Monday, December 1, 2008

Escape from Galaxy 3 (1981): or, Space Girls are Easy

Even though Bitto Albertini's 1981 space-opera/fantasy/peplum mash-up Escape from Galaxy 3 was released in Europe under the title Starcrash II, it actually shares only a glancing similarity to Luigi Cozzi's perfect storm of laugh-riot, brain-metling science-fiction batshittery that is 1979's Starcrash (read the MMMMMovies celebration of that trash masterpiece here). Gone are the coke-fueled enthusiasm of Caroline Munro and the Anglo-Fro magicality of child-evangelist turned b-movie legend Marjoe Gortner. Gone are the mousse-abusing villainy of Joe Spinell and the airbrushed helmet-haired perfection of David Hasselhoff. Nowhere to be found are the gold prospector-accented droid L, the furkini-ed Amazons, and the amazing Harryhausen homages that helped make that earlier movie such a hoot. All that really remain are Munro's character's surname, the tell-tale Christmas-light constellations, and Count Zarth Arn's hand-shaped space station, now under the control of new baddie Oraclon, King of the Night.

With all those strikes against it, there's no way Escape from Galaxy 3 could possibly live up to its legendary predecessor, and in truth it doesn't--but then, nothing can compete with Starcrash for sheer sci-fi insanity. However, by substituting amazing disco costume design for stop-motion animation and ramping up the sex to a diverting if still-tame degree, EfG3 does manage to keep the fun levels high and deliver enough smirk-inducing jargon and OMGWTF moments to hold the entertainment meter pegged throughout its 94-minute running time.

We can tell this is not your father's Starcrash from the very beginning, when instead of ambient sci-fi noises and proto-techno theme songs we get a 3-minute dose of 70s soft-rock IN SPACE, a string-addled ditty called "The Touch of Love." Once that's over we are whisked away to a familiar hand-shaped space station, the Death Fist of Oraclon, King of the Night. Like any good villain, Oraclon has made it his life's work to conquer the known universe, focusing right now on the titular Galaxy 3, which is ruled by King Ceylon and his daughter Belle Star (no relation to Stella). As Oraclon's forces overwhelm the King's, he sends his daughter and space captain Lithan off in an escape capsule to get reinforcements--just in time, too, as shortly thereafter Oraclon goes all Moff Tarkin on the royal homeworld and then blasts the Imperial space station to small smithereens as well!

"Maybe we can get Oraclon to settle this with a nice game of Foosball?"

But that brief summary does not fully describe the joy of the opening for a trash-film lover like me. First of all, the costuming in this universe is off-the-charts AWESOME. King Ceylon wears a total Never-Ending Story-style silver crown over purple robes, and Lithan (Milt Jamin, aka James Milton, who looks a bit like the laboratory offspring of Marjoe Gortner and Slim Goodbody) is ready for action in a blue-and-silver-striped bodysuit with stuffed rings around the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Belle Star (Cheryl Buchanan) is dressed not so much in royal robes as in a figure-skating leotard from ABC's TOO HOT FOR THE OLYMPICS--one leg transparent gauze all the way over the ass-cheek, and one breast bare except for a gold sequined star nipple-cover! The fact that the actors are able to deliver their lines while dressed as they are without breaking up every other syllable is a testament to the professionalism on display.

But as great as all those costumes are, they are NOTHING compared to the intergalactic wonder that is Oraclon, King of the Night (the badder-than-bad Don Powell--not to be confused with the Slade drummer of the same name). His is an outfit that quite simply defies description, so I'll just have to hope a picture's thousand words are enough:

When you think you have too many accessories, add one more.

I mean, holy crap. Come on. I can only guess that before he started imposing his indomitable will on the civilizations of the known universe, Oraclon had a gig playing second-seat bass guitar for the Parliament Funkadelic. Perhaps he got tired of being a member of the crew on the Mothership and decided he'd rather rock his own groove, interstellar fascist style. Only instead of going with the tiny Hitler-stache or the Stalin Fuller-brush, Oraclon went all out with the BUSHY BLACK BEARD FULL O' GLITTER. Which you have to agree is by far the most fabulous choice of the three.

Recycling effects shots from Starcrash (including Zarth Arn's hand-ship curling into a fist for attack, the mutlicolored stars of Cozzi's universe, and many of the fairly well-done starfighter dog fights), Albertini gives us our money's worth in the opening battle, which goes on for quite some time. The repeated fly-bys in formation and smokey space asplosions would likely get boring were it not for the amazingly nonsensical jargon all the characters spout ("Use the hyper-solar missile systems! Get me the aluminum alloy rockets!" Hypernambulate the fritzmeter, NOW!) and, better yet, the James Brown-style "He-HEH!" Oraclon ejaculates each time he blows up a ship--which is often.

Oraclon is enraged when a space scan informs him that Belle Star and Lithan have escaped his orgy of disco destruction. (In another display of his superior technology, Oraclon is able to confirm this by bringing them up on his viewscreen in a view obviously shot from INSIDE THE ESCAPE CAPSULE.) In desperation Belle and Lithan punch it into hyperdrive without coordinates and hope for the best.

King Ceylon pulls his heavy cloak close; it's getting a little nipply in there.

It works, and while an apopleptic Oraclon orders his minions to "Scan the whole Eastern Galaxy!" Belle and Lithan find themselves approaching a strange blue world in a quadrant none of their race has ever visited before. Turns out it's Earth, millions and billions of years after an atomic war has restarted civilization--a time-honored plot device which allows Albertini and his set designers to use whatever period costumes and props they can steal from the bigger studios to color their post-apocalyptic world.

As it happens Belle and Lithan land right in the middle of a renaissance faire, in a world thousands of years behind them in everything but language and textiles. The "savage" Earthlings all wear bright, multicolored togas and sandals, and attack the strangely dressed newcomers with rocks and sticks, leading Lithan to unload a few blasts of hot laser death upon them. Later, he seems genuinely confused as to why they can't understand he comes in peace.

Back at a savage village composed entirely of gigantic Fabrege Eggs and Eskimo totem poles, the stately Village Elder (Attilio Dottesio) says directly contradictory things in a soothing, authoritative tone. "You have no reason whatsoever to be HIDE!" Meanwhile Belle and Lithan are wandering the planet, expressing ignorance and wonder at things like a natural river-jacuzzi. ("It's water! I once saw some in my father's collection of intergalactic minerals!") They also spy on some savages making out near the stream, and never having seen sex before, decide to try it themselves, with stilted, comedic results.

The beauty of the Fabrege Huts has been known to cause spontaneous Fosse-ism.

Finally the natives manage to capture the aliens (mainly because Belle orders Lithan not to fry any more of them), and prepare to burn them at the stake; but when a clumsy child slips off the edge of a cliff nearby, Lithan makes an amazing 7-story leap to the rescue, which gains the Earthlings' gratitude and transforms them from condemned to guests of honor. (In another culture-crossing scene, a native girl puts a lei on Lithan--I guess after the apocalypse they just kept whatever they liked from all the Earth's cultures.) Lithan changes into a loincloth and Belle into scallop-ripped blouse/skirt ensemble that recalls a 1980s hair-metal video, and they set about learning the ways of this brave new world.

The bulk of the rest of the movie has to do with the technologically advanced aliens learning about their adopted culture in broadly comedic ways. As in Starcrash, the writers seem to make things up whenever they think of something to do. For instance, people in Belle's society neither eat nor drink; therefore we get to watch Lithan learn to do these things. Most importantly, however, the aliens' race has not reproduced sexually for eons, and the ways of earthly sexuality are completely unknown to them. I don't think I have to draw you a map to show you where THIS is going.

Yes, it's all an excuse to show a little flesh and make a little whoopee, which is just as silly and entertaining as the rest of the flick. Belle is broken in during an extended scene in which a savage boy spies on her bathing at the rivercuzzi, then uses a tulip to trace her body's contours and whip her into a state of intergalactic horniness. Flush with discovery, she runs to Lithan to spill the dirt. "It was fantastic!" she says. "You must try it!" When she fails to pass the knowledge on to him (no tulips around, I guess) she pimps him out to a pair of willing savage girls. She takes up with the next passing savage boy, showing that once you've had Earthling, it's a slippery slope from Intergalactic Ambassadors to Star Whores.

Petal Pusher

As things move on we get to see the Earthling's end-of-year festival, which is a kind of DISCO ORGY in which whatever young man completes an American Gladiators-style fire obstacle course gets to choose his favorite girl for "a night of love!" Naturally we get the FULL competition with more amazing costuming and a circle of toga girls doing an NBA Cheerleader dance routine--again this goes ON and ON, but still manages not to get too boring from the sheer enthusiasm of it all. The winner is crowned, and of course the boy picks Belle despite her flat chest and newfound sluttiness. Lithan retires with a much better-looking native girl, but strange feelings we earthlings call "jealousy" start playing on him, leading to a hilarious love-scene FAIL, Lithan completely disregarding the Earthlings' customs by taking the fire-winner's prize, and a very extended love-scene between Lithan and Belle that goes on quite a while without getting anywhere--chalk it up to inexperience.

Of course this can't go on forever, and Oraclon finally tracks the lovebirds down and attacks. In another bit of nonsense from the Village Elder, he first orders Belle and Lithan to leave because it's too dangerous having them there; Lithan agrees to go, pointing out that Oraclon will destroy the planet if they stay; then the VE deduces that they HAVE to stay, to protect the Earthlings from the King of the Night...who will destroy them if the aliens stay...but then...oh, never mind, TIE THEM UP! Unwillingly, Belle and Litham rain laser fire on their erstwhile sex partners, long enough to make it back to the pod and escape.

Oraclon sees them, of course, and is ready to blow them to pieces, when thanks to his inner-escape pod cam he happens to catch them making sweet monkey love! Wondering wtf THAT'S all about, he orders them captured instead, leading to a final confrontation and an amazing exit for everyone's favorite Funkadelic dictator.

Belle electrifies Oraclon with supercharged sex. In the background, the Michael Jackson Militia looks on helplessly.

So Escape from Galaxy 3 is pretty much nonstop silliness from one end to the other. The score is everything from disco to soft rock to comedic pots-and-pans xylophone sounds, at times going straight from "Native Bongo Dance" to "Plaintive Strings Love Theme" without stopping for breath. The acting is just as stilted as you'd expect from an Italian sci-fi flick of the era, with the exception of Don Powell as Oraclon, who just owns every minute of his screen time with his disco-fabulous badassery. The playground plot developments and slightly naughty sexiness add to the enjoyment, and while it's not a world-beater, it definitely left me feeling good about our post-apocalyptic future on this planet.

So 2 thumbs for this one, and an added quarter point for my last minute discovery that in addition to being the baddest mutha ever to lead an intergalactic force to near total domination of the universe, Don Powell also composed the film's music--adding support to my Parliament Funkadelic hypothesis--gives us a final score of 2.25 thumbs. A harmless way to fill an empty afternoon, and better than a New York fashion show. And thanks once again to the X-Y-Z Cosmonaut at Cosmobells for helping improve my Italian sci-fi education and Finnish subtitles reading skills. ;)


1 comment:

Rev. Fred Phantom said...

STARCRASH was a hoot! This one looks like it's worth look, if not for the music and costumes alone.

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