Click on the above banner to gaze upon the Cabal’s collective shame.
Note: For those interested, I’m working off a sadly full frame DVD under the title of Female Space Invaders. (!) There’s also a cheapie widescreen DVD out there under Starcrash, but the image quality is supposed to be dreadful. Frankly, even the version I’m working with is but passable. At one point they announced a much nicer double bill DVD with this and Galaxina, both in widescreen, but sadly there must have been rights issues, because the disc never materialized.
Ah, the Italian sci-fi rip-off movie. Hello, old friend.
Films like this, especially Italian ones, apparently lived in terror of not seeming identical enough to the generally American big-budget film they were aping. (It was a fine line, though. If the resemblance became too entirely blatant, it could get you sued in here in the States. In a rare victory of this sort, Universal managed to completely block the American release of the Italian Jaws knock-off The Last Shark.)
Given this, Starcrash unsurprisingly opens with the then much-emulated ‘Star Wars shot,’ in which a spaceship passes slowly over the camera. In Star Wars, the length of this sequence established the awesome scale of the ship, thus implying a level of sheer scope greater than most previous sci-fi movies. In Starcrash, given the not overly impressive size of the featured craft, it established a slavish intent to rip-off Star Wars, thus implying a level of sheer unoriginality greater than most previous sci-fi movies.
Still, the experienced cinema buff will be able to detect subtle differences between the student and the master, as it were. One such is an apparent lack of experienced model builders in Italy. It’s not so much that the prop representing the aforementioned spaceship looks like it was cobbled together out of leftover parts from some old Aurora model kits. No, indeed, it’s that the stark white plastic appearance of the thing announces that no one could be bothered to paint it.
Meanwhile, the ‘star field’ over which this artifact glides gets bonus chutzpah points for incorporating colored Christmas lights along with the more typical white bulbs to simulate distant stars. Presumably the film is taking place in the Liberace Nebula.
For a gag, we see the ship is named the “Murray Leinster,” an author of pulpish sci-fi paperbacks in the ’50s and ’60s. Maybe he sold well in Italy, but he’s not particularly well remembered here. The most famous of his works might be several novelizations of the old Land of the Giants and The Time Tunnel TV shows.
We cut to two guards, or something, in a stark weight circular elevator. They are wearing brown leather uniforms of a sort that definitely confirm the film’s country of origin. Meanwhile, it turns out not to be an elevator. Instead, it’s an utterly retarded chamber with a rotating wall with a door cutout. You enter from one corridor, and then stand waiting while the wall and floor rotate until the doorway eventually aligns with the exit to another corridor.
So basically you have a hallway with a particularly convoluted revolving door in the middle of it. Because otherwise, you could just keep walking from one corridor to the other uninterrupted, and how future-y would that be? We watch one guy employ this device (or whatever it is), and the corridor he ends up in leads to a staircase. And again, what could be more futuristic than that?
Cut to the fellow inside a control room, the Spartan elegance of which indicates either a civilization with a markedly austere design esthetic, or a set designer with only several hundred lira at his disposal. They are apparently orbiting over the Planet Hoth a planet that is “nothing but ice and snow, a barren desert of whiteness.” Ah, you mean Minnesota. (I kid!) The commander muses over this intelligence. “Scan it with our computer waves!” he barks. “The enemy’s weapons may be hidden beneath the surface!”
Sadly, their plans are interrupted by a mass of red disco lighting that is approaching the ship. (This would be more risible were such things not a weekly occurrence on the old Star Trek series.) Various animated crimson light blobs fly around, and quickly (I guess) infiltrate the ship. Everyone screams and vogues Agony Poses, and several launches are, well, launched into the multi-colored heavens and then the ship blows up. Debris and sparks fly around in a very strange manner that almost suggests gravity, although the ship was in space and so that’s impossible.
“Quick! The Visine!”
There follow the opening credits, and here we get a real eyeful. This film offers one of those deliriously insane casts that you only got in these things. First we learn that this is a “Nat and Patrick Wachsberger Production”. Since those ‘guys’ only worked in Italy, you’ll forgive me for assuming the monikers are the sort of ersatz ‘American’ ones employed by Italian exploitation movies to trick American consumers into thinkingâ€¦something. I don’t know, would the sort of people who paid money to see something like Starcrash or Super Fuzz or Supersonic Man in a theater had refused if they thought the movie was Italian? Maybe. I guess.
Then the, er, ‘acting,’ uhm, ‘credits’ roll, andâ€¦wow. That’s all I can say. Marjoe “Food of the Gods” Gortner. Caroline “The Spy Who Loved Me” Munro. A pre-Knight Rider David Hasselhoff. (!!!!) Joe Spinell (four years later Munro’s co-star in The Last Horror Film.) Veteran bald heavy Robert Tessier. I mean, seriously, you can only gape when you see a string of names like that come rolling past.
However, no film of this caliber would be complete without an embarrassed, patently trolling-for-a-paycheck yet otherwise respected character actor. Thus we get “â€¦and CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER as THE EMPEROR”. In the immortal words of Michael Caine, who was once asked if he’d ever actually seen Jaws: The Revenge, “No, but I have seen the house it bought, and it’s lovely.”
Perhaps even more wince-inducing is the next credit: “MUSIC COMPOSED, ARRANGED, AND CONDUCTED BY JOHN BARRY.”
Let’s just say that it’s not his most inspired work.
Cut to another ship zooming through space. Swoooosh! The ship is piloted by Stella Star (Munro)—yes, Stella Star—and her curly-haired, hipster doofus lackey Akton (Gortner, who plays the part like he’s a perpetually blessed-out stoner). Each is arrayed in the latest Space Fashions, because it’s the future. Their control panel is positioned right in front of a large observation window, I guess so they don’t crash into any quasars. This window is segmented into panes, because that affords the greatest structural integrity in deep space, I guess.
Because the editing’s so bad it’s initially kind of hard to figure out, but Stella finds their ship followed by several other crafts. “Ah, ha, looks like the cops!” Akron helpfully explains. Sure enough, they soon get a viewscreen call from head officer Thor (!) of “the Imperial Police.” He orders them to surrender. But they don’t. Just in case you were wondering.
They also get a call from the highly risible Robot L—apparently there are only 26 robots in this galaxy-spanning empire—who basically says what Thor said. Robot L sports, for comedy reasons one can only suppose, an accent that maybe is meant to make him sound like a stereotypical southern American sheriff. Maybe. The accent seems to come and go. [Future Ken: It gets thicker and more consistent as the film progresses, and yes, it’s a zany good ol’ boy accent.] Here we learn that Stella and Akton are smugglers. Like, oh, I don’t knowâ€¦ Han Solo, for instance.
A chase commences, which entails the three ships flying right in a row over a series of strangely spaced-together planets. “Go to hyper-space!” Stella yells, her tone indicating that she finds all this quite a bit more exciting than we do. At this we cut to some rudimentary solarization effects, followed by the ship entering what appears to be a particularly decrepit Dr. Who TARDIS tunnel. “Let’s hope this star buggy stays together!” Stella stiltedly observes, in a manner suggesting that Munro is delivering her lines off a card she’s just now seeing for the first time.
Akton: “40% total disintegration, 30% molecular ignition, 20% gamma contamination.”
Stella: “You’re very reassuring!”
See, it’s funny because he’s not very reassuring. Get it? Anyway, when she points out that this sounds like they therefore have a ten percent chance of surviving, he explains this isn’t so. “2% structural collapse, 2%…” Ah, the badinage. However, despite these dire odds they manage to safely reenter normal space. Just in case you were worried that the heroine might get herself kacked in the film’s first six minutes.
“We’ve done it, we’ve done it!” Stella squeals. The *yawn* perils aren’t over yet, however. “Look, a neutron star!” Akton interjects, pointing to a big green animation effect. “If it gets a hold of us, it’ll crush us!” Stella responds. Gee, thanks. However, they are already being sucked in. “Prepare to release aft power stage!” Stella commands. They indeed jettison the aft section of the ship, an act heralded with a cartoonish sound effect. Somehow dumping part of the ship indeed allows the rest of it to escape the immense gravitational pull. My guess is that Stephen Hawking did not write this script.
Well, on to the next thirty-second adventure. “There’s the border of the Haunted Stars!” Akton points out. However, something else grabs Stella’s attention. “What in the universe is that?!” she exclaims, because that’s the sort of expression space travelers might use. Considering that (much like, oh, I don’t know, Han Solo) Stella is a veteran space smuggler, her inability to identify what is obviously a drifting spaceship is a tad weird.
She soon figures it out, though. “It’s a space ship!” Stella gasps in amazement, as if she’s never seen such a thing before. “No,” Akton corrects, “it’s a launch.” Er, wouldn’t a launch be a type of spaceship, even if it’s a short range one? (It certainly looks like a craft.) Needless to say, it’s one of the launches we saw escape from the Murray Leinster before it was destroyed. “Their power’s totally down,” Stella says. Like, fer sure! Gag with me a space spoon!
“Maybe they’re wounded!” Stella worries. “Too weak to send a signal!” Uhm, I’m pretty sure they have computers for that sort of thing, and don’t actually have to stand on the hull of their craft waving semaphore flags. “I’m going to have a look,” she continues, leaving her chair. She is, apparently, the conscientious, Good Samaritan sort of smuggler. Then, literally about four seconds later we see her suited form drifting through space towards the launch. Good grief, it’s like they edited this movie with a dull bayonet.
“What’s the radiation level?” Akton asks from the bridge. Man, this advanced space jargon is dizzying. Stella replies that all appears well. “I’m going inside,” she reports, and instantly she is walking through a passageway. Well, that’s certainly cheaper than building a model airlock and pulling a doll through it on a string. However, this at least gives us a good chance to cock an eyebrow at her silly transparent ‘spacesuit.’ (Don’t get too excited, she’s wearing something under it.) Meanwhile, her air helmet appears to have been fashioned from a somewhat fancy water jug.
“There’s someone here!” she reports, spying a figure on the floor. “He looks like he’s hurt pretty bad,” she continues. I’m no space doctor, but from my examination, I’d say his medical condition is what physicians refer to as ‘groggy.’ I should know, because I’m sort of feeling the same way right now. Stella says she’s going to bring him back to the ship.
Cut to the guy on a space slab (it’s self illuminated). He’s just lying there, occasionally gasping. “He’s dehydrated,” Akton explains, “suffering from exhaustion.” Stella finds this mysterious, as there was plenty of food and water untouched on the launch. “He’s also in shock,” Akton continues. “He keeps talking about monsters, red monsters!”* Really? When was this? And why are you telling Stella? She’s standing right there, too. Didn’t she hear this, even if we didn’t?[*I think he means the red, matted-on disco lights seen earlier. Man, you had to have real balls in 1978 to be calling some cheesy red lighting effects “monsters.”]
Then the guy mumbles inaudibly. “He wants us to contact someone, urgently,” Akton translates. “The Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe!” What?! How the hell does Akton know that? Is he supposed to be psychic? I mean that seriously, I have no idea what’s supposed to be happening here. Akton points to something on the guy’s sleeve. “It’s the emblem of the chief officers of the Imperial Navy!” His conclusion, delivered with a big grin? “I’d say red hot potatoes for small-time smugglers on the run like us!” They’re a jocular lot, those devil-may-care space smugglers.
They are interrupted by another video call from Robot L, however. “Your leap through hyper-space didn’t fool us,” he explains. “Your friction trail was easy to follow.” Yes, that sounds highly scientifical. Anyhoo, he and Thor have their ship “completely surrounded” (although I’m not sure how you ‘completely surround’ a ship that can travel in three dimensions of space with only two other craft), and Our Heroes are forced to surrender.
Cut to a bigger model, presumably meant to represent a space station or battle cruiser or some crap. Inside, troops are walking around in black leather outfits that either are recycled uniforms from Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires or just copies of them. Here, standing on a raised dais and gazing out of a giant space window (where go they get their ideas?) is the clearly villainous Count Zarth Arn. We can tell he’s villainous for several reasons, including:
1) He’s a Count.
2) ‘Zarth’ sounds like ‘Darth.’
3) Black clad underlings call him “my Lord.”
4) He’s wearing a red cape, which has a Dracula collar.
5) His own clothes are otherwise black.
6) He sports a wild, Younger Grandpa Munster hairdo.
7) He has a goatee.
8) He’s played by Joe Spinell.
Oh, and the music is ominous.
“Wait…I’m the bad guy? Are you sure?”
The stormtrooper guard informs him that a survivor of the missing imperial ship has been recovered, but that he has suffered severe brain damage. (From watching this movie, probably! Ha, what a card I am!) Zarth Arn turns and calls out “Come to me, golems!”
At this, a pair of sword-wielding (!) robots—I guess they’re robots—rise from a panel in the floor. These are stop-animated (!!), and look like something a particularly ambitious eleven year-old Harryhausen / Rankin-Bass Christmas special fan might whip up. “You must not fail me!” Zarth Arn informs them. I guess this is the sort of instruction that’s highly useful with robots, who otherwise might tend to half-ass stuff.
We next cut to an Imperial base. There, Stella and Akton are being sentenced by a giant, golden tentacled head in a circular globe. This fellow is pretty is clearly based on the head Martian from Invaders from Mars. Is this homage, or were they just hoping nobody would notice?
“The Great Machines of the Central Operating System of Imperial Justice,” the Head bloviates, “hereby sentence you, Akton of Nine Vega, to two hundred twenty years hard labor in the prison planet of Seacom the Third.” Stella isn’t so lucky, however. She gets life. This after the Head, as he declares, “examined all the evidence, studied all the video tapes (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)â€¦”
Cut to the forced labor facility on the penal colony Nocturn the Second. Stella, now clad in a high-collared black swimsuit from the Vampirella by Night Collection and accessorized with the obligatory thigh-high boots, is engaged in ‘hard labor.’ In this case, she and some comrades carry a giant ping-pong ball on a metal frame up a space staircase to a raised area (why it’s not just ground level is left to our imaginations).
Once in place, they dump the ball into a hole that shoots out steam, and then continue down another space staircase to get in line with other such teams for another giant ping-pong ball, and so on. Meanwhile, a guard bitches at them: “Where do you think you are?! We haven’t got all day!” Lest this all sounds dumb, they are, in fact, throwing “radium in the furnace.” Take that, Einstein.
At this point they get a five minute rest period. “I’ve been at this for twelve straight hours,” Stella complains, her hair and make-up perfect. “The radiation will burn my skin off!” Yeah, well, that swimsuit can’t be helping, then. “We’re not slaves!” she continues. Uhm, yeah, you probably are, technically. Anyhoo, she proposes rebellion to her two workmates, a somewhat older man and woman. The former warns her to beware “the burning of [the guards’] energy whips.” Not to mention the gum disease gingivitis.
“No, the Warden told me *this* was the standard prison uniform. That dick!”
“There must be a way to escape!” Stella replies. The other woman notes that “blow ups happens,” and wonders if they could “overfeed the furnace.” The man agrees, noting this would require concentrated energy. “A gun ray could be enough!” Stella gasps. Well, you can’t argue with a plan like that. So she attacks a guard (no time like the present, I guess, and planning, schmanning), who responds by beating her with a Nerf baton.
Stella survives this somehow, and grabs his gun, and the other prisoners attack the guards as well. Soon animated laser beams are flying around, accompanied by ‘pew-pew‘ sounds. The bolts also unleash large clouds of smoke when they hit people. Stella’s two workmates get kacked (thanks, Stella!), but the Man as he dies fires into the side of the furnace pylon (the one with the exposed port on top) and this causes it to explode. Yes, you can certainly see why they let the guards carry laser weapons in his chamber.
Then the entire place massively explodes, but by the several seconds this takes, Stella is outside (!!!) and apparently far away, running through some tall grass. I’m sure Munro loved that, given her attire. By the way, her entire prison ‘adventure’ lasted pretty much exactly two minutes. This movie is like the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy if they had to cut it down to 90 minutes but without completely losing any one scene.
You might be wondering how Stella plans to get off the planet, but luckily a spaceship lands before her via a very bad matte shot. She enters and tours the seemingly deserted ship. Eventually she finds the bridge, and walks in past the big huge control console chair without looking to see if it is occupied. It is! What a crafty foe this must be! Unseen from our vantage point, he levels a gun at Stella and tells her to drop the not very ergonomically designed laser rifle she appropriated. She turns around and *gasp* it’s Thor. Remember? That guy we saw over a televiewer for like ten seconds earlier? Moreover, Robot L enters now, too.
It looks like Stella has lost again, but no! In a twist of fate, Thor and Robot L have come to free her. Ha, how ironic! All those people, perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of them presumably (I mean, it’s an imperial penal colony on a remote planet, so it’s hard to imagine they’d bother for only a small number of prisoners and guards) died for nothing! Ho, ho, what a scalawag you are, Stella Star!
Luckily, the destruction of the colony matters not a whit, apparently, and so plans proceed. “Have you both gone mad?” Stella sneers when she hears the news. “I only have logic and emotions circuits,” Robot L replies in his (I think) drawl. “No room for craziness!” Gaak, I think he’s the Odious Comic Relief! Yikes! In my experience—and if I may be allowed to boast, it’s somewhat extensive—’funny’ robots are among the virulent strains of odious comic relief characters.
Anyway, Stella and the guys have been assigned to a “top secret imperial mission.” The next step? “We must now leave and set Akton free!” So saying we immediately cut to Akton rising via a hidden floor platform in some dark room, as a bearded guy reclining in a chair says, “There, he’s yours. My gift to you!” What the hell? This is like reading a book by scanning one key sentence per page. I’d be impressed that they’re not wasting time, but somehow that’s all the movie does.
Akton smiles at Stella and says, apropos of nothing, “Would I lie to you?” WTF? Or waitâ€¦I think like five minutes ago he offhandedly said something like “We’ll be alright” to Stella. Is his remark here meant to be a follow-up to that? Could they have possibly expected anyone to connect those two statements? Am I just going insane?
Back on Thor’s goofy-looking bridge, the centerpiece of which is a large, glowing, distressed soccer ball. “Look!” Robot L exclaims. He’s a good exclaimer for a robot. “There’s the Imperial Flagship!” We can tell this is meant to be impressive, because it’s a big model and it’s painted gold. Apparently they spent some time and cash on this artifact, because they pause to waste nearly an entire minute—time enough for Stella and the gang to have had five or six other pulse-pounding adventures among the stars—examining it from various angles as markedly uninspired mock Star Wars music by Goldsmith plays on the soundtrack.
Oh, and Thor has blue skin. I think I just realized that, because this is one of those movies where The FUTURE! is indicated with lots of weird colored lighting. (Like the old Star Trek show, actually.) This might be the first time we’ve seen him in normal light, or if we did briefly before, it didn’t register. Because he’s a space guy, meanwhile, his tunic is a red, long sleeve pullover with a big silver shoulder piece and the inevitable high collar attached.
Rather than build another set, they use a bad matte effect to represent the Emperor (poor Christopher Plummer!) being projected as a hologram onto the naturally insanely huge bridge. “He’s here!” Robot L exclaims. “There is his holographic image!” This explanation is presumably for the benefit of those who never saw Star Wars and that scene with Leia’s hologram beseeching Obi Wan Kenobi for help. Either that, or they worried we’d take a look at the largely transparent Emperor and deem him a Bert I. Gordon special effect.
“His Highness, the Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe!” Thor exclaims. The Emperor explains that he is here (sort of) on the advice of his “faithful Robot L.” (!!) Seriously, the guy is a galaxy-spanning Emperor, and one of his closest advisors is not only a comic relief robot, but a police patrol robot who chases after small potato smugglers? Uhm, OK.
According to Robot L, the Emperor explains in a soft-spoken fashion—maybe Plummer wasn’t paid enough to fill his lungs all the way—that “you are the only one who can save us Obi Wan.” Seriously, Stella Star and Akton, who so far haven’t exactly displayed any particular competence that we’ve seen, constitute the last remaining hope for a gigantic space Empire. (So apparently the big change from Star Wars—see, they’re completely different!—is that here the Emperor is a benign figure.)
Aside from speaking softly, Plummer also stammers over his lines a lot. Either he’ s REALLY trying to project a benign air here, or else he was majorly squiffed when he shot this scene. Moreover, he speaksâ€¦veryâ€¦slowlyâ€¦. Maybe the director just wanted to stretch out his screen time.
Anyhoo, in a textbook example of Informed Attribution, the Emperor explains why he needs their help. Stella “must be the best pilot in the galaxy (!), and you, Akton, the best navigator.” Really? I mean, they were both caught by Thor and Robot L, who the Emperor already has at his disposal. On the other hand, neither of them looks like Caroline Munro and walks around in space bikinis.
“Our galaxy is split into two warring factions,” the Emperor explains, conveying information that certainly everyone in the room must already know. There’s the Emperor’s domain, and “the one ruled by the evil Count Zarth Arn from the League of the Dark Worlds.” Seriously, they named themselves that? They need a better PR department.
Anyway, not to surprise the hell out of you, but contrary to any space opera movie in cinema history, much less any particular one that came out any time just before this one, they now face a super-weapon. “A new, limitless weapon,” the Emperor declaims. “A weapon so vast, so huge, that it would take a whole planet to conceal it.” Apparently that means the device is actually hidden inside a planet. I guess.
The ship seen in the beginning of the film, the one destroyed by the disco lights, was seeking to locate this planet. They know the ship was close to discovering it, “when it was suddenly attacked by a horde of unknown monsters.” Unknown monsters! Those are the worst kind! And again, by monsters, they mean ‘red dots.’ Anyway, the ship had been considered completely destroyed, until Stella and Akton discovered the surviving launch.
Anyway, it was earlier established that following the hyper-jump when fleeing Thor and Robot L, Stella’s ship had landed right on the border of the “Haunted Stars.” (Oh, brother.) Now, the Emperor tasks Stella with finding the missing ship, locating Zarth Arn’s Death Star Demise Planet, and destroying the latter. He’d probably also like her to pick up his dry cleaning, and help find financing for his (literally) universal healthcare scheme that doesn’t rely on raising taxes on the middle-class planets.
The Emperor begins to turn away—yes, his hologram begins to turn away—but then he pauses and turns back around. Yes, his hologram pauses and turns back around. Hammiestâ€¦hologramâ€¦ever. “There’s something else,” the Emperor confides, as the somber piano score goes into full Schmaltz Mode. “When you complete the mission (first, find missing ship amongst the dreaded Haunted Stars, second, find Demise Planet, third, destroy Demise Planetâ€¦you know, that mission), search for the commander of that missing ship. He was my only son!“ Oh, the Humanity! Really tugs at the ol’ space heartstrings, eh? Then the hologram disappears, although at least it doesn’t turn away a second time before doing so.
We cut to Akton holding his hand out, palm up, as a animated squiggle—seriously, an animated squiggle—plays over it. What this is supposed to represent, I have no idea. “The first possibility,” Akton muses, “in the Ariga (sp?) System, also known as The World’s Asleep.” (It must have been watching this movie! Rim shot!) And no, I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. “This system is still within our galaxy,” he explains, “and we should have found it by now.” What does that even mean? By ‘it,’ does he mean the Demise Planet? The Launch? A nice deli?
Also on their list is the White Sun of Oson, or some crap. Look, how am I supposed to decipher these nonsense words, and it would make any difference if I did? My nonsense words are as good as theirs. “So only the third possibility remains. The Heart of the Haunted Stars, an unknown planet named Aranus.” Soâ€¦the planet’s ‘unknown,’ but it’s named? My head hurts.
This is good enough for Robot L, anyway. “Well,” he drawls, “shall we begin our search?” However, Stella notes a hitch. “The distance we must travel is enormous!” What, in space?! What are the odds?
Luckily, she has a solution. “By using hyper-space,” she explains to the others, all of whom we have already seen employing hyper-space, “what would normally take two months to reach, we should do in two hours!” She beams as she says this, like it’s some big trick she’s just discovered. Let me try. “The distance to the store is enormous! By using my ‘car,’ what would normally take me an hour to reach on foot, I can do in five minutes!” Wow, I do feel smart!
And so they go, as we gape in awe at the sorts of solarization effects seldom seen outside a really, really cheap sci-fi movie. The effect is so awesome in fact, that they allow us to enjoy the spectacle at some length. But our raw, slackjawed amazement is seasoned with hilarity, as well. “Every time I go to hyper-space,” Robot L confides, “I feel nervous!” Ah, the robot inexplicably programmed for nervousness. Is there anything funnier? Oh, my sides.
So after about thirty seconds of this (so much for the ‘two hours’ Stella mentioned just a minute agoâ€¦a space minute!), they reenter normal space. Presumably, they are now orbiting the unknown world of Aranus. The plan is for Stella and Robot L to go down to the surface on a shuttle.* Thor and Akton will wait up in some hidey-hole or other, where “we’ll be ready in case of another surprise attack by the Count.” You know, I’ve completely given up trying to follow any of this.
[*Why does Stella share her adventure with Robot L rather than Akton? Well, the guy(s) playing L is / are anonymous dudes in a (sort of) ‘robot’ suit. It’s a lot cheaper to divide the (sort of) name cast up so that you don’t have to use them as much.]
Stella inquires, “Is there air out there?” What, in space? Maybe she means Aranus. Anyway, the answer is “yeah.” The shuttle is basically a wee little Plexiglas box with a fakey-looking control panel and two chairs in it.
Meanwhile, Robot L continues to inspire intense guffaws. For instance, when they are skimming some lake or something, he asks, “Don’t you think we’re a little low? I’m not programmed to walk on water!” Then, just when you’re gasping for air from that one, he continues, “Oh, me! Water makes me so nervous!” He’s not the only passengers on the Wit Train, however. “Everything makes you nervous!” Stella replies. Zing!
Suddenly, Stella points at something. “It’s the launch!” she says. I’d like to establish that at no point had they mentioned they were looking for another launch. But hey, what business is it of ours? Having found what they traveled the galaxy to find, Stella implements the next part of their plan. “Let’s land,” she suggests. Land? What, by the launch? Why, that’s brilliant!
Meanwhile, I have no idea how they make it look like the shuttle is flying over the surface and coming to land. Unless were just lifting it with an offscreen crane. That wouldn’t fool anybody, though, so it must be something else. “My seatbelt’s stuck!” Robot L comically exclaims. Ho, please, no more, I can’t stand it.
Really, for the love of Pete, no more.
The launch is conveniently enough mostly buried under some beach sand, meaning they—coincidentally, I’m sure—didn’t have to construct a full-sized prop of one. Meanwhile, Robot L observes that “the nuclear exhaust ports have been gutted by fire!” Yes, because if there’s one thing nuclear exhaust ports would be vulnerable to, it would be heat.
Then they see a broken rod of some sort in the sand. Stella grabs it for a closer look. “It seems to be a planetary artifact!” she declares. Man, where’d she pick up all that dense archaeological jargon? Yet even more than that, “It appears to be some sort of laser spear.” What the hell is a ‘laser spear’? Seriously, a spear that shoots lasers? Why would you design such a thing? If you have something that shoots lasers, why would you require a spear? Good grief.
In any case, this all leads Robot L to one conclusion: “This planet is inhabited,” he says nervously. Man, those logic circuits of his are dynamite. “We must be very careful,” he adds. “We are in the evil Count’s domain!” Stella isn’t worried, though. “Probably,” she says of the laser spear-carrying locals, “they’ve set up a fully independent kind of civilization.”
Suddenly some figures appear down the beach on horseback. The threesome consists of hot women with perfectly done hair, makeup and little fetching outfits. They can clearly be but one thing: Space Amazons. And here we go.
At this point it’s all too horribly clear. In the past, I’ve declared that the most terrifying thing about bad Fantasy Quest Adventure movies (Ator the Fighting Eagle, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, Barbarian Queen, Hawk the Slayer, etc.) is the inevitable Miscellaneous Adventure section of the film. Basically some goal is established early on, generally killing some Dark Lord, the completion of which will provide the climax of the film.
Between the beginning and the end of the movie, however, they have a good long stretch of time to waste. Hence the Miscellaneous Adventure period. During this the heroes basically just wander around, engaging in a series of lame adventures whose relevance to the plot is generally pretty minimal.
The worst aspect is that there’s never a clear juncture at which you can expect the actual plot to resume. Hence you often get to the point where as each ‘adventure’ ends, you shout in increasing frustration, “All right, all ready! Get on with it!” At this point, they generally begin yet another such episode (with another half dozen to come) and you start gouging your eyes from your head with a melon baller.
Obviously that’s the model they’re going to follow here. The whole “Haunted Stars” thing was a clue. When you think about it, it’s a pretty moronic idea. Stars are, you know, kind of spread out. So an area designated as ‘haunted’ stars is kind of counterintuitive. However, nearly every bad fantasy adventure film offers scenes in some Haunted Forest, or Haunted Woods, or Haunted Caves. You’d have to think the screenwriters here just took some old bad fantasy movie script and crossed out words like “woods” and wrote in “stars” instead.
And the inevitable scene where the adventurers encounter hot, fiercely competent warrior Amazons? (The hot part is generally credible; not so much the competent thing.) Well, where the script said ‘Amazons,’ they just wrote in ‘Space’ above it, probably with a little caret to indicate where the added word goes. Wah-lah!
Anyway, sure enough we cut to the obvious (Space) Amazon Queen watching the action on a telescreen. Per Amazon Queen union rules, she’s hot, thin, clearly in her ’20s, has wonderfully clean hair and perfect make-up, a nice complexion, and is wearing a metal-adorned leather bikini. You might think they’d have abandoned threads like that considering that her tribe apparently lives in a futuristic metal complex of some sort. I guess she’s just a traditionalist. Gazing at the viewer, she whispers, “Take my revenge! Kill them!” I’m not sure who she’s talking to, or what she’s talking about, butâ€¦OK.
Soon Stella and Robot L are being escorted into the (Space) Amazon complex by some hot (Space) Amazons. Suddenly another (Space) Amazon runs in with a laser pistol and shouts “Die, Robot!” while shooting Robot L. In slo-mo, he lets loose with an agonized “Oooooh!“—which sounds exactly like something a robot would say—as sparks fly from him.
At this Stella starts taking down half a dozen (Space) Amazons with the sort of moves and karate chops that generally auger a credit reading “FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY BY TWO TEN YEAR-OLDS WHO JUST ATE AN ENTIRE BOX OF FROSTED FLAKES AND WATCHED A FIVE HOUR HONG KONG PHOOEY MARATHON.” After some requisite ass-kicking, however, she’s surrounded by *cough* laser spear carriers and forced to surrender. After they leave, though, we see Robot L’s hand twitching. Oh, and they left a laser pistol right by his hand. Well, that’s lucky.
They take Stella before (Space) Amazon Queen Corelia. She—rightfully—accuses Stella of being a spy, but sneers “Nothing is going to stop the Count anymore! Even if you had passed by this world, you’d never be able to discover the Count’s planet.” What? Seriously, I can’t follow half of what anybody says in this damn movie. However, per tradition the (Space) Queen decides to give up some secret intelligence. “Two packs of murdering guardians* are there to watch and protect it from intruders.” Wow, two whole packs, huh? Sounds pretty impressive.[*Murdering guardians? But that’s the worst kind!]
The (Space) Queen orders Stella “put into the Mind Probe,” a fate so dire that even our doughty heroine freaks out a bit. However, Robot L now comes to the rescue, somehow coming in from a vantage behind the (Space) Queen and holding her at gunpoint. At this, the other (Space) Amazons throw down their weapons and pout. Being an experienced Space Heroine, though, Stella doesn’t bother picking up one of the discarded weapons.
Meanwhile, Robot L keeps his pistol pointed at the (Space) Queen’s head. “Give me any trouble and I’ll clear out your sinuses real good, lady!” he warns her. However, once they get to a door they leave the (Space) Queen behind, becauseâ€¦uh, I mean, they just went through a door. And closed it behind them. So, what could happen? “Stop them!” the (Space) Queen commands. Oh, that.
Robot L and Stella run down some halls. They probably use these same halls in other sets, so here they are suffused with a red light. Robot L disintegrates some (Space) Amazons with his pistol—so why didn’t it disintegrate him earlier?—and then uses the rest of its charge to blow themselves an exit to the outside. Gee, now they don’t have a weapon. I guess Stella should have picked one up after all.
However, the (Space) Queen has one last ace up her nonexistent sleeve. Well, actually, she also has a whole tribe of (Space) Amazons at her command, but we never really see them again. Instead, Corelia stands before the televiewer again, which this time shows a really, really bad stop-animated metal giant clearly, if entirely ineptly, based on Ray Harryhausen’s Talos from Jason and the Argonauts.
Of course, Talos was bronze (and well-animated and sculpted), but this is a (Space) Amazon Giantess. So it may be poorly constructed and animated in the extreme, but it does sport metal boobies. In any case, remember before when I said the stop-animated ‘golems’ looked like something “a particularly ambitious eleven year-old Harryhausen / Rankin-Bass Christmas special fan might whip up”? Well, this looks like it was made by their far less talented six year-old sibling.
“Guardian!” Corelia commands. (Is it a ‘murderous’ Guardian?) “Take my revenge!” Again with the revenge. What does she need revenge for, anyway? Then Corelia shoots blue lasers from her eyes—I swear, THAT REALLY HAPPENS—and this somehow activates the Guardian, even though she’s actually just looking at it over a telescreen.
So the Guardian, which is so clearly but ineptly modeled on the Talos sequence that you can only wonder what the hell they were thinking, flexes a bit and begins clomping after Our Heroes. Of course, Stella stops and points at it, because a giant monster in close proximity to you and moving towards you on a deserted beach is just the sort of thing that might slip your companion’s attention.
Wow, I’m not kidding. I have actually seen home movies by junior high schoolers that featured better stop-motion animation than this scene here. And the Guardian looks like crap. The entire thing is downright pitiful. It’s amazing you could get something like this into theaters during the same period that movies like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were coming out.
Anyhoo, Our Heroes nearly escape through a passage in the rocks, but the Guardian separates them by tossing her giant sword—hey, Talos had one of those!—into their path. Things look grim for Stella, but Robot L pushes the sword out of his way (he’d have to be pretty strong, even for a robot, to move that massive thing), and then Thor’s ship appears and fires lasers at the Guardian. Since the Guardian brought a sword to a laser beam fight, it’s quickly defeated. Maybe I’m making this all sound incredibly anti-climaticâ€¦in which case, I’m doing my job here quite well indeed. Anyway, that’s some awesome design work on your giant robot there, (Space) Queen Corelia.
Now that we’re done ripping off Jason and the Argonauts, it’s time to return to ripping off Star Wars. As such, we now get Starcrash‘s drearily chintzy version of the scene were Luke and Han sit in guns ports in the Millennium Falcon, fighting off waves of Imperial Tie Fighters. In this case, the enemy is the (Space) Amazons in “air fighters,” a completely logical name given that the craft are designed to fly and fight in space.
Of course, Star Wars had enough money and special effects expertise that you saw Luke and Han and the Tie Fighters in the same shots sometimes. Not so much here, where the characters just sit on a set and yell stuff while they cut in shots of exploding fighters and poorly animated laser blasts zipping to and fro.
Still, the movie does offer its own unique dash to the scene. First, the fighters generally travel in incredibly close line formation, meaning that during this stage only the lead fighter can shoot. Second, once they break off (which we never see, probably because they couldn’t pull off the effects), they not only constantly change the number of Air Fighters we see, but how many the characters identify as remaining.
At first there appear to be two pods of five fighters. Three fighters get blown up. “There’s one more!” Stella says at this point. Then the next shot shows three fighters lined up together. Here Stella says, “We’re down from six to five!” Then they blow up a couple, then Akton yells, “Three ships approaching!” Immediately after that, they blow up one more craft, whereupon Thor says, “All right, we’ve won. We did it.” And the scene’s over.
The dialogue is pretty great, too. “Power’s up to full Battle Speed!” Thor helpfully explains at one point. “Hard lateral right!” Stella responds. “Here they come! Specter 3!” Akton calls out. (Is that the name of Thor’s craft? If so, then they never say so. I’m just guessing.) Akton also responds to successfully blowing up a fighter with a jaunty and quite literal “Ha ha!” Unlike Nelson from The Simpsons, however, he puts the emphasize on the second ‘ha.’
Anyway, there goes another couple of minutes of the film. Considering how much stuff keeps happening, it’s kind of an achievement just how boring the film is. And yet we’ve still got nearly an hour left.
Anyway, it’s time to get moving. So Akton suddenly declares “I’ve found the position of the third launch and the mother ship.” Well, that was easy. First they’ll hit up the mother ship, Akton explains, as it’s closest. Plus, if they are successful there, they don’t really need to seek out the third launch. Nobody mentions this, though.
He calls their next destination up on the televiewer. “It’s here, on the third planet of the next solar system,” he explains. “I’ve never been there,” Stella replies. Really? It’s not like there are a lot of planets in a galaxy, so I’m sure she’s been to most of them. She then asks about conditions on the planet. Snowy, Akton basically says, but warns, “You must be extremely careful when the sun sets. The temperature drops thousands of degrees.” Yes, he says “thousands” of degrees. He doesn’t say whether that’s thousands of degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius, though.
Cut to planet side. It’s indeed snowy, almost like they were just shooting in some mountains. And from the way Stella moves around, there’s little sign of the “low gravity” Akton told her about. In deference to the cold, though, Stella is wearing a very tight bodysuit in lieu of one of her Space Bikinis, although she forgoes wearing a hat. That would mess up her hair.
Again she’s paired with Robot L. They find the crash site for the Mother Ship. This, despite supposed signs of “a terrible crash,” is surrounded by utterly intact bodies lying slightly buried under the snow. (Why did all these guys make it out of the ship and then die? Got me.) And although all the corpses are obviously in pretty good shape, Stella and Robot L act like they’ve been torn to pieces. When Stella asks if the Emperor’s son is amongst the bodies, for instance, Robot L replies, “I don’t know if his own mother would recognize him!” Uhm, OK.
Stella is apparently getting as bored as we are, since she indicates she now thinks their mission is hopeless. “There’s still the third launch,” Robot L points out. “It’s probably lost out in the stars,” Stella responds. Well, yeah, except that like two minutes ago Akton said he knew where it was. In any case, it’s now time to return to the ship. Following bad movie logic, this is of course for absolutely no apparent reason quite some distance away (and they didn’t take the shuttle, they traveled on foot [!]), and nightfall is approaching.
On the ship, Akton is massively entertaining himself by creating more inept light squiggles and elementary shapes over his hand. Even the ship’s Computer (the big, brain-like globe thing referred to earlier), and in a woman’s voice disdainfully inquires, “What’s the matter with you, Akton?” He responds that he was “refining my powers.” He pets the brain and converses with it, but then is attacked *gasp* by Thor, who beats him with a pipe. That might sound lame, but I’m sure it’s a Space Pipe.
Needless to say, Thor is a traitor, a fact confirmed when he viewscreens a call to *gasp* Count Zarth Arn. He reports that Akton is dead, and that the planet will take care of Stella and “that tin policeman,” as Zarth Arn calls Robot L. “I await your immediate arrival,” the Count concludes. Really? Immediate? So there won’t be any travel involved at all? I don’t think ‘immediate’ means what you think it does. ‘Imminent,’ perhaps.
So with mere minutes until nightfall, Stella and Robot L approach the ship. (“Just a few more radiums,” Robot L explains.) However, the dastardly Thor, who somehow hears their cries from outside, uses the PA system to announce his dastardliness. “I’m leaving to join Count Zarth Arn as the Prince of the League of Darkness.” What now? Will the Count be the Prince of the League of Darkness, or is that Thor’s reward. Clarify, man, clarify!
“Thor, a traitor,” Robot L moans. “I cannot believe it. I cannot trust my own logic circuits anymore!” I hear ya, brother. However, he informs Stella that he might be able to save her from the impending cold. He has her lie down in the snow—eeeew, I hope this isn’t going where I think it is. Whew, it’s not. Instead, he lies beside her and grasps her hand in his, “so I can monitor your temperature.” Moreover, “I can use my energy to keep your heart working. You’ll be in a state of suspended animation.” Uhm, OK.
Stella takes a moment to get all gooey and tell him how she feels they’ve really bonded with him and wants to be BFFs. Robot L feels likewise. “I too respect you, Stella,” he gushes. “You are the nicest human I’ve known!” That treacle attended to, he suggests “now might be a good time to use your ancient system of prayer, and hope it works for robots as well!” And then the cold hits, as indicated by their turning white as snow piles up on them.
Meanwhile, there’s a hitch to Thor’s plans as well. For some reason, the engines won’t start. He mucks about with circuit boards and such, but can’t locate the problem. Unsurprisingly for a Dark Lord, Zarth Arn proves impatient. “You were expected here hours ago!” he kvetches. However, the transmission is interrupted when *gasp* Akton pops back up, very much alive.
“This time I’ll make sure you’re dead!” Thor sneers, and a pretty inept fight scene ensues. One reason the actors look so awkward, I think, if that between the highly waxed floor and their homemade boots, they can’t get much traction. Anyhoo, things look pretty even until Akton at one point puts on a Serious Face, and some light shoots from his eyes, and he just starts kicking Thor’s ass.
However, Thor falls back near his laser pistol and snatches it up. Then we get something so lame it actually made me irritated, as Akton now magically proves invulnerable to laser fire. I mean, c’mon, really? Man, that’s some of the laziest scripting I’ve ever seen. Imagine reading a detective novel where the hero gets shot, but it’s OK, because he turns out to be bulletproof.
Thor isn’t buying it anymore than I am. “No one can survive these deadly rays!” he complains. He’s aggrieved, and I can’t blame him, because this is just cheating. Akton then holds up his hands and deflects the beams back onto Thor. Exit the traitor.
Akton gets on the PA system and calls outside. This (I guess) rouses Robot L, as suddenly a ‘robotic’ fist smashes up through the snow. A moment later he and Akton are carrying in a frost-covered Stella. “Her pulse rate is sixteen,” Robot L reports. They stick her into thisâ€¦I don’t know what the hell it’s supposed to be, some kind of transparent plastic tent / chamber with a built-in bed that pulls from the wall on the outside and can then be pushed back inside the chamber.
Then Akton shoots buzzing cartoon animation waves out of his hands—sure, why not?—and Stella defrosts via Ye Olde Time Lapse Photography. Of course, she emerges with her hair and make-up looking perfect. It’s hard to argue one thing, though. Damn, Caroline Munro was a gorgeous woman.
”It’s no big deal. I can nuke a burrito in half this time.”
Soon Stella is wearing another Space Bikini, so all is well. Robot L, however, is mystified as Thor was over the ship’s non-functioning engines. After allowing the others to worry a bit over how they’re completely screwed, Akton smugly announces that they can, in fact, take off immediately. “The ship isn’t operating,” he says, pulling something very small from his pocket, “because of this reactor.” He plugs it back in and Bob’s your uncle. (On the other hand, it means Thor spent hours looking for the problem, but didn’t notice that the ship’s power source was missing.)
In any case, I guess they decided that Akton’s newly revealed superpowers weren’t fantastical or overwhelming enough yet. They reveal this when Stella assumes “you [Akton] knew about Thor!” Since he’d removed the reactor in advance of being attacked, she means. Well, that doesn’t really follow. Akton is a professional smuggler, and Thor was a longtime adversary. Certainly there was reason to take precautions just on general principle?
Silly me, though, because Akton admits this was in fact the case. Stella then makes an even less warranted and even more improbable leap, gasping, “So you see into the future!” What now? How the hell did you come to that conclusion?! Maybe Thor just slipped up when you were out on the planet. Maybe Akton just thought Thor was acting suspiciously. Maybeâ€¦. Ah, but it turns out Akton can see into the future. Folks, I now officially give up. Congratulations, movie. You’ve beating my brain into submission. Do whatever you want.
“All these years and you never told me,” Stella complains. “Think of all the trouble I might have avoided!” I know what she means.
Ken: “Hey, Akton, are the Cubs going to suck again this year?”
Ken: “Well, that frees up a lot of time this summer!”
Akton explains, however. “You would have tried to change the future,” he tells her, “which is against the law.” What lawâ€¦oh, ho! Ha! Good one, movie! You almost got my brain protesting again! In any case, that explains why his ‘seeing into the future’ powers can never be referenced again. If not, however, why they were ever referenced in the first place.
(Also, if Akton only removed the reactor because he saw into the future and knew Thor was a traitor, then didn’t he himself change the future by removing it? Or did he see further into the future and see himself removing the reactor because he’d earlier—in the future—seen that Thor was a traitor, so it was OK, because that’s how he saw the future and thus he wasn’t violatingâ€¦what the hell am I talking about?)
Ho hum, on to the next ‘adventure,’ I guess. And sheesh, the movie’s only half over. So off they go to the planet the third launch crashed upon. However, as they approach it they are attacked by the Super Weapon. Red dots and what looks like crimson lava lamp gook is superimposed over them. It begins to fry Robot L’s circuits, and Stella’s brain. “Ah, my head!” she screams. Lady, I’ve been feeling like that since the movie started! Thank you, ladies and germs, I’m here all week.
This goes on for over a minute, like imposing red stuff on the screen is some big special effect or something. Then it just stops. Robot L is down, but Akton and Stella are fine. “We just survived an attack of the most powerful weapon in the entire galaxy!” Akton announces. And here’s the thing: They don’t say why. It just didn’t work, I guess. I don’t know, ‘most powerful weapon in the entire galaxy’ doesn’t seem to mean as much as it used to.
I guess they manage to fix Robot L, as we next see him and Stella wandering around another (supposed) planet. Apparently it was in someone’s contract that Stella had to be dressed differently for each scene, because now she’s wearing her spacesuit again, only sans the helmet. And so they walk around, and walk around. They then seen some steam pits.
Robot L: “Oh, me!”
Stella: “Don’t say it. I know. Steam makes you nervous.”
Robot L: “No. Not really. Heh heh, why should I be nervous? There is nothing to be afraid of around here!”
Needless to say, right after this we see a guy with a mutant head, or something, peek from inside a crater for a look at them. Oh, irony.
They find the launch in another crater. Stella makes to descend the slope, but Robot L intercedes. “Time for a little robot chauvinism,” he quips. He goes down and enters the wreckage, whereupon (despite her clear line of site in every direction) Stella suddenly finds herself jumped byâ€¦cavemen. Yeah, pretty much. Yeesh.
Robot L reemerges from the ship with a couple of ray guns and zaps some dudes. However, they magically manage to swarm him without seeming to have taken the time to descend into the crater—I think they’re implying that they’re just leaping the roughly thirty feet down, which is ridiculous—and eventually smash him to bits with clubs. So much for the high tech approach.
(Notice how the review is moving faster now? I moaned just a bit ago about the film being only half over. Yet really, I learned years ago that at this juncture of a movie, the review generally started speeding way the heck up. That’s because the vast bulk of the exposition and character introductions takes place in the beginning of the film. As generally occurs, the scenes now involve a lot more just walking around and fights and other stuff that can be glossed over sans much detail.)
The cavemen tie Stella to a metal spar from the launch and carry her back to their cave. Then they hang her upside down by her feet. Uhm, OK. Then they begin to swarm her for no doubt nefarious purposes—some of them are suggested by the fact that she looks like Caroline Munro—when suddenly a mysterious figure appears up on a nearby ridge. It’s the mutant-looking guy we briefly say earlier. At this point it’s possible his ‘head’ is actually meant to be a mask, instead of just being a bad mask in real life meant to represent a weird head. If you can follow that.
So the guy starts (what else?) firing laser beams from his eyes, and mows down a bunch of cavemen before the others run off. Then he runs down and cuts Stella loose. As soon as he speaks, any Jabootian worth his salt will instantly identity the dulcet tones of Mr. David Hasselhoff. Plus, the movie’s nearly an hour over, so he had to pop up eventually.
They head off further into the caves (?), where Mystery Guy says they’ll be safe. Then *gasp* he removes his ‘head,’ which proves to be but a helmet. (Who knew?) “It’s an energy shield mask,” the Hoff explains. Now it’s about out of juice, though. Meanwhile, although the trademark mop o’ hair is there, the Hoff looks quite baby-faced, this being four years before he assumed his star-making role as Michael Knight. He also sports some slight buck teeth in front, which he must have attended to before Knight Rider came on the air.
The fellow introduces himself as Simon, a member of the destroyed expedition. Stella explains that they’ve been searching all over the “damned Haunted Stars” for him. Although he fears the cavemen will have reassembled by now, we next see them trying to sneak from the caves. (Maybe they should have left them when the cavemen scattered in the first place. Dumbasses.)
However, they are indeed ambushed, and a fierce fight ensues. This goes on a while because, as noted previously, now that all the plot stuff is attended to they have to just eat up running time until they’re ready to kick off the climax. And while the melee isn’t great, at least it looks minimally choreographed, and Hasselhoff is able to throw a punch about as well as he did on Knight Rider. In otherwise, he’s serviceable at it.
Still, they again eventually find themselves overwhelmed by sheer numbers. This may partly be because Stella didn’t think to pick up one of the cavemen’s weapons until after she saw Simon do so. “A tool!” we can almost see her thinking. “Of course!” Then, for the second time in the last couple of minutes, salvation comes in the form of a silhouetted Mystery Figure up on a ridge. This one appears dramatically posed in front of a klieg light. Then he raises his hand, and, I SWEAR, fires up a light saber. Wow. How did that not get them sued?
Anyway, not to surprise the hell out of you or anything, but the Mystery Figure is Akton. He leaps about and mows down cavemen with his light saber until the others run away. Then we get a series of close-ups of our three leads, leading us to wonder a) Who has the more impressive mass of hair, Simon or Akton, and b) who’s prettier, David Hasselhoff or Caroline Munro. Go ahead and laugh, but the latter battle is surprisingly close. And it’s aided by the fact that Hasselhoff seems to be wearing more make-up. In any case, I think Hasselhoff’s somewhat girlish features didn’t work against him in his career only because he was otherwise such a big slab o’ beef.
Simon and Stella are in a hurry to get out there and try to find the Count’s Demise Planet. However, Akton has another smug surprise: They’re standing on it right now. Well, that’s a stroke of luck. “Remember what the Amazon queen said,” Akton elucidates. “‘A planet occupied by two packs of evil defenders.’ Well, the first we met while in space, the red monsters. [Dude, stop calling them ‘monsters’ already.] And the second, right here, the troglodytes. There’s no question about it.” Well, sure, if you put it that waâ€¦HUH?!
And, oh, yeah, the Super Weapon was fired on you when you approached this planet. That’s kind of a clue, too. Maybe even a stronger one than, “We met two bad things, so this clearly is the place.”
“That’s incredible!” Simon replies, finding his logic impeccable. “It was here and I didn’t even realize it!” Yeah, kind of a coincidence, really. Then they set forth to complete their primary mission. Luckily, the Super Weapon facility is not just somewhere on the very planet they’re currently on, but it proves to be just a bit further down in the cave. Wow, the odds against that being the case have to be at least ten to one. Some luck.
Anyhoo, when they get to the metal hallway that leads into the complex they find it unguarded. I guess once you get past the cavemen—which took all of three people, only one of who had an advanced weapon (and that was a fancy sword)—you’re in like Flynn. Akton is given some portentous dialogue to spout, apparent in the hopes of making this seem like an awesome event. Again, though, a guard or two on the door would have helped. Or, perhaps, a door blocking access to the hallway, because there isn’t one. It’s just completely open.
There is an elevator to “operation headquarters,” but again, it’s unsecured and self-service. So down, or up, they go. They end up in a room that at least is a fairly big set, although some of the elements might be via a matte painting. “Here’s the (still unmanned and unguarded) nerve center to the entire operation,” Akton announces. “This is unbelievable!” Stella replies. She apparently has a far lower bar of ‘unbelievable’ than I do. “Fantastic!” she continues. “Pre-programmed computers. [Yeah, wow, imagine.] They could run forever.” She sounds like a shill on an infomercial. ‘All that dirt came from my rug?! Amazing!’
“What are all these power modules for?” Simon asks. Yes, what would the most powerful weapon in the galaxy need power modules for? I could quote a lot more inane dialogue, but now we learn the secret of this ‘most powerful’ weapon. It sends out, basically, fear waves that make the recipients think they are being attacked, and they then destroy themselves in their panic. (Boy, the Death Star had nothing on that baby, eh?) “With this kind of weapon Count Zarth Arn can take over this entire galaxy” Simon breathlessly observes. Well, yeah, that’s kind of the point of the whole movie, isn’t it?
Having farted around for a minute or two, Simon and Stella want to destroy the machine. Really, a bomb or something might have been nice, then. However, by now Count Zarth Arn and some toadies and his two stop-motion ‘golems’ have made the scene. (Uhm, and they were where, exactly?) The Count’s cape, like that of Darth Vader, has been designed to billow menacingly when he strides around.
However, Joe Spinell, on the short side and rather stout, just doesn’t cut a very imposing figure poured into black leather. On the whole, he looks like a more sinister version of John Lovitz. Spinell was in fact a veteran heavy, but his specialty was playing street-level urban scumbags, not evil aristocrats. They really should have cast the part better.
(On the other hand, what difference would it have made, really? Like I should be taking food out of Mr. Spinell’s mouth.)
We not get an authentic plot twist, because what comes next is so utterly stupid that no one could have foreseen it. “You’ve survived every trap that I’ve laid for you,” he acknowledges. “Then I realized that your success would become my triumph!” After learning from his lieutenant that he has “half a quadrant” of time left (yes, that’s what they said), he explains his new master plan.
“HA HA HA HA! In less than an hour’s time, this planet will be nothing but ashes and cosmic dust, forever!” Ah, not just temporarily, then. “And then you will number among the dead!” he concludes. Yes, this will mean blowing his super-duper invincible weapon to smithereens, but it will at the same time dispose of them as well. Seem like a lot to give up, considering the weight everyone keeps putting on this device, but the Count is apparently known for thinking outside the box.
Even so, he will gain even more by sacrificing the most powerful weapon in the galaxy. For the Emperor will be here too when the planet explodes. (By the way, if Zarth Arn has the means to destroy an entire planet, is that more powerful than his fear ray thingee?) See, he’s been informed of the base’s location, and is personally approaching post haste.
But the real lure for the Emperor isn’t the weapon, it’s Simon. Or as Count Zarth Arn calls him, “Your highness.” Wow, that’s another giant twist, eh? Who could have predicted that Simon would prove to be the Emperor’s missing son? (OK, pretty much everybody.)
Stella looks pissed to learn all this in such a fashion. “Forgive me, Stella,” Simon explains. “But in the beginning I didn’t know whose side you were on. And afterwards, I didn’t know how to tell you.” Uhm, wait. Didn’t you guys meet like half an hour ago?! Am I missing something here? Even if they were in the cave overnight—and I don’t believe they indicated this—that’s still not enough time to set up Stella feeling all betrayed by Simon’s lack of trust or anything.
Also, I don’t know, wouldn’t people know what Simon looked like? He is the son of a galactic Emperor. Wouldn’t he be on TV occasionally or something? And also, if Simon’s presence is enough to draw the Emperor, why this elaborate plot that involves blowing up his own Demise Planet? Why not move Simon somewhere else, and set the trap there? I mean, again, the Count seems pretty nonchalant about destroying his number one advantage in the war.
Anyway, the Count makes to leave. “You two,” he says to the Golems, “are to prevent them from leaving this room at all costs! You will stay with them until the end. Kill them if you have to. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!” Then he and his men depart.
Luckily, Akton still has his light saber, because the Count never bothered to have them frisked. In fact, for all he knew they had a bomb, one that could trigger the planet-destroying explosion, all before the Emperor got there. They don’t, but yeesh, you’d think he’d check.
There follows a really bad fight scene, marked by the film’s trademark haphazard choreography and exaggerated by having at the same time blend in the bad stop-motion animation. Akton dances around with the Golems, before finally kacking one with his light saber. This takes a while, but the other Golem politely stands there until he’s done before slicing into his arm. All seems lost, when the moment we’ve all been hoping for comes to pass: Hasselhoff Light Saber Action! I could try vainly to sum this up in words, but luckily, I don’t have to try.
As we see above, the dying Akton finishes off the second Golem by pushing it into some machinery. Well, hell, you guys didn’t even need the light saber if that technique worked.
But that’s right, Akton is dying. With Hasselhoff now on scene to provide Stella with a romantic foil, he can assume his proper role of Tragic Sacrifice. And clearly Akton was meant to the film’s Obi Wan Kenobi analogue: He has mysterious powers, a mysterious past, he had a light saber, etc. And the last job of the Obi Wan is to die tragically in an attempt to give the film an emotional kick. Sometimes that works (Star Wars), and, well, sometimes it doesn’t.
Still, Munro isn’t going to let her big acting moment pass, so she gins up her most profound Sad Face that doesn’t actually require any facial scrunching. (They can’t let her cry, either, because it would ruin her mascara.) “You’re the only human-like friend I’ve ever had!” she tells him. Yes, really, that’s the line. Anyway, this scene allows Ms. Munro to pull out all the stops as an actress, and.â€¦ Hey, did I mention how gorgeous she is? Because she really, really is.
“Don’t worry, I’ll live forever,” Akton assures her. And maybe he’ll even end up more powerful than you can possibly imagine. Anyway, after they’ve dragged this out as much as they can, Akton finally passes. At this he turns into a really epically bad light effect, and fades out of existence. Hey, didn’t some other character’s body disappear when they got killed in a movie once? Hmm, who was that?
Yet time, especially running time, waits for no man. And so about two seconds after Akton passes on Stella and Simon shift their attention to the arrival of the Emperor. Apparently Plummer had to earn his money the hard way; by actually appearing in the film in the flesh. “Father,” Simon calls, and the Emperor closes his eyes in relief at finding him alive and well. Or so they’d have us believe. I think it was actually Plummer thinking, ‘I can’t believe I have to pretend that this lummox is my son!‘
Father and son clasps hands, but then it’s back to business. “Forty-eight seconds until the explosion,” Stella reports. Good thing she was keeping track. “It’s true, father!” Simon confirms. “The Count has mined the planet with nuclear charges.” Actually, he didn’t say anything like that, but I suppose it’s a reasonable guess. “We’re all about to die!” Simon continues. What a stalwart chap he is.
However, the Emperor maintains his calm, soft-spoken ways. “You know something, my boy?” he replies. “I wouldn’t be Emperor if I didn’t have some powers at my command.” So he yells upward, and I guess the power he mentioned is to scream loudly enough to be heard from orbit? “Imperial Battle Ship!” he cries. “Haltâ€¦the flow of time!” Man, this movie’s been doing this for nine hours now. (Wait, what? An hour and eight minutes?! Are you sure? Really? Well, how about that?)
That’s right, they reach into their big honkin’ barrel of dues ex machinas and pull out yet another one. Good grief. So his orbiting flagship shoots out a big green beam, which envelopes the planet. “In the space of three minutes,” he explains, “every molecule on this planet will be immobilized.” Uhm, except for them, I guess, since they’re still able to move. “But after the third minute,” he cautions, “the green ray loses its power, and time will flow once again, and everything will explode. Yeah, maybe you shouldn’t just stand around yakking then.
“Three minutes are enough, father,” Simon concurs, as he too continues standing there. Then they all head back into the elevator, and somehow get back up to the ship in time. By the way, when they turn to leave, there’s a weird blocking moment where Plummer reaches out his hands to grasp Munro and Hasselhoff’s to pull them along. Maybe this was improvisation on Plummer’s part, but the other two—neither of who had Plummer’s extensive stage experience, with its emphasis on spontaneity—appear unprepared for the move and just leave him hanging. Left grasping air, Plummer just turns and completes his exit.
So they get back on the ship (mysteriously), and then the planet explodes. Ka-powie! This looks exactly as awesome as you’d think it would. Then it’s in the Throne Room—no, no, the literal Throne Room—where the Emperor lays out their plans. Their biggest advantage now is (three guesses) the element of surprise, since the Count believes them dead and the Imperial forces rudderless and unable to mount a challenge. So the time to strike is now, when it will catch him off guard.
So now we get the film’s big, climatic attack scene. Because he’s evil, the Count’s space station is shaped like a skeletal hand, and when it’s attacked, the fingers draw in to make a protective fist. (!!) When we first got there, the Count was ranting in venerable villain fashion. When he shouted, however, “By sunset, I’ll be the new Emperor!”
Hearing that, I had to stop the DVD because I was laughing so hard. It took a good minute for me to pull myself together enough to resume. I mean “by sunset”? Dude, YOU LIVE IN SPACE! I mean, seriously, didn’t anybody think of that? These are the moments you live for, even when you’ve been actively seeking out the dumbest movies possible for the last thirty years.
By the way, the Count also boasts that he’ll be “the master of the whole universe!” Has there ever been a space villain who understood the difference between a galaxy and the universe? Because there’s not a lot of them, in my experience anyway.
There ensues a battle scene that rips off Star Wars as much possible, such as with stuff like many ‘laser strafing POV shots.” Predictably, though, given the production’s budgetary and tech limitations, this all ends up looking a lot more like the intentionally crappy battle scenes from Dino De Laurentiis’ Flash Gordon. I always thought it was funny that De Laurentiis spent a ton of dough to make these scene look as stiff and primitive as possible, and sure enough, Starcrash achieves the same thing for probably one-twentieth the money.
Although most of what we see is pretty de rigueur, there is one utterly novel absurdity that provides vast entertainment value. The Emperor’s forces shoot golden torpedoes that smash through the Count’s windows—yes, his space station, especially the bridge, sports lots of windows—and pop open to disgorge laser-firing Imperial soldiers. I should note that although these things smash through all these windows, there’s not a sign of explosive decompression or escaping atmosphere to be seen. In space. See what I’m getting at here? Again, I guess nobody thought about it.
Anyway, the entire battle lasts a good—well, not good—eight minutes of screentime. The Emperor’s fighters are launched from his flagship in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica (this sequence lasted so long, I not only employed my fast forward button, but went from 2x speed to 8x); which then attack the fortress, which fires back at the fighters. The Count sends out his fighter to attack the Emperor’s.
Inside the Count’s base, the Emperor’s torpedo guys engage in a raging (well, mildly irked) laser battle with the Count’s troops. Meanwhile, the Count oversees the gunfight by stomping around and yelling helpful instructions like “Kill! Kill! Over there!”
In the end, though, the assault fails. Stella again gets all fatalistic. Man, she’s a real quitter for an action heroine. The Emperor, however, has one desperate card yet to play: “Starcrash.” Wow, so that’s actually going to be a thing in this movie, rather than being a nonsense word like Thunderball.
The idea (despite a lot of explication, you kind of have to put the pieces together yourself*) is to get something really huge, take it into hyperspace, and reemerge into normal space aimed at the Count’s base, appearing so close to it that there’d be no time to mount an effective defense against it. This, actuallyâ€¦is not a bad idea, assuming you could actually be that precise with your hyperspace jump. Kudos.[*For instance, after Simon calls a starcrash “fourth-dimensional attack,” the Emperor describes the desired effect this way: “Yes! If we can re-enter space at the precise moment, the impact of surprise upon the Count will be so overwhelming, that he cannot halt us!” Notice, for instance, that he doesn’t actually use the term hyper-space, despite the film establishing its existence earlier. Nor does he explain exactly what “precise moment” he might be referring to.
I mean, if I wasn’t fairly conversant with sci-fi ideas, not to mention bad movie gobbledygook, I’d have no idea what they were saying. How about this, “If we can jump the Floating City into hyper-space, and reemerge close enough to the Count’s fortress and pointed in his direction, he won’t have time to launch effective countermeasures.” I mean, that’s not great, but I’m sure more people would understand what he was talking about.]
Simon, however, protests that they have no such weapon. In answer, The Emperor suggests using “the Floating City.” Simon reacts with shock. (I mean, not a lot; he’s played by David Hasselhoff, after all.) The Emperor agrees. “Yes, I know,” he concurs. “For though we destroy its hope, its future, I’m afraid we must sacrifice itâ€¦it’s our only way.” Since Stella and Simon are the stars of the picture, they are given this awesome task.
We cut back to the Count, who plans to use his super-weapon against both the Emperor’s flagship and his home world. (Wait, didn’t he himself destroy his super-weapon? Does he have another, one that they didn’t really establish? Were we just supposed to forget it got blown up? In a movie like this, there can never really be any answers.) “I want to wipe out the Emperor from the whole of the universe!” he commands. It’s true, you wipe him out from only 90% of the universe and he’ll grow right back.
Meanwhile, Simon and Stella are on their ship heading towards the Floating City. This, needless to say, is an artificial ‘city’ in space, so it’s not really floating or anything. As I said, the basic idea of taking something that big and ramming it into the Count’s fortress via hyper-space is pretty decent. Concept is one thing, however; execution, another.
When we see the Floating Cityâ€¦WOW. This is supposed to be the Big Reveal, of course, and it pretty much sinks the picture all by itself. For the first time I wished I could see this in a theater, because the prop for the City is so monumentally awful that it deserves to be seen that way. It’s not so much that the ‘city’ itself resembles something from a ’70s Doctor Who episode, and appears to have been made of whatever junk and household items were available. (“Take this old thermos and glue it there. It will look fine after we paint it.”)
No, it’s the utterly, insanely garish color scheme they gave it. For some reason—most likely because that’s all they had left—they apparently used canisters of various metallic finish spray paint, starting on the bottom and switching colors whenever they ran out of the current hue. The result is perhaps the single most garish prop in sci-fi movie history. Behold the glory that isâ€¦the Floating City.
Don’t worry, because Simon assures us the City has been evacuated in the short amount of time since they headed out for it. Man, they must have done a lot of disaster drills on that thing. Also, the “technicians” have “freed the atomic engines.” You know, just in case you were wondering. Then the pair divvy up their duties. Stella will pilot the City, since, you know, she’s the best pilot in the galaxy.
Simon protests against staying behind, but Stella says she’ll need him to come rescue her once she abandons the City. (We’ll see why later.) They have a Moment, but don’t kiss or anything. Indeed, the film is weirdly chaste, more so seemingly than had it been made in the 1930s.
Luckily, though, Stella won’t have to go alone. “Our best scientists have spent the last few hours reconstructing an old friend of yours,” Simon coyly says. Not to surprise the hell out of you, but here enters a shinier, macked out Robot L. “You can’t keep a good robot down,” he quips. Or this one, I guess. When Stella mentions his new appearance, Robot L preens. “They used the latest components,” he explains. “I feel like a new machine!”
Perhaps kenning that our patience for this crap is wearing thin, Simon urges them to get on with the mission. We get another long, panoramic tour of the Floating City as the two approach it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to show off this thing? Then Stella and L make their way down to the control room.
So they take off. Again, I’m not sure any norms in the audience really got what the plan was here, especially given the colossal headaches they probably had by this time. And just to make sure that it remained nearly unfathomable, we never actually see any hyper-space effects shots. I mean, seriously, who the hell edited this thing? Instead, they start moving the city, and then suddenly they’re approaching the Count’s space fortress. Whatever.
A guard alerts Zarth Arn that a “floating ship is about to crash into us!” First, shouldn’t he be reporting that it’s far, far bigger than any ship? Second, why would he describe it as “floating”? It’s being propelled through space via nuclear engines. Yeesh. The guards all panic and flee to make their escape, while the Count assails them as cowards. For convenience sake, though, he stands his ground. The ‘city’ smashes into the ‘fortress,’ and there’s a lot of low-grade pyrotechnics, although again all the debris seems to rise and fall following the explosions. Weird considering this is happening in deep space. And exit the Count.
By the way, just before impact, Robot L points out another small complement of air fighters. “We’ve got to evade them!” Stella replies. Did anyone making this movie understand what was going on here? The whole point of the plan was that it would ensure a lack of time to launch effective countermeasures against the massive Floating City.
And guess what, these teeny ships ain’t going to do the job. Imagine if you propelled the whole of Manhattan Island against an enemy position, and his response was to send out half a dozen jet fighters. Would you really be worried that would stop the attack? You’d think not. And how do you ‘evade’ agile little fighters when you’re steering an entire city?!
Just before impact, Robot L and a spacesuit-clad Stella leap through an open port window (yes, really) into space. “Circuits don’t fail me now!” Robot L says as he jumps. Man, that dude is hi-lahr-ious. Afterward, they float around on wires until Simon comes and collects them.
What’s that? Why didn’t Stella and L simply take a launch or shuttle rather than jumping out a window. Shut up, that’s why. Anyway, the two leads are reunited, they tepidly embrace, and that’s about that.
The last word, however, is given to Christopher Plummer, and shockingly—in fact, utterly flabbergastingly—he provides the film with a genuine grace note as it draws to a close. Sitting in his regal chair, for the moment not sharing the stage with his inept co-star and with his costume for once not looking completely foolish, Plummer addresses the audience as if he were a narrator closing a play, or a storyteller finishing his tale. After 90 minutes of pure, unadulterated schlock, we are allowed to gaze upon a scant few seconds of actual charisma and talent, and it’s a mind-boggling thing:
“The stars are clear. The planets shine. We’ve won. Oh, some dark force no doubt will show its face once more. The wheel will always turn. But for now it’s calm. And for a little time, at least, we can rest.”
It’s not the text, clearly, but the delivery. I was actually momentarily reminded of Derek Jacobi’s literally theatrical opening to Kenneth Branagh’s brilliant adaptation of Henry V. Admittedly, calling this epilogue even mock-Shakespearean would be more than a bit much. Even so, the fact remains that Plummer sells it. My hat is off to you, sir. You deserved far, far better.
Of course, a more cynical observer might suggest this speech is meant to set up a sequel. And sure enough, there’s an apparently largely unconnected follow-up made in 1981. (The film’s main character is “Belle Star.” Stella’s sister?) This featured a bit more skin, and was shown here under the title Escape from Galaxy 3, although in Europe its English title was Starcrash II. Clips of it can be seen on YouTube, and astoundingly it doesn’t seem to have improved on the original one whit.
Luckily, the film does not seem to be available on DVD.
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