Friday, June 20, 2008

Spaghetti Space Operas

For the production of Luigi Cozzi’s 1978 film Starcrash, more money was spent on eye makeup than for special effects. The film’s protagonist, Stella Star (Caroline Munro) wears gobs of mascara and not much else. And, in each scene, she’s wearing a new collection of “not much else.” She and her navigator, Akton (Marjoe Gortner), are recruited by The Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe (a slumming Christopher Plummer) to find the phantom planet of evil Count Zarth Arn (an overdubbed Joe Spinell stuffed into an unflattering outfit) and the weapon he’s created that could destroy worlds. Accompanying Star and Aktor are the green-skinned Thor (Robert Tessier) and annoying southern fried robot Elle (Hamilton Camp).

The troupe encounters a wide array of improbable hazards, from Amazon warriors to Troglodytes to stop-animation automatons that would make Ray Harryhausen snort and say, “How cheesy!” They narrowly escape each tribulation with a lot of help from Akton’s spiritual attenuation and his light saber—er, “laser sword.” They also get aid in the last act of the film from the Emperor’s son, Simon (David Hasselhoff).

This cheesy Italian film, with its obtuse dialogue, knockoff plot, and poor special effects, has been likened to Edward D. Wood Jr’s Plan 9 from Outer Space for good reason. The film has been adopted by more than one Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan group as fodder for “fan riffing.”

The following year, the Italians would strike again with another Star Wars rip off, L’Umanoide / The Humanoid. Directed by Aldo Lado (under the name George B. Lewis), the obligatory opening scroll states, “Metropolis, known long ago as planet Earth now faces its gravest hour. Lord Graal has just escaped from the prison satellite where his brother, ruler of the peaceful galactic democracy has exiled him. Malevolent and power-hungry, Graal has plans of vengeance that might forever alter the destiny of mankind.”

Wearing a ridiculous Darth Vadar helmet aboard his Star Destroyer ship, Graal (Ivan Rassimov) is but one of a trio of baddies that also includes Lady Agatha (Barbara Bach in cleavage-focused garb) and Dr. Kraspin (Arthur Kennedy). Kraspin is a mad scientist who has kept Lady Agatha young via a contraption that sucks the life essence out of young topless girls. With a supply of “Kappa Element,” he’s promised to make an army of zombie-like humanoids for Graal to use against the peaceful Metropolans and their leader, Great Brother (Massimo Serato). Kraspin is obsessed with one Metropolan in particular: Barbara Gibson (Corinne Clery), his former assistant. He takes great pleasure in saying her name, Barbara Gibson, more times than necessary and has his first humanoid go after her, even before Great Brother.

Minding his own business, the cocky pilot Golob (Richard Kiel) and his cute robotic dog sidekick, Kip, find themselves on the deserted landscape of Metropolis. “Just the human I need,” says Kraspin before bombing the gigantic Golob with “Kappatron bomb,” which converts him into a beardless killing machine. He’s only stopped by Tom Tom (Marco Yeh), a prepubescent mystic who dresses like Luke Skywalker and communes with spirit guides in the desert.

Eventually Barbara Gibson is captured by the forces of evil. While the leaders of Metropolis wait in their “Moon of Yavin” control center, Golob, Tom Tom, and the drably heroic Nick (Leonard Mann) venture to save Barbara Gibson and retrieve the Kappa Element. Is there any doubt they’ll succeed after a series of swashbuckling fights through the halls of Graal’s lair?

The Humanoid is the most like Star Wars in its reuse of characters. Golob is Chewbacca, Kip is R2-D2, Nick is Luke Skywalker, Tom Tom is a pint-sized Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Barbara Gibson is Princess Leia. The focus on Golob as the hero and the addition of some T&A makes The Humanoid one of the few satisfying Star Wars clones.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The production values of Star Crash in the trailer look pretty good for its era -- but then, I'm a fan of Doctor Who. Gotta love the pre-CGI motion-control miniatures. And they rightly went with action (maybe too much) instead of exposition or narration. More Flash Gordon than Star Wars, I think. Still not as much fun as the trailer for 1983's Sayonara Jupiter, because it didn't have music. ("I'm a taco, you're a taco, we're all tacos, evermore now" -- okay, I don't recall the Japanese lyrics, just the melody.)

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