I didn’t know when to expect this in the season (I’ve been going through these without looking ahead), but I knew it was coming at some point and was so happy to revisit this one. I never forgot it, although many of the details had faded. My memory of it was that it was a strong episode and very scary. Or perhaps chilling is the right word for it. Space Vampire aired in 1980 just a little late to be a Halloween episode however it was heavily influenced by a number of other horror movies that had come out the previous year. However, its most noteworthy inspiration comes from Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula. The ship that is transporting our space vampire is the Demeter; that was the same name of the ship Dracula traveled on in the novel. There’s also a victim who gets name checked as Helson, a pretty close sound to Helsing, as in Doctor van Helsing from the classic.
There are elements about this story that are just a bit too convenient like when Buck asks Dr. Huer to look up the legends around our villain and he instantly pulls up a picture. This guy is clearly a long distant relative of Giles from, aptly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He also says the creature is a Vorvon and comes from the Rumaine system which is clever since Dracula was from Romania, but also a bit silly considering seconds ago this creature was just a legend. Let’s talk legends, then, Dr. Huer: you have a photo of the dude, know what he is and have his home address. What’s the legend?
Having said that, this creature is marvelously disturbing looking with one long, upturned, bushy eyebrow going the length of his head and massive ears that are unlike any ears I’ve ever seen. Alas my memory of him was an even more disturbing one than what I witnessed as an adult, but he’s still an impressive figure of sci-fi horror. While Lifeforce‘s Mathilda May might have been a far better looking space vampire, this was what I expected of actual alien creatures.
To enhance the buildup of fear throughout the episode, there’s suspicion of a viral outbreak leading people to hallucinate, so the station staff doesn’t believe there’s anything going on. Even the medical doctor’s diagnosis that the deceased he encounters are not fully dead is suspected as being the results of the virus, so the vampire is able to get around without anyone noticing. However, when he does first appear, sitting across a table from Wilma, the scene is unsettling. To depict his movement, we see quite a bit of him doing a “Day of the Dove” in red, turning into a spinning disc that can slip under doors. What enhances the effect is how everything is viewed through a red haze and there is a marvelous beating, liquid noise to accompany it. The results are fantastic.
There are a number of things of merit besides the alien vampire. To lessen the terror, there’s a few humorous notes. As usual, Twiki offers a lot as he has been learning some of Buck’s phrases. I got a real kick out of “gimme 5” and “be cool, my man!” There’s also an entire bit about a plant that Buck left in Huer’s care. By the end it has died and been replaced with what is, even to my untrained eye, a totally different plant and Buck notices. Even the brief reference to it at the start is funny, but also a testament to the writing that they felt including it would be natural. I also can’t help but compare this series to Space: 1999 for things like continuity. Buck references Twiki’s lady friend Tiny (from the last episode, Cruise Ship to the Stars) and Heironymous Fox (from Cosmic Whiz Kid). Since he already asked Huer to take care of his plant, that’s three excellent continuity points in a row. Take that Space: 1999. In that series only 2-part story, Helena can’t even get the days right! However, in fairness to Space: 1999, the model work in this series is sophomoric at best. That show had model work that I had to applaud weekly, whereas watching the Demeter crash into Theta station was actually embarrassing. So, like last week, I am forced to evaluate things from both sides of the pond and find failings in both, as well as successes.
There was one thing that jumped out at me. The chief medic is saved in the end and tells Buck he feels like that guy Lazarus that Buck told him about. Now, here’s the thing: in episode 1, we saw a Holy Bible on Huer’s desk. Has religion gone away in their time? Is it a subject matter known to only small groups? It made me curious about more of the world building that we may not be aware of in this series. I hope we explore it. And if I’m honest, I hope we get more with the Space Vampire, though I’m reasonably certain he was a one-time villain. I won’t look it up to see, though. Just knowing might suck the life right out of me… ML
At a time, thanks to Dr. Who’s State Of Decay and certainly films like Lifeforce, when the horror genre of vampirism could more prominently extend to sci-fi horror, Space Vampire was certainly an intriguing episode. Fueled by Buck’s determination to save Wilma which strengthens the bond between them, I had enough faith that it could be resolved traditionally with the vampire’s weakness from the sun affirming that much. More world building in the Buck Rogers universe was agreeably important. So for all that Buck has so far had to come to terms with in his new existence, more for this sci-fi universe to be explored kept me tuning in. Thanks, ML, for your review.
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“Space Vampire” and “Dragon’s Domain” from Space 1999 are basically tied in my head as being the most flat-out terrifying sci-fi television episodes ever made in the 1970s.
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For me it would probably be Dr. Who: Horror Of Fang Rock. Maybe because I’ve often had dreams about it over the years.
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I agree with that assessment 100%. ML
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