Italian cinema has brought forth plenty of classic films and directors of assorted skill levels from Fellini to Leone, Argento, Bava and more, but Luigi Cozzi (or Lewis Coates, his “Americanized” name) deserves a special place in the hearts of a certain group of cinema fans. Known for doing relatively quick and cheap knock-offs of popular sci-fi and fantasy films, there’s a certain bizarre charm to his “major” genre works that demands repeat viewings. That and hell, if you ever have a toothache and want to forget all about the pain, you can count on a few of Cozzi’s films to make you do just that. Then again, you may just injure some other body part when you roll off a couch or chair laughing. STARCRASH is one such film and for some, the movie they saw in theaters when Star Wars seating was unavailable during that film’s long run (I recall it playing for about a year in some spots) or 1978 reissue. I was one of those people and I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from the experience… but I have gained a bit more appreciation for this offbeat mess over the decades.
The film isn’t so much an easily dismissed Star Wars “rip-off” at all (especially given George Lucas was paying homage to plenty of old films in his better-made film) as it is Cozzi doing a space opera on his own artistic terms and blowing the roof of the heads of viewers in the process with wild colors, costumes and plot devices, most of which can be baffling. All you need to do is look at the cast he gathered that included performances from Caroline Munro as Stella, Marjoe Gortner, Judd Hamilton, Christopher Plummer (the great Shakespeare-trained actor who later played a memorable Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), David Hasselhoff, and Joe Spinell to see that his interntions were to make something somewhat important. Add in a score by the legendary John Barry and that would be enough on paper at least to make this seem like a decent flick. However, it’s in the art direction, special effects and storytelling where things fly right into trouble (and what make the film a total classic of “Z” movie greatness).
I’ll skip a proper plot description because it’s a collage of supremely wacky melange of ideas and visual elements pulled from other films (Jason and the Argonauts, Barbarella, a western or three) and yes, Star Wars gets a big nod throughout. That video above contains one of of the all time greatest lines in sci-fi movie history (thank you Christopher Plummer!) and there are a few more howlers and scenery-chewing performances to have you grasping the arms of that chair or couch for dear life. Still, the most awesomely hilarious things to see are the effects and the film’s model work is outstanding in its badness because of this. The overeager model team completely didn’t quite grasp the idea of kitbashing and most of the bigger spaceships look like expensive toys. One ship, the Murray Lenister (named after the pen name of sci-fi author William Fitzgerald Jenkins), has awful rub-on letters in close up in a shot or two. Most ships are lit up like Christmas trees with multicolored lighting offering a bit too much in the way of a diversion TO their weaker points, again, part of the cheesy charm running throughout the film
There’s even some terrible stop motion animation in a few scenes, but I can’t decide which is the worst offender here. That giant evil planet destroying Space Claw is probably the cake-taker, as it’s so important to the story and gets a nice chunk of screen time, but the giant silver statue thing is quite a sight to “behold” as well. $4 million isn’t a great deal of money these days for a sci-fi flick, but back then, Cozzi broke the bank wide open. From what I recall from genre movie magazines of the era, the film was delayed a few times because of money and other woes and it shows in some spots. I also recall it not only being blasted across the galaxy in reviews, but getting a few people really upset because they went in expecting something as solid as what Lucas had made, but ended up watching what was basically some sort of performance art masterwork.
Anyway, if you’re in the mood for something really nuts, but fun in a “hey, let’s put on a show!” manner check out this one and perhaps double it up with Cozzi’s gory and goofy Alien Contamination which borrows a wee bit too much from Ridley Scott’s classic ALIEN, yet manages to go completely off the rails and become something else entirely. Or feel free to triple it up with Cozzi’s two INCREDIBLE Hercules films – I’ll cover those two classics in a future RFotW, as they’re even better for aching body parts to get healed up. Or worse for parts that aren’t broken yet. Hmmm… maybe sit on the floor when watching Stella Star and company do their stuff (just in case) – I need all the readers I can get…