It is the future, 1990, and mankind has not only set up a base on the Moon, but is planning to go ahead and colonise the rest of the solar system as well. It may be early days for this project, but astronaut Allan Brenner (John Saxon) is hoping to play a major part in it, as is his girlfriend and fellow astronaut Laura James (Judi Meredith), who also works as a radio operator. Something is being picked up by the receivers, a signal from Mars, so the plan to reach that planet goes ahead without delay. But what they find there might have been better left alone...
Queen of Blood was one of those science fiction adventures producer Roger Corman only made because he had the rights to footage of a Soviet sci-fi epic and wished to use its special effects to build a much cheaper film around, and in this case the footage was given to writer and director Curtis Harrington to make something of. What he came up with was yet another of those films, like It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires, that was highlighted as an influence when Alien became a huge success in 1979, proving that it was an idea that the mainstream would take seriously eventually.
In this case the idea was to present a bunch of spacefarers and give them an alien presence to tackle, which would pick them off one by one over the course of the film. Here, however, it's plain that Corman wanted to get his money's worth from that footage and the first half is jam-packed with clips of Russian spacecraft taking off and landing, the barren and windswept surface of Mars, and the odd bit of the original actors seen from a distance so we can't tell that's not really John Saxon climbing aboard that space rocket or investigating a new world.
Although it does look pretty obvious once you know. Basil Rathbone remains behind on Earth at Mission Control to give advice in his role as mentor, but his enthusiasm for the excursion will become oddly queasy in light of what we see happen to the crew and indeed what the ending implies. Before we get to that point, not one but two missions to Mars are staged, the first one resulting in mystery when they don't get back to Earth or even radio them to tell them what has happened. They seem to have crashed, so Saxon and his team are sent out to see if they can assist.
On arrival, their fellow Earthlings have vanished, but there is somebody there to be found: an actual Martian (Florence Marly, looking like a green Cate Blanchett with a beehive hairdo) who they take aboard to see if they can revive. They can, but what does that enigmatic smile she offers them mean? She never speaks and with Marly's slinky performance she turns out to be one of the more intriguing villains of the era, certainly to Dennis Hopper who befriends her at his cost. For this is as much a horror movie as it is science fiction, and once the real meat of the plot is underway Harrington works haunting wonders on his scarcely there resources. My advice is if the first half hour doesn't grab you, and it probably won't, then stick with Queen of Blood as it weaves an eerie spell after a while, right up until its weirdly repulsive final shot.