11/12/09

B.L.O.G Presents Starcrash (1978) with Caroline Munro




A few weeks back, I started my review of Halloween III by boldly stating that I didn’t care for Michael Myers. This week I’m going to go out on a further limb. I’m not really a fan of Star Wars. Sure, I liked it when I was younger, who didn’t, but as the years passed, the less I wanted to War and the more I wanted to Trek. By the time Lucas barfed up that prequel trilogy, Star Wars was all but dead to me. Yet there is something that Star Wars gave the world that I do really, really enjoy, the Star Wars rip-off. I thoroughly enjoyed Turkish Star Wars, Star Chaser, and Battle Beyond of the Stars. So when I saw that Cinema de Bizarre was offering Luigi Cozzi’s entry into the genre, Starcrash, I had to check it out.

In the place of a young farm boy, our hero is Stella Star (Caroline Munro), a smuggler that’s more Han than Luke, and along with her partner Akton (Marjoe Gortner), she makes a living salvaging whatever she can from deep space. The duo is finally caught by Chief of Police Thor (Robert Tessier) and Police Robot Elle (Hamilton Camp) and sentenced to hard labor. They get released from jail by the Galactic Emperor (Christopher Plummer) to aid in finding a missing ship which had been attacked by Count Zarth Arn’s (Joe Spinelli) forces. The Emperor dispatches the duo along with Thor and Elle to discover what secret weapon Zarth Arn is wielding and to see if his son, Simon (David Hasselhoff) had survived the attack. Along the way they must battle Amazons, giant robots, and roving bands of Neanderthals before facing off against Zarth Arn with the fate of a galaxy on the line.


From the very first frame of Starcrash you know two things about this film. First, you get an extended shot of a huge space frigate floating along so there’s no mistaking exactly what they were ripping off. This is followed shortly by a block of floating text (French in the version I watched) detailing the back-story of the conflict between the Emperor and Zarth Arn. Secondly, from how terrible the effects are, you get an idea of how fast this film was turned out to capitalize on Star Wars mania. Not only does the ship in space look bad, but when it’s attacked by Zarth Arn’s secret weapon, which shows up as a globulous red overlay inside the ship, all I could think was that they were being attacked by the light show operator from the Fillmore East. (That was a joke for people over the age of 50 more than likely, but I like it so I’m keeping it.) The effects never get better, but it kind of adds to the campy majesty that is Starcrash.

Of course, we’re here today because of the star of the film, Miss Stella Star herself, Caroline Munro. If ever there was a woman who more deserved to be inducted into the ranks of the Beautiful Ladies of Genre, then I don’t know who that is. Munro started her career as a model and made her leap to the big screen with an un-credited part in 1967’s Casino Royale. The first big role she landed was that of the deceased wife of Vincent Price’s Dr Phibes, and she followed that up with a spot of Hammer horror, Captain Kronus- Vampire Hunter. It was her role in the 1977 James Bond film The Spy who Loved Me that brought her to wide attention. In that film she played the evil assassin Naomi, the first woman ever verifiably killed by James Bond. Then in 1978 came Starcrash. Stella Star is of course there to be our hero, and to provide something for the fellas to look at as well. This is made quite clear when she’s sent to prison in her converted bathing suit outfit and knee high leather boots while her fellow prisoners are dressed in rags. Her performance is just what it should be. She plays it serious, and with campy material like this, that’s exactly what it called for. After Starcrash, Munro would continue in genre work. She made a pair or films, Maniac and The Last Horror Show, with her Starcrash co-star Joe Spinelli, Paul Nachy’s 1987 film Howl of the Devil, and reunited with Cozzi for 1989’s The Black Cat before she all but retired from the business to focus on her family and children.

While Munro is the reason we’re talking about Starcrash today, she’s, by far, not the only noteworthy performer on hand. Personally, I have a soft spot for the lesser films of Marjoe Gortner. I discussed Gortner's childhood as an evangelist in an earlier review of Mausoleum so I won’t rehash that here. Gortner has a unique look about him, and he was perfect casting for Stella Star’s sidekick with mysterious powers, Akton. Gortner is also only one of three actors (the others being Chris Plummer and The Hoff) who dubbed their own voice for the film. While it would be a year later in 1979’s When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? that Gortner would give his best performance, Gortner is as entertaining to watch as ever in Starcrash.

The supporting cast is a verifiable “who’s who” of people that it’s hard to believe appear in this film. Let’s start with Christopher Plummer. Now Plummer would go on appear another of my favorite science fiction movies when he showed up as General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, but he’s probably best known for his turn as Baron Von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965). Plummer has never been snobby about appearing in mainstream and genre film work, and that’s something I really respect in an actor. In Starcrash, he has very limited screen time, once appearing only as a hologram, but he brings gravitas the role of the Space Emperor which was probably much needed.

Next up, Joe Spinelli, which horror fans will know from the aforementioned films Maniac and The Last Horror Film, shows up as the Emperors’ nemesis Darth Arn. Wait did I say Darth? I, of course, meant Zarth. Anyhow, Spinelli plays Zarth Arn with relentless over the top gusto all the while looking like Ming the Merciless’ ugly brother. I have to admit that every time he hit the screen I giggled a bit, but this is the kind of film that will have you laughing already so one more won’t hurt. Chief of Police Thor played by Robert Tessier might be a familiar face as well. He’s done a ton of character work over the years, and he began his career with a role in the first Billy Jack film 1967’s the Born Losers. Over the years he also appeared with Charles Bronson in Hard Times, as the Dutchman in the 1967 Doc Savage movie, and in Peter Yate’s The Deep. Meanwhile his sidekick, Police Robot Elle was voiced by Hamilton Camp best known for his character roles and providing voices on the cartoon Duck Tales. Whose choice it was to make Elle a robot with a southern accent is anyone’s guess, but I could not have enjoyed it more. I mean how can you not like a robot that sounds like a hick saying things like, “Is time for a little robot chauvinism.”? Classic, I tell you.

Now I haven’t mentioned one person in this cast because his role doesn’t come in until the last third of the film, but what a treat to see a young, pre-Knight Rider David Hasselhoff hamming it up as only The Hoff can do. Long before he was lounging around shirtless eating burgers, he appeared in a couple of low budget features including Starcrash and 1976’s Revenge of the Cheerleaders (where he’s credited as Boner making it a must see). Hasselhoff is exactly what you would expect from him. He’s younger, but his acting was no better. Still, I bet his appearance in the film somehow made this flick huge in Germany.

All in all, Starcrash is a Star Wars rip off that didn’t even take the fact that it was a rip off too seriously. It manages to be funny, both intentionally and accidentally, have some good old fashioned cheesy effects, and entertain for ninety solid minutes. I found the film overall to be worthy of a recommendation, but don’t go into this film expecting to see a masterpiece. If you do, you’ll find yourself disappointed. What you’re going to get is a campy, stupid, cut rate space opera that if taken on face value will deliver no more than it promises. If given the choice between watching a Star Wars film or Starcrash, it would be a pretty easy choice. Well, except then I’d remember how much I like Empire. I suppose a double feature would be on tap then.

Bugg Rating


3 comments:

  1. Yup, STARCRASH is a hoot! Though you really have to have a taste for cinematic cheese to enjoy it for what it is. I'm sure it would drive some sci-fi purists insane with geeky rage.

    ReplyDelete
  2. jervaise brooke hamsterNovember 15, 2009 at 7:19 PM

    Its a shame Caroline Munro was british if she`d been american she would have been perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  3. haha that's hilarious!!!

    what a classic looking film!
    nearly as funny as The Hoff's Vacuum Penis Pump commercial

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2torN-iKOuY&fmt=18

    it's a bit of fun ;)

    cheers

    Keeno

    ReplyDelete

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