Poster

Alien, by using these scenes and the skills of Ridley Scott, Dan O’Bannon and the horrifically excellent set designs by H.R. Giger manages to make a truly original movie. Ironically many other movies would copy elements of this film for their own releases, including such cheese fests as Alien Contamination (1980) which had pulsating eggs / painted balloons that made people explode when they burst on them!

Alien Contamination

This is far from the only example.

Agatha Christie’s 1965 novel And Then There Was None has been the influence for many a movie, and you can see elements of this in the Giallo styled A Bay of Blood (AKA Twitch of the Death Nerve – 1971). This film has a fight between various family members for inheritance money, which of course results in murders. Some of the more clever and graphic murders influenced one film in particular; Friday the 13th (1980), which took this inventive kill structure and made their own series of mayhem and murder flicks.

FRIDAY-THE-13TH-PART-2

The Thing from Another World (1951) may have inspired Alien, but it also formed the building blocks for John Carpenter’s The Thing three years later, with its atmospheric and claustrophobic tale of men finding alien life in the Antarctic (both films are based on the short story Who Goes There from 1938). This then went on to influence tons of alien in body related movies from The Hidden in 1987, where both good and bad aliens hide in bodies on Earth, right through to 2015’s Harbinger Down, which is about an alien on a boat.

harbinger down posters

Going from horror you can see examples of this in tons of other movies too. Quentin Tarantino’s catalogue is littered with them in fact. The most famous being The Brides yellow jump suit from Kill Bill (2003) which was taken from Bruce Lee’s Game of Death (1978). But there are quite a few more that the casual film fan might have missed. Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson detailed many of these in his Everything is a Remix series.

George Lucas used inspiration from his youth, like the introduction from the old Flash Gordon serials and the robot design from Metropolis (1927), as well as including references from Akira Kurosawa’s back catalogue. Brian De Palma is also known for his love of Alfred Hitchcock, whom he uses as an inspiration for many of his movies, especially 1980’s Dressed To Kill, involving a twist ending that owes a lot to one of Hitchcock’s classic movies in particular.

art vs art 2

Jackie Chan got in on the action in Project A (1983), copying his idol Buster Keaton’s movie Safety Last (1923) by hanging precariously off a clockface, while  Boogie Nights (1997) took the iconic long walk from Goodfellas (1990) and made it its own entity. In fact, Boogie Nights helps itself to a few of Martin Scorsese’s key scenes which you can see in this video by Jorge Luengo Ruiz.

Finally, one of the most hard-hitting scenes has to be the shootout in The Untouchables (1987), which follows almost beat for beat the Odessa steps scene from Battleship Potemkin (1925).

So not only is Nicholas Winding Refn right, this practice is incredibly common. Most film fans know you only have to go into a dollar store to see a knock off copy of some hit movie, but it’s interesting to see these scene by scene comparisons, and the films listed above are just a small selection. It is the tip of the cinematic iceberg. But it is enough to make you look at some of your favorite films again and say “Have I seen that scene elsewhere?”

If you like movies, then YouTube has a great selection of free ones, especially short movies by some really talented directors. Unknown Fan Films covers a few of these shorts. You can see more Alien knock-offs at DVD Catastrophe where we look at some truly terrible (yet brilliant) examples of copy-cat movies and dodgy photoshopped covers.


Images: Mario Bava, 20th Century Fox,
American International Pictures,
Jorge Luengo Ruiz, The Cannon Group, Vugar Efendi,
Filmways Pictures, and Paramount Pictures.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s