Posts Tagged ‘roger corman’

The second of Roger Corman’s Alien knock-offs, 1982’s Forbidden World (originally titled Mutant, a name that never made it into theaters but was resurrected for the film’s home video release in certain international markets) is more directly —- uhmmmm — inspired by, to be polite about it, Ridley Scott’s soon-to-be-sullied-by-a-completely-unnecessary-prequel “dark science fiction” masterpiece, although you’d never know it by the first few minutes of the film.

That’s because this sequence of garden-variety, none-too-carefully-explained “space chase” nonsense was put together over one weekend by director Allan Holzman to show Corman that he had the chops to tackle a Lawrence Of Arabia-in-space project that our guy Roger had long been cooking up in his head. Corman agreed that the de facto short film was pretty good stuff, hired Holzman to direct the full feature he had in mind, then decided the whole Lawrence Of Arabia thing was gonna be too expensive and said yes when Holzman suggested they just rip Alien off instead. Ever the budget-conscious B-mogul, though, Corman decided to go ahead and keep the five-or-so-minutes of footage Holzman had already shot as the eventual finished product’s pre-opening-credits sequence, even though it would end up having nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the flick apart from introducing the two main characters.

And that, my friends, is how legends (bear with me, it sounds dramatic and I’m in a dramatic mood) are born.

Okay, fair enough — to call Forbidden World a “legendary” movie is one hell of a stretch. But, like 1981’s Corman-produced Galaxy Of Terror, it’s a surprisingly none-too-shabby piece of admittedly throwaway entertainment that’s more concerned with delivering the goods on time and on (hell, let’s be honest, given Roger’s notorious penny-pinching ways under) budget than it is about setting the world on fire with the next great genre  “game-changer.” The audience will get it’s money’s worth, New World Pictures will get more than their money’s worth, and everybody walks away happy.

Once we do get into the story proper after all the opening nonsense, we find, none-too-shockingly of course, that the setup is simple enough — intergalactic bounty hunter Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) and his robot sidekick SAM-104 (Don Olivera) are called to the remote planet of Xarbia to help investigate (polite-speak, as we all know, for “come in here and do some killing”) why a genetically-engineered super-creature known as “Subject 20” has gone rogue and started killing when the elite scientific team that developed it were just trying, bless their hearts, to produce an organism that was going to be used to help alleviate a vaguely-alluded-to universal food shortage (go figure that one out). Once there, he discovers that the two main female scientists at the top-secret research lab (June Chadwick and Dawn Dunlap, respectively) are hot to trot and will drop their lab coats for him more or less instantly (when they’re not busy soaping each other up in the communal shower, of course), and that things are a hell of a lot worse than they had let on because the creature is changing its genetic structure constantly for reasons the researchers are loathe to admit (here’s a hint, though : the fact that it not only understands, but can communicate in, English via computer later in the film, largely seen as a laughable and absurd plot hole of the highest order, is actually a pretty clever hint as to the true nature of “Subject 20” — although it seems to have a radically different idea of what it means to “coexist” than its human counterparts do, as evidenced by its actions taken when asked if they can do just that , and I still don’t know how the hell it’s able to type — but I’ve said too much already).

In any case, if your idea of a good time in front of the home-viewing screen is ugly giant monsters going on tear-ass kill sprees interspersed with pretty-nice-looking women getting naked half the time they’re on screen, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Forbidden World. Holzman’s a pretty capable director who uses moody lighting and interesting camera perspectives to cover for the deficiencies in his (largely assembled from styrofoam McDonald’s containers (remember those?) and Carnation milk cartons — really) sets, the creature itself is very nicely realized in all its various permutations, and the story, while dry and straightfoward, delivers all the goods.

But hey — did I just say dry and straightforward? Please forgive me, because that only applies to the 77-minute , theatrically-released Forbidden World cut of the film. Allow me to explain —-

The friendly crew over at Shout! Factory have seen fit to release this flick in both its versions as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” DVD and Blu-Ray series (it’s a double-disc set on DVD, but they jam it all onto one for the Blu-Ray) and the longer, original Mutant cut (preferred by director Holzman), while still only a lean and mean 82 minutes in length, actually has quite a bit of self-deprecating humor and shows that the folks behind the camera knew they were making not just a knock-off, but a send-up here. Unfortunately, Corman hated the humor (he even slapped a patron in the head at a preview showing for laughing at the film, and ended up getting a Coke dumped on him by another unruly customer apparently having too much fun later in the same screening) and had all of it excised from the film, along with redubbing SAM-104’s robotic voice with a more bog-standard human-sounding one.

Anyway,  onto the specs — the theatrical version on Shout! Factory’s release is presented in a stunning 1.85:1 high-definition widescreen transfer with full 5.1 surround sound (the Mutant cut is presented 4:3 full frame with mono sound and essentially no remastering done from what I can tell — guess Corman still isn’t too fond of it, but hey, it does include a commentary from Holzman — be warned, he stutters quite a bit, but is obviously a very bright and inisghtful guy and his memories of the production are sharp — and Mondo Digital webmaster/DVD Delirium author Nathaniel Thompson) and, as far as extras go, in addition to the parenthetically-mentioned commentary, we’ve got some great behind-the-scenes featurettes including one on the special effects and set work done on the film,  one on the genesis of the project with Corman and Holzman interviews, one on the actors featuring an interview with Jesse Vint, one on the movie’s remarkably atmospheric electronic music score with composer Susan Justin — you get the picture. All are playable as stand-alone segments or in one long interlocked documentary, as is the case on the Galaxy Of Terror disc. Rounding out the whole thing we have an extensive poster and still gallery, the original theatrical trailer for the film, and trailers for some of the other “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” titles. All in all, an exhaustively well-done package that makes for a fine addition to your home viewing library.

In short, then, any way you slice (or edit) it, this is a pretty decent little cash-in-on-a-cinematic-trend-that-was-hot-at-the-time. Forbidden World delivers the goods without much pretense or flair but with a refreshing dose of pride in its workmanship and an eye for quality (as well as on the bottom line, of course), while Mutant does the same with a bit of a twinkle in its eye and a knowing grin towards the audience. Hardly classic stuff, but definitely better than at least a couple of the actual Alien sequels — and probably a hell of a lot better than Prometheus is going to end up being.

Worm rape.

There, that got your attention, didn’t it? And in some ways I’ve said all that needs to be said about the semi-infamous 1981 Roger Corman production (almost universally lumped into the Alien knock-off subgenre, although truth be told it has a lot more in common with later films like Event Horizon than it does with Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror masterpiece) Galaxy Of Terror (also released under the alternate titles of Mind Warp — which has more of a 2001 ripoff feel to it, in this reviewer’s opinion — and Planet Of Horrors, for those of you keeping score at home), thus making the rest of this review an exercise in redundancy, but what the hell, since we’re already at it (and since we’ll inevitably return to the subject of worm rape again later) —

At some point in the distant future, our descendants, who have spread out to the farthest reaches of the galaxy (or, hell, it could be the universe for all I know) decide to do away with all that pesky freedom and democracy nonsense we kid ourselves into believing we have and just put everything in the hands of a guy called the Planet Master (most commonly referred to simply as “The Master” for the less-than-90-minute duration of this film — maybe it’s a term of endearment?), whose only qualification for the job of ruler of the galaxy (or,again, maybe it’s the universe for all I know) seems to be that he has a glowing red orb for a head. Fair enough.

All is not well in the galaxy (or, again, and hopefully for the last time, the universe) though — an expedition ship has gone missing on the mysterious and hostile planet of Organthus (I shit you not) and for reasons only known to his glowing red mind, “The Master” decides this is such a calamity that he must hand-pick a special team of deep-space adventurers to go and find the remains of the ship and, if they’re still alive, its crew.

Welcome to the starship Quest, then, and its hastily-assembled, ragtag band of spacefaring voyagers, assembled not, apparently, due to any particular aptitudes on their part, but simply because this is the bunch that “The Master” wants. Oh, sure,they’re a competent enough grouping of soon-to-be-cult-stars (Robert Englund, Zalman King), sitcom stalwarts (Erin Moran), Corman veterans (Sid Haig), has-beens (Ray Walston, bless him) and almost-weres (Edward Albert, son of the guy from Green Acres), all ably (despite her role in the apparently-calamitous “Hesperous incident” we hear some talk of ) led by grizzled Space Corps (or whatever) vet Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie, best known as Laura Palmer’s mom on Twin Peaks and here wearing some less-than-convincing age make-up to make the at-the-time-mid-30s actress appear to be more of a Captain Janeway type, even though this was about 15 years or so before anyone knew who Captain Janeway was).

Once on Organthus, though, our heroes discover that the wreck of the ship they were searching for couldn’t possibly have yielded any survivors, but hey — what’s that (admittedly well-realized, especially for a $700,000 Roger Corman flick) giant, dark, foreboding pyramid off in the distance? And that, of course, is where all their troubles begin.

Once inside the ominous structure (and it has to be said that director Bruce D. Clark, working under the name “B.D. Clark” here and ably assisted by second-unit director/unofficial head special-effects man/unofficial assistant production designer/jack of all trades/future most successful filmmaker in Hollywood history, James Cameron, does a very nice job of conveying atmosphere and mood on a scale much bigger than anything he’s got to work with would logically allow for) the crew of the Quest are subjected to every sort of nightmare they can imagine as their most deep-seated fears are realized and brought (mostly rather convincingly, it must be said) to life right before their eyes.  And then, of course, these living nightmares kill them — that’s just how this kind of shit works.

And that, dear readers (if assuming the plural there isn’t assuming too much — whoops, just assumed twice in a row there, that makes a double-ass of you and me both — how does it feel?) brings us back to worm rape. The most hapless of all our stellar explorers, one Dameia (Taaffe O’Connell, who honestly has enough to contend with in life with her absurd — albeit more than likely self-chosen — name, but would simply never live this down even though the scene in question was excised by censors in numerous international markets for home video release) is deathly afraid of worms, maggots, and all that slithery stuff. And when a solitary worm mutates to enormous size with all kinds of dangling, vaguely penile appendages limply drooping from its slimy underside, it’s pretty obvious how her goose is gonna be cooked.

Oh, sure, there are some other things that transpire after this point in the film — one of the crew is not who he appears to be, the whole doomed mission (and presumably the one before it that the folks aboard the Quest came to find) turns out to have been set up for one very specific purpose that I won’t give away, etc. — but honestly, once a woman gets raped to death by a giant worm, what do you do for an encore? Not that I’m in any way condoning such a vile, prurient, exploitative, probably-misogynistic-if-the-whole-idea-weren’t-so-fucking-weird thing. Who, me? Of course not. Fear not, dear readers, your friendly neighborhood Trash Film Guru states unequivocally, and for the record, that I am against giant worms raping women. How’s that for a brave political stance?

And yet — it definitely makes for a cinematic moment that’ll stick with you. And it’s a good thing it comes towards the end, because like I said, you’re just not going to be able to one-up that. And that’s been both an inherent blessing and curse to Clark’s film over the years — sure, everybody who follows cult horror and sci-fi, or just B-movies in general, knows about Galaxy Of Terror. It’s the worm-rape movie. But, as I hope I’ve been able to convey, it’s also a pleasingly twisted, better-than-we’ve-probably-got-any-right-to-expect, sleazy slice of Corman ungoodness. The sets are well done for a shoestring production, the camera work is solid, the performances are of a uniformly high standard, the effects, though dated, are generally impressive, and the story’s not a half-bad admittedly-somewhat-by-the-numbers- mind-fuck-in-outer-space. But it always comes back to worm rape, doesn’t it?

Fortunately for everyone except Taaffe O’Connell, the good folks at Shout! Factory saw fit to release Galaxy Of Terror as one of the first titles in their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series on DVD and Blu-Ray, and they pulled out all the stops — we’ve got a widescreeen high-definition picture transfer that looks spectacular, a nice 5.1 surround sound mix, and extras galore including a full-length commentary track featuring four members of the cast and crew (including Ms. O’Connell, who appears to be more than a good sport about the whole thing), no less than six “making-of” featurettes that can be played either separately or all in order (a nice idea I wish more DVD and Blu-Ray releases made use of), extensive photo galleries including stills, production shots, posters, artwork, production design sketches, and more, the original screenplay in .pdf format, a really cool reversible cover featuring the poster artwork for the Galaxy Of Terror title on the front side and the Mind Warp title on the other — suffice to say it’s packed to the gills with great stuff and is a flat-out essential purchase for any and all true conoisseurs of low-budget cinema. It’s one of those all-too-rare releases that really enhances your appreciation of all the effort that went into making the finished product, and anyone who walks away from it still thinking that this film is essentially just a one-trick pony (or, hey, worm) clearly hasn’t been paying attention. All that being being the case, I have just one more thing to say before I sign off —

Worm rape, worm rape, worm rape.

Ever had a flick you haven’t seen in awhile and been pleasantly surprised to find, upon re-watching it, that it’s every bit as good as you remember, and maybe even better? Such is the case with your host’s recent viewing of Joe Dante’s seminal 1978 Jaws rip-off,  Piranha.

Oh, sure, it’s a lot less bloody than I remember, and the fish are a lot more rubbery looking to me now than they were the last time I saw this (which has gotta be nearly a couple decades ago now), but it’s a lot more atmospheric and just plain fun than my pubescent brain gave it credit for being. And now that Shout! Factory has finally re-released it on DVD as part of their Roger Corman’s Cult Classics line (loaded with the usual awesome assemblage of extras we’ve come to expect from this gift-to-B-movie-aficionados series, including a brand-new “making-of” featurette, deleted scenes and outtakes, all the extra scenes added for the television broadcast version (yes, once the brief nudity and a little of the blood was edited out, this flick ran considerably under the standard network movie-slot runtime and extra scenes were shot to pad the flick out), radio spots, TV spots, a couple trailers, and a feature-length commentary track featuring director Dante and producer Jon Davison — oh, and the anamorphic widescreen transfer and remastered mono sound are both damn solid, to boot), we can all enjoy this camp, 50’s-influenced classic time and again in the privacy of our own homes. Who says life ain’t great?

The setup is as basic as they come : skip-tracer’s gal Friday Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) gets sent by her boss to find a couple of missing teenagers who disappeared near a Texas river, meets up with local drunk divorcee Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman, doing his best Andrew Prine imitation, which causes the mid to reel for a minute when you consider the question “How cheap is Roger Corman? So cheap he didn’t even hire Andrew fucking Prine to play a role pretty much tailor-made for him!”) who’s holing up in a cabin near where the two young lovebirds probably disappeared and enlists his more-than-reluctant help in finding them, and in their investigations they run across a formerly-employed-by-the-guv’mint mad scientist (Kevin McCarthy) who’s bread a mutant strain of killer piranha capable of surviving in cold water (he wanted to use ’em to win the Viet Nam war — really) and our erstwhile heroes commit the fuck-up of the century by accidentally releasing the flesh-eating fish into the river, where they soon threaten both the summer camp where Grogan’s daughter (played by Belinda Balaski) is staying and the new white trash water park just opened up by local unscrupulous tycoon Buck Gradner (Dick Miller, who’s just about the coolest B-movie actor of all time). Cult stalwarts like Keenan Wynn and Barbra Steele turn up in side roles along the way as the military and local law enforcement get involved, and pretty soon there’s a full-court press on to lock up and shut up our intrepid amateur sleuths who just want to save people from certain scaly doom while the powers-that-be seem more interested in averting widespread panic, keeping their dirty little secret scientific breeding program under wraps, and protecting sleazy Buck’s profit margins. It’ll all end in tears, I tell ya, it’ll all end in tears.

Actually, no it won’t, it’ll end on a totally brazen ready-for-sequel non-climax. But we won’t hold that classic exploitation hustle against D ante and his cohorts because along the way we’re treated to a combination of Jaws on a (shoestring) budget, summer camp horror of the Friday The 13th variety (albeit a few years before that slasher classic came along), a mishmash of classic 1950s B-movie style set-ups, some genuinely interesting and dare I even say charming characters, incisively witty dialogue (no huge surprise given that future indie auteur par excellence John Sayles wrote the script), solid suspense, and some of the best editing you’ll ever see in a flick this cheap. The whole thing has a surprisingly professional feel for such an overtly amateur effort and it’s really no surprise that so many of the people behind the scenes went on to have such lucrative and successful film careers. Like the titular piranha themselves, Dante, Sayles, and their counterparts (most notable co-editor Mark Goldblatt) cut their teeth on this movie and then went on to bigger, meatier fare.

Piranha is by no means top-notch, high-brow filmmaking, but it’s way better than it’s probably got any right to be, especially in terms of its production values, it’s got a comedy-romp pace and feel to it, and it never insults its audience even while (quite obviously) not taking itself too terribly seriously. It’s got plenty of heart and almost as much brains. And I’m kicking myself for having neglected it for so long.

So dive on in and enjoy yourself — sure the water’s cold, and the fish bite, but that’s the whole point! Don’t wait 20 years to get around to watching this bona fide cut-rate classic again, especially now that a readily-available (and terrific) DVD release frankly offers you no excuse to do so.

"Piranha 3-D" Movie Poster

Okay, so I meant to get around to reviewing this back when it came out but I was lazy and I didn’t. Still, now’s not a bad time to take a look at Piranha 3-D since it’s due out on DVD any day here, and while home DVD and Blu-Ray 3-D can’t come close to matching the theatrical experience yet, this is such a fun flick that it’s certainly worth a rental on your part, or even a purchase if you can grab it on sale cheap.

And cheap is the operative word when it comes to Piranha 3-D. Oh, sure it had a budget of around $25 million, but it’s loaded with cheap and plentiful gore, cheap and plentiful nudity, and life comes damn cheap in it, too. I ask you, friends, what could be better than that?

This is true B-filmmaking all the way courtesy of French “new horror” maestro Alexandre Aja, who made his mark with Haute Tension in his home country before taking Hollywood by storm with his remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and then taking something of a misstep with the Kiefer Sutherland horror vehicle Mirrors, which wasn’t as bad as many of its detractors would have you believe but really wasn’t actually very good, either.

Anyway, Aja’s back in fine form with this third installment in the Roger Corman-originated Piranha franchise (the two previous flicks were directed by Joe Dante and James Cameron, respectively), and while it’s probably not fair to classify it as strictly a sequel per se to the first two, it’s certainly not a remake of the original, either — I guess the most appropriate term to use here would be to say it’s a re-imagining, much as I despise that word, and indeed all trendy Hollywood and corporate buzzwords — for instance, is anyone still referring to anything as a paradigm shift anymore? Didn’t think so.

But I digress. The paper-thin plot here revolves around spring break in the fictitious town of Lake Victoria, Arizona, where thousands of hard-partying college kids descend each year to perform their annual bacchanalian rites of binge drinking and binge fucking. Things are gonna be a little bit hairier for the wild youths this year, though, since an earthquake in a self-contained underground aquatic ecosystem has ruptured the lake bed and sent hundreds of prehistoric piranha swarming into party central. The piranha have been surviving in their little watery subterranean paradise all these years by eating each other since there’s nothing else around to sink their teeth into, so they’ve big, they’re mean, they’re bloodthirsty, and,  like the nauseating drunken students, they’re out for a good time.

Aja really pulls out all the stops in once the mayhem ensues, treating us to a non-stop bloodbath punctuated only by totally gratuitous boob close-ups and even more gratuitous full-frontal nudity. There’s an extended underwater ballet scene with starlets Kelly Brook and Riley Steele (yes, that Riley Steele, and she’s only one of several porn stars brought in to liven up the proceedings here) that seriously verges on soft-core territory, and if 3_D T&A is your kind of thing, you won’t be disappointed. I’ll just leave it at that.

There’s a gratuitous sampling of has-been B-list actors crawling out of the woodwork here, too. Elizabeth Shue (who I swear to God doesn’t age) has the nominal starring role as local sheriff  Julie Forester, who;s got to try to solve the crisis while also rescuing her son, who’s gone off for the day on a photoshoot with ultra-sleazy “Girls Gone Wild”-type producer Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell). Ving Rhames is her bad-ass deputy, Christopher Lloyd is on hand as a mad scientist-type who’s fervently trying to figure out just what these deadly fish are, where they come from, and how they can be stopped, Richard Dreyfuss is on hand for just long enough for you to say “Hey, that’s Richard Dreyfuss!” before he becomes the bloodthirsty fish horde’s first victim, and if you look really closely you’ll even see Eli Roth as the emcee of a wet t-shirt contest.

But the main “star” here is the sheer, unbridled, completely tasteless mayhem that’s front and center almost from the word go. Ever possible way to be eaten by deadly fish is shown in graphic detail, some of which you can imagine, others of which, quite frankly, you can’t. A guy’s dick getting bitten off and later chomped down by one of the piranha is played for laughs (as it should be). There’s fish-bitten boobs, legs, arms, feet, shoulders, stomachs, faces, you name it — and there’s just no damn way to kill these things off en masse. In fact, at the very end, Aja just plain stops trying as the film finishes on a note that’s pure sequel set-up (not that this will probably happen now given the movie’s underwhelming box office performance).

Not all the 3-D works all that well, to be sure — underwater 3-D effects seem to be an iffy proposition at best, and some definitely deliver the goods better than others. Still, even when Aja and his effects crew fall short, it’s certainly not for lack of trying. Piranha 3-D is a film that aspires to do one thing and one thing only — absolutely annihilate all the boundaries of good taste, and get away with all it can and then some. It’s a true stylistic, and thematic, heir to many of the grindhouse and exploitation flicks that we cover so regularly here at TFG and viewed through that lens, you have to say that it succeeds more than admirably. It’s gleeful, unmitigated, irredeemable trash — just the kind of thing we love around here.

In short, Piranha 3-D is the party movie of the year. It’s full of blood, boobs, blood, boobs, blood, boobs,more blood, more boobs, butts, female genitalia, and huge, shiny, flesh-devouring teeth. Can’t ask for any more out of a movie than that, can you? Catch it as soon as you can.

Original “Battletruck” Movie Poster

Who can possibly resist a movie with the advertising tag-line “After the oil wars — out of the rubble of the ciites comes — Battletruck!” Shit, I know I can’t, which probably says a lot about me — first and foremost being that some serious therapy is needed right away. But if you’re equally in need of professional therapeutic help, then Roger Corman’s 1982 post-apocalyptic cheapie Battletruck (also released under the title Warlords of the Twenty-First Century) is going to be right up your alley.

We’ve surveyed some of the low-budget postapocalytpic flicks that sprung up in the wake of The Road Warrior here at TFG before, but one of the things that sets Battletruck apart from the Italian and Filipino-produced (for the most part) films that came to populate the bulk of this genre is the fact that it’s not actually a knock-off, given that first-time director Harley Cokliss (who now pronounces and spells his name Cokeliss — I think you’d do the same) who had pitched his idea to “King of the Bs” Roger Corman as a young, fresh-faced filmmaker just off doing some second-unit work for George Lucas on The Empire Strikes Back, was that it was actually shot in New Zealand at roughly the same time that George Miller was making what was then known as Mad Max 2 over in Australia, and made its debut in theaters two weeks earlier than its more-famous counterpart in 1982. In addition, it’s based on a novel by Margaret Abrams that had come out some years previously, so rather than being a Road Warrior rip-off, this is more like its forgotten twin brother.

There are other factors that set it apart from (and, frankly, above)  the rest of the films that followed in its wake, as well — for one, the south island New Zealand filming locations are gorgeous, yet presented in a suitably drab “after-the-fall-of-civilization” style. Trust me, that takes some talent. I’ve spent plenty of time down on the south island of New Zealand and its one of the most breathtakingly beautiful spots on the planet.  It would be the absolute last place I’d choose to set a movie that takes place after the apocalypse, but Cokliss makes it work.

Also working in Battletruck‘s favor is the fact that, for the most part, the production values on display here are — dare I say it? — good, with the ramshackle tin-hut communes, dilapidated vehicles, ragged homemade clothes, and other accoutrements we’ve come to expect in movies that take place after the shit’s hit the fan appearing very authentic indeed. There’s a reason stories in this genre were so appealing to producers of low-budget cinema — a future society that looks like shit is a pretty easy thing to get looking right without shelling out too much cash.

And speaking of production values, the mighty Battletruck itself is a damn impressive piece of work. A fully-functioning, armor-plated 18-wheeler constructed over the skeleton of a Canadian logging rig, it’s an early progenitor of other bad-ass movie behemoths like “Dead Reckoning” from George Romero’s Land of the Dead and cuts a truly imposing figure on the landscape, as you can clearly see —

Fuck the actors, here’s the real star of the show

Now, to be sure, Battletruck has some solid strikes against it, as well. For one thing, the story’s not especially original. A bad-ass warlord named Col. Straker (James Wainwright) leads a bloodthirsty band of marauders around in his super-vehicle looking to rip off all the fuel and food and women they can find in the post-oil-war wasteland. Gasoline is the most valuable commodity in the world, and the Battletruck doesn’t even come close to meeting EPA standards, which aren’t enforced anymore since there’s no government left (although filmed in New Zealand, the movie is obviously supposed to be taking place in what used to be the USA).  When his pretty twenty-something daughter Corlie (Annie McEnroe) refuses to kill a guy on her old man’s orders, she goes on the run and ends up finding temporary refuge with the hero of the story, a solitary motorcycle-riding man of few words who lives on a mountaintop named Hunter ( played by Michael Beck — ever notice how all the guys in these movies have names like Hunter, Straker, Stryker, or Slade?).  Hunter lives by own code and, while he can (of course) fight with the best of them, if left to his own devices all he really wants  to do is make his way as peacefully as possible through life in a violent world. He’s got a heart of gold under that somber exterior, though, and he can’t refuse a damsel in distress, or leave a wrong un-righted.

He takes her to his friend, scrap-heap mechanic/amateur scientific whiz Rusty (John Ratzenberger, best known as Cliff Claven  from Cheers), who lives in one of the makeshift communal camps that have sprung up in the wake of collapse of the world economy, and despite being the daughter of the evil dude everyone’s scared of, they vote to take her in (everything’s decided democratically, just like in the old hippie communes). Her brief respite is shattered, though, when her dad and his gang show up in the titular Battletruck, trash the place, take her back, and steal all the gas in sight.

Then — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — it’s up to Hunter to come down from the mountaintop, assemble the ragtag survivors into a deadly  and heavily-armed fighting force, get the girl back, and stop Col. Straker once and for all.

So, yeah, nothing terribly original going on there, but you have to hand it to Cokliss and screenwriter Irving Austin — the characters and society they craft are believable, the dialogue never gets too hokey, and the vehicular mayhem that makes up a good chunk of the last third or so of the film is sufficiently exciting, impressive, well-executed, and well-staged. In a movie like this, you’re not looking for them to do anything new so much as to do what’s done before and hopefully do it right, and Battletruck gets all the basic elements very right indeed.

The only other major knock on the film in this reviewer’s opinion is some of the acting. Wainwright is never particularly menacing as Col. Straker, going for more of the flat-and-monotonous approach rather than reeking of pure evil, and Beck as Hunter is equally, at least, uninspired as the hero of the piece. Being a solitary and reluctant warrior is one thing, but this dude’s got all the screen presence and charisma of a soggy three-day-old cardboard pizza box that’s been left out in the rain.

Still, there’s enough going on here that’s done well for this flick to transcend both its budgetary limitations and two listless lead performances.  It’s not exactly authentic but it is reasonably interesting, beautifully shot, has a solid script that moves along at a good pace, and it packs a solid whallop in the action department. If you’re looking for some cheesy post-apocalyptic fun, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Battletruck.

“Deathsport/Battletruck” Double Feature DVD, Part of the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” Library from Shout! Factory

As of about a month ago, Battletruck is now available on DVD from Shout! Factory as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series. It’s paired as a double feature with Deathsport, a pretty lame attempt on Corman’s part to recapture the winning formula of one of his earlier efforts,  Death Race 2000 (it even stars David Carradine) that fails on pretty much every level —it’s still worth watching at least once, though, if you’re a B-movie aficionado. Both films are presented in pretty basic 2.0 stereo mixes, which is just fine for Battletruck, where everything is crisp and clear, but a little less successful in the case of Deathsport, which is a mess in the audio department. Deathsport is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, and Battletruck is presented in its inteded full-frame aspect ratio. Both prints have been remastered, but Battletruck looks a hell of a lot better since it was struck from a good-looking answer print while Deathsport had to be stitched together from an edited TV version and excised scraps from a theatrical print, and the contrast is often jarringly obvious. As far as extras go, both feature terrific commentary tracks, especially in the case of Battletruck, which takes the form of a Q&A session between director Cokliss/Cokeliss and moderator Jonathan Rigby. The disc retails for under ten bucks at most online merchants and makes a solid addition to your cult movie library.

"Starcrash" Movie Poster

What do you get when an Italian director and crew, French producers, and English and American actors try rip off Star Wars on a shoestring budget? Read on and you’ll find out —

In the later half of 1977 and the early part of 1978, every movie executive worth his or her salt was looking for the next Star Wars. George Lucas’ space epic had literally revolutionized the movie business and become a blockbuster the likes of which the world had never seen before.  And who would you expect to be at the forefront of those looking to cash in, often as directly as possible, on the public’s sudden love for epic space adventure?

That’s right, friends, the Italians were standing right at the front of the line, eager to prove they could so sci-fi intergalactic opera at the very least cheaper, if not better, than anyone else. For a brief, shining moment between the eras of the spaghetti western and the pasta-flavored postapocalyptic yarn, between the Godfather riffs and the Alien rip-offs, the Italians turned their attention to the Star Wars homage, churning out titles like Star Odyssey, War of the Robots, The Humanoid, and the most well-remembered of the bunch, writer-director Luigi Cozzi’s seminal shlock masterpiece Starcrash (also released under the title The Adventures of Stella Star).

The (Stella) Star of the show, leaving no question as to why she got the part

Now, in fairness to Cozzi, he had been pitching an earlier version of this script around for several years before the global success of Lucas’  baby finally convinced a group of French financiers, lead by Nat and Patrick Wachsberger (who would go on to produce to Tom Cruise starring vehicle Vanilla Sky, among others) to green-light his project. But Star Wars blowing up the way it did was both a blessig and a curse for Cozzi — yes, it insured that his pet project would finally get made, but it was with one important caveat — he had to make it as similar as possible to Georgie-Boy’s cash cow, his initial ideas be damned.

And so what began life as an homage to the old sci-fi Saturday afternoon serials of the 30s like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers (Cozzi was a lifelong sci-fi fanatic) ended up evolving into a pastiche of a movie  that was — well, that was a modern retelling of those old classic matinee serials, anyway, as Lucas himself has admitted that they were the single biggest source of inspiration for his at-the-time-nascent franchise.

Still, it wasn’t quite what Cozzi had envisioned, and his script was fucked with so mercilessly that co-producer Nat Wachsberger himself ended up with a co-screenwriting credit.

The matinee serial pedigree didn’t really get entirely buried, though, as Starcrash doesn’t so much tell a story as string a bunch of disjointed scenes together. Roughly every ten minutes or so our heroine, intergalactic smuggler Stella Star (British beauty Caroline Munro — looking, it must be said, sensational) finds herself plunged into a new ordeal that barely has anything to do with the last. So don’t expect the script to make much sense here — and Cozzi and Wachsberger’s rather rudimentary grasp of English doesn’t help matters much here, either. What we’ve essentially got is a story that makes very little sense being “explained” to us by dialogue that makes even less. But you’re not here for the story, you’re here for the spectacle, right?

Original "Starcrash" VHS boxcover. Looks kinda familiar ---

On that score, Starcrash doesn’t disappoint. As pure visual feast, it’s unlike anything else you’ll ever see. Which is not necessarily a compliment.  Nor is it a criticism. It just — is.

Due to budgetary constraints above all else, this movie has a unique stylistic — uhhhmmmm — sensibility that was almost certainly achieved by accident, but definitely stands out for its absolute singularity. Starcrash is a unique viewing experience, and I use that term with precise intent. Star Wars may have had revolutionary special effects, expansive sets, seminal costume designs, and sweeping landscapes and starscapes, but goddamn if you won’t find the overall look of this film a whole lot more memorable.

Let’s go down the list of visual treats on display here — art-deco primary-color starfields, glowing planets, dime-store Ray Harryhausen stop-motion robots and monsters (Harryhausen’s work was another admitted huge influence on Cozzi), a blue-headed (and shaved-headed) alien cop, a “robot” with a southern lawman’s drawl that breaks the visual stereotype of characters dressed head-to-toe in black being automatically evil, lava-lamp red blobs which are alternately referred to as “energy waves” and “monsters,” (script continuity, again, is not a strong selling point here), “hyperspace” travel that looks like a drawing of energy-zap motion lines on the screen, black construction-paper “outer space” backdrops, the Maniac himself, Joe Spinell (in the first of three films he would appear opposite Munro in, the others being The Last Horror Film and, as mentioned a split-second ago, Maniac, which TLHF was actually a sequel-in-all-but-name to) decked out in an outer space Dracula costume, and our gal Caroline prancing around for about 3/4 of the movie in a black leather bikini. Yes, this is indeed a feast for the eyes in every sense.

You're probably wondering why I've called you all here ---

The disjointed and entirely nonsensical visuals literally leave the viewer not knowing what the hell he or she will be seeing next, and since the “plot” leaves the viewer not knowing what the hell will happen ext — or indeed, what just happened before — it all works together almost operatically. If you go hit the opera on three tabs of purple microdot, that is.

There are some surprising flourishes of actual quality in here, as well, which makes the already-convoluted proceedings even more of a hopeless mishmash. For instance, John Barry, of James Bond fame, provides the music score, and it’s a lot more elegant and majestic than the antics on camera deserve, to say the least. Barry himself admits that he stole huge chunks of the score for his later, Oscar-winning work on Out of Africa, figuring nobody would remember this thing (even though it raked in $30 million at the box office in the US and over $100 million internationally).

And how about that cast? Sure, we’ve got B-movie stars, and future Z-grade TV stars, left and right — but in the middle of Caroline Munro as Stella, former tent-revival evangelist (and subject of an Oscar-winning documentary on what a fraud his “faith-healing” shtick was) Marjoe Gortner as her faithful and quasi-mystical sidekick Akton, Robert Tessier as the treacherous sellout space cop  Thor, Joe Spinell as Darth Vader-without-the-mask Count Zarth Arn, Munro’s at-the-time husband Judd Hamilton as Elle, the comic-relief-robt-with-a-Texas-sheriff-twang, and a very young David Hasselhoff as Simon, who becomes Stella’s quasi-sorta-semi-pseudo love interest, we’ve got, flown into Italy for exactly 48 hours and probably getting paid  more than the rest of the cast combined — Christopher Plummer, as Simon’s father, The Emperor. More specifically, his full honorific is The Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe. Scoff all you want, but it’s a more prestigious title than you’ll ever receive.

Sure, the story’s not only got problems, the story is problems — but you almost have to stand back in wonder at how they make it all work (and yes, I use the term “work” incredibly loosely). Gortner’s Akton character, for instance, seems to develop new magical, or advanced scientific, powers  at the drop of a hat whenever they need to pull something out of their ass to move the action along from one scene to the next. He’s literally a walking, talking, breathing deus ex machina — that is, when he’s not a walking, talking, breathing info-dump of quick and nonsensical plot exposition.  And The Emperor can command his Imperial Ship to “stop the flow of time!” Don’t try that at home, kids (and it’s not a power that apparently always works, or that he apparently always thinks to utilize — for instance, it would come in real handy at the end, when Count Zarth Arn is trying to kill them all with his ill-defined doomsday weapon, but the Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe comes up with a much more discombobulated plan — the “star crash” of the film’s title — to deal with a menace thousands of times more deadly than the one he stopped time to deal with a few minutes earlier). The normal laws of science don’t seem to apply to this flick any more than the normal rules of logic, either — for instance, when the Emperor launches missiles filled with soldiers inside into Zarth Arn’s ship, they break through all the windows and there’s not even the slightest bit of decompression even thoug the vessel is flying through space (specifically through the region known as The Haunted Stars).

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts --- she'll do .5 past light speed. Whoops, wrong movie ---

But I digress. Again, if you’re here for the story, you’re watching the wrong movie.  If the appeal of Starcrash can be summed up in one word, it’s the absolute and unequivocal otherness of the film that makes it work. It feels like it was made by a group of aliens who intercepted transmissions of Star Wars from Earth, had no idea what it was was about or how to make it, but saw that it was making a lot of money and figured they would give it a go and see what happens. It’s a truly alien viewing experience, and it feels almost entirely decoupled from reality itself. Needless to say, I absolutely love it.

"Starcrash" DVD from Shout! Factory

And I’ve saved the best news for last — for “Crashers,” as the small-but-way-too-enthusiastic cult of fans that has sprouted up around this spaghetti space opera are known, the long wait is finally over. No more bootleg DVD-Rs or 30-year-old VHS cassettes. Thanks to the fact that legendary B-movie mogul Roger Corman (who, it should be stated, had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual making of this film) picking up its US distribution rights back in 1978, Starcrash is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray as part of the Roger Corman’s Cult Classics library from Shout! Factory. The movie is presented in a superb widescreeen 1.78:1 anamorphic high definition transfer that look,s no pun intended, stellar, the sound is presented in either 2-channel Dolby Digital or an awesome new 5.1 DTS surround mix, and as for extras, well —

How about not one, but two commentary tracks by Stephen (Shock Festival) Romano, who’s got to be the world’s foremost Starcrash expert (he wrote a book on the film that remains unpublished) — the first take a detailed look at the story behind the scenes of the film and its pre-production, as well as placing it within the larger context of science fiction movie history, and the second offers a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown of its production. They really should be listened to in order, and are numerated as “commentary 1” and “commentary 2” on the on-screen selection menu. Then there’s the trailers — three of them, to be precise. One is the plain, bare-bones version, then we get it with commentary from legendary director Joe Dante, who actually assembled the trailer, and in fact did all of Corman’s trailers for several years before “making it” as a filmmaker in his own right. And thirdly we get it with commentary from Hostel director Eli Roth, who offered his remarks on it as part of his “Trailers From Hell” website. You may wonder what the point is of watching the same damn preview three times in a row, but trust me, you’ll want to. Then we’ve got an enormous selection of still photos featuring screen caps, pictures from the studio floor, behind-the-scenes production stills,  all kinds of advertising and poster art from around the world, and even a selection of fan art. Next up there’s a detailed interview with the man himself, Luigi Cozzi, and to top it all off we’ve got a nearly 20-minute featurette on John Barry’s score for the film.

And folks, that’s just on the first disc (unless you’ve got the Blu-Ray, in which case everything’s contained on a single disc). The second disc features a 72-minute interview with Caroline Munro about her entire career, with special attention paid, of course, to Starcrash, , a feature on the making of the special effects for the film, 17 deleted scenes that Corman excised for the US theatrical cut of the film, a selection of behind-the-scenes home-video taken during shooting presented with commentary by Romano, and the entire original screenplay presented in .PDF format for your PC or Mac, including corresponding storyboard sketches for many of the scenes.

No doubt about it, this DVD/Blu-Ray release is a genuine labor of love, and while all of the releases in the Roger Corman’s Cult Classics series have been, to date, superb, this stands out from the rest of that admittedly dinstinguished pack and is, I think it’s fair to say, the year’s best DVD release.

Do I even need to tell you to rush out and pick this up immediately? I didn’t think so.