Let's be honest here--in the genre of bad b-movie horror, its subject matter's close proximity to the realm of nightmare coupled with artistic ineptitude and sometimes manic overenthusiasm on the part of its filmmakers makes for a high level of opportunity for out-and-out jaw-dropping goofiness. Wild curses, outlandish monsters, over-the-top explosions of blasphemy and blood--if not reined in by a filmmaker of impeccable taste and exquisite restraint (and as I think we've shown definitively by now, it almost NEVER is) it runs the risk of getting a bit silly. Sometimes that risk pays off, most of the time it doesn't, but it's always there, just like the nattering homeless man on the bus who thinks he's Mighty Mouse.
That said, when it comes to opportunities for sheer mind-melting kee-razy, bad horror's got NOTHING on bad sci-fi. For proof one need look no further than the ne plus ultra of out-of-control space-opera fantasy, 1979's epic intergalactic adventure Starcrash.
We open looking up at the undercarriage of a spaceship that scrolls slowly over us toward the horizon, the first of many Star Wars homages--did I say homages? I meant "rip-offs"--to come. The model spacecraft is rather impressive, and the filmmakers know it: they give us minute after minute of sloooow, loving close-ups of its surface, just so that the interested viewer can get a good look at the craftsmanship. Luxuriate in this leisurely, uneventful crawl--from here on out, it's nothing but frenetic, madcap action.
A legion of soldiers in some of the snazziest helmets this side of the Crab Nebula walk purposefully across a rather baffling spaceship interior set--walls of blinking lights, inexplicable free-standing masonry, an elevator that rather than going up and down simply rotates (like a revolving door, but without that pesky door part). There's some talk of locating a "Phantom Planet" in the Great Star Fields among the Haunted Stars, all very portentious if nonsensical. The ship approaches a lifeless wintry world--"Nothing but ice and snow--a barren desert of whiteness!"--when suddenly they become the victims of an unprovoked attack of disco lights! Unable to withstand the funk, the ship explodes! WHAT VILLAINY IS THIS?
Zarth Arn "REPEND TERREUR ET DESTRUCTION!", which, you know, can't be good. Thus informed (and strangely desirous of red wine and soft cheese), we launch into our story proper.
It turns out to be story of a pair of charismatic outlaws on the run from the Intergalactic Law, as wanted criminal/adventurer Stella Star (the lovely Caroline Munro in the Han Solo role, but with half the clothes) and child-evangelist turned interplanetary navigator Marjoe Gortner as her sidekick. (Marjoe's a fascinating character even apart from this--check out his wiki page for more.) They're on the run from Bald Bad-cop (character actor Robert Tessier, veteran of such classics as The Longest Yard and Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell) and his cybernetic assistant L (or perhaps, in French, "Elle"), a C3P0 stand-in with, inexplicably, a stereotypically Texan accent and a phobia of just about EVERYTHING. Who programmed THIS guy? Jumping into hyperspace, Stella and Marjoe temporarily elude their pursuers just long enough to find one of the escape launches from the ship that got funked up in the opening scene.
PERFECT. She wears a constant expression of giddy, slightly manic intensity whose effect cannot be overstated. She really seems to be into it, whether running around in sub-Vampirella bathing suits and knee-boots or diving out an open window into the vacuum of space for an immediate spacewalk (in Weird Space Tales-inspired bubble-helmets). Here is an actress totally committed to her role, to a degree that is rare to see in movies of any genre. (Either that or she was totally fried on uppers. Still, the effect's the same.)
L and the Bald Cop overtake Stella just as she's exploring the launch and dragged before the Intergalactic Tribunal, where she and Marjoe are tried and sentenced by Oz the Great and Powerful (Brain-in-a-Vat version, with kung-fu tentacle accessories!). Stella is sentenced to break rocks on the Prison Planet, though she is not forced to relinquish her sexy vinyl outfits for a jumpsuit. In short order--and I mean SHORT order--she has instigated a prisoner revolt and is on the verge of escaping, when who should show up but...the Bald Cop and L! Don't these guys have anything ELSE to do?
not there to smack down the uprising! They pull her aboard ship and inform her that the Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe (Christopher Plummer in a TOTAL Oscar-baiting performance) wants to hire her and Marjoe to find his son the Prince, who was on the ship that asploded, which it turns out was looking for Count Zarth Arn's secret base. Why the Emperor didn't just request a prisoner transfer rather than staging a swashbuckling-style rescue is anyone's guess. Though judging by Plummer's costume, his character obviously has a thing for the dramatic gesture.
So L, Bald Cop, Stella and Marjoe take off into hyperspace to track down Zarth Arn's secret base, rescue the Prince, and make sure all's right with the universe--while presumably the Emperor and all his legions sit on their thumbs and wait to see what happens. Sounds like a universe-saving plan to me!
Stella's Barbarella-riffic outfits: when she's walking around, hauling rocks on the prison planet or glaring intensely at evil overlords, her shiny shiny boots always have 4-inch heels. However, when she's kung-fu fighting or running for her life, the boots are suddenly FLATS! Retractable stilettos, people! An idea whose time has come! Also, somehow they determine that Zarth Arn is likely somewhere around "an unknown planet in the Haunted Stars, called Uragus!" Wait, it's unknown, but you have its NAME? THAT'S technology you can use!
Also, too much cannot be said about the lovable mechanical mug L. In addition to his gold-rush prospector accent and bothersome phobias, he's also programmed to be the movies official EXPOSITRON! Whenever a new development comes barelling at the viewer from outta NOWHERE (which is OFTEN), you can always count on L to sum it up for everyone with an exclamation and a snap-thrust of his gloved, pointed finger. "Look! It's the Imperial Flagship!" "The Emperor's here! That's his holographic image!" "That seems to be a planetary artifact!" And of course, my all time favorite: "LOOK! TWO AMAZONS ON HORSEBACK!"
Somehow their search for Zarth Vader leads the crew to an Amazon planet, where the Queen damages L and captures Stella, giving the director a chance to show lots of babes in fur bikinis before--mere SECONDS later--L recovers and rescues Stella. As they run out on the beach to await the pickup by Marjoe and Baldy, the movie suddenly stops being a Star Wars rip-off and starts a second career as a Ray Harryhausen rip-off! In an almost shot-for-shot remake of the Colossus sequence from Jason and the Argonauts, a giant bosomy robot menaces our heroes before being disabled, somehow, by the rescuing crew. Barbarella outfits, fur bikinis, and stop-motion Harryhausen goodness? COULD IT GET BETTER?
A word about the writing style at this point--you remember when you were a kid, and you'd be playing Star Wars or Superheroes in the back yard, and anything that popped into your head got slammed into the plot-line willy-nilly? Batman could suddenly fly, the Green Lantern created a sweet dune buggy with machine-gun headlights, and Lex Luthor suddenly reveals he's an alien from the past with six arms and an all-seeing eye up his butt? Well, THAT'S how the script for this movie was written. It has to be. There's no other explanation.
he's suddenly creating light sculptures in his hands and using un-heretofore-mentioned psychic powers to escape death. Then he DIES, but resurrects himself without trouble, and reveals he can see the future, but only a couple of minutes ahead. Then he pops up in the HOFF cave to fight cavement, and pulls a LIGHTSABER out of his ASS to go all Jedi on the Neanderthals! IT JUST DOESN'T STOP!
Joe Spinell, of Maniac fame and in full irrepressible Noo Yawk accent? Well he is. And he's awesome.
two Golem-Bots who are also stop-motion clones of a Harryhausen creation, in this case the famous Skeleton Warriors (HOFF gets to do the Sindbad bit, obviously and awesomely). Zarth is about to unleash his Doomsday Weapon ("By sunset, I'll be the new Emperor!" SUNSET? In SPACE?) when suddenly Emperor Plummer reveals that he has the power TO HALT THE FLOW OF TIME! And he DOES! The device is defused, they chase Zarn back to his hand-shaped space station (sadly, it does NOT give the Emperor the finger before exploding--a real missed opportunity), and it all culminates in an actually rather well-realized space battle with predictable and TOTALLY satisfying results--i.e., the starship models go up in flames (SMOOOOKE IIIIN SPAAAAACE!), but the glue remains for sniffing.
Oh, and the Imperial forces crash into Zarth's ship--through GLASS WINDOWS--riding in GOLDEN TROJAN SUPPOSITORIES. Because this flick just never stops with the giving. And Plummer's tear-jerking concluding speech--pure, cheesy gold.
Starcrash is absolutely one of the wackiest, most entertaining sci-fi/fantasy movies it has ever been my pleasure to see. Though it's padded a little toward the end, for most of the run-time it's nonstop, nonsensical action, with many LOL moments, some intense "acting" from the SMOKIN' HAWT Caroline Munro, and more insane plot developments than you can shake yer schwartz at. It's a must-be-seen-to-be-believed, and probably-not-even-then experience that a mad movie afficianado simply cannot, MUST not miss.
After a couple of weeks away, I have to say along with the inestimable robot companion L: "It's so nice to be turned on again!" Amen, brotherbot. Amen.
3 thumbs. See it.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
YES, and it happens on the next planet they investigate (after a hastily drummed-up and resolved attempted mutiny by Bald Cop, who snuffs it, and some amazing developments in Marjoe's character, about which more in a minute), when after a fight with some TRAMPOLINE JUMPING CAVEMEN, Stella stumbles into a cave to find the Imperial Prince himself: DAVID HASSELHOFF! With his hair Aquanetted to a state of helmety perfection seldom seen in this or any galaxy, the Hoff introduces himself, tells everyone where the big weapon is, and soon enough they're off to fight Zarth Arn on his home field.