September 5, 2012

Starcrash (1979)

IT’S NO SECRET that after the blockbuster success of Star Wars in 1977, a glut of quickie, low-budget space sagas flooded the market over the next few years, all looking to cash in on the phenomenon.

And probably no one in the history of motion pictures has successfully mastered the art of “quick” and “low-budget” like the legendary Roger Corman. So it’s a no-brainer that he entered this stampede of sci-fi schlock by producing the 1979 turkey Starcrash.

Marjoe Gortner (Bobbie Jo & The Outlaw) and Caroline Munro play a pair of interplanetary smugglers recruited by an emperor (Christopher Plummer) of a nearby planet to help defeat the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) of the League of the Dark Worlds (DUN-DUN dunnn…), who’s planning to use The Doom Machine (DUN-DUN dunnn…) to destroy the emperor and his planet (dun, dun, DUNNN!!!).

Picking the best worst element of Starcrash is like trying to pick a favorite color of the rainbow. There are so many to savor: unconvincing miniature spaceship models, jarring editing, poor matting, the dated use of wipes and lap dissolves, melodramatic dialogue with expired phrases like “we’ve studied all the videotapes,” and cheesy stop-motion animation that immediately makes you yearn for anything by Ray Harryhausen. (Irony alert: Munro faced off against Harryhausen’s classic stop-motion creatures in 1973’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.)

The cast’s ham-fisted performances make it obvious they’re in on the joke. Gortner plays leading man Akton as part hero, part guide: Much of his dialogue consists of explaining oddities or advancing the threadbare plot. As space vixen Stella Star, Munro’s sexy British voice is removed and dubbed by American actress Candy Clark (Gortner’s then-wife). To compensate, Munro is scantily clad for much of the film – which is an additional blessing since her acting consists mostly of a raised eyebrow, scowling, smoldering stares, or a head-shake-and-grin combo.

As the Emperor, a slumming Christopher Plummer (who shot all his scenes in one day) gives as much regality and class as possible to his role, while Spinell (Rocky, Maniac) does such a good job hiding his Noo Yawk accent that is sounds like someone else dubbed his lines. And since everything can use a little Hoff, the Emperor’s son Simon (David Hasselhoff) shows up around the one-hour mark to help with the cause. However, it’s soon after Hasselhoff’s appearance that Starcrash starts to lose its playfulness – lumbering into a mundane, anemic third act despite lots of stuff getting blowed up real good.

Directed by Italian schlockmeister Luigi Cozzi (under the name Lewis Coates) and originally released in Italy as “Scontri Stellari Oltre la Terza Dimensione (Stellar Clashes Beyond the Third Dimension),” Starcrash wasn’t Corman’s only entry in the post-Star Wars sci-fi boom: He also produced the far superior Magnificent-Seven-in-space epic Battle Beyond The Stars.

In the finale of Starcrash, the Emperor orders his imperial battleship, “Halt the flow of time!” At many points during this clunker, it does indeed feel like time is standing still.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Starcrash is rated PG: Several people are shot dead by laser guns; victims of a spaceship crash are shown frozen in the snow; Stella, Akton, and Simon engage in hand-to-hand combat with enemies at various points; and there is one utterance of “damn.” Basically, if your kids have seen Star Wars, there’s no reason they can’t watch Starcrash.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
The two of you could have some fun with Starcrash by goofing on it MST3K-style, but the novelty may wear off before the end credits roll. You’re probably better off exploring it alone as a morbid curiosity to see what makes it such a talked-about train wreck.

Yes, that’s a light saber. No, nothing is sacred.

* Director: Luigi Cozzi
* Screenwriters: Luigi Cozzi, Nat Wachsberger
* Stars: Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, Joe Spinell, Christopher Plummer, David Hasselhoff, Robert Tessier, Judd Hamilton
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent Starcrash from Netflix>>


Kal said...

An Italian kid with a dream sets out to make HIS version of Star Wars...and he did just that. This is a favorite of mine for all the wrong reasons. I am unable to turn it off once it starts. From Caroline Munroe to DAVID FREAKIN' HASSELHOFF it's a craptastic picture.

Budd said...

this is awesome.

By Peter Hanson said...

Saw your post over in my webiverse and navigated over to read your review... As I well know, sometimes you have to experience a reputedly awful movie for yourself in order to grasp all the dimensions of its awfulness... and indeed, many of those dimensions are described clearly and entertainingly in your review.


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