Several years ago, Retromedia Entertainment gave us a kitschy double DVD set of Italian Sci-Fi (un)classics featuring WAR OF THE PLANETS and WAR OF THE ROBOTS, two plastic late 70s STAR WARS wannabees. Now Retromedia has unleashed more space oddities of the foreign kind with their twofer of BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN and STAR PILOT.
Originally released by Filmgroup/AIP, BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN is one of the American films that excises footage from a Russian sci-fi potboiler (in this case “Nebo Zowitt”) that economically brilliant Roger Corman bought cheaply to insert into four individual titles. The other films are QUEEN OF BLOOD, VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET and VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN. Whereas those three had the advantage of new scenes with favorable American cult actors, BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN has zero stateside thesps and is mostly dull as dish water.
The original “cold war” plot had Russians helping Americans in space, but that was re-worked by a young Francis Ford Coppola, one of the many talents under Corman’s wing at the time. The new story is set in the futuristic year of 1997 and goes something like this: The universe is split between two opposing powers, the North Hemis and the South Hemis. For years, South Hemis scientists have been working on the top-secret "Project Red Planet," which will ultimately lead to the first earthling landing on Mars. Word of this leaks out to the North Hemis, who are also developing similar Mars-bound plans. A conflict unfolds when one hot-headed North Hemis pilot blasts off for Mars in an ill-equipped ship, causing all sorts of commotion on space.
Despite its talkiness and unappealing cast, the film does have some excellent, innovative special effects that pre-date 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY by a decade. Probably the best highlight (at least the most notorious), is the Hollywood-created segment of two ultra strange monsters battling it out, that highly resemble, and excuse me if I sound rude, male and female genetalia! One monster has long penis-like arms with an eyeball head at the end of each, while the other has a long mouth with sharp teeth and resembles you know what. Reportedly, Corman wanted monsters that were male and female, but apparently Coppola (or whover constructed the ceatures) took him too literally!
The other feature on the disc is STAR PILOT, which was originally released in 1965 as 2+5: MISSIONE HYDRA, but not shown in the U.S. until 1977 to cash in on the STAR WARS craze. I would love to know of any poor saps who saw the one-sheet poster and thought they were going in to witness some costly American space saga, instead getting a shoestring budgeted import that had dated horribly in 12 short years. Here, human-like aliens from the planet Hydra are stranded on Earth after their spaceship crashes in Rome. The visitors abduct a scientist and his obnoxious daughter, as well as some macho technicians and a couple of trigger-happy Asian spies. They force the humans to repair their damaged ship, and mutiny ensues in outer space.
STAR PILOT is a cheap, silly sci-fi adventure that can be fun if you allow it to be. This one is closer in style to Primo Zeglio's pulpish MISSION STARDUST than the Antonio Margheriti’s spaghetti space fantasies of the period. There’s the usual laughable alien leotard costumes worn by musclemen stars Kirk Morris and Gordon Mitchell (the latter in a small cameo), and sexy sirens Leontine May and Leonora Ruffo wear some revealing, flashy outfits. There’s lots of good and bad special effects on display, as well as an exciting segment where the aliens and humans are assaulted by a tribe of excitable fuzzy apemen! Also, look quickly for a bit by Casey Kasem(!) as a control room engineer. How footage of him got in there is anyone's guess!
Retromedia presents BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN and STAR PILOT in decent full frame transfers. The cropping looks a bit tight in both cases, but no vital picture information appears to suffer. Both prints are fairly sharp, and colors are good overall, despite some fading. STAR PILOT’s print source is the rougher of the two, with some odd yellow staining apparent every so often during the running time. The mono audio is adequate on both titles. AIP’s original trailer for BATTLE is present on the disc, and the brief liner notes on the back are done well and are amusing. The bottom of the front cover reads “Directed By Francis Ford Coppola” in prominent, bold letters. (George R. Reis)
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