Great Bad Movies: "Starcrash"
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 great film by any means. Starcrash was cheap, cheesy, and ridiculous, but I had a blast with it anyway, laughing at the nonsensical dialogue and hammy over-the-top acting, the cheap special effects, the candy-colored set designs, and the blatant 'steals' from other (better) 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 I never came across Starcrash on TV again, but it 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 teenage boy to forget the sight of the gorgeous Caroline Munro in a leather space bikini, kickin' tons of bad-guy ass!
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. When I watched 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 maestro Dario Argento) is a lifelong science fiction fan who'd always wanted to do a big, splashy space epic, but European movie studios constantly nixed his ideas, saying that such films were too expensive to produce... until Star Wars became a worldwide hit in 1977. Naturally, then everyone suddenly wanted "in" on that sweet outer-space box office action, and producer Nat Wachsberger came knocking on Cozzi's door. Star Wars hadn't even been released in Italy at this point, so Luigi hadn't even seen the film his bosses wanted him to knock off. The only Star Wars reference he could find in Italy was the film's paperback novelization, which he discovered in an airport bookstore. Legend has it that Cozzi read the book three times, then he turned on his typewriter... and like any good fanboy would do when given his dream opportunity, he went nuts, essentially putting all of his influences into a blender and pressing "Liquify!" Starcrash borrowed gleefully not only from Star Wars, but also from Barbarella, Jason and the Argonauts, Invaders From Mars, and the vintage Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers movie serials (to name just a few). The end result was more than just a simple Star Wars cash-in; it was 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 says that his son, Prince Simon, disappeared while on a mission to find that 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 arms and barking "KILL! KILL!" 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!!"
© 2017 Keith Abt