Starcrash (1978)

StarCrash is a 1978 space opera written and directed by Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi, and you’ll work out within the first two minutes that this is a blatant Star Wars cash-in. It was filmed in and around Rome, using an extensively Italian cast and crew, but it’s technically an American movie because the money came from the Wachsberger Brothers, and Roger Corman was the distributor. Today we would probably call it a Mockbuster, but, unlike everything churned out by companies like Asylum, this is actually quite a fun watch.

Traditionally I’d give a breakdown of the plot here, but I don’t quite think I can do it justice as after watching it twice and reading the Wikipedia entry, I’m still not sure how to explain it without sounding like I’m either making it up or just taking the piss. A lot of very sci-fi things happen for any number of apparent reasons, and the big bad gets defeated along the way due to special effects. Between the start and the end, we get to go to a load of fantastical worlds and meet a load of quarter-explained amazing things, and you have to hold on tight because if you blink you’ll miss something.

The characters are easier to explain because they are pretty consistent through the whole thing and few stay around long enough for you to care about them. The main role is given to Stella Star (Caroline Munro) who is trying to help the Emperor and goes through multiple Space-Battle-Bikini changes, including in the middle of a pitched space battle. She’s a surprisingly well realised and played character, even if the overdubbing of her voice makes it look like she’s out of sync with herself and bored of all this galactic space adventure. Her clothing obviously makes you think she’s just there as eye-candy, but she actually gets to kick arse on a number of occasions whilst also being allowed to have a range of motivations beyond going boobily forth.

Her temporally challenged companion is Akton (Marjoe Gortner) who’s face and skin look like a makeup artist’s death-rattle attempt to find the uncanny valley. Akton does triple duty as an optimistic space navigator, Legally-Not-A-Jedi Deus Ex-Machina, and “Most Likely To Be A Stoner” member of the cast. They make a powerful duo – with her facing all the peril and him constantly providing exposition two minutes after it would have been useful.

Because of reasons, they are traveling through the universe with a Texan accented law robot called Elle (Judd Hamilton) and the not-voiced-over Prince Simon (played by an uncomfortably young David Hasselhoff). There’s also The Emperor (Christopher Plummer), who’s just like your grandad; assuming that your Grandad was the benevolent ruler of the good parts of Space and just turned up once a year to give excellent but totally misplaced monologues.

On the baddies’ side, we have Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell), who adds a whole new level of brilliantly evil despotism to the film. Whilst he carries his usual air of menace that helped him be so frightening in Maniac, his performance here has added a haggard appearance to his usual frivolity that makes him the perfect crystal-meth Dath Vader. He brings wide-eyed and badly shaven insanity to every single shot, and I don’t think he blinks once, when a straightforwardly sinister approach would have looked overplayed and pretentious. Every moment with him in it is electric, not just because you have no idea what mad bit of technology is going to be pulled out of his arse.

And then there’s Corelia, Queen of the Amazon Women (Nadia Cassini). She gets a mention for two reasons; initially because she and her skimpy leather two-piece wearing cohort get featured a disproportionately large amount in the trailer when compared to their appearance in the film. But she’s not just there to be evocative, she’s also able to activate a hundred-foot tall solid silver amazon mech by firing her psychic mind-powers at it through a TV! And if that sentence didn’t make you want to watch this film then it’s really not for you, because that’s medium-crazy in these parts.

As said, I’m not bothering with the plot because it might as well read “shit happens, and you’ll love it”. Nothing has any real build-up, plot points appear out of The Coolness Zone, and it’s like the mad ramblings of a sugared-up toddler who’s stared at the Star Wars poster for three days. But unlike lesser movies this is unrelentingly so, leaving you with no time to breathe; let alone complain about the lack of connecting tissue. The ideas may be half-baked, but there are so many being thrown at your face you just want to grab them instinctively before the next one comes along. It is infectiously optimistic that one of them will land with you, for 94 non-stop minutes.

All that is done with impeccable style. Everything looks pulled from a 50s sci-fi serial and then given a 70s Italian makeover. The uniforms are tacky like only the finest designers could make them, the spaceship galleries you feel you wouldn’t be hip enough to enter, and the weapons are objet d’art that you know you’ll just never have the coffee table to do justice to. Even the bits that aren’t especially interesting, like the alien that’s just a bloke with green face make-up, work, because they stick out with such indifference to your petty aesthetic expectations. It ends up seeming like a real-world via constant exposure to its inconsistency. And the bad guys’ ship is a giant flying space-fist. Who does that!? Geniuses!!

On any number of technical levels, you can, if you are a heartless killjoy, point out how this is all a pile of Trash. However, in every manner that actually counts you are wrong and clearly don’t deserve to see Ray Harryhausen-quality, stop-motion robots fighting the good guys. This is quality Treasure for people who want a laugh and constantly go “what the fuck?” with a joyful smile on their face and a glowing, ropey oscilloscope special effect in their heart. It’s the Euro-Pop Star Wars that Lucas wishes he’d ripped off, and it’s too hopped up on quality espresso to stop for anyone! Including a scriptwriter.

The Raggedyman

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