11 September 2011

STARCRASH/1978/CAROLINE MUNRO/JOE SPINELL

STARCRASH

1978/Director: Luigi Cozzi/Writers: Luigi Cozzi, Nat Wachsberger

Cast: Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, Joe Spinell, Christopher Plummer, David Hasselhoff

Starcrash is one of those movies that has long on my extensive list of films to see before I die. I tend to not rush into seeing most of these films I doubt that on my death bed when I reflect on my life’s regrets that at the top of the list will be not seeing all of the films by Eddie Romero. But I enjoyed the pairing of Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro in Maniac (1980) and The Last Horror Movie (1982) and figured I could not go too wrong with this 1978 Italian made Stars Wars clone. And I was right, this is a fun albeit totally campy joy ride for fans of 60’s styled Italian sci-fi as well as fans of generally bad cinema in general and of Star Wars rip-off films in particular. And while I would certainly call Starcrash a bad movie it is a ‘good’ bad movie that even people who normally shy away from trash films may enjoy to some degree. There are plenty of reviews on line that bash the film and I was a bit stunned to see such negative diatribe coming out of Tokyo Stomp of all places about the movie. I thought TS was a site somewhat like The Uranium Café that pandered bad movies and treated them gently in their reviews. Not so with Starcrash but do not let phrases there like “…nearly unwatchable for many reasons” deter you. This is a watchable and enjoyable little film even if it does feature David Hasselhoff in one of the leading roles (the Princess Leia role from Star Wars actually.) Along with Spinell, Munro and the ‘multi-talented’ Hasselhoff the film also stars Christopher Plummer in the obligatory ‘established British actor who needs to pay the mortgage somehow’ category and 70’s cult figure Marjoe Gortner who plays a character that is Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and C-3PO all rolled into one.

Director Luigi Cozzi –who worked as assistant director and special effects artists for Dario Argento but lets not hold that against him- does a fine job of capturing the spirit of some of the earlier Italian sci-fi films of the 60’s and early 70’s and I can’t help but feel some of the effects and sets in Starcrash are deliberately cheesy though that would sheer speculation on my part. Even using someone like the always annoying Hasselhoff in a lead role seems like a bit of a joke in retrospect but at the time the guy was a hot item and his hit TV series Knight Rider was right around the corner in 1982. While most of the actors in the film appear to have tongue firmly planted in cheek pretty little Hasselhoff is acting for dear life in all his scenes and his exquisitely blow-dried coiffure is never a follicle out of place. The plot is totally derivative of Star Wars but it was hardly the only Star Wars clone to come along after the mega-success of the George Lucas space epic. While utterly corny places and with schlocky effects that wile lave you flabbergasted at best the film is till ore watchable than some of the other Lucas rip-offs such as the Battle Star Galactica TV series. The movie has rightfully earned itself a place among the great midnight-cult movies and was recently released on the Shout! Factory DVD label as part of the Roger Corman Cult Classic series. I have the nice looking Shout Blu-ray version but I got it here in China and all the cool extras were left off the pirated DVD here. Hate when they do that. All I got was the film trailer.



The story is, as I said, a total retelling of the Star wars stories with minimal changes in the actual characters and plot. Munro plays Stella Star (the film is aka The Adventures of Stella Star) a space smuggler and greatest pilot in the galaxy. Her partner, or sidekick actually, is an alien named Akton (Gortner) who kills time levitating little orbs of light in the palm of his hand. They soon cross paths with the Imperial Space Police led by Thor (shaved head screen heavy Robert Tessier) and his robot Elle, who speaks with an out of place hillbilly accent that is never as funny as it was probably intended to be. There is a subsequent star fight with weirdly lit and placed stars in the background and a boost in hyper-speed or something that is nothing short of a Millennium Falcon homage or rip-off depending on how you look at life. This proves totally fruitless as the moment they appear out of hyper-space they are caught and sentenced to life on a prison planet. That proves to be nothing for the always scantily clad in leather Stella Star and she escapes easily but is recaptured just as easily but offered the chance for clemency if she and Akton will rescue the Emperor of the Universe –or it may just be of the galaxy, I forget right now- (Christopher Plummer) son from the evil Count Zarth Arn, played over the top with perfection by Joe Spinell. The emperor’s son is prissy Hasselhoff of course.

As Stella Star and crew soar through the galaxy looking for the kidnapped son of the Emperor they meet up with various adventures, strange creatures and perilous situations on various alien landscapes. There is treachery and loyalty and cleavage galore as they continue on their epic quest that will, hopefully, restore good to the galaxy and banish evil… for the time being anyway. The references to Stars Wars are fun look for and are often impossible to miss such as when Akton uses a light saber. Some reviewers have attacked Munro’s space garb as sexist and thank God they are right. You just don’t see space heroines like this any more. Some scenes even show inspiration in the stop action animation department from Ray Harryhausen and in particular a couple scenes from the classic Jason and the Argonauts. If you’re a fan of grade Z camp then this one’s for you, and even if you’re not you My like to kill ninety or so minutes with it. If a person was not a fan of fine trash cinema and I had to pick one film as an introduction I think I could only do worse than recommend Starcrash.
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