The Popcornomicon

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Starcrash (1978)

Starcrash (1978)

Back of the box...

“The universe is in the grip of darkness, under the hateful eye of Count Zarth Arn. Hidden deep within his fortress, the Count seeks to destroy the Good Emperor and his kingdom. Knowing these plans, the Emperor employs a trio of adventurers led by the best pilot in the galaxy, the beautiful and irrepressible Stella Star.
An epic struggle between the forces of evil and the sophisticated sorcery of fearless heroes is realized when Stella and her comrades, using their wits and technological wizardry, battle intergalactic robots, deadly troglodytes, prehistoric men and ultimately the Count himself.”

Director: Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates)
Starring: Caroline Munro, Marjoe Gortner, Christopher Plummer, David Hasselhoff

Watch the Trailer

It must be “Mockbuster March” because this week, after having so much fun watching A*P*E, we watched the spaghetti sci-fi, Star Wars inspired B-masterpiece, Starcrash! So, is it a blatant rip-off of Star Wars? Well, according to director Luigi Cozzi (the man responsible for Lou Ferrigno throwing a bear into space), the idea for Starcrash was pitched BEFORE Star Wars! Legend has it that a producer passed on the initial pitch but, just a few months after Star Wars mania had swept the planet, called Cozzi back offering to finance the film. In the wake of the success of Star Wars, Starcrash willingly embraced the “Mockbuster” title—riding Darth Vader’s cape-tails—but included traces of Cozzi’s original idea.

We know what you’re thinking, “do you think I’m a gullible, or even a gullicalf?” Well, based on Cozzi’s original plan for the film, we believe him. A huge Ray Harryhausen fan, Cozzi always wanted to see that style of stop motion animation set in space and thus set out to make what he would refer to as, “a kind of Sinbad Goes to Space.” While the Harryhausen aesthetic is painfully obvious in the film’s stop motion animation, it’s his influence in other parts of the movie where the Star Wars similarities start to take root. Harryhausen, if you didn’t know, is famous for his film adaptations of mythological greek hero-quests, and when you take that style of storytelling into space, you’re gettin’ into Star Wars territory! Throw in the common influence of 1930’s sci-fi serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and it’s not hard to understand how the similarities might pile up. People say, “creativity is just how well you disguise your influences,” and while Lucas managed to translate this idea into something new and exciting, Cozzi was more like the three-year-old on Christmas morning, smashing all his sci-fi action figures together and calling it a movie.

After an Italian language opening crawl (without subtitles, thank you very much), we are then treated to another iconic Star Wars moment as a ship slowly enters the screen. It’s just arrived at the heart of the “Haunted Stars” on it’s search for the evil Count Zarth Arn’s secret fortress when the ship is suddenly attacked by a strange weapon that replaces all the light bulbs onboard with red ones! In the ship’s final moments, three escape pods eject and are scattered among the surrounding planets. Meanwhile, on the other side of space town, Stella Star, an outlaw smuggler, and her side kick Chewbacca—kidding, his name is Akton of the 9th Vega—get busted by the cops and are offered the standard Snake Plissken deal: if they recover the jettisoned escape pods, they each get a full pardon. They take the deal and set out to track down the pods. Let’s hope Count Zarth Arn doesn’t have anything to say about it!

The film stars Caroline Munro, who horror fans will know from Maniac (1980) and others might know as a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), but we’re sure Cozzi knew her from the Ray Harryhausen film The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973). The casting is a little all over the place, with the bad guy from American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (Marjoe Gortner), an Oscar winner (Christopher Plummer), the writer and star of Maniac (Joe Spinell), and The Hoff (David Hasselhoff).

With a cast like that, you might be wondering how this gem has managed to stay under the radar. For decades, Starcrash seemed to be doomed to obscurity with the occasional out of print VHS tape showing up at garage sales. And then, like a single blip after a flatline on a heart monitor, the movie was resurrected briefly through the Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan page, “Mystery Fandom Theater 3000.” The site featured fan-made episodes and in 2003 they riffed Starcrash, essentially making them the only source for the film until 2010 when Shout Factory! released it on Blu-Ray and DVD. AND...we just saw the trailer for the new season of MST3K and it has a clip from Starcrash!!!! Exciting, right?

Starcrash is a movie ripe for riffing. If nothing looks more dated than yesterday’s vision of the future, then what about 1978’s vision that was borrowed from 42 years prior? It’s like Flash Gordon meets Clash of the Titans meets Barbarella all while in line to see Star Wars. The visual effects are an honest to god delight. The miniatures never look like anything other than just that. In fact, they kind of resemble the exterior shots of the Satellite of Love on MST3K except that space in Starcrash always looks unusually crowded. Seriously, you’ve never seen space with so little. . . space. It’s a cluttered mess with huge stars and planets everywhere! The acting is surprisingly not always terrible, although our lead character is a little excitable. The film’s dialogue is fittingly hilarious with amazing lines like, “destroy them by sunset.” What sunset? YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF SPACE! Even with a fairly straight forward story, Starcrash still manages to write itself into corners and their ways out of them are kinda cheap. Characters seem to have limitless powers that are only revealed at the most opportune moments. It’s almost like you’re at a chili cook-off and you realize you brought cayenne peppers instead of habaneros; your shit’s gonna be so weak! But wait, suddenly your friend announces that they have the magical ability to turn cayenne peppers into habaneros! What a well timed reveal of a magical ability!

Starcrash is a fun little bit of off-the-wall, B-movie, Sci-fi adventure. It’s campy retro style, stop motion animation, and Star Wars references make for a very enjoyable watch. This is a movie that you’ll probably want to watch with friends—don’t have any? Just wait for the new season of MST3K to come out and you can watch it with Crow and Tom Servo.

Watch the Full Movie

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A*P*E (1976)

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