I don’t think I need to tell you that Star Wars was a massive success. So massive, in fact, that every film producer and their mother (Mrs. Film Producer) wanted to get in on the sci-fi/adventure action fervor. All manner of Star Wars-ripoffs were shot and released in the late 70s and early 80s and they range from quite good to “What the hell was that?” Nestled close to the latter is the Italian-produced psychedelic space opera explosion from 1978 called Starcrash.
Director Luigi Cozzi (credited as Lewis Coates) parlayed his love of Flash Gordon and Ray Harryhausen stop-motion into a crazy mixture of scantily-clad women, multi-colored star scapes, and giant robots sword fighting. It’s a film you can watch three or four times in a week and still not know what’s going on but that’s not really why you watch it. The reason to watch is the delightfully low-budget special effects, the ridiculous costumes, and the rousing score by Oscar-winning composer John Barry (Wow!). I have watched this movie both by myself and with a group of friends and it’s enjoyable both ways, for different reasons. Oh, and did I mention a young David Hasselhoff plays the prince? I didn’t? Well, David Hasselhoff is in it playing the prince. Now you definitely want to see it, huh?
Starcrash stars model and former Bond girl Caroline Munro as Stella Star, a space smuggler with a penchant for thigh-high boots and wearing strips of vinyl instead of clothes. She pilots a pointy, angular ship along with Akton, her curly-haired, wide-grinned partner, played by Marjoe Gortner. Akton was supposed to have been an alien but Gortner refused to wear prosthetics so he’s just a guy who has a bunch of weird, incongruous powers. Whilst smuggling, Stella and Akton come across the last survivor of a mission to destroy the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) and his planet-crushing laser. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? The good guys are then given the assignment by the benevolent galactic Emperor (motherfucking Christopher Plummer!) to continue to mission and to locate the Emperor’s son, Simon, played by the aforementioned Mr. Hasselhoff. Going along on their mission is Elle, the man-sized robot with two pistols who talks like a Wild West cowboy.
The bulk of the movie consists of the crew going to planets for no discernible reason. I suppose they’re looking for the prince, but that’s definitely unclear. On one planet, they’re taken captive by a group of bikini-adorned warrior women who have a huge metal statue that attacks them, and on another it’s cold and snowy and they have to slow their heart rate down lest they die. And then they just go back to the ship and go somewhere else… mission accomplished? By the time they actually find Hasselhoff, you forget they were actually looking for him since they hadn’t really spoken about it much. And what are they supposed to be smuggling? No idea. Count Zarth Arn does nothing except stand on the bridge of his ship and whip his cape around, very clear that Spinell was having a grand old time. It basically apes scenes and plot elements from Star Wars and Jason and the Argonauts, culminating in the mother of all “homage” consisting of Akton and the prince having a lightsaber fight with two skeletal stop-motion robots.
The main selling point for this movie is the special effects. I always have had a fondness for model work. There’s something old-timey and quaint about it, especially when they’re a bit dodgy. Obviously, the model work in Star Wars set the bar incredibly high, and it’s delightful to see them attempt to do the same thing in Starcrash and not even come close. The film starts with a long establishing shot of a spaceship and there’s no point where you can’t tell it’s a plastic toy. There’s no sense of size or distance whatsoever. During the film’s numerous space battles, you can literally see the strings as the toy starships go whizzing by in perfect formation. What’s that? You want to know if effects shots get repeated a dozen times each? You bet your ass they do! And space doesn’t look like space. Usually in films, space is a big black background with small, bright, white lights as stars. In this movie, space is blue and the stars are all sorts of colors, making every bit of outer space look like Christmas. In fact, I’m pretty sure they just used Christmas lights. Perhaps the best, most insane sequence has a ship shoot two giant torpedoes at the Count’s ship which crash through the glass window of the bridge (no loss of atmospheric pressure of course) followed by the torpedoes opening up to reveal four guys with laser guns.
Starcrash is a movie that isn’t trying to be Star Wars as much as it’s trying to be what a 7 year old boy pretends with his toys after he’s seen Star Wars. This is most assuredly a bad movie, but it’s so earnest and well-meaning, not to mention laughably hilarious at points, that you can’t help but enjoy yourself. With a beer in hand of course.
If you need any further proof of its splendidness, here’s the trailer: