Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Crash and Burn: Sci-Fi Goes Horribly Wrong in Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash (1979)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on August 12, 2012

I’m not particularly a bad-movie aficionado. I generally find watching a bad movie just to laugh at it to be a waste of time (when you could be watching something that’s actually good). Plan 9 From Outer Space is funny for about 10 minutes, then I just get bored with it. Same goes for Reefer Madness. Troll 2 does nothing for me (yeah, it’s definitely weird, but I’ve seen weirder). If someone were to ask me what my favorite bad movie was, I couldn’t really come up with one. Though I’ve always had a soft spot for the exploitation films of the ’70’s and ’80’s, I don’t consider them “guilty pleasures” the way some people do. I believe you either like something or you don’t, and if it works for you, then the pleasure you get from it shouldn’t be considered “guilty”. The idea of watching something genuinely awful to revel in its awfulness has never really appealed to me.

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Starcrash changes all that. I’ve wanted to see this Italian production (released in the US by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures) for years now, and upon discovering its availability on Netflix streaming, I just had to see it for myself. Somehow I missed this during my VHS/HBO childhood, even though I managed to see tons of other terrible movies at the time, and now I’m kind of kicking myself for it. Because, at least for me, Starcrash is the ultimate bad movie, the ne plus ultra, the point at which one can go no further. It’s a film that works on absolutely no level whatsoever, that makes you question your sanity while viewing it, and constantly begs the question, “how was this thing made, and why?”

Make no mistake, Starcrash is very much a product of its time. Only in the disco era could something so bizarrely incompetent, vapid and content-free be passed off as an actual film. Italian director Luigi Cozzi (working under the name Lewis Coates), the man responsible for the Lou Ferrigno Hercules films, was apparently tasked to make a low-budget Star Wars ripoff, but the film seems more influenced by the old sci-fi serials like Flash Gordon. There are elements of Star Wars, of course, including lightsabers, laser guns and space-battle scenes directly lifted from George Lucas’ epic. But it’s more like Star Wars as interpreted by people who don’t speak English and watched the movie on a drive-in screen from miles away. Needless to say, if you appreciate the late-70’s/early-80’s kitsch factor of things like the Star Wars Holiday Special, the original Battlestar Galactica and the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV series, you are going to absolutely adore Starcrash.

I’m not even going to try to describe the movie in anything resembling a logical format (as if I could). I’m just going to make a list of the things the film contains, even though that won’t even begin to approximate the experience of watching it:

– a completely incomprehensible plot that features no logic whatsoever and is virtually impossible to try to follow. It’s the kind of film where a main character decides to commit suicide at one point for no apparent reason. Just one constant “what the fuck?” moment after another. I really believe that if you rearranged the scenes in this movie and showed them out of order, it would make absolutely no difference whatsoever;

– wonderfully horrible special effects that often look as though they were created by a 10-year-old with a Lego set and a Lite Brite;

– a robot with an annoying Southern drawl (why? who knows?), voiced by ubiquitous 70’s TV actor Hamilton Camp;

– a strangely effeminate lead character played by stalwart 70’s B-movie actor Marjoe Gortner with a perm that makes him resemble the lead singer of REO Speedwagon;

– astoundingly terrible, overripe dialogue. My personal favorite line is this: “These deadly rays will cause your DEATH!!” (Really? Because they’re deadly?);

– esteemed British actor (and recent Oscar winner) Christopher Plummer slumming it big time and trying desperately not to look embarrassed;

– David Hasselhoff in a major role. Enough said;

– gorgeous former Bond girl Caroline Munro walking around in an outfit that would make Barbarella blush (not that that’s a bad thing), not that anyone actually seems to notice;

– B-movie icon Joe Spinnell (Maniac) hamming it up ridiculously as the film’s main villain, constantly braying lines like, “KILL THEM! KILL THEM NOW!!!”;

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And so, so much more. It’s 91 minutes of pure, unfiltered cheese, and I loved every incredible minute of it. It’s one of those films where you really have to wonder what it was like on set. Did anyone have any idea what they were doing? What could have possibly possessed these actors to sign on to a project like this? Were they just desperate to attach themselves to anything that remotely resembled Star Wars? Did anyone actually think this was going to be good? It boggles the mind.

Apparently Starcrash already has a bit of a cult following, but honestly, this thing needs to be HUGE. There needs to be Starcrash viewing parties and midnight screenings so that people can gather together and bask in its insane glow. There should be hot girls wearing Stella Star costumes at sci-fi conventions and Starcrash fan fiction on the Internet. I’m not kidding. If more people actually saw this thing, all of that could and should happen. This movie is so completely nuts that it could cause bad movie-loving hipsters to lose their fucking minds.

Starcrash is available on Netflix streaming and on DVD as part of the “Roger Corman Collection” (even though he apparently had nothing to do with the making of the film). Thank me later.

In other, completely unrelated news, I was saddened to hear that great British actor Bob Hoskins has decided to retire due to suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Hoskins has long been one of my favorite actors. Most Americans know him as detectiveEddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Smee in Hook or even as a dwarf in the recent Snow White and the Huntsman (which I haven’t seen). But while he’s worked consistently for the last three decades or so, Hollywood never really knew what to do with him. It’s his work in England that really showed the depth of his talent; he first got major attention as the gangster Harold in 1980’s The Long Good Friday, but for me his career-defining performance will always be his quietly devastating work in Neil Jordan’s excellent Mona Lisa (1986), as George, the small-time gangster turned lovelorn driver. I rewatched it last night on Netflix streaming for the first time in years, and it still holds up incredibly well – Hoskins’ Oscar nomination was well earned. If you’ve never seen the film, or haven’t seen it in a long time, it’s absolutely worth another look (and also features a great supporting performance from Michael Caine). Hoskins’ unique screen presence will be missed by me and millions of other film fans around the world.

That’s all for now. Talk to you guys later!

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5 Responses to “Crash and Burn: Sci-Fi Goes Horribly Wrong in Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash (1979)”

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