Upon its U.S. release in May of 1977, STAR WARS became not only one of the most imitated science fiction epics, but also one of the most popular and highly-grossing films of all time. Italy was quick to clone this ultra influential space opera, but many of these cardboard imitations where helmed by Alfonso Brescia (aka Al Bradley), and represent the very bottom of the barrel as far as spaghetti exploitation was concerned. When the father and son producing of team of Nat and Patrick Wachsberger learned about the box office receipts of STAR WARS, they hired Italian Luigi Cozzi (who hadn’t yet see the blockbuster) to write and direct what would eventually be known as STARCRASH, an unintentionally funny camp fest no doubt, but also a lively, fun and well-spirited Euro fantasy adventure which to this day has a loyal cult of followers known as “crashers”!
Smuggling space pilot Stella Star (Caroline Munro) and her alien sidekick Akton (Marjoe Gortner, FOOD OF THE GODS) are being pursued by the law. Sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor, Stella easily escapes imprisonment but is quickly reunited with Akton who has just been given a pardon. It seems the good Emperor (Christopher Plummer, MURDER BY DECREE) needs their aid in defeating the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell, MANIAC) and rescuing his only son Simon (David Hasselhoff). With a too-tall cowboy police robot named Elle (played by Munro’s then-husband Judd Hamilton, and voiced in a Texas drawl by Hamilton Camp) by their side, Stella and Aktron travel the galaxy on a rescue mission, facing numerous perils including almost being frozen alive, aggressive Amazons, savage Troglodytes and of course the evil caped Count and his laser-gun toting troopers.
With shooting commencing in 1977, and completion the following year, STARCRASH (which was released in Italy as “Scontri stellari oltre la terza dimensione” and is also known as “The Adventures of Stella Star”) was made entirely in Italy at the legendary Cinecittà studios, as well as on location, with a mostly American main cast. Cozzi, who had previously collaborated with Dario Argento and by this time already had several features under his directorial belt, here realizes his desire to helm a large-scale science fiction endeavor. A long-time fan of fantasy films, Cozzi here took inspiration from the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad adventures, and also pays homage to his JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and other classics like INVADERS FROM MARS and the various space hero serials of the 1930s and 1940s. Despite its budgetary flaws and production problems (which include the expected tales about running out of money while in production), STARCRASH is made with some degree of skill and ambition, even it’s just another imported B-level kitschy costume party aimed at a juvenile audience.
In terms of production values, the film has some very elaborate sets, giving us more than convincing glances at the inside of a futuristic vehicle or a space station, and some of the effects (mainly anything with a laser beam or pyrotechnics) work for the most part. You have to also give Cozzi and company credit for attempting to tackle stop-motion animation, even if it tends to be clumsy and looks more akin to a Rankin/Bass holiday special than a Harryhausen-blessed Dynamation spectacular. The film also exhibits some of the strangest looking space ships you’ll ever see in this sort of film, some literally assembled out of anything the effects men could find, including the cavities which secured the parts for plastic model kits! With these ships secured on a track system (for an in-camera shot effect) and propelled in front of a black construction paper backdrop adorned with what looks like beaming Christmas tree lights, you have a truly surreal, if not convincing cinematic vision of galactic travel and outer space warfare.
A staple in British horror films since the early 1970s, Caroline Munro had recently been the heroine of THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and AT THE EARTH’S CORE, as well as being a Bond girl in the 007 smash THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, so it was inevitable she’d get a fantasy vehicle like this with her name above the title. The Barbarella-type role doesn’t require the actress to do much but be confident and remain perfect eye candy, and Munro is absolutely beautiful, probably the most breathtaking brunette ever to appear in fantasy films. Stella Star is seen in a number of different outfits (most that look like something Ace Frehley of KISS would wear), but the best is a black bikini-like thong thingy with knee high leather boots, but unfortunately she’s only in it for about a fourth of the movie. Her voice (and her charming Brit accent) was dubbed over by another actress during post production in Los Angeles.
In a film where the heroes are typically handsome and the villains are more than ugly, Spinell (who looks like a portly devil with a Grandpa Munster hairstyle) and biker movie favorite Robert Tessier (as a bald, green-skinned traitor to the Emperor) also had their voices re-dubbed during post production, so we don't get a Count with a New York accent. A grimacing Gortner and a baby-faced Hasselhoff (during the period when he was still a Soap star) are game enough as the pretty-boy, athletic good guys, though Gortner refused to wear any facial appliances, so it’s hard to tell he’s actually an alien until he starts doing some futuristic parlor tricks, including shooting beams from his pupils (both characters use light sabers, another familiar facet lifted from STAR WARS). The legendary Christopher Plummer was hired for three days (apparently he shot his scenes in one day) and reads his lines as if he was reciting Shakespeare. Although she has very little screen time, another raven-haired beauty Nadia Cassini (WHEN WOMEN PLAYED DING DONG) can be seen as the scantily-clad, feisty Queen of the Amazons, and look quickly familiar for the incredible Salvatore Baccaro (aka Sal Boris/Boris Lugosi from FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS, SS HELL CAMP and others) as one of the Neanderthal men (the one doesn’t need much make-up!).
Originally produced with the intention of the American distribution going to American International Pictures (which would have been interesting, as AIP never had a STAR WARS clone to call their own), STARCRASH would end up being released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, and it was a hit for the company in 1979. After years of bad bootlegs culled from the 1980s Charter Home Video VHS release, Shout! Factory has obtained Corman’s original vault negative to deliver another pristine, long-awaited DVD (and the film is also being made available on blu-ray disc). It now looks as stunning as Caroline Munro looks in it! Presented widescreen (1.78:1) with anamorphic enhancement, the colors (the kind you don’t see anymore in current drab-looking Hollywood products) are distinct and vivid, and detail is extremely sharp. There is occasional grain, mostly when some kind of optical special effect is on display. Along with the terrific transfer, there are two English audio options: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and 2.0 mono, both which come off quite good.
There is a massive amount of extras here, so much so that they needed an second disc to fit them all on! Director/writer Luigi Cozzi is interviewed from Profondo Russo, the memorabilia shop he co-owns with friend Dario Argento in Rome. Cozzi discusses his early love for sci-fi, how he got into the film business, and how he came to direct STAR CRASH. He also reveals how the “Lewis Coates” name came about, and shares a few anecdotes about the cast, producers and other involved with the making of the film. There’s an audio-taped featurette about John Barry’s grand score, as analyzed by Mars of Deadhouse Music. You wouldn’t think this film would warrant two separate commentaries (especially given the fact that none of the film’s talent are involved), but STARCRASH historian Stephen Romano is on hand, solely, for both. Romano, a professional screenwriter who first saw the film at a drive-in as a kid, is incredibly fond of it, but don’t let his bias nature fool you, the commentaries are terrific. The first one concentrates on the kind of cinema that lead up to STARCRASH’s production, as well as its importance to 1970s cinema, and the second one is more on a scene-specific approach, as he reveals production trivia, lots of anecdotes, critique and other sorted info on the crew and cast (you won’t believe who voiced Caroline Munro!). When I heard Romano’s first commentary, I eagerly delved right into the second. There are also numerous photo galleries which contain behind-the-scenes and rare photos, storyboards, artwork, promotional materials, early poster designs, lobby cards, original fan art and more. The original trailer is included, and it can also be viewed with two commentaries: one from Eli Roth from Trailersfromhell.com and an all-new exclusive trailer commentary by filmmaker Joe Dante, who did editing chores on it (one of the last he did for New World). TV spots and radio spots for the film round out Disc One’s extras.
Moving on to the second disc is a section 17 deleted and alternate scenes. These are bits that Corman removed from the U.S. version for various reasons, and text information is provided before each one (the scenes have been sourced from a foreign tape so of course don’t look quite as good as the feature). The always delightful Caroline Munro sits down for an hour-long interview where she discusses her early modeling career and touches upon some of the well-known genre films she’s appeared in, and then talks about STARCRASH at great length. Special effects man Armando Valcauda is showcased in a featurette which contains his own words in text (and some of it, in a literal English translation as you’ll see) over photos, amateur film clips of his early work and rare unused monster footage not seen in any cut of STARCRASH. A 20-minute black & white, silent reel of exclusive behind-the-scenes home movie footage shows Cozzi, Munro and company shooting on location and at the soundstage at Cinecittà, and the footage is accompanied by Romano's commentary. Finally on this bonus disc, a DVD-ROM for your computer lets you enjoy the complete screenplay, illustrated with original storyboards.
There’s reversible cover art, and Romano is back for the sincere liner notes found within the accompanying booklet. All in all, another wonderfully produced addition to the ongoing “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line, and Shout! Factory continues to deliver the goods in a special way! (George R. Reis)
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