Monday, November 1, 2010

Starcrash (Luigi Cozzi, 1978)

A green laser beam slices through the blackness of space, then a red laser beam. Your mind, confused by the chromatic light show, wonders: What it is this strange phenomenon? Even though this question is muttered midway through Starcrash (a.k.a. Scontri Stellari Oltre la Terza Dimensione), a revolutionary motion picture that will forever change your views on science and technology, it's not the first one to be asked. On the Planet Earth, people have been telling stories about empires battling each other with pointy bits of metal (bullets, shrapnel, knives, axes, spears and swords) for centuries. But what if there was another way to pierce the flesh of your opponent, hence, rendering their organic structure inoperative? I have no way confirming it, but I think this intergalactic adventure was one of the first films to employ lasers as the combatant's primary weapon. The more astute amongst you will notice that I just used the word "intergalactic." Well, that's because it takes place entirely in outer space. Yeah, that's right, the uncharted vastness of space. Other than Barbarella, Forbidden Planet, and, to a lesser extent, Voyage of the Rock Aliens (most of the film takes place in the fictional town of Speelburgh, not outer space), I don't think any other film has had the imaginative fortitude to set its entire story up in the big black beyond.

What is space? And how do you make a film up there? I have no idea. But I know someone who does, and his name is Luigi Cozzi (Hercules), an Italian filmmaker with bold and fresh ideas (especially when it comes to inventing a complex universe from scratch) and the wisdom to hire Armando Valcauda to do the special effects and John Barry compose the music. Now, I'm not entirely sure if they shot the film in outer space or just created an outer space-like world using sets and props (a couple of the locations did have an earthy quality about them). But whatever they did, I actually felt as if I was spending time in a totally different galaxy, as the stars in this film sparkle with a jaunty resplendence.

Okay, now that we have established that we're in fact floating in space, in what particular era would a sane person want our interplanetary escapade to be influenced by? If you said, "late 1970s European disco culture," you'd be absolutely correct. The combination of flashy, disco-friendly threads (gold capes, leather jumpsuits, silver corsets with gladiatorial fringe and thigh-high boots) with the vibrant colours of this Italo-based solar system are perfectly in tune with one another.

Looking disco chic in space is one thing, it also helps to appear as though you are doing stuff once you get up there. It's true, I'd watch these people stand around doing dick and not a lot of all for hours on end, but others might not be so tolerant. Tackling this potential problem head-on, Starcrash introduces us to a bushy-haired navigator named Akton (Marjoe Gortner) and an attractive pilot named Stella Star (Caroline Munroe), two troublemakers who transverse the stars in their spaceship looking for kicks.

Using something called "hyperspace" to evade capture from the authorities, the cocky duo end up discovering an escape pod containing a man whose brain has been fried. While tending to the injured survivor, Thor (Robert Tessier) and Elle (a robot played by Judd Hamilton and voiced by Hamilton Camp), the two bounty hunters who have been chasing them, catch up with the wanted pair and arrest the smugglers without haste. Sentenced by a giant squid head, Akton and Stella are both sent to prison, the former is put in stasis, the latter gets sent to a labour camp (space gulag).

Even though her shapely body seems to be enjoying the all-consuming snugness of her new getup, Stella Star, after working twelve hours straight, has grown tired of the incarcerated life. Without much planning, Stella grabs a weapon from a guard and starts blasting (she actually lets her fellow inmates do most of the blasting, she just wants to get the hell out of there). This sequence, on top of being the one that introduces us to "the outfit," is the first one where get a glimpse of what a laser fired from a laser gun looks like in the world of Starcrash. And I must say, it looks pretty while it's on its journey. However, it's a completely different story when its flaming payload comes in contact with a person's skin. Let's just say, if you like to watch people scream while emitting sparks and smoke as a result of being shot in the chest with a laser gun, you will definitely want to make an appointment with this particular sequence.

It's turns out Stella's chaotic escape attempt was all for naught, as she and Akton were going to be released anyway. I know, you're asking yourself: What kind of justice system lets its criminals go willy-nilly? The judge's ruling seemed pretty straightforward (you do the crime, you extract ore in your leather underpants). You see, The Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe (Christopher Plummer) wants them to partake in a top secret mission, one that involves destroying a weapon of mass destruction located on a phantom planet run by the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell from the Forbidden Zone) and, of course, locate David Hasselhoff. To keep tabs on Stella and Akton, The Emperor has them team up with the green-skinned Thor and Elle, a cowboy-accented robot.

On the first planet they come across, Stella and Elle end up battling with Corelia (Nadia Cassini), leader of a race of scantily clad amazonian women whose vocabulary is limited to yelling "revenge" and "kill them." It's during this particular fracas that Stella and Elle begin to develop their unique bond with one another. After escaping the clutches of Cornelia's giant silver robot (a marvel of stop motion animation) and staving off a squadron of her star-fighters (an encounter that produces much laser fire), Stella and Elle bond even more while trapped on a cold and desolate planet. I'll admit, I got a tad misty-eyed when Elle tells Stella that she is the nicest human being he (I'm assuming he's a boy robot) has ever known.

While Stella and Elle are bonding in the snow, we learn that Akton is more than just some guy in a red and black jumpsuit with curly hair. There's something mystical about him, an aura, if you will, that sets him apart from all the other percentage spouting navigators taking up valuable space in the universe. Unafraid to unleash his special healing powers, wield his fluorescent cutting implement (a kind of sword made out of light), or repel the laser beams of others, the oddly handsome Akton changes our perception of how a hero should behave in space. Prone to self-sacrifice, but not a pompous jerk about it, Marjoe Gortner imbues the clairvoyant small-time smuggler with a modest grace. If I wasn't a heterosexual man, one who enjoys eating triangle-shaped snack foods while watching the Atlanta Falcons play football, I would totally hide baby carrots in his hair (winter's coming and I could use the dietary fibre).

Kicking henchwomen in the face like it was second nature, Caroline Munro's Stella Star is a role model to little girls everywhere, specifically the ones who dream of hurling themselves headfirst into the black unknown. However, it doesn't start off that way. When Luigi Cozzi's camera focuses on her for the very first time, Caroline looks like she's about to say something profound but she doesn't. It's an awkward moment, but apparently it's just a teaser for what comes next. Uttering the line, "Go for hyperspace!" with a ten ton dollop of uncut gusto, Caroline boldly signifies to the Starcrash universe that she is Stella Star and no one better mess with her, not unless they want to get a karate chop to the neck.

Sure, Candy Clark (Q: The Winged Serpent), for some strange reason, dubs all her dialogue, but Caroline mouths her words like a pro. Speaking of mouthing words, while "Go for hyperspace!" is my favourite line in the entire movie, my second fave has to be Christopher Plummer's "Imperial Battleship! Halt... the flow of time!" And he's not just talking out of his ass, uh-uh, he actually makes time stand still.

Her taut English flesh wrapped in strategically placed strips of shiny black leather, Caroline's skimpy wardrobe is a breathtaking, thigh accentuating sight to behold in Starcrash. It's no wonder she's got a gunslinging robot and a handsome prince named Simon (David Hasselhoff) both itching to peel it off in slow motion, its potency as a fashion statement and a crotch moistener are through the roof. Even though she's gorgeousness personified, Caroline Munro doesn't sit back and let her stunning looks and killer threads do the majority of the film's heavy lifting. The complete opposite to her performance in Faceless (a film where she mostly writhes around tied to a bed while wearing a white sack with sleeves), Caroline can be seen leading kamikaze attacks, space-walking with a casual ease, fighting cave people, and flirting with robots. In other words, for someone who wears black leather panties in one scene, and, what looks like, a plastic shopping bag in another, she gives a well-rounded performance worthy of a thousand creepy leers.

Remember the laser shootout I mentioned earlier? Well, that's a picnic compared to the laser shootout that takes place in the command centre of Count Zarth's claw-shaped battle station, as it takes close quarter laser combat to a whole new level of awesome. What starts off as yet another tedious space battle (the gold ships of The Emperor repeatedly strafe The Count's battle station) evolves into something truly spectacular when The Emperor starts launching torpedoes. Crashing through the bay windows of The Count's station, the torpedoes, instead of exploding on impact, open up to reveal two men armed with laser rifles. The shootout that ensues between The Emperor's men (gold helmets, ray-guns that shoot green lasers) and Count Zarth's men (black helmets, ray-guns that shoot red lasers) is a thing of chaotic beauty. It's an excellent action-heavy precursor to the slow moving temperament of the finale, which, of course, involves the weaponization of a flying city. A must-see for fans of Barbarella, stop motion animation, outer space, wisecracking robots, and all things Italian. Go for hyperspace!

video uploaded by sideshowcarny


  1. One of my favorite mad movie discoveries since I started the blog! If a person doesn't enjoy STARCRASH from start to finish, that's a person I do not want to share triange-shaped snackage with.

    And it just came out on Blu-Ray! What a wonderful world! :)

    (BTW, off topic, but please consider contributing to the upcoming Paul Naschy blogathon over at MMMMMovies, Yum-Yum! The universe needs you! :) )

  2. Yum-Yum, it's been so long since I've seen this, but Starcrash is something you don't forget. Plummer really can stop time, I suspect. That DVD has been tempting me for weeks now, and you haven't helped matters.

  3. Starcrash will always be one of my favorite exploitative discoveries. I like to describe it as Sesame Street on hallucinogens. I also like to stare at Caroline Munro. Had a blast reading your analysis, Mr. Yum :)

  4. The Vicar of VHS: Call me clairvoyant, but I can actually picture you grabbing your pointy and non-pointy snacks from a person who doesn't like/enjoy Starcrash.

    Sure, I'll consider it. But I should warn you, I have no idea who Paul Naschy is. *gasp*

    Samuel Wilson: The new Starcrash DVD has an aura about it that causes previously sane individuals to go completely meshugana.

    Tom Stoup: You like to stare at Caroline Munro?!? Best. Affliction. Ever.

    The Hilarious House of Frightenstein on horse tranquilizers.

  5. >>But I should warn you, I have no idea who Paul Naschy is. *gasp*

    Even better--a fresh set of eyes on Senor Naschy's work! ;) Let me know if you need any suggestions--it'd be great to have you aboard!

  6. Dude, Christopher Plummer must have lost a bet, or had some bills to pay. Well, don't we all have bills to pay. :D

    So, I hear there is an annoying Jeopardy! champion. I don't know if we'll ever get caught up. :(

    Oh, Caroline Munro is in that Adam Ant video, right?

  7. The Vicar of VHS: Holy crap! You've got 34 blog posts that are labeled "Paul Naschy." (Love Train for... has a solid 10.)

    If I do participate, I've got my eye on a couple of Naschy flicks.

    Karim Amir: Bills to pay?!? Starcrash rules. ;)

    Check out the Starcrash you-tube clip where he totally stops time. It will give you the right kind of chills.

    Annoying, eh? Well, there was a champ who spoke in this slow, turtle-like manner. But I'm not entirely sure if we're talking about the same person.

    Caroline Munro is in Adam Ant video?!? (yep, according to her wiki page she's in an Adam Ant video). I know Diana Dors (real name Diana Fluck) appeared in the video for the Ants' "Prince Charming."

  8. Well, Diana Fluck does sound dangerously close to, well, you know, so I can understand the name change. I had a friend in high school whose last name was offically "Balls" but she often omitted the "s" or went by her stepfather's surname.

    A FB friend shared this, and I thought of you:

  9. Yeah, I know, take away the 'c' and replace it with an 'n' and she would be Diana Flunk! Outrageous!

    I didn't date a guy named Harry Balls in high school. :(

    Goth and Country? Sure, I can see that. After all, black cowboy shirts were very chic within the T.O. goth community circa 1997. Okay, maybe they weren't, but I liked to wear 'em.

    My mom dig "Cuts You Up."

    Oh, and I finally saw that Rush documentary. And you're right, Sams makes an appearance right out of the gate.

  10. Just saw this for the first time last week, and your post pretty much encapsulates up what's great about it. Although I must say one of my favorite things was the badass robots who wield scimitars, despite the fact that they're robots.