FREAKSHOW La Planète Sauvage

Join us every Monday, as we look at a cult movie. Our film of the week this time is a surreal slice of Franco-Czech animation

Director: René Laloux
Available on region one and region two DVD (and a region two Blu-ray release is due on 26 July)
Watch the trailer here

Thank god for Roger Corman. The king of no-budget sci-fi may have been responsible for dozens of terrible B-movies, but his production company, New World Pictures, was also responsible for distributing this startling piece of animation outside mainland Europe. A French/Czech co-production, its English title is Fantastic Planet (a more accurate translation would be The Savage Planet).

Based on the book Oms En Serie by novelist Stefan Wul, it’s set on a planet occupied by two races: the Draags and the Oms. The Oms are descendants of people from Earth. The Draags are gigantic, blue-skinned, red-eyed humanoids with enormous life-spans. They treat the Oms either as pests to be exterminated like rats, or as amusing household pets.

Terr is an Om who grows up as a pet in a Draag household. Eventually he escapes, and joins a group of wild Oms living in a park. but the colony is wiped out with poison gas by Draag exterminators. Terr uses the Draag knowledge he has acquired to encourage the Oms to fight back; they use Draag technology to build rocket ships with disintegrator rays. This show of force finally convinces the Draags that the Oms are intelligent, and the two races go on to live in peace.

Winner of the Grand Prix award at the 1973 Cannes film festival, La Planète Sauvage is definitely not animation for kids – the subject matter is pretty morbid. The tone is set in the chilling opening sequence, where an Om woman runs in terror… and is knocked down by a giant blue hand. The picture pulls back, and we discover that a group of Draag children are amusing themselves by toying with this helpless creature. The film also has a very black sense of humour: in one sequence, a creature hatches from an egg and starts wailing for food. A strange hippopotamus-like beast gives it what looks like a maternal lick – then swallows it whole with one gulp!

The plot is familiar, a story of the worm that turned with hints of David and Goliath and Gulliver’s Travels. It’s the designs, by Roland Topor (an artist/writer who also had a career as an actor – he played Renfield in Werner Herzog’s version of Nosferatu), that make it so memorable. All manner of surreal creatures move against a landscape that is littered with weird organic shapes; it’s like watching a cross between Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python and the surreal paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Grotesque yet graceful, it’s a hallucinatory vision quite unlike everything you’ve ever seen – unless you did a lot of acid back in the ‘60s.

Ian Berriman, reviews editor of SFX and cult movie nut, has watched Jess Franco’s Female Vampire four or five times, but never seen Casablanca. The nutter.

Click here to see our other cult movie write-ups. And if you like oddball movies, check out Total Film’s Trash Talk.