This one has long been one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
Now, as I’ve pointed out before, the true guilty pleasure film is not the terrible film we laugh at and enjoy because it is so awful. It is a film which we know is not a great film — or perhaps even a good film — which still manages to be wildly entertaining — and far more enjoyable than a lot of the “good” films out there.
Starship Invasions is pretty much what you’d get if you crossed one of those old “Sun Classics” UFO documentaries (which, curiously, were made by a Mormon company. Go figure) and a Republic Serial, with a bit of Gerry Anderson thrown in for luck. And, even better, it stars The Man from U.N.C.L.E. himself, Robert Vaughn, as a UFO researcher and Christopher Lee as the evil alien leader, Captain Rameses!
Mind you, neither of them thought much of this one. But I’m sure they both thought that about a lot of the films the ended up in.
Now, in one of those utterly strange decisions that define this film, the aliens only speak telepathically, so Lee’s voice is just dubbed in. Now, those of you even mildly familiar with film technology know that synchronized sound is pricey, so this was undoubtedly a cost-cutting measure, but does reduce Chris’ performance down to a lot of intense scowling.
Which he was quite good at, actually.
Almost as strange are the uniforms Rameses and his crew wear, which are one piece black jumpsuits complete with a cowl that forms a crown of sorts. I have no idea how they got anyone into these as they don’t seem to have a zipper anywhere on them. But they do have a big winged serpent logo on their chests, which makes me think of an old movie serial , like Undersea Kingdom, Phantom Empire or even the Flash Gordon serials.
As do the robots, which have big silver heads with long spikes sticking out where the mouth and ears should be for no reason I can figure.
However, the underwater pyramid (apparently in the Bermuda Triangle) where they “live” feels more like it came out of a Gerry Anderson series, complete with an interesting entrance and a hanger full of saucers. It is the ornate Seventies-futuristic style base of a peaceful Intergalactic alien league, well stocked on chrome and wild, futuristic clothing styles.
Meanwhile, after a opening involving kidnapping human subjects for testing (and a naked alien gal) we have the bad aliens trying to wipe out mankind with a secret weapon while the good aliens fight back with the help of Robert and his best friend, a computer programmer (who can apparently out think an alien computer with a little help from Texas Instruments!)
The flying saucers are surprisingly well done for such a cheap film, with massed fleets of saucers fighting each other and several outdoors scenes that appear to have been shot in camera with a marionette rig (just like the Lydecker Brothers’ effects in those old Republic Serials).
It is a heady mess, with a lot of strange and goofy things thrown in for no particular reason. You can blame Canadian director, Ed Hunt, who has an almost reputation as a cult director. I tend to think that’s a bit exaggerated, as only a handful of people seem to remember his work, although he also made the utterly bizarre alien-brain-taking-over-the-world-through-a-self-help-show movie, The Brain, and a reasonably good Andromeda Strain rip off, Plague.
This one got lost thanks to another SF film that came out slightly before it (but not so long that they didn’t have time to change the title to cash in on it). Yeah, you might think a successful SF film could only help any other SF films out there at the same time, but no matter how enthusiastic its effects might have been, they just didn’t measure up to anything in George Lucas’ epic.
Which pretty much guaranteed that this one disappeared with barely a theatrical ripple. And, even now, you aren’t going to find it on video, except for a few, massively expensive collector’s VHS tapes.
Fortunately, it played endlessly on cable at one point many years ago, and my Dad and I kept catching little bits of it whenever it showed up. It took us a long time to finally see it all the way through, but it more than lived up to our expectations, as only a goofy and bizarre guilty pleasure of movie possibly could.
Fortunately, it won’t be as hard for the rest of you out there, as it can now be found on Youtube.
Aliens, robots, underwater pyramids, flying saucers, Robert Vaughn and all.
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