Starcrash (1978) Blu Ray (Stratx)
The Italian Star Wars?
Luigi Cozzi’s space opera features Caroline Munro as pilot Stella Star and Marjoe Gortner as her navigator Akton. They are on the run through outer space from the police in the shape of Thor (Robert Tessier) and the robot Elle (played by Judd Hamilton, but voiced by Hamilton Camp).
After they manage to lose their pursuers, they discover a small craft floating in space. It’s one of three escape pods which fled from a ship that got attacked as it entered the Haunted Stars - the domain of the villainous Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell). They pick up one survivor, but before they can question him Thor and Elle catch up with them. They are both sentenced to hard labour on different prison planets.
Before long however, Thor and Elle retrieve them and bring them before The Emperor of the Universe (Christopher Plummer), who has a secret mission for them. He explains that the ship which entered the Haunted Stars was close to finding the location of the evil Count’s super weapon. Moreover, one of the crew members on board was the Emperor’s own son. With that, Stella, Akton, Thor and Elle head off on a perilous adventure to find both his son and the super weapon.
Watch a trailer:
A movie “so bad it’s good”?
Well… I’m not sure if that’s an accurate description. A closer one would be “so bafflingly batshit and insanely inane that it’s in its own class of fascinating folly”. It’s basically a Star Wars rip-off which was clearly thrown together on the cheap with whatever they could find lying around in Italian studio Cinecitta’s store cupboards, and written by a bunch of children playing with toy space ships while on a sugar rush. Or, quite possibly, LSD.
It’s not a good movie at all, but the whole mishmash of composite elements is so utterly random that it takes on a strange charm of its own. For one thing, while elements were clearly “inspired by” Star Wars (the space battles, the lightsabers, the opening text crawl, the opening shot of a huge spaceship passing overhead and, to some extent, the storyline) it eschews the clinically functional aesthetic of that film in favour of the cheerily colourful impracticality of sci-fi from the 1950s and 60s.
As with George Lucas’s film it’s basically a string of fights, battles and so-called “cliffhangers” i.e. situations where the heroes get captured and/or face near-certain death, but manage to use resourcefulness to make it out in the nick of time. However, the staging of the fights and battles is inept, while the cliffhangers are usually resolved because of some incredible power that a specific character is revealed to possess: the ability to shoot lasers from their eyes, the ability to see into the future, the ability to stop time and so on. These powers are just randomly written into the script for the scene where they are used, and never referred to or used before or after.
What about the special effects?
The spaceship miniatures are actually OK, as long as the camera doesn’t get in too close. However, the optical effects look like they have wandered in from some cheap 1960s psychedelic film, while the process shots are laughably poor. The stop-motion creations look like they were knocked up in 10 minutes on Blue Peter.
The cheesy incompetence is fun up to a point but by around the halfway mark, the overall aesthetic naffness coupled with the complete lack of anything approaching a cohesive internal logic really wears thin. However, things pick up again near the end as the finale sends the batshitometer into overdrive. We get a huge space battle - much of it watched on the Emperor’s huge screen, presumably courtesy of remote cameras he somehow has floating throughout space and even placed inside Zarth Arn’s ship. His troops enter the ship by flying in torpedoes through the window, which somehow doesn’t cause the vessel to decompress and kill everyone on board. Finally, Zarth Arn’s ship (which looks like a giant claw for some reason) is destroyed when Stella flies a huge flying city into it, resulting in a scene where the villain stands in the middle of an exploding set, stretching his arms out and shouting “Zarth Arn” repeatedly. Sorry for spoiling the ending, but it really has to be talked about, and has to be seen to be disbelieved.
How did they get that cast?
Star Wars was such a huge phenomenon at the time that such prestigious talent as Canadian thespian Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, The Man Who Would Be King) and Oscar-winning British composer John Barry (most of the Bond films up to the late 1980s) signed on the dotted line for Starcrash and, presumably, swallowed up the lion’s share of what little budget it had. Barry’s orchestral score is superb and lends the production a slight (if incongruous) air of class. Plummer, meanwhile, seems to be channeling William Shakespeare and William Shatner equally as he reads every line with a mixture of florid grandiloquence and heavy mid-sentence pauses.
The lesser talents in the cast are also quite interesting for their wider careers. Marjoe Gortner was a well-known child evangelist before he became disillusioned with his profession and decided to expose his racket by appearing in the 1972 documentary Marjoe. He then worked as an actor (mostly on TV and in B movies) until 1995. Caroline Munro was a familiar face during the 1970s due to her various roles in British-made horror and fantasy adventure films including Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. Here, she gets to wear a delightful range of (often rather skimpy) outfits. David Hasselhoff needs no introduction nowadays but was less famous at the time Starcrash was made - although he did have a few roles under his belt (mostly from TV). For some reason, he wears almost as much eyeliner here as Ms Munro does!
Caroline Munro and Judd Hamilton had their voices dubbed by Candy Clark and Hamilton Camp respectively, apparently because the post-production budget was too low for the original actors to be flown out from England to the recording studio. This isn’t noticeable as far as Judd is concerned since he wears a robot costume throughout, but hearing Munro speak with a poorly lip-synched American accent is rather bizarre. That’s pretty much a microcosm of what’s so bad and so cherishably cheesy about the film as a whole.
Runtime: 92 mins
Dir: Luigi Cozzi
Script: Luigi Cozzi, Nat Wachsberger, R.A. Dillon
Starring: Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, Christopher Plummer, David Hasselhoff, Robert Tessier, Joe Spinell, Nadia Cassini, Judd Hamilton, Hamilton Camp (voice), Candy Clark (voice)
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Visually it’s a mixed bag. Some of the shots look great, but some are hopelessly grainy and blurry. However, the film’s bright Christmas-light colours do come out well on the format. The audio quality is decent; the John Barry score is wonderfully rousing in Dolby Stereo.
None at all. I would have loved a commentary and/or interviews from director Luigi Cozzi or some of the cast members; it would have been interesting to hear their thoughts on this confounding film.
If you’re after a good Star Wars-style movie, avoid Starcrash at all costs. However, if you’re interested in a fascinatingly bad Italian-made curiosity, it’s well worth a look. Either way, the lack of extras is a lamentably wasted opportunity.
Extras: no stars