easy to lump Starcrash (1979) in with the countless space
operas that followed in the successful wake of Star Wars
(1977). Starcrash is more than an imitator. It manages to
establish its own set of rules (logic be damned) in a wacky, low-budget,
adventure begins with a giant battle ship, christened the Murray
Leinster of all things, which cruises past the camera and off
into space. The shot was clearly "inspired" by the beginning
of Star Wars. The crew is attacked by red "monsters",
a lighting effect achieved by superimposing lava lamp blobs over
footage of the crew writhing in agony. Three life boats are launched
before the ship explodes.
smugglers Stella Star (former Bond girl Caroline Munro) and her
alien friend Akton (70's relic Marjoe Gortner) are being pursued
through brightly colored star fields by space cops. "Go for
hyperspace!" Stella shouts, their escape made possible by a
cheesy video effect that's reminiscent of a Windows screensaver,
"Let's hope this star buggy holds together."
the border of the haunted stars, Stella and Akton encounter one
of the drifting launches from the Leinster. Stella slips
into her transparent plastic spacesuit and goes for a space walk
to investigate. She returns with a badly injured crewmember. Akton
is somehow able to decipher the man's inaudible mumbles. Can he
read lips? Can he read minds? The extent of Akton's alien powers
are never fully explained. Perhaps, like the biblical Sampson, his
hair is the source of his power. Gortner's blond afro is mighty
our heroes have been helping those in need, the police have caught
up with them. Thor (Robert Tessier) is a bald and blue peace officer,
his partner Elle (Judd Hamilton, Munro's husband at the time), is
a robot with a twangy Texas accent. They arrest our heroes and soon
Stella and Akton are standing in judgment before an octopus with
a human face. With his badly animated tentacles waving about, mollusk
man sentences them to hard labor.
pay for her crimes, Stella feeds beach balls into an energy furnace.
Apparently Stella was allowed to bring her own couture. While the
other slaves wear rags, Stella labors in a space bikini and high
heels. At the first chance for escape Stella overpowers a guard
by using her keen judo skills and starts a revolt. The ensuing laser
battle destroys the furnace and the prison complex.
on foot, Stella soon encounters a ship with Thor and Elle aboard.
Elle explains that, "We've all been assigned to a top secret
imperial mission; we must now leave and set Akton free."
picking up their curly-headed pal, our heroic quartette receives
a holographic email from the Emperor of the universe. Christopher
Plummer (a long way from The Sound of Music, 1965) seems
to be taking his role as the Emperor a little too seriously. The
Emperor's son was commander of the Leinster. Since they found
the first launch, their mission is to find any survivors and bring
back information on Count Zarth Arn's secret weapon of mass destruction.
and Elle pilot their Plexiglas shuttle to the surface of a strange
planet, explore another shuttle crash site, and are captured by
Amazons. With guns blazing, Elle saves the day. The Amazon Queen,
a servant of the evil Count, sends her robot guardian after them.
In a stiffly animated homage to Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
the giant robot chases Stella and Elle down the shoreline. Watch
carefully, the guardian's sword arm makes a shadow against the planetary
backdrop. Just when all hope seems lost, Akton and Thor arrive in
their spaceship and rescue their pals by blasting the not-so-special
they're not out of the woods yet. Next they must fend off a battalion
of Amazon air fighters, deadly manta shaped ships that fly in formation.
A space battle ensues, though the sequence is so choppily edited
that it's difficult to tell who's winning and who's losing. An overly
excited Akton blasts a few enemy ships resulting in victory, but
Gortner's suddenly manic performance is more creepy than celebratory.
ice planet is the next stop on their search. While Stella and Elle
explore the wreckage of the Leinster on the planets surface,
Akton stays onboard the ship and practices his powers, in this case,
a few slight of hand tricks involving some squiggly oscilloscope
waves. Unimpressed by parlor tricks, Thor whacks Akton over the
back of the head. Thor, a double agent in league with Zarth Arn,
leaves Stella and Elle outside to brave the elements.
is nonplussed, "Thor a traitor? I cannot believe it. I cannot
trust my own logic circuits anymore." To survive the frigid
cold, they snuggle into the snow, "I can use my energy to keep
your heart working. You'll be in a state of suspended animation."
a strangely romantic moment, Stella shares her feelings for her
robot friend, "You're the most faithful companion a woman ever
I too respect you Stella. You are the nicest human being I have
known. Now maybe is a good time to use your ancient system of prayer
hope it works for robots too." As the temperature drops they
are slowly covered in ice.
Akton wakes up and attempts to regain control of the ship in a goofily
choreographed fistfight with Thor. The floor of the set is so slippery
that it's nearly impossible for either of them to remain upright.
Akton, using his inexplicable powers, suddenly gains super strength
and starts judo chopping Thor, whose Smurf-like tint has worn off
during the fight. Thor pulls out a laser gun and fires, "No
one can survive these deadly rays!"
the rays back at Thor, Akton snappily replies, "These deadly
rays will be your death." Akton brings Stella aboard, places
his frozen friend in an egg shaped incubator and uses his powers
to thaw her out. They continue their search and are summarily attacked
by the Count's red lava lamp "monsters". The assault is
soon over (perhaps scared off by Munro's swell acting) and Akton
declares that they've, "Just survived an attack by the most
powerful weapon in the galaxy." 60's novelty décor as
a powerful weapon? Hmmm
the next planet's rocky surface, Stella and Elle find the last launch.
The planet is inhabited by troglodytes who smash Elle to pieces
and carry Stella off to their cave. Just as they're about to sacrifice
our beautiful heroine, a stranger comes to her rescue. Once out
of harms way, he removes his energy shield mask to reveal the fluffy
haired visage of Simon, the Emperor's son, played by a very young
David Hasselhoff. Instead of thanking her savior, Stella scolds
him, "We've been searching for you all through these damn haunted
stars." The cave men attack again and Simon and Stella engage
them in some rock 'em, sock 'em action. Akton, wielding a light
saber (oops, make that a laser sword) saves the day.
likes a know-it-all, but that doesn't prevent Akton from spilling
a ton of exposition in a holier-than-thou fashion. They are on the
Count's phantom planet and the red "monsters" and cave
men were guarding the Count's secret weapon. They must destroy it.
After a quick stroll through some poorly composited special effect
corridors, they find the Count's doomsday device in a control room
filled with glowing orbs.
they can destroy the diabolical device, Count Zarth Arn makes his
grand entrance. With sweeping gestures and hearty villainous laugh,
Joe Spinell plays the Count as if he were a moustache twirling baddie
about to tie Stella to a train track. In true Snidely Whiplash fashion,
he plans to destroy the phantom planet and our heroes with it.
Zarth Arn leaves, Akton uses his light sword to battle the Count's
Golems, a pair of robots that look as if they were constructed with
scrap pieces from an erector set. Simon proves to be quiet sufficient
at swashbuckling when he is forced to finish the fight after Akton
is injured. With only a flesh wound, Akton insists that his friends
continue their mission without him.
can't leave you." Stella cries, "You're the only human-like
friend I've ever had." In a death scene that makes as much
sense as anything else in the movie, Akton dissolves into wobbly
oscilloscope lines and disappears.
the Emperor and his royal guard arrive, Stella warns that there
are only, "Forty-eight seconds left till the explosion, we've
got to get out of here."
true father," confirms Simon, "The Count has mined the
planet with nuclear charges. We're all about to die!"
to make the most of his screen time, Plummer leisurely announces,
"You know something my boy, I wouldn't be Emperor if I didn't
have some powers at my command. Imperial battle ship," he shouts,
"Halt the flow of time!" They escape and the planet blows
up in a less than spectacular fashion.
Zarth Arn readies for combat on board his Space Claw, a giant space
station that's shaped like
well, a claw. When attacked, it
closes up into a fist. "By sunset I'll be the new Emperor!"
(A sunset in outer space?) "I will be master of the whole universe!"
he shouts as the finale space battle begins.
part of the attack, the Emperor puts his soldiers inside torpedoes
that are fired into space. Once they have locked onto target, the
torpedoes crash through the Counts control room window, the soldiers
jump out, and start blasting away. It's so ridiculously implausible
that you have to wonder just what the filmmakers were thinking.
with these brilliant strategies, the good guys are losing and the
Emperor has no choice, "There's one solution left, I'm afraid
we're forced to use it
Starcrash." The gist of the plan
is to ram the claw fortress with the Emperor's floating city. Stella
is drafted into piloting the city with the help of a reassembled
friend. "You can't keep a good robot down." Elle says
rainbow hued model of the floating city bears down on the Count's
Space Claw. There are lots of sparkling explosions as the miniatures
are ignited. Abandoned by his minions, Zarth Arn stands amid the
destruction as his fortress is decimated. Stella and her friends
have saved the universe.
ends the film with a monologue that makes about as much sense as
Bela Lugosi's "pull the string" speech from Glen or
Glenda (1953). From his space age throne, he delivers the following
with all the seriousness of a Shakespearian sonnet, "So, it's
done. It's happened. The stars are clear, the planets shine, we
have won. Oh, some dark force no doubt will show its face once more.
The wheel will always turn. But for now it's calm. And for a little
time, at least, we can rest."
made at the outset of the 80's, Starcrash's colorfully mod/Barbarella-esque
look is thanks in part to the film's small budget and it's reliance
on set pieces and costumes from earlier Italian productions. The
films special effects were produced by a first time technician who,
because of the tight schedule, had to build all the film's models
in two days. The results were hit and miss. While some sequences
looked pretty decent under the circumstances, writer/director Luigi
Cozzi had some scenes redone. A sequence where Stella Star battled
a giant crab was shot twice, but the end results were so bad that
the scene was removed. Cozzi was also unhappy with the giant Amazon
robot sequence, but out of time and out of money, the scene was
left in, as is.
Starcrash website features lots of photos and trivia; including
a 2004 interview with Cozzi where the director explains that he
was (not too surprisingly) encouraged by producers to make the movie
as much like Star Wars as possible. Knowing it was next to
impossible to emulate Star Wars on such a small budget, Cozzi
rewrote the script with more fantasy elements, downplaying the high
tech aspects of the story. He drew inspiration from the pulps of
the 1950's which explains the episodic nature of the story; Stella
Star encounters a new insurmountable challenge about every ten minutes.
long out of print, Starcrash is still available to rent at
most video stores. Used copies can also be found on auction websites
as well as Amazon.com. A special edition DVD is available in Europe,
but has yet to be released in the states.