by Mel Valentin
Fans of inept filmmaking (you know who you are) long ago crowned Ed Wood's infamous "Plan Nine From Outer Space" the worst film of all time. Although there have been many, many challengers to "Plan Nine From Outer Space's" crown, few, if any, are spoken about with the same awestruck reverence as Wood's film. Until now, that is. If any film deserves the (dis)honor of being crowned the worst film of all time, it's 1979's "Starcrash" ("Scontri stellari oltre la terza dimensione"), grade-Z Italian sci-fi schlock from an acknowledged "master" in the field, Luigi Cozzi (billed as "Lewis Coates" in the credits).Starcrash was obviously rushed into production to take advantage of the science-fiction craze that followed the release of George Lucas' Star Wars. Unfortunately, Cozzi was short on cash and, more importantly, talent (i.e., his own). Making do with threadbare sets, bargain-basement costumes, the "best" special effects a credit card with a $250 dollar limit could buy, B-level actors slumming for a paycheck or an all-expenses paid European vacation, and a nonsensical script (the word "script" is used generously here) that shamelessly, if still ineptly rips off ideas from much better sci-fi flicks, including, of course, Star Wars.
"Meet Luigi Cozzi, the Italian Ed Wood. Seriously."
For the handful of readers who might interested in learning more about Starcrash, here's the rundown. Stella Star (Caroline Munro, a former Bond girl), a small-time smuggler and her mystically attuned navigator, Akton (Marjoe Gortner, a former evangelist turned sub-par actor), are on the run from the Chief of the Galactic Police, Thor (Robert Tessier), and Thor's cowardly robot companion, L (Judd Hamilton, voiced by Hamilton Camp with a cornpone Southern accent). Thor serves the benevolent emperor (Christopher Plummer, looking vaguely embarrassed). Caught by Thor after an intergalactic chase, Stella and Akton are tried and sentenced to hard labor on separate prison colonies. Their imprisonment doesn't last long, though, as the emperor calls on them for help. In exchange for their freedom, Stella and her sidekick must track down the whereabouts of a missing spaceship that holds the key to something or other.
The search for the missing spaceship takes Stella, Akton, L, and Thor to several planetary systems, including a planet ruled by Corelia, Queen of the Amazons (Nadia Cassini), a planet controlled by troglodytes and an ice planet. Thanks to Corelia, Stella discovers that the "evil" Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell), eager to depose the emperor, has created a fearsome planet-destroying machine on a phantom planet. Meanwhile, it turns out the emperor's son, Simon (David Hasselhoff), may or may not be alive (assuming, that is, that anyone reading this actually cares). One or two laughably bad fight scenes later (e.g., Stella and L battling a giant female robot, Akton shooting laser beams from his eyes, and Simon fighting stop-motion robots with a so-called "laser sword"), and Starcrash throws in the inevitable space battle, featuring a giant space platform shaped like a hand (yes, the fingers flex), the emperor's attack force sent to space platform via gold-plated space torpedoes (they crash through glass windows, jump out of the torpedoes, and begin firing away at their opposite numbers), and our fearless heroine swimming through outer space back to her ship.
Starcrash’s laughable badness can be laid squarely at Luigi Cozzi’s feet. Cozzi, working from a “script” co-written with someone named Nat Wachsberger, obviously needed a remedial course in screenwriting. The dialogue isn’t just functional, it’s plainly awful, often pointing out what the characters (and the audience) have already seen, when it’s not veering into unconvincing techno-babble. Even making allowances for Cozzi’s rudimentary understanding of the English language, it’s hard to imagine someone, somewhere (e.g., one of his producers) unafraid to alert Cozzi to his shortcomings in the screenwriting department.
Cozzi compounds his woeful ineptness as a screenwriter with his incompetence as a director. Apparently untrained in the niceties of filmmaking (e.g., editing, continuity, pacing, directing performances), Cozzi simply forged ahead, presumably driven by an inflexible release date. With some part of an already limited budget set aside for the production design and costumes (Caroline Munro runs around in a black latex bikini for most of Starcrash’s running time), there’s was obviously little left over for the not-so-special effects. Cozzi and his special effects unit (presuming he had one) used off-the-shelf model kits, spray paint, and colored gels to build a variety of unconvincing spaceships that don’t so much as fly through space as drift and sway on wires.
With an incompetent writer/director at the helm, it’s not surprising that the cast fares poorly. Line readings are awkward or stilted, with the exception of Joe Spinell, who cackles his way through his role as the “evil” Count Zarth Arn (and yes, he’s referred to as evil by the other characters). And yes, regardless of whether a paycheck was involved, Christopher Plummer, a fine actor when he wants to be, should have passed on Starcrash. It’s easier to understand why a performer of Caroline Munro’s caliber, more pin-up girl than actor, would jump at the chance of a lead role, regardless of the quality of the script or the budget involved. Likewise with a pre-Knight Rider, pre-Baywatch David Hasselhoff, who, despite a certain woodenness, performance wise, still manages to have the best hair (hey, it’s something).It's hard, though, not to feel some sympathy for the actors. Maybe they needed to make a house payment, maybe they were just desperate to get work and not lose whatever momentum their respective careers had at the time (unlikely, but possible), but sympathy gets them only so far. After all, the actors got paid, whatever the results onscreen. Audiences actually paid to see "Starcrash" in theaters or on video. The audience should have been paid to sit through "Starcrash." That’s time they (and this reviewer), will never get back. Still, if campy awfulness that gives Ed Woods and "Plan Nine From Outer Space" a run for its money (and crown as the worst film of all time) appeals to your masochistic side, then by all means give "Starcrash" a chance.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14006&reviewer=402
originally posted: 02/10/06 19:19:58