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Italian Sci-Fi Night

23rd Sep 05

Man, this had been a long time coming. I mean, it's a classic - can you imagine? A 1980 Italian Star Wars rip-off movie with Caroline Munro, Joe Spinell, Christopher Plummer and a pre-Knight Rider David Hasselhoff? And some of the coolest low-budget Sci-Fi sets since Barbarella? Wow, like Rawshark said to me a couple of times tonight, "I can't believe you didn't bring this to Zombie Club sooner!"

Of course I'd tried to, but it was very hard getting an accompanying movie. Originally I had Corman's Battle Beyond the Stars lined up, but on the strength of my ravings Zomblee had bought it and, never cherishing it as a child like Rawshark and I had, it just didn't have the same effect. And that wasn't good enough - to accompany Starcrash you had to find a film of amazing quality.

Or at least that's what I thought. One day in the Blockbuster VHS sale I spied Reactor for one pound, checked out the photos on the box and became convinced. If Starcrash was the best of the Italian Sci-Fi boom, was Reactor the worst? Would it have the delusions of grandeur required? Hmmm… the best and the worst in one night? Well... fuck it, why not?

So strap yourselves in guys while I make the calculations for the jump to hyperspace. Things may get a little bumpy...

Tonight's line up is presented by Jim in assoication with the Acton neighbourhood watch Initiative.

Starcrash Reactor 


Starcrash (1979)

Plot
In a time before life existed in the outer galaxies vast Star Nations prospered under the kind rule of the Star Emperor. Until... The rise of the Evil Count Zarth Arn, arch ruler of The Haunted Stars.

Jim
Alright, let's just hit the ground running with this baby. Starcrash chronicles the quite literally amazing adventures of Stella Star and her sidekick Akton ("I used to live in Acton!" - Rawshark), two intergalactic smuggling heroes who are being chased across a psychedelic Italian Sci-Fi galaxy by a strangely familiar looking thug with a green face and his Texan sidekick Police Robot L.

Despite their obvious top draw star piloting skills, they are both soon captured and sentenced to an ungodly jail term on some back water mining shit-hole by a giant head in a jar with loads of tentacles, but before they can be transported towards their impending doom the thug with the green face and his sidekick Robot L ("Police Robot L!" - Zomblee) rescue them for an audience with the Emperor of the Galaxy. That's Christopher Plummer, or a homographic (holographic?) image of him at least. He tells them that they've been sprung to find Count Zarth Arn's secret planet (where he has a secret weapon that can destroy planets) and destroy it, and if they could find his missing son while they're there all the better. He's been missing since his ship was "suddenly attacked by a horde of unknown monsters..." (only Christopher Plummer could deliver that line straight-faced) and his name is, um, Simon.

So Stella, Akton, the green face guy and Robot L ("Police Robot L!" - Rawshark) then dutifully head off looking for this planet, stopping of for some crazy Italian Sci-Fi adventures on other planets along the way. This is where the movie really shines as each planet has its cool quirks, like really wicked costumes, sets and skylines. As Rawshark said, "They always do cool production design those Italians... in space anyway..."

Take the Amazon women planet. When the Amazon women all turn up on horseback ("Space horses, brilliant!" - Zomblee) and drag Stellar off to meet their queen, she rips open with some fantastically cheesy kung-fu. Now Stella Star's costume is a little on the skimpy side to start with, but she looks positively fully dressed compared to these Amazon ladies. "Every film should have a scene like that!"

That's nothing compared to the fight they have with the giant statue monster robot thing with breasts on the beach, though. "Harryhausen would be proud!" said our guest for the night David, and we all cheered, until we saw the stop-motion animation of the monstrosity striding towards them along the beach, when tears turned to laughter pretty quickly. ("Yeah... I don't think he would be proud, just quite pleased..." - Rawshark) Oh well, at least the completely out of scale giant sword was better, especially when Robot L ("Police Robot L!" - Zomblee) gets trapped behind it and has to push the prop out of the way to get back to the ship before the monster stomps on him. Brilliant.

And so it went on - I could bang on about Starcrash until the cows come home but, you know, I've got to give the other boys something to write about. Suffice is to say that Starcrash was easily one of the best received Zombie Club movies ever. Rawshark nodded sagely, scribbled frantically and told me off for not bringing this movie to Zombie Club sooner ("You just wait 'til Reactor..." - err, me) Zomblee, on the other hand, had that rabbit-in-a-headlight look all night and told me that this movie was "fucking amazing" at least 5 times. "I feel like it's my own film!" was one of his comments, "I'm going to give up watching films after this," was another. Yeah right.

In fact, the only problem with Starcrash is how easy it is to drink like a fish throughout. It's just so darn good. When some red space monsters randomly attacked Stella Star's ship near the end, I had to admit to all that I'd lost the plot a little. Who are they? Why are they attacking? What's going on? "I don't care, you go first on this one..." Thanks Zomblee.

"Is that David Hasselhoff?"

Rawshark
Phew.. Jim certainly does bang on a bit when he gets excited. Well, in this case, he’s totally justified, as Starcrash proved to be a genuine firecracker of a film, pure dynamite and a solid slice of Zombie Club gold. Opening in a multi-coloured space vista (“Looks like a Christmas tree” – Zomblee) Caroline Munro had us all at hello, all sparkly smiles as if she was in a permanent state of orgasm (well, we can dream!) as she pilots her ship with wide-eyed coke-boy Akton the navigator.

Soon enough though, the two are arrested and Munro and Akton are forced to team up with Robot L (“That’s Police Robot L”) and evil Thor on a mission to travel to the heart of the haunted stars to an unknown planet called Uranus (“How many unknown planets do you know that have names!” – Jim). Uranus is a beach planet full of Amazonian women and a big fucking female robot guardian, so our heroes soon jet off (via a Star Wars space battle with the Amazonian airfighters) to carry on boldly going in their search for the ultimate deadly weapon and er.. Simon.

In fact there is so much crammed into this film, it often feels like a trilogy all rolled into one movie. Four planets in total are visited; the prison planet, Uranus and its beach babes, an ice planet where Police Robot L tries it on with Stella Star, before the final post-apocalyptic underground planet full of leaping cavemen and David Hasselhoff. Munro goes through several costume changes (the skimpy bikini outfit was the favourite, least liked was her see-through plastic mac get-up), Spinell overacts beautifully as the evil cape-swishing Count Zarth Arn, John Barry raids his back catalogue of music, whilst Christopher Plummer does his best with lines like “Imperial Battleship, halt the flow of time!”

Best of all though is surely the ultimate paranoid android, Police Robot L with his Texan drawl and chauvinistic attitude. Killed as soon as he arrives on the post-apocalyptic planet with a stick (after having just survived the most powerful weapon in the universe!), we all cheered his revival for the final attack on Star Ship Big Hand, proving the fact that you really can’t keep a good robot down. Starcrash is such great fun that I’m even tempted with Zomblee’s suggestion that we should all “go to Rome and congratulate the director!” Yes, actually we should…

I only have logic and emotion circuits. No room for craziness.

Zomblee
I’ve booked my tickets to Rome already guys. According to tonight’s special guest, regular contributor and expert in all things schlock, David Hall, Starcrash director Luigi Cozzi now works in Dario Argento’s little shop of horrors in Rome, so if you’re ever in town make sure you drop by to say hi to the man who gave us this incredibly enjoyable Sci-Fi hokum.

Jesus H Corbett, I felt so privileged to be in the presence of this (multi-coloured) star-studded ballsy stellar cheese. I had no idea David Hasslehoff was so popular. Tonight’s screening of my new favourite film ever was liberally punctuated with the Hoffmeister Fan Club members’ restless anticipation – “Where’s David Hasslehoff?”, or “Is that Hasslehoff?” being asked by every one of us at one point or another, and probably more than once. Or twice.

But alas, the Hoff’s youthful presence is completely overshadowed by one of the best-value casts in Italian B-movie history. If watching the restlessly wardrobed Caroline Munro permeate every scene with an underlying sense of intergalactic erotica doesn’t fly your spaceship, then just check out Mr. Maniac himself – Joe Spinell – as he hams it up to corny extremes as the ‘cross’ baddie with a good line in evil laughs and great capes - “He loves that cape” – yes siree, Rawshark, he certainly does. I love that cape, too. And Christopher Plummer? Well I think it’s safe to say you really won’t believe your eyes. Or ears.

A lesser-known cast member called Robert Tessier plays Thor, who we preferred to call “the green baldy guy”. It was killing us to know what film we knew him from. Let’s just say it didn’t disappoint when we found out we recognised his thuggish mug from Hal Needam’s super-fuelled classic The Cannonball Run – he’s the bald biker who Roger Moore gets biffed by during the supremely pointless big fight scene near the end. Thank God for Captain Chaos.

Ah, I see the guys have mentioned Police Robot L. And who can blame them. Watching the best Texan robot EVER almost convinced us to not even mention anyone or anything else in the entire movie in this ZC report – “Let’s just talk about Robot L!”, Jim shouted in a moment of vino tinto-enhanced inspiration. (“That’s Police Robot L!”) Every time he opened his mouth it was as if we’d forgotten he spoke with a broad Texan accent (That’s Police Robot L, not Jim), making everything he said sound fucking hilarious: “It’s at times like this I’m glad to be a robot!”

The thing about Starcrash is that there’s just too damn much to mention about it. Spinnell’s space ship is a giant hand that clenches into a fist when he gets angry, which is pretty often. The (kind of) spectacular Harryhausen-inspired stop-motion animation sequence featured a huge robot guardian who actually had breasts (“The guardian has boobs!”, thanks Jim). There’s kung-fu. There’s John Barry’s music which sounds like the music he didn’t end up using for Born Free, Game of Death, or any of his Bond scores. There are space horses. And one of the doors has a fringe, which is something I’ve never seen before. Yeah, a fringe. Like, because doors in space need hair, or something. Starcrash is like all the best sci-fi films and TV episodes rolled into one deluxe, shoddily constructed package that feels like it was tailored just for us lot (“It feels like it’s three hours long...I mean that in a good way” – Rawshark). An amazing invention, from start to finish. Zombie Club Gold. God Bless you, Jim. I’m a better person for having seen this film.

“Release her, or I’ll blast your queen. And I mean it!”

Starcrash

Director
Luigi Cozzi

Cast
Caroline Munro
Marjoe Gortner
David Hasselhoff
Christopher Plummer
Robert Tessier
Joe Spinell

Rating
Jim
Rawshark
Zomblee

Runtime
92 mins

Available From

Amazon UK
Amazon US
CD WOW

Click on the icons above to purchase this title and support Eat My Brains!


Reactor (1978)

Plot
A young space explorer embarks on the trail of two kidnapped scientists who have discovered the secret of eternal life. His ship is attacked by alien craft, hit and badly damaged, the crew have to land the ship on a nearby satellite... There is more to his mission than saving the scientist and their formula...

Zomblee
I can’t believe I offered to go first on Reactor. It’s a Living Nightmare, you know. That’s the tagline. And how ironically precise a tagline it is. During Starcrash I was constantly thanking Jim for bringing such a gem to Zombie Club and credit where credit is due, instead of lapping up the praise gloatingly, he always turned my way and said, earnestly, “Don’t thank me yet, you haven’t seen Reactor.” That’s because it’s a Living Nightmare, like it says on the cover.

So what’s it all about then. To be honest, I don’t really know, but I think that three (of many) little blokes with Jimmy Saville / Brian Jones / Der Golem haircuts arrest scientists who can save their planet because they know how to diffuse their reactor, maybe because they’re approaching extinction or something. Then I think some soldiers are sent up to rescue them. It’s a Living Nightmare.

Rather worryingly, this is apparently only one of a group of FIVE substandard Star Wars cash-in efforts from (in case you need to be told) Italy. Others in the series are Cosmos: War of the Planets, Star Odyssey, Star Beast and Battle of the Worlds. And I never want to see any of them. That’d be a Living Nightmare. The plot in Reactor isn’t very clear at all. Neither is anything else. A combination of out-of-focus photography and a bad video transfer made it look “like everyone has been eating Ready Break”, as Rawshark observed. This glow was probably enhanced by the stunning orange spacesuits. I love a nice spacesuit, me.

Director Alfonso Brescia is obsessed with close-ups, but not in a stylish Sergio Leone kind of way, more in a “Just keep it in close-up, we don’t have enough time to change it” kind of way. Ah, those crazy Italians. As David Hess once said, “they want everything done yesterday but aren’t ready until tomorrow.”

“It’s only 35 minutes in!” shouted a rather worried Rawshark when we were... err... 35 minutes into Reactor. It’s a Living Nightmare. Now, I’ve never seen such a worried ensemble of dead heads as I did tonight when they realized that not only were they 35 minutes in, but that Reactor had a piss-taking running time of 99 minutes. More wine was opened at this point, as we tried to sit as comfortably as possible in order to survive this turgid nonsense of an endurance test for another 64 minutes. Yes, it’s a Living Nightmare. Even drunken conversations about the quality of the Death Wish sequels didn’t help to ease the pain.

It’s a Living Nightmare. Jim I’ve had my lawyers prepare a legal document that prohibits you bringing a film like this to Zombie Club ever again. You can sign it at next ZC.

“We’ll never catch aliens like this!”

Rawshark
Phew.. Zomblee certainly does bang on a bit when he gets unexcited. Well, perhaps justifiably so, because Reactor, as Jim kept reminding us all the way through Starcrash, is not really up to much at all. And you know what - he was right. Still at least the opening credits informed us all that there was to be a “Special Appearance by Mickey Pilgrim,” which was amusing for at least 20 seconds.

The plot goes something like this; there’s a reactor, which has unfortunately gone critical and is about to blow up in eight days and three minutes (very specific these reactors!) Unfortunately, the only man who knows how to prevent the reactor from recreating The Big Bang is Professor Carr who has just been kidnapped by some aliens / robots / girlie men, so our heroes (including Roger, Paul, Sonia and Julie) set off, despite their “strange resentment,” in search of the scientist in their shit space ship. So where do they look first? Well, they all decide to “go west.” Er.. what? Go west? In space? Does the galaxy actually have a magnetic North Pole then?

Anyhow, west, whatever, they soon arrive on a nearby planet (“Sounds like a sensational place for a weekend. Anyone like fishing?”), kill lots of aliens / robots / girlie men and team up with a new ally in the form of the Anthorian leader. Then they set off again, go to another planet, wander about a bit (in their orange space suits – provided by Trissi Sports), find a laboratory, meet some very old women and Queen Lois and have a light sabre fight - these being light sabres that cast shadows... O-kay…

From here on in we admittedly kind of gave up on what was happening and just kicked back, drank more wine, and watched Captain John and his troupe of star fighters have a silent laser gunfight and then get involved in a space battle that was a dull as a wet, grey Thursday. Still, on the plus side, at least some of the girl pilots looked quite hot, and there was another (blonde perm) character who had a southern drawl to take the piss out of, so it wasn’t all bad. We never did get to find out who Mickey Pilgrim was though…

I don’t believe you’ve thought a lot about what you’re saying.

Jim
I told you it’s a living nightmare, but I couldn’t resist it. For every summer there is a winter, for every yin there is a yang, and for every Starcrash there is a Reactor. Pleasure versus pain, Joy versus sadness; it’s a fact of life.

At least no one was expecting anything great from Reactor when it started, so no one was ‘let down’ as such. The soundtrack was made up of that terrible blippy bloppy space soundtrack that just sounds irritating (“I take it John Barry didn’t do the music for this one…” – Zomblee) and there were no famous people in it except some bloke that played one of the lesser characters in Bronx Warriors, and a guy that I thought looked famous (“He’s in Dallas!” – Zomblee) He wasn’t of course, but I was sure I’d seen him before (“You’re not going to tell me that’s the guy from Rollerball are you?” – Zomblee) No, I’ve given up on that one now. He was in The Big Bus though, the guy from Rollerball that is, not the guy in this movie.

But come on, did it really stink that bad? The orange and green spacesuits were cool, the space walk sequence was fun (shame they had to ruin it by using the same footage for another space walk later on) and, even though the “human twikis” (thanks Rawshark) looked more than a little ridiculous, that battle in the middle of the movie with blasters and lightsabres (okay, they’re not very good blasters or lightsabres admittedly) was actually not bad. Well, the good guys stood and shot while the umpteen human twikis ran around for no reason until they all died, but – you know – apart from that it was good. Wasn’t it? No? Oh alright – fine – it’s not good.

Zomblee took a shining to the bald savage that looks a bit like the green guy from the last film (“He really looks the part!”), and everyone liked the Professor’s magicians cape, but that’s about the only praise dished out after the credits rolled on Starcrash. It was a living nightmare, so much so that we actually had to create the ‘half star’ rating graphic solely for this write-up. How bad is that? Pretty bad.

“It has become a vital necessity to have you.”

Reactor

Director
Alfonso Brescia

Cast
Antonio Sabato
Yanti Sommer
Malisa Longo
Patrizia Gori
Giacomo Rossi-Stuart
Roberto Bianchetti

Rating
Zomblee
Rawshark
Jim

Runtime
99 mins

Available From

Amazon UK
Amazon US
CD WOW

Click on the icons above to purchase this title and support Eat My Brains!


Conclusion
Yeah alright, I know Reactor sucked ass badder than a vacuum cleaner shoved up my bung hole, but Starcrash rocked so hard that all in all I think we can label the night a big success. And anyway, nothing would have looked good after Starcrash so I figured screw it; I’d pull out a movie which had the “same effects as Button Moon with Mr Spoon!”. Thanks to Rawshark’s flat mate Matt for that nugget of wisdom.

And that was that. I don’t remember the journey home at all; Dave bought an extra bottle of wine which we sank to ease the pain of Reactor and then it was morning. Thank God for notebooks too, otherwise all our write ups for Reactor would have just been “It’s shit”, although maybe we should just scrub out what we’ve all written and put that in anyway.

Tune in next week, Dead Fans, for Zomblee’s Giallo Night, featuring Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling and Argento’s Opera. Enough of this ‘PG’ Italian Sci-Fi nonsense…


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