Friday, December 18, 2015

A Field Guide To Star Wars Cash Ins

"Starcrash" (1978)

Notable For: David Hasselhoff's man perm. Christopher Plummer's white hot shame being able to power entire city grids.

The Lowdown: Oh Italy. Luigi Cozzi made one of the first "Star Wars" cash-ins that not only saw American theatrical release but had an in name only sequel tagged on to it. (See lower down the list.) The Emperor of the Universe and the dreaded Count Zarth Arn lock horns over the fate of the galaxy. Only the bikini clad Stella Star and her motley crew of robots and a former child evangelist can ensure that truth and freedom win the day. The film's ambitions outstrip its budget by a considerable margin making this one of the all time b movie greats.

Recommended? Oh yes.

"Battle Beyond the Stars" (1980)

Notable For: The ridiculous amount of before they were famous behind the scenes talent. Putting boobs on a spaceship.

The Lowdown: John Sayles scripts "Seven Samurai" in Space with music by James Horner. And happily, the movie is just as much fun as that sounds. A fantastic cast of familiar faces from John Saxon in Kabuki makeup to Robert Vaughn semi-reprising his role from "The Magnificent Seven" carry the story. The production design is a reminder of the charms of low budget films, as the cobbled together look of everything is perfect for a story set on remote outpost worlds. They don't make them like this anymore, and more's the pity.  

Recommended? Pour yourself a drink from your scotch and soda belt and enjoy this one.

"Message From Space" (1978)

Notable For: A Darth Vader knock-off who lives with his mom. Magic walnuts.

The Lowdown: Japan's main entry in the game. An international cast compete with the model spaceships for attention in this overstuffed adventure finally referencing "Seven Samurai" in its home country. Veteran director Kinji Fukasaku ably steers this one from running aground on it's many plot cul-de-sacs. It's ponderous. It's cheerful. And its Space Hippies wear an entire aisle's worth of plastic foliage from Michael's.

Recommended?  This one tends to divide the room. However I love every talky, over-designed minute of it.

"Starship Invasions" (1977)

Notable For: Sir Christopher Lee working the hell out of a black body stocking. Canadians being polite even when committing mass suicide.

The Lowdown: Canada gets in on the act with this dour, turtleneck festooned conglomeration of "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". In a wood paneled space ship aliens cause problems that humans worry about in their wood paneled kitchens and take to their wood paneled offices to figure out what to do about it. The costumes walk the amazing line between dowdy and Sold Gold dancer. Your tolerance for this will depend greatly on if you can't get enough of those bullshit documentaries about Ancient Astronauts or The Bermuda Triangle. You can watch it on YouTube here.

Recommended? I find its tin foil banality strangely hypnotic, most are likely to be put to sleep by it.

"Escape From Galaxy 3" (1981)

Notable For: Trying to pass itself off as a sequel to the equally demented Starcrash. Excessive beard glitter.

The Lowdown: The Italian Exploitation Film Industry begins it's downward decent with this riff on both "Star Wars" and a grab bag of then current hits as diverse as "The Blue Lagoon". A princess in a star spangled swimsuit and her companion flee the dreaded, dressed like Dolemite in space, villain to an idyllic world. There they learn about kissing, and interpretative dance. A good party movie, to watch or for when you want everyone to go home I'm still not sure.

Recommended? If you have a considerably high tolerance for Italy trying to do "Star Wars" on 10 dollars, go for it.

"Flash Gordon" (1980)

Notable For: Everything. Brian Blessed in leather tap pants.

The Lowdown: Dino De Laurentiis wanted a "Star Wars" of his own and got the rights to the Flash Gordon serials George Lucas wanted but couldn't get back in the mid seventies. Director Mike Hodges unleashes a candy colored, cartoon made flesh pulp wonderland. Glam rock headdresses, brass spaceships trailing plumes of red smoke, and Timothy Dalton in Kelly green tights. All set to a rocking beat by Queen. A beloved favorite, and deservedly so.

Recommended? Yes! AH-AH!

"Hawk the Slayer" (1980)

Notable For: Letting everybody know what "Disco Morricone" sounds like. Silly String as instrument of powerful witchcraft.

The Lowdown: Often lumped in with the Sword and Sorcery boom post "Excalibur". It predates it by a year. On closer examination that you realize this English/Italian co-production is attempting to do "Star Wars" in the more budget friendly setting of Ye Olden Times. Jack Palance is on hand to wear the modified Vader helmet and deliver line readings in a meter that suggests a drag queen auditioning for Game of Thrones.

Recommended? An acquired taste, but if you've got a soft spot for a D&D campaign used in place of a script dig in.

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