Sunday, 19 September 2010

A Stella Star Is Born

Star Crash
1978 Italy/USA
Directed by Luigi Cozzi
(as Lewis Coates)
Shout Factory DVD Region 1

Hit hyperspace past this article if you don’t want to see spoilers... although to be honest, spoilers will not diminish the absolute fun you may have while watching this blast of a movie.

There are a lot of criticisms that could be levelled at Star Crash... all of them probably legitimate and, frankly, I really don’t care if they are. That it’s a cheap, quick n’ dirty cash in attempt to ride the Star Wars bandwagon is to state the obvious... but, you know, if that’s all you see in it then you are kinda missing the point on this one. The homage/rip off quality of this film does not start and end with George Lucas’ seminal trilogy and Star Crash is definitely a film which wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve, so to speak.

Another criticism which could also be levelled at this movie is that it has an incredibly bad script. Hmmm... personally I’d jump to its defence against that accusation and modify it a little. It does, to be fair to its nay-sayers, have terrible dialogue... but I’m telling you now that there is not an actor or actress in the stellar :-) cast of this film who doesn’t deliver their lines with the utmost conviction and seriousness... that this sometimes comes off as a little funny or stilted... oh, alright then, downright hilarious, does not, in fact, do the film a disservice. Frankly, if this wasn’t so professionally delivered by the cast then this movie would be lost to time and never have been resurrected from movie-hell obscurity. But the corny dialogue and the, lets-make-the-best-of-it attitude from the actors and actresses save it from a fate worse than celluloid death and have elevated this film to the status of a cult classic and I for one am happy to watch repeat viewings whenever I can.

And remember, dialogue does not a script make. Some of the ideas and intentions in the story and structure of the film are actually quite refreshing and mark it out as not just another Star Wars rip-off (and there were a lot of them around a the time as anyone going to the cinema in the late seventies will attest to). The pacing and tone of this movie is straight out of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon strip, itself a blueprint for the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s a shame that the development time and the budget was not up to the task because this could have made all the difference to the end product, as entertaining as it is.

The way the movie plays out with constantly shifting locations and a quest among the stars makes it more reminiscent of a Sinbad movie (something which actress Caroline Munro was certainly familiar with by then after her star turn opposite John Philip Law in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). In fact, if somebody at the time had consciously set out to make a movie entitled something along the lines of “The Interstellar Voyage of Sinbad” then I’ll bet Luigi Cozzi’s Star Crash is almost certainly how it would have ended up.

The story is simple... evil Count Zarth Arn (played enthusiastically by Maniac Joe Spinell) has designs to rule the universe. Space smuggler Stella Star (the always gorgeous Caroline Munro, an actress who in real life turns out to be one of the nicest people in the known universe) and her navigator Akron are captured by space cops (one of them is a funny robot space cop with a voice that’s suspiciously reminiscent of Old B.O.B from The Black Hole) but released from their respective prisons to go on a mission for The Emperor (played amazingly respectfully by Christopher Plummer) to find Zarth Arn’s homebase and planet and also rescue the Emperor’s son, played by young up-and-comer David Hasslehoff (in the days before he had a robotic car sharing screen time with him).

As I said, this film wears its influences and movie heritage on its sleeve and low budget homages are found everywhere. The judge who hands out Stella Star (don’t you just love that name?) and Akron's prison sentences is a green, floating head in a bowl and is a dead spit for the main martian in much loved 50s classic Invaders From Mars. The hard labour sentence given to Stella is straight out of the Atom Furnace rooms on the floating city of the Hawkmen in the 1936 Flash Gordon serial. A group of troublesome amazons may flash up huge reminders of Barbarella and Caroline Munro’s brilliant costumes may also remind you of this... some of the greatest and fetishistic tributes to female sensuality that an actress has ever worn in a movie and if anyone was ever going to wear these things and make them look amazing and practical then it’s Caroline Munro.

More “homages” include a giant, metal, robot guardian straight out of Harryhausen’s Talos in Jason and the Argonauts (but a lot more jerkier with perhaps a bit less confidence in the animation) and two robot bodyguards with big scimitars for Joe Spinell who are the Star Crash equivalent of the sword fighting skeleton in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. And Mr. Spinell’s footsoldiers are all dressed in pseudonazi-esque costumes which look suspiciously like they’ve been borrowed from Mario Bava’s production of Planet of the Vampires... but with added, downward pointing arrows at the front of their helmets which are very reminiscent of the skull-cap Charles Middleton wears as Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars.

And, of course, Akron has “force-like” powers and a light sabre to despatch his enemies. I’m amazed that George Lucas didn’t sue and, even if he had, I don’t think he would’ve won... besides, he was already fighting and losing his court case against the makers of Battlestar Galactica at the time, if my memory serves me.

There are four reasons why I can recommend that anyone with an affection for cheezy science fiction flicks should take a look at Star Crash...

1. The best reason I can think of to watch most of the films she is in is Caroline Munro herself. Stunning, sexy, professional and always delivers what is asked of her. A real trooper and, I suspect, the object of affection for many adolescent males growing up in the seventies. She was the Lamb’s Navy rum girl after all but she also deservedly holds the title of “First Lady of Fantasy” with roles in such crucial genre films as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Doctor Phibes Rises Again, Dracula AD 1972, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, At The Earth’s Core, The Spy Who Loved Me, Maniac and The Last Horror Film... to name but a few.

2. Joe Spinell has the best, most enthusiastic, longest sustained villanous laugh in the history of movies in this film. Seriously... Mwahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! doesn’t even come close. This guy had the best “Mwahahaing” in the business. He is sorely missed.

3. Luigi Cozzi directed a really interesting giallo called The Killer Must Kill Again and that typical, highly saturated and contrasting Italian colour style, right out of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, finds it’s way into Star Crash. No plain white starry backgrounds in this version of space! Here the stars are also yellows, reds, purples and greens making space a really fun and colourful place to be. And some of those spaceship launch tubes are lit like Christmas trees. If you like lots of bright, shiny colours in your movies... then this is a must-see movie.

4. The great composer John Barry did the score for this film and it’s a real humdinger! Seriously, if you get nothing else out of the space battle dog fights in this film, you’ll at least be tapping your toes like crazy! And those melodys and rhythms will be haunting you long after you’ve finished watching.

So there you have it! My unqualified recommendation for an admittedly slightly cheesy movie which holds a real place of affection in the hearts of its fans... myself included. In fact, Star Crash is possibly one of the most fun times this side of the universe! 

If you watch this movie and you like the Stella Star character in general (and who wouldn’t) then a new book of fictional short stories has literally just been released called Curved Space: The Adventures of Stella Star with a foreward by both Luigi Cozzi and the inimitable Caroline Munro! I’ll be reading that one next month sometime and reviewing it here for you!

For more details of the splendid actress who plays Stella Star and to join her fan club... please click here...

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic icon you have created, can I have a copy too?


    PS Well written article too....