Great Bad Movies: "Starcrash" (1978)
Starring: Caroline Munro, Christopher Plummer, Marjoe Gortner, David Hasselhoff
Directed by: Luigi Cozzi (aka "Lewis Coates")
I first stumbled across Starcrash on TV one Sunday afternoon when I was about fourteen years old (circa 1984). I had never heard of the film, but at the time I was a Star Wars obsessed kid who would watch pretty much anything with the words Star, Space, Galaxy, etc. in the title. As the opening scenes rolled by, it quickly became obvious that I was not about to witness a classic film by any means. Starcrash was cheap, cheesy, and ridiculous, but I had a blast laughing at the nonsensical dialogue, hammy over-the-top acting, cheap special effects, candy-colored set designs, and blatant 'steals' from other films. Starcrash was mostly terrible, but I loved it. This deliriously cool "B" movie was my introduction to the wild, wacky world of low-budget Italian exploitation films, and ignited an obsession that continues to this day.
Years passed and though I never came across Starcrash on TV again, the film haunted my dreams for almost a quarter century. I may not have been able to remember much of the plot but let's be honest, it would be pretty hard for any red blooded American boy to forget the gorgeous Caroline Munro in a leather space bikini, fighting alongside a white guy with an Afro and a young David Hasselhoff!
Needless to say, when Shout Factory released a deluxe 2-DVD (!) edition of Starcrash back in 2010 as part of their "Roger Corman Cult Classics" series, I had to plunk down my $$ for a copy. Watching the film a few nights later, all the memories came roaring back and I spent the entire movie with a big silly fanboy grin on my face. I have revisited it several times since then and it still makes me smile every time. Make no mistake, Starcrash is crap ... but it's such AWESOME crap that you can't help but love every minute of it.
The Genesis of "Starcrash"
Italian film director Luigi Cozzi (a protégé of spaghetti horror meister Dario Argento) was a lifelong science fiction fan who had always wanted to do a big, splashy space epic, but Italian movie studios constantly nixed his ideas, saying such films were far too expensive to produce... until Star Wars became a monster worldwide hit in 1977. Of course, everyone suddenly wanted "in" on that sweet outer-space box office action, so they called Cozzi. Unfortunately, Star Wars hadn't been released in Italy yet, so Luigi couldn't even see the film his bosses wanted him to knock off. The only Star Wars reference he had available was the film's paperback novelization, which he found in an airport book store. Cozzi read the book three times, turned on his typewriter... and like any good fanboy would do when given his dream opportunity, he went totally nuts. Starcrash borrowed gleefully not only from Star Wars, but also from Barbarella, Jason and the Argonauts, Invaders From Mars, and vintage Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers movie serials (to name just a few). Essentially, Cozzi put all of his influences into a blender and hit "liquify", and ended up with a flick that was way more than just a simple Star Wars cash-in. Starcrash is not only a truly bizarre movie in its own right, it's also Cozzi's love letter to an entire film genre.
Sexy space pirate Stella Star (former Hammer Horror siren and one time Bond girl Caroline Munro) - who's kinda like Han Solo's super-hot sister - and her ace co-pilot Akton (wooden '70s character actor Marjoe Gortner) are arrested by the Space Police for numerous crimes against the Galaxy. However, the Emperor of the Universe (Christopher Plummer, dropping by to earn a quick mortgage payment) offers the pair a reprieve if they volunteer to find the "secret planet" of the evil Count Zarth Arn (an utterly miscast Joe Spinell of "Maniac" fame). Zarth (ha!) is threatening the universe with a super powerful weapon that must be destroyed. The Emperor's son disappeared while trying to find the secret planet, so if Stella and Akton could find him and pick him up while they're at it, that'd be swell too.
Thus, Akton and Stella head off on a series of interstellar adventures with their annoying Police Robot sidekick "El," who for some reason is programmed to talk like a Western cowboy. (That gets old really quick.) As Stella travels from planet to planet, she runs afoul of a gang of hot Space Amazons and their giant, sword-throwing robot (which even has metal boobs!), barely survives being frozen on an ice planet, and finally hooks up with the prince (Young Hoff, in his first major film role) on a world of savage cavemen. It just so happens that Prince Hoff crash landed on the same planet that houses Zarth's secret weapon, so they call in reinforcements for the Space Battle to End All Space Battles. The epic firefight that follows must be seen to be believed, as dozens of plastic model-kit ships zip past multi-colored starfield backgrounds, exploding left and right, while the Emperor's forces fight it out with Zarth's army aboard his fist-shaped base ship. (Try not to crack a smile as Spinell stalks back and forth across the bridge of his ship, waving his fist and barking "KILL! KILL!" while his soldiers shoot laser guns at the good guys. Seriously. Just try.) Do the good guys win? Does it matter? Starcrash moves along at such a breathless pace that you barely have time to think about how silly the whole thing is until it's over. The cast seems to be having a blast, and though director Cozzi obviously didn't have a huge budget to work with on this flick, he certainly squeezed the maximum out of every dollar (or perhaps that should be "every Lira"). The movie is absolutely packed with eye candy (and I'm not just talking about Caroline Munro, though the fact that she IS in nearly every scene helps a lot!) and has a unique, ridiculous look that's all its own.
Shout Factory's Starcrash DVD is stuffed to the gills with a multitude of bonus features, including interviews with Munro and Cozzi, two (!) commentary tracks by obsessed Starcrash fan/scholar Stephen Romano, documentaries on the special effects and music, an art gallery, and probably a few dozen other things that I haven't even found yet. The Roger Corman Cult Classics was a killer collection of DVDs and Starcrash was no exception. These people truly love their "B" movies! Seriously folks, if you can only buy one Italian-made low budget Star Wars ripoff this year, make sure it's this one. After years in obscurity, Starcrash is now ready to be re-discovered by a whole new generation of film junkies. If you haven't seen it before, this is your chance. As Stella Star herself might say, "Go for Hyperspace!!"