Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Beast in Space (1980): or, Just Horsin' Around

Tell me if this has ever happened to you: you're sitting around watching TV, checking out a classic episode of Star Trek: the Original Series, and you think to yourself, "You know, this is pretty great--the overacting, the manufactured drama, the papier-mâché sets and rubber-headed monsters, all 100% class. But it would be so much better if they just threw in a couple of scenes of LENGTHY, EXPLICIT PORN."

I know, we've all been there. And we're not alone--Italian sci-fi impresario Alfonso Brescia (aka Al Bradley), the creative force behind such classics as War of the Planets, War of the Robots, and War in Space, is there too; and unlike us, instead of just sitting there pining for Uhuru and stroking his Roddenberry, he decided to DO something about it. The result: his 1980 space opera mash-up, The Beast in Space (aka La Bestia Nello Spazio).

Now let's get this out of the way right up front: Alfonso Brescia is not a good filmmaker. He's rather bad. Terrible, in fact. His main talent seems to have been an aptitude for coming up with sci-fi plots that could utilize costumes, sets, and footage he'd already shot for a previous film, thus saving multo lire. (For instance, if you look up the plot summaries for the "War" trilogy mentioned above, you'll notice that they all take place in an underground alien society where an evil robot or alien controls gold android soldiers in page-boy hairdos to keep the human population under control. All of them share more than one reel of footage.) He's kind of the Ed Wood of Italian sci-fi, minus the angora sweaters and the crazy passion for filmmaking.

With The Beast in Space, Brescia manages to recycle that same old plot, this time mashing it up inexplicably with Walerian Borowczyk's controversial 1975 art-flick La Bête, which memorably joined the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast with hardcore pornography, courtesy Finnish actress Sirpa Lane and a bear-suit equipped with a giant dildo. I can only guess Brescia caught a screening of Borowczyk's film and thought to himself, "This is great, but it would be even better...IN SPACE!" And here we see the slapdash, sometimes hilarious result.

"Are you kidding? I can't see anything in here!"

We open with a few scenes of futuristic jump-suited types walking around a huge supercomputer with the name "WIZ" emblazoned on its chassis, which figures in to nothing but the opening and closing credits. After that we find ourselves in a space pub (you can tell by the disco lights and the hanging strips of cloudy plastic), where Space Captain Larry Madison (Bresci regular Vassilli Karis) is working the shiny tunic and tiny moustache while making eyes at intergalactic beauty Sondra Richardson (Sirpa Lane, whose availability for this flick may have played into Bresci's decision to remake Borowczyk's flick).

After bellying up to order a big glass of Uranus Milk (SERIOUSLY--it's the most popular drink at the bar, and apparently quite strong. Call me a prude, but I'm not sure I'd be lining up for a glass of milk from Uranus...), Captain Larry turns around to find tradesman Juan Cardosa (Venantino Venantini, looking like an aging Han Solo in a poofy shirt) has moved in on his girl, trying out what have to be some of the lamest pick-up lines in the galaxy: "At the trade association, we are experts in judging women!...You are about to discover new heavens!" Not about to let a stinking tradesman keep him from Finnish-ing up, Larry initiates a barroom brawl to cement his alpha-male status. Larry's fighting style, which I have christened "FLAILING-ARM FU," proves too much for the lower-class Lothario, and the next thing you know he's making time with Sondra while Juan licks his wounds.

Apparently it's very sexy in space, because in three verbal exchanges Larry and Sondra move from innuendo to out-uendo to blatant propositioning. Seven-and-a-half minutes in we've got our first extended love scene--close-ups of grasping hands give way to writhing bums and bush shots, with a couple of jarring pick-ups showing nipple tweakage on what is obviously a different woman (skin tone, nipple size, and hairy pits are just a few of the red flags). As Sirpa has no compunction about getting her kit off for art, I really don't know why Bresci felt compelled to throw those in--but I guess if you've got footage of an olive-skinned torso getting her saucer-like nipples squeezed, you pretty much have to use it when you can.

You're doin' it wrong.

After their more than two-minutes of love Larry just wants to go to sleep, but Sondra just *has* to tell him (and us) all about the recurring dream she's been having. In it she's running through a forest in ragged clothes, finds an abandoned castle, attends a banquet with a swarthy embroidered-robe wearing nobleman, by whom she is later raped. She turns to find Larry has nodded off in the middle of this story, which pretty much closes the door on their romance.

Back in Command Central, Captain Larry is informed by his superiors that the tradesman he fought at the bar has apparently smuggled in some Antalium, the most valuable and rare metal in the universe, needed by the military to make neutron bombs. He's told to find out where Juan got it so they can raid this new source of destructive power. Back to the bar he goes, this time in a fantastic black silk and red sash ensemble, and after some liquid courage in the form of more Uranus Milk has another flailing-arm fracas with Cordosa. After lots of banter the tradesman is laid low again, and another space-slut offers her services to the irresistibly milk-drunk Captain Larry.

Turns out the Antalium came from the distant planet Lorigon, a place no space soldier has ever set foot. Captain Larry is introduced to his hastily assembled crew, which includes as navigator the now much less slutty looking Sondra. The two make up and then we get the requisite phallic rocket lift-off (complete with sparkler engines!) and hey-o! We're going boldly where no Italian has ever gone before!

The Italian Space Fleet: This Is How We Roll

The set and costume design throughout the movie is pretty hilarious, but never more so than in this sequence, with Larry and his crew in red felt skullcaps adorned with silver-circle ear protectors and the casters on the battle station/office chairs on the bridge CLEARLY visible. Sondra takes a nap after liftoff and we get to see her dream again, this time with more detail (i.e., more bush) and views of other members of the crew rolling around in the grass with each other, naked. Fantasy, or premonition? Hmmm...

They're almost to Lorigon when the ship is waylaid by Juan Cardosa, who taunts Larry over the intercom before sending them hurtling toward the planet's surface. After some nice in-chair "terror" acting on the crew's part as the camera swirls around them, they finally restabilize and head off to the planet's surface to find the valuable metal before Juan does.

The atmosphere on Lorigon is breathable by humans (what are the chances?) and so they quickly send out the landing party. But no sooner has the crew (now in Devo-worthy vinyl jumpsuits) left the landing pod than they're attacked by a truck-faced robot! They scamper back in, regroup pointlessly, and exit again, this time without incident. Soon they're trekking through an alien forest, the Antalium-detector leading them through a cave to an underground cavern where shadowy figures trail them but nothing much else happens.

"Are We Not Men?"

Exiting the cave on the other side, the crew now wanders through another forest--this one EXACTLY like the one from Sondra's dream!--and notice that the planet is strangely affecting their moods: the men suddenly get furious, the woman shivery in a not-unpleasant way. They decide to turn back, but before they can, they happen upon TWO HORSES FUCKING OUT OF NOWHERE!

Apparently this is an "homage" to Borowczyk's film, which opens with a similar scene of equine copulation. (For all I know, it could BE Borowczyk's film--the footage here is CLEARLY from another source.) The crew is not at all surprised to find two earth animals making wild whoopee on Lorigon; quite the contrary, it turns them on! One of the female crew members starts feeling herself up through the vinyl, squeezing her breasts and brazenly fingering her crotch. (There's no "squeeek squeek squeeek" foley on the soundtrack here, but by God there SHOULD be.) The horse porn goes on for quite a while as the crew stands by hyp-mo-tized, but once the whinnying ceases, off they go as if nothing had happened.

All she needs is a little husbandry.

The movie REALLY loses steam around this point, as the crew wanders around in fog and talks about how weird they feel for what seems like forever. Finally they find an abandoned castle ("It's happening just like in the dream!" Sondra says, to which Larry replies, "Yes, except that the sky is not red and the trees have no tentacles." WHAT? Stop talking out of Uranus, Lare!) They go inside, wander around the studio set for a while, and FINALLY end up in the banquet hall where Juan and Ophan, ruler of Lorigon, are waiting.

The longer it goes on the less important plot summary becomes, so to sum up: Ophan is the ruler, owner, and sole occupant of Lorigon, caretaker of the planet-controlling computer Zocor, which has gone crazy but in a good way, transforming Lorigon into a sensual paradise. Zocor provides food, sumptuous clothing, and sexy thoughts to everyone in range, which leads all of the crew except Sondra to engage in a pillow-and-silk orgy while Ophan makes advances toward Sondra, who is not unreceptive.

Soon they're all out in the woods where the astute viewer will recognize the flash-forwards from earlier taking place in the present. Sondra (in her dream gown) succumbs to Ophan's advances, allowing the swarthy aristocrat to tongue-kiss her and suck on her boobs. Elsewhere, the second-in-command shocks us by TOSSING HIS CREWMATE'S SALAD in the first of the movie's really explicit hardcore scenes.

"You're surprised, aren't you?"

This goes on a bit, until finally Ophan stands over Sondra, sheds his robe, and reveals himself to be A GOAT-FOOTED SATYR WITH A HUGE PRONG! Bresci is obviously EXTREMELY proud of the effects work on this prosthesis, as we get multiple closeups of the rubber phallus and balls from several angles. Sondra screams and bolts, naturally, and Ophan takes up the pursuit, his rigid member bobbing all the way as if leading a sing-a-long.

When he catches Sondra we get graphic shots of the phallus teasing and violating some female genitalia--obviously a stunt snatch, as the olive skin is back and the pubic hair is much bushier and darker than what we've seen several times on Sondra. The graphic shallow penetration goes on for a while, Sondra's dubbed screams getting less and less horrified over time.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the rest of the crew is having much pleasanter sex. The salad tosser gets blown very graphically and there's more penetration (again, obviously the stunt couple coupling). Larry rolls around with the girl who was so turned on by the horses, and basically we're treated (?) to a 15 minute orgy of the actors doing softcore with the stunt couple providing hardcore cutaways. Meanwhile Juan Cordosa watches knowingly from a distance.

"Turn around, Every now and then I get a little bit restless and I dream of something wild..."

Once the fucking stops, Juan gives Larry a pill that breaks Zocor's hold on his libido, and they formulate a plan to destroy the computer and escape. (Ophan, it turns out, is the physical manifestation of Zocor, who must be one horny PC, yo.) Leaving Sondra to distract the beast with more huge dildo humping, they free the other crew members and off they go into the cave where the computer waits.

At this point we get an extended battle scene between the crew and some of Zocor's androids, a scene I liked almost as much when it was the climax of War of the Robots, one of the worst movies on my otherwise excellent 50 Chilling Classics set. There's almost no tension here (not even in the cheesy light saber duel), and eventually they blow up the machine, steal the Antalium that was powering it, and blast off just as a papier-mâché volcano erupts and the whole planet explodes. Juan gets the money, Larry gets the glory, and Sondra gets zapped back to the ship by a grateful, sated computer just before it all goes boom. The end.

Okay, so this is a very, very bad movie. The rip-off of Borowczyk's movie is shoe-horned in with the utmost clumsiness, and while a few of the sex scenes approach sexiness, none really cross that line, staying rather on the "OMG how can this be so boring" side. While the costumes and situations can be fun (particularly the Beast's--sorry, Ophan's prodigious member), for the most part it's just bad sci-fi meets bad hairy porn, with no real payoff unless that's the sort of thing you're into. The acting is as bad as you'd expect, and Sirpa Lane, who we assume is the whole reason for this cinematic mess, looks bored throughout--though that might just be the Finn in her (IYKWIM).

"I don't suppose either of you have a pint of milk to spare, huh?"

People familiar with Borowczyk's movie who are curious about this "sequel" might find more enjoyment than others, and those with a soft spot for space opera cheese will enjoy the first half a lot. Still, I can't give it more than 1.25 thumbs as a curiosity only. Keep one hand on the fast-forward button and the other on the hand sanitizer. You're going to need both.


Tenebrous Kate said...

I have picked up, then put down, this DVD so many times since its release and I'm so psyched to see it reviewed here! The title is just such a marvelous punchline (your assessment of Brescia's inspiration made me giggle aloud) that I've been tempted in spite of my dislike of Brescia's other films.

In short--thank you, Vicar-my-dear, for leaping on a cinematic grenade and spinning a hilarious recap out of your experience. From space-chairs on casters to dildo-enhanced pornographic encounters, I grinned from ear to ear while basking in a sense of relief that I hadn't, in fact, purchased this film for the Tenebrous Library.

As to Zocor--I'm made to wonder if someone at Merck & Co. knew about this film during the naming process for that particular medication and *still* chuckles about his in-joke.

Mr. Karswell said...

Thanks for slicing up that Space Opera Cheese, you definitely took one for the team here bub.

Word Verification is: TBR COOZ !!!

Anonymous said...

I have to remember to avoid liquids while reading your reviews here, mate. The spewed-out coffee is starting to pool up around my keyboard and desk. Fucking. Hilarious.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Empress--I live to serve. :) I would definitely recommend against adding this to a permanent collection, unless one is an Alfonso Bresci completist (are there any? Something tells me there MUST be...), but I'm glad I got to see it, if only to confirm all the bad stuff I heard and get a few yuks in the process.

Karswell--LOL @ that word verification! I think sometimes there's some dude employed by google who's job it is to come up with those things, and every now and then he gets bored and pulls out something like that. But what could TBR stand for? "Totally Bushy & Realistic..."? ;)

alejandro the magnificent--thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you got some enjoyment out of my pain. ;) Unfortunately, I cannot be held responsible for damage to your electronic equipment, but I can send you a coupon for a free review of any DVD you send my way... :P Anyway, welcome, and enjoy some of the other reviews too!

Mr. Karswell said...


The Boosh Rulez! COOZ!!

Fred said...

"Zocor provides food, sumptuous clothing, and sexy thoughts to everyone in range." This explains why my father-in-law, who has been on Zocor for years, is always smiling.

I have unfortunate memories of Brescia's robot/cave trilogy from Saturday morning viewings in the early 80s on channel 9 in New York (often hungover from the night before). They may rank (and are rank) as some of the worst movies I've had the misfortune of watching. I think that a disinterested Sirpa Lane, horse copulation, bad body doubles, and salad tossing could have livened these up a bit. Still, I don't think I'll be seeking this one out anytime soon. Although I should contact Brescia to see if he has any of those space-chairs on casters left over. I could always use a new chair for the office.

Avec Maître said...

And to top it all, they stole Frank Frazetta's Moon-Maid painting for the poster.

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