Monday, January 21, 2013

STARCRASH (1979) - an appreciation!

As readers of this blog will already know, I have an strange love of and obsession with STARCRASH. It's a terrible film in so many ways but it is terrible in just the right ways - if you know what I mean. Make no mistake about one thing — screenwriter/director Luigi Cozzi is a big fan of science fiction. The first image in this wannabe epic is of a spaceship named after Golden Age SF author Murray Leinster and the first bit of dialog is a page over that ship's intercom asking Major Bradbury to come to the communications bridge. Cozzi is such a fan of the genre that when possible he slips science fiction elements into any movie he can. This is the only explanation for the incredibly odd mechanical creatures and bizarre conversations about scientific theory in his Hercules films with Lou Ferrigno. So I can only imagine the man's joy when the huge global success of Star Wars gave him the green light to make his pet sci-fi project. I've often heard Starcrash called a rip-off of that 1977 classic but Cozzi claims that the script was penned long before Mr. Lucas made the genre profitable — maybe he just got lucky. The unlucky folks were the poor suckers in 1978 who were conned into seeing this atrocious mess. I know of at least one man who claims that not only is Starcrash the worst film he has ever seen but that it may have contributed to his desire to kill small woodland creatures in the dead of night. And you thought the Star Wars prequels were bad!

As with most Cozzi films the plot is a mishmash of half thought out ideas and half remembered moments from movie serials, novels and comic books. The story concerns the adventures of interstellar smuggler Stella Star (Caroline Munro) and her partner in crime Akton (Marjoe Gortner, who somehow got top billing). As the film begins they are being pursued by law officers Thor (Robert Tessier) and Elle, a sentient robot voiced by Hamilton Camp as some kind of Texas moron. They make their escape through hyperspace and find an abandoned spacecraft's launch. After rescuing a survivor from the ship they're captured by the pursuing cops and carried off to prison. Stella is forced to feed the radium furnaces in a skimpy outfit and high heels until recruited for a job by the same two cops that caught her. It seems the Emperor of the Universe (Christopher Plummer) wants her and Akton to help fight the evil Count Zarth Arn (the great Joe Spinell). This dastardly despot has created a devastating planet-sized weapon that will allow him to rule the universe — but no one knows where it's located. The smugglers will accompany Thor and Elle on their search through the Haunted Stars and if they succeed they will be pardoned. Oh, and if they should stumble across the Emperor's son, the crown prince, they should bring him back, too. He was sent looking for the Death Star.... uh, I mean, the Count's massive weapon and he's missing. So, off they go tramping from one silly place to another hunting for the bad guys. The only stop of real interest (for me any way) is when a bikini clad Stella has to fight off a group of hot, Amazon-style women before they sic their giant, poorly stop-motion-animated robot on her. Akton reveals that he can see into the future, fake his own death and whip ass with his handy light saber... uh, I mean laser sword. Finally, of course, they find Prince Simon (David Hasselhoff!) and the correct planet, blow up the terrible weapon and then rush back to the Emperor to join in the gloriously insane battle with Zarth Arn to rid the Universe of his evil forever.

I've left out a lot of details mainly because, for space considerations, I must. This movie's script is an insane mess that feels like it was assembled in the dark from ideas jotted randomly on post-it notes. There is no logical progression from scene to scene or from idea to idea. When an explanation or solution was needed Cozzi just seems to have inserted a line of ridiculous dialog, had the characters smile at each other and kept moving. And some of the lines are priceless. Informing Stella that he can't tell her about the future because she might try to change things, Akton declares with a straight face, "Because that's against the law." Early on a character declares, "Scan it with our computer waves!" You get the idea. If an 8-year old riffed on an issue of EC Comics' Weird Science,Starcrash is what his Pixie Stix-fueled imagination would create. Luigi Cozzi is that sugar-rushing kid, bursting with enthusiasm but short on talent and money. He throws in a lot of references to classic science fiction movies including the disembodied head that leads the Invaders from Mars (1953), the radium furnaces from the Flash Gordon serials and (I swear to you) a nod to the giant, floating stone head from Zardoz! But even these bizarre touches are topped by the sight of all the male characters wearing enough make-up to pass for drag queens. This is top-of-the-line crazy cinema! Almost nothing is done well but eventually the complete lack of sense is kind of mesmerizing. Like watching slow-motion footage of car crash tests I found it impossible to turn away, wondering if the next ludicrous idea was going to make me laugh or roll my eyes.

One thing I can complement is the rather impressive score by legendary composer John Barry. I give it credit for keeping things moving more often than it should have to, making some dull stretches easier to handle. It's a solid musical accompaniment to the story, even if it occasionally reminded me of passages from a few of his James Bond scores.


Randy Fox said...


1. Number of sci-fi bikini girls present: Stars Wars - 1 (in third movie), Star Crash – multiples ALL the way through the freakin’ movie!

2. Time to introduce unbelievably inane and ludicrous plot devices: Star Wars – Third movie and then more from there on; Star Crash – ALL in ONE movie!

3. Texan robot trumps Limey robot ALWAYS!

4. “Luke, I am your father!” Vs. “Stop the flow of time!” – no contest.

5. Not even Luigi Cozzi thinks Jar Jar Binks was a good idea….

mark said...

Surely a contender for the next Bloody Pit podcast? Sounds like Mr Fox is up for it!

Rector of the First Church of Halloween said...

Hey! I never said I had a desire to kill small woodland creatures in the dead of night! You asked me what was the worst movie I'd ever seen in the theater & I told you...ah, I see. You're just testing to see if I read your blog, aren't you?

Rod Barnett said...

So you don't remember the great squirrel slaughter of '02? Or the hunt for Bigfoot that ended in woodchuck death? All while screaming "I hate STARCRASH!!"

Maybe I dreamed those good times...... ;-)