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Great Bad Movies: "Starcrash"

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I've been a film buff since childhood, and I love writing about and reviewing my favorites.

Starcrash poster

Starcrash poster

Starcrash (1978)

Starring: Caroline Munro, Christopher Plummer, Marjoe Gortner, David Hasselhoff

Directed by: Luigi Cozzi (aka "Lewis Coates")

I saw Starcrash for the first time 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'd watch just about anything with the words Star, Space, Galaxy, etc. in the title. It quickly became obvious that I was not witnessing a great film. Starcrash was cheap, cheesy, and ridiculous, but I had a blast with it anyway, laughing at the nonsensical dialogue, the hammy, over-the-top acting, the cheap special effects, the candy-colored set designs, and the blatant 'steals' from other (better) movies. Starcrash was mostly terrible, but I loved it. This deliriously cool "B" movie was my introduction to the wild, wacky world of low-budget European exploitation films, and ignited an obsession that continues to this day.

I didn't see Starcrash again for more than twenty years, but it haunted my dreams that entire time. I couldn't 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!

Nearly a quarter century after that initial viewing, the B-movie specialists at Shout Factory released a deluxe 2-DVD (!) edition of Starcrash as part of their "Roger Corman Cult Classics" series. Naturally I had to plunk down my $$ for a copy. When I watched the film a few nights later, all the memories came roaring back. I have revisited Starcrash several times since then and it still makes me smile every time. Make no mistake, Starcrash is junk... but it's such AWESOME junk that you can't help but love every minute of it.

Trailer!

The Genesis of "Starcrash"

Italian film director Luigi Cozzi (a protégé of spaghetti horror maestro Dario Argento) was a lifelong science fiction fan who'd always wanted to do a big, splashy space epic, but European movie studios constantly nixed the idea, because such films were expensive to produce... until Star Wars became a hit in 1977. Naturally, everyone suddenly wanted "in" on that sweet outer-space box office action, and so 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 seen the film his bosses wanted him to knock off.

The only Star Wars reference Cozzi could find in Italy was the film's paperback novelization, which he discovered in an airport bookstore. Legend has it that Luigi read the book three times, 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 borrows 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 is more than just a simple Star Wars cash-in; it's Cozzi's love letter to an entire film genre.

Spanish "Starcrash" poster. I think the guy who painted this was watching a different movie.

Spanish "Starcrash" poster. I think the guy who painted this was watching a different movie.

The Story

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 will 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 informs the pair that his son, Prince Simon, disappeared during a previous mission to find Zarth's 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 locates 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. Dozens of plastic model-kit spaceships 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!") 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.

great-bad-movies-starcrash-1979

The DVD

Shout Factory's Starcrash DVD is stuffed to the gills with 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 other things that I haven't even found yet. The Roger Corman Cult Classics was an amazing 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 due to be re-discovered by a 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

Comments

DR Darke from Central NY on October 24, 2018:

I love STARCRASH! I just wish Shout Factory's DVD had included the Director's Cut, which makes a few plot and character points clearer (yeah, I KNOW, right?) and is IMO even funnier.

I disagree with you about Joe Spinell - I think his Hammy, Cape-Flourishing, "I'm never going to get a part like this again, so I'm making the MOST of it!" performance is a work of genius in its way. Even better - he met and made friends with Caroline Munro and her then-husband Jed Harris (the guy in the Police Robot El suit), and the three of them got together to make the psycho/slasher grindhouse classic MANIAC...which is a smarter and more nuanced film than its reputation claims.

My biggest beef is that Marjoe's then-wife Candy Clark did the English-language dub of Caroline Munro's voice, which I think contributes to the...variable quality of her performance.