It could be argued that Star Wars stole the mojo away from exploita­tion cin­e­ma, with its suc­cess prov­ing to Hollywood that they could use their pro­fes­sion­al-qual­i­ty resources to mine the same schlocky vein of gold in a more prof­itable way than their dri­ve-in com­peti­tors — and cut them out of the com­pe­ti­tion in the process.  Over the next decade, the great indie schlock mer­chants like American International and New World Pictures grad­u­al­ly died out or unsuc­cess­ful­ly tried to become more Hollywood-ized as audi­ences became accus­tomed to big­ger, bet­ter Hollywood ver­sions of their fare.

But damn if the schlock­meis­ters didn’t try to take that mojo right back in the first few years of the post–Star Wars epoch: films like Starship Invasions, Battle Beyond The Stars and count­less oth­ers from around the world did their damn­dest to steal George Lucas’ thun­der as they buried cos­mi­cal­ly-daz­zled movie­go­ers in a tidal wave of bar­gain-base­ment space operas.  Every fan has their favorite Star Wars ripoffs from this era but few inspire as much awe and twist­ed respect as Starcrash.  For many an exploita­tion flick vet­er­an, this Italian opus remains the last word in Lucas-sploita­tion.

This kitsch-in-sync opus tells the tale of one Stella Star (1970’s fan­ta­sy-flick bomb­shell Caroline Munro), an inter­stel­lar pirate who dodges the impe­ri­al guard with the help of her super-pow­ered com­pan­ion, Akton (Marjoe Gortner).  Her dev­il-may-care life takes a turn for the hero­ic when the Emperor (a drugged-look­ing Christopher Plummer) enlists her in his bat­tle again­st the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell), a mega­lo­ma­ni­ac who plans to con­quer the galaxy uti­liz­ing a secret plan­et that hides high-pow­ered weapon­ry.  The Emperor also hope that Stella can find his son, who dis­ap­peared in a crash while try­ing to find the Count’s weapons.

From there on, Stella races from cliffhang­er to clif­fanger with Akton and Texan-accent­ed robot Elle (voiced by Hamilton Camp) — who looks the walk­ing ver­sion of a futur­is­tic vibra­tor — pro­vid­ing assis­tance.  Stella’s adven­tures find her com­ing into con­flict with a race of Amazons, a giant, sword-wield­ing stat­ue, a plan­et of cave-dwelling Neanderthals and the afore­men­tioned Count Zarth Arn and his horde of black-suit­ed bad guy sol­diers.  There’s also a trip to a dead­ly ice plan­et, a bat­tle in a slave colony and the sud­den appear­ance of David Hasselhoff (!) as an unex­pect­ed ally.  It all cul­mi­nates in a cut-rate inter­stel­lar space bat­tle that reveals the brain-twist­ing def­i­n­i­tion of the film’s title.

No objec­tive crit­ic could call Starcrash a “good movie” — the seams are con­stant­ly show­ing on its visu­al effects, the plot­ting is daft and the per­for­mances veer into camp sur­re­al­ism thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of wild-eyed the­atrics and goof­ball post-synch dub­bing.  However, to call it a “bad movie” would be to miss the point entire­ly.

It man­ages to tran­scend its ama­teur­ish­ness and its habit of wild­ly over­reach­ing beyond its talent/resource lim­i­ta­tions through the pure-heart­ed love it express­es for its sub­ject mat­ter.  Director Luigi Cozzi was a sci-fi buff from child­hood and he invests every frame of the film with that diehard pas­sion for cos­mic adven­tures.  This com­bi­na­tion of intense gen­re-love and the total inabil­i­ty to dis­cern what is believable/acceptable in a film ensures that every reel of Starcrash is packed with schlocky mag­ic.

There’s no end to the mind-bend­ing delights this film offers.  The starscapes of out­er space fea­ture col­ored lights, stop-motion ani­mat­ed crea­tures lurch about like drunk­en hoboes and over­l­it space­ship mod­els zoom about with­out any tricky opti­cals in sight — but it’s all pre­sent­ed in such a dead­pan, “we real­ly mean it” style that the audi­ence is left feel­ing like they’ve slipped into an altered state.  The pres­ence of ran­dom col­lec­tion of rec­og­niz­able faces — all joy­ous­ly ham­ming it up in a way unique to European gen­re fare —  and regal fan­fares on the sound­track from James Bond film com­poser John Barry push the film’s sur­re­al­is­tic ante in the stratos­phere.  That the film offers a rare lead­ing role for Munro — who informs her role with con­ta­gious excite­ment — is the cher­ry atop the schlock sun­dae.

Better yet, Cozzi doesn’t lim­it him­self to bor­row­ing from Star Wars.  Despite being built around a “brave space pilots take on a Death Star-type fortress” hook, there’s much more going on in Starcrash.  The story’s struc­ture is built around the kind of cliffhang­er struc­ture cre­at­ed by the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon seri­als, the concept/visual design of Stella Star incor­po­rates cheeky lifts from Barbarella as well as Vampirella and the peri­od­ic uses of stop-motion ani­ma­tion — par­tic­u­lar­ly a scene with Gortner using a lightsab- uh, laser sword to fight a pair of cut­lass-wield­ing robots — was direct­ly inspired by Ray Harryhausen’s films.  You’ve got to love a guy who gets hired to rip off Star Wars and instead makes a fea­ture-length homage to every sci-fi and fan­ta­sy film he’s ever loved.

The fin­ished assem­blage is over­whelm­ing in the best sense of that word. Like the finest schlock mer­chants, Cozzi lifts every­thing that isn’t nailed down from his inspi­ra­tions,  blends the mul­ti­tude of influ­ences into a crazed hybrid that doesn’t fret about log­ic or aes­thet­ic puri­ty and then hurls it at you at blitzkrieg speed.  The result daz­zles you into sub­mis­sion, schlock-style, espe­cial­ly that final space-bat­tle sequence (a ver­i­ta­ble psy­che­delic riot of mul­ti­col­ored stars and explod­ing mod­el­ships).  As a result, the fin­ished film feels like the col­lec­tive id of Cozzi and his col­lab­o­ra­tors has been dumped out onto the big screen.

To sum up, Starcrash is the end-all, be-all of inter­stel­lar schlock, the Bizarro World mir­ror image of Star Wars — and its every bit as won­der­ful­ly synapse-fry­ing as that descrip­tion sug­gests.  No col­lec­tion of space-schlock is com­plete with­out it.

Starcrash

Starcrash

While run­ning from the author­i­ties, a pair of smug­glers (Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro) are recruit­ed by The Emperor (Christopher Plummer) to res­cue his miss­ing son (David Hasselhoff) while they track down a mys­te­ri­ous super weapon designed by an evil Count (Joe Spinell). Their wild adven­ture takes them through time and space as they bat­tle giant robots, cave­men and ama­zons.






Starcrash (Blu-ray)

Starcrash (Blu-ray)