Starcrash (1978)

This film was one of two which taught me back in the Eighties that Spaghetti Sci Fi has the unique gift of being as bad as you think it is.

The first was War of the Robots, a typically cheap Star Wars rip off.  We were came in late on it and someone asked why everyone wore a patch that said “Tressi”

“It’s the name of the ski shop that provided their uniforms.” I quipped.

And was disappointed to learn moments later that it was in fact the name of their ship.

Until we saw the end credits, which thanked the Tressi ski shop for their help…

Something very similar happened when we watched this one:  near the end there is what is meant to  be a stirring moment when they reach the Emperor’s Floating City.  Unfortunately, the model looks very…random, with lots of odd shapes and parts.  So, as we watched, I identified the various bits and pieces parts glued to the surface, many of which were quite recognizable as they’d been borrowed from a number of familiar model kits.

Then, just as a gag I added “Tank Tread,” as the silliest model part I could think of

…And before the words were completely out of my mouth, a tank tread, wrapped around a long cylinder came into view…

Ironically, this is perhaps the most wildly ambitious — and probably expensive (at least by Italian Sci Fi standards) — Spaghetti Sci Fi Star Wars copy (or for that matter, Spaghetti Sci Fi film of any type) ever made.  It has everything they could think of, crammed into a single movie, whether it actually belonged there or not.  We’ve got a giant, Harryhausen-style statue that chases our heroes, stop-motion robots, Amazon women, a space station in the shape of a giant hand, space torpedoes carrying soldiers into battle, apemen, rayguns and Caroline Munro wearing Leather Space-Bikinis.

It would take George Lucas two more movies to reach that point!

Now the secret here is that they built all the models for the film in a single day.  Which, I suspect, explains why some of them just look so awkward, with strange proportions and odd towers that are almost as tall as the ship is long, although the ship Stella Star flies on her secret mission and that big hand are both quite presentable.

But when I watched it again after many, many years —  I don’t think I’ve seen it since 1980! — what impressed me more than anything else was the incredible use of color in this film.  The stars in the sky are as bright and colorful as an endless expanse of Christmas tree lights and the spaceship models are awash in bold colored light.  I’ve never seen a space film so colorful — and, I’ll point out, there isn’t a single nebula in sight, and only a few wildly colored skies.  It’s all in the lighting.  It reminds me of Mario Bava’s trademark lighting style — where he would use primary colored gels instead of white lights.  They’re supposed to mix and make white, but the result is quite different. Then again, it might have been inspired by Dario Argento’s wild use of color.  Either way, it is an amazing look, and one wishes more SF films could be this colorful.

Although I suppose it only works in a film with Starcrash’s deliberate unreality.

Now those of you unfamiliar with Italian film might be mildly surprised to learn that the director, “Lewis Coates,” was really Luigi Cozzi.  But you’d have to be very unfamiliar as they routinely Americanized every name they could on these things.  He had a fairly average low budget career and would go on to make Contamination and the Lou Ferrigno Hercules films.  He did, however, start out making a highly experimental adaptation of Frederic Pohl’s “Tunnel Under the World.”  Go figure.

Caroline Munro made her mark in a number of Hammer films (and just appeared in one of Joshua Kennedy‘s Hammer homages in 2018!) and looks quite lovely here.  However, that isn’t her voice as she couldn’t make post-production and all the voices were dubbed in these things to save money on synchronized sound.

Her alien pathfinder partner is played by Marjoe Gortner:  he started out as a child preacher and had a modest career in film and TV, including his starring role in The Food of the Gods.  He was supposed to wear alien makeup of some sort in this one but refused to cover his pretty face.

The other major player here was Christopher Plummer, as the Emperor, who plays the role in a strange, ethereal sort of way that doesn’t fit in at all with the rest of the film.  In fact, he seems to be acting as if he is in some other movie altogether.  Which might be wishful thinking.  Plummer claimed that he did Starcrash because it was an Italian film, and he’d do porno to go to Rome.

Of course, the actor everyone notices here is a very young David Hasselhoff, wearing absolutely terrible pretty boy makeup.  But then, I guess it was the Seventies, and why shouldn’t the Emperor’s son look like David Bowie?

It would be easy to mock this one (which, come to think of it the revived MST3K just did) but this was an enormously influential film that would be copied, provide props and ship models, and be out and out stolen from by hordes of lesser films for years — and which inspired Roger Corman to make his Seventies space epic, Battle Beyond the Stars.

Which, come to think of it, would also end cut up and recycled for countless other films!

But, more than this, Starcrash is such a totally wacky and inventive piece of nonsense that it is a lot of fun, at least if you are willing to laugh at its absurdities and enjoy the total goofiness of this weird but constantly entertaining little film.

What more could you ask of any Spaghetti Sci Fi flick?

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