STUDIO: Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
·Two commentary tracks by Starcrash expert Stephen Romano, one scene-specific, and one on the history of the film
·Featurette on the special effects with special effects director Armando Valcauda
·40 minute interview with director Luigi Cozzi
·70 minute interview with star Caroline Munro
·Extensive still galleries with pre-production art, storyboards, posters, behind the scenes photos, and fan art.
·Behind the scenes home movies with commentary
·Deleted scenes
·Theatrical trailer with commentaries by Eli Roth and Joe Dante
·12 page booklet with Liner Notes by Stephen Romano
·The original screenplay in PDF format

The Pitch
The finest spaghetti space opera of them all finally comes to DVD.

The Humans
Written and Directed by Lewis Coates (Luigi Cozzi)
Starring Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, David Hasselhoff, Joe Spinell, Robert Tessier, Nadia Cassini, Judd Hamilton, and Christopher Plummer

The Nutshell
The evil Count Zarth Arn is out to take over the universe by use of invisible space monsters. The Emperor’s investigator on the case has gone missing. It’s up to Stella Star, her mystical companion Akton, and Police Robot Elle to search the Haunted Stars and save the day.

The Lowdown

If space doesn’t look like this, I don’t want to go.

“It’s appalling to read solemn academic studies of Hitchcock or von Sternberg by people who seem to have lost sight of the primary reason for seeing films like ‘Notorious’ or ‘Morocco’—which is that they were not intended solemnly, that they were playful and inventive and faintly (often deliberately) absurd. And what’s good in them, what relates them to art, is that playfulness and absence of solemnity. … ‘Morocco’ is great trash, and movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them.” -Pauline Kael, “Trash, Art, and the Movies”

“Juvenile does not equal shameful and trash is the material of creators.” -Avant-garde filmmaker Jack Smith, “The Perfect Filmic Appositeness of Maria Montez”

At a recent screening of a 33 year old dye-transfer print of the original Star Wars, I found myself realizing that I liked Star Wars more than The Empire Strikes Back. By many of the critical standards by which a film can be judged, The Empire Strikes Back is the better film. The characters are developed with greater depth, there’s more visual beauty, the performances are more nuanced, and the ending is more interesting. Star Wars is undeniably a well-made movie, and while I enjoy both movies immensely (and have pretty much no use for anything Star Wars-related after Empire), it’s the willing absurdity, the unabashed whimsy that gives Star Wars the edge for me. It’s more easygoing about ridiculousness than Empire. For example, pivotal to a major story point early in the film is a parking garage on treads staffed by tiny robed humanoids who cruise around the desert kidnapping robots. This isn’t so much a reflection of how I approach movies in general, but rather space opera in specific; the Star Wars franchise was intended as a modern version of the old Flash Gordon serials, and if you’ve ever seen those serials, you know that bald-faced preposterousness was the first and foremost rule of the day. The retention of some aspect of that silliness is why I enjoy Star Wars more than The Empire Strikes Back. And it’s why I enjoy Starcrash more than Star Wars.

Starcrash is an Italian Star Wars ripoff. It features Christopher Plummer as the Emperor of the Universe, David Hasselhoff as his swashbuckling son, the great Joe Spinell as Count Zarth Arn, ruler of the Wicked League of Dark Worlds, former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner as the mystical Akton, and the beautiful Caroline Munro as the tough but caring space rogue Stella Star. For many, this is a bad movie. For many of those, it’s an enjoyably bad movie, and for a few it’s just unredeemably bad. For me, it is one of my favorite movies of all time.

If space helmets don’t look like this, I’ll go hatless when the time comes.

Starcrash is sheer B-movie nirvana. What it lacks in technical perfection (a lot) it makes up in charm and enthusiasm (scads). Everyone involved seems to have done their best to one end, making an absurd candy-colored treat fashioned out of pulp science fiction imagery.

Caroline Munro, well she’s Caroline Munro, charming and beautiful, stealing every scene even though she owns them already. Joe Spinell relishes every ludricrous and evil line he gets, snarling orders at his black clad minions who wield bat-winged laser crossbows. “Put in use our mightiest weapon- THE DOOM MACHINE. Send it off towards the Emperor’s capital world. And DESTROY THE EMPEROR’S IMPERIAL PLAAAANEEEEET!” The other standout is Christopher Plummer, who knows its a silly movie, but nonetheless puts his all into it. I once saw a midnight screening of Starcrash in Boston; people were laughing and making comments and having a good time with the film, but when Plummer’s monologue came up, the room soon went silent. He’s given silly lines like everyone else, but, great actor that he is, manages somehow to imbue them with a sense of dignity and feeling.

Hand-shaped space ships should really be banned. No one who buys one has good intentions in life.

Though the special effects are about what you would expect from an Italian Star Wars ripoff, it’s nonetheless a rather beautiful movie, in a pulp scifi magazine cover sort of way (At least half the shots in the movie could be pulp scifi magazine covers. Some of them probably were.) The costumes are top notch. The really important characters get capes. Christopher Plummer gets a suit of gold armor. (In this aspect, Starcrash is prescient science fiction, like the best works of Wells, Phil Dick and Cronenberg; because, if there was an Emperor of the entire Universe, he would definitely wear a suit of gold armor.) Caroline Munro gets a leather bikini and an awesome bubble space helmet. The evil Count’s minions look like deserters from the space corps of Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. The sets are terrific. There’re tons of practical models and miniatures. The spaceship models are covered in junk from model kits and hardware stores for the purpose of detailing; they’re not convincing but they have that charm you only get from something handmade.

“Um, ONE of you clearly didn’t read the invitation because I know I wrote ‘formal vinyl’ and not ‘translucent plastic tarpaulin.’ You’d think you could show up to your own death properly dressed, lady.”

The pacing is an asset to the film. Barbarella is a movie with a similar main character, similar intended tone, and similar visual aesthetic, but that one bores me dead. Starcrash is plotted more or less like an old movie serial (a string of CHASE FIGHT CAPTURE ESCAPE FIGHT CHASE ESCAPE CAPTURE FIGHT) but keeps that necessary sense of energy throughout. Sometimes this means transitioning scenes with a surreal abruptness, but that’s just part of the charm. It’s like a child telling a story with such excitement that he skips over important parts; except those parts, while apparently important for other movies, are clearly superfluous here. In one scene, Stella gets sentenced to prison, then she’s in prison, then “There must be some way to escape!”, a fight with a guard, a laser blast goes awry, THE PRISON EXPLODES, and Stella got away somehow. She literally goes from being sentenced by the Great Machines of the Central Operating System of Imperial Justice to running through a marsh having blown up the prison, in a mere two minutes. Of course, there it’s not simply the pacing, it’s that Stella is just that good and that fast. Prisons can’t hold her for long, or even for short. All prisons, by definition, have one key vulnerability: being blown up.

Jean-Luc Godard once said that all you need for a movie is a girl, a gun, and a cigarette. But I think this proves that, in a pinch, a girl, a gun and a colorful space tunnel will more than suffice.

I love that everything in this film, including the stars in space, is brightly colored. I love that characters abruptly have special powers when they need to have them. I love a future where furniture has no sharp edges. I love that the robot has a Texan accent and grumbles a lot. I love the abrupt in-dialogue introductions of threats (“Look! A neutron star!” “Look, Amazons! On horseback!” “DIE, ROBOT!”) I love that the spaceship is controlled by an unexplained giant glowing brain. I love it when Christopher Plummer utilizes the greatest deus ex machina I’ve ever seen, suddenly when the chips are down ordering “Imperial battleship: HALT THE FLOW OF TIME!”

This is how they got Caroline Munro to be in the movie.

“[The films of Maria Montez] were light films – if we really believed that films are visual it would be possible to believe these rather pure cinema – weak technique, true, but rich imagery. They had a stilted, phony imagery that we choose to object to, but why react against that phoniness? That phoniness could be valued as rich in interest & revealing. Why do we object to not being convinced – why can’t we enjoy phoniness?” -Jack Smith, ibid

There’s a certain niche of films I’ve found I adore, genre films that are deliriously colorful, oozing with energy and absurdity, and whose scripts are written, to borrow a phrase from the script for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unmade Dune movie, (a project which itself might’ve joined this personal canon of mine had it come to fruition) “according to the non-laws of anti-logic.” The other films in this niche include Danger: Diabolik!, Inframan, the live action version of Wicked City, Indonesian films like Virgins from Hell or The Devil’s Sword, the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, and perhaps, more recently, I might also include Speed Racer. Movies where monster limbs are growing out of the ground, and the silver suited Science Patrol has to ride in on their motorcycles and cut off the monster limbs with buzz saws. Movies where a chic thief in a black rubber bodysuit conspires to steal the entire treasury of an unnamed country, just to see the look on their faces. Movies where the villain is trying desparately to take over the world/the universe/this plane of existence but wouldn’t know what to do with it if s/he succeeded. For me, these are the cream of the crop as far as B-movies go, and Starcrash is the best of that kind.

A floating city in outer space constructed out of…rainbows? Reasonable enough I guess, most other things in this movie seem to be made out of rainbows, or some such thing.

If you’re not the sort of person who complains about scientific accuracy during a Flash Gordon serial, you’ll probably like this movie. If you think practical model effects are charming even when they’re not convincing, you’ll probably like this movie. If you look at old pulp scifi magazine covers and feel a sense of nostalgia for eras you were not alive to see, you’ll probably like this movie. If you like the idea of a frontal assault on the tyranny of realism, you’ll probably like this movie.

The Package

This is the first legitimate release of Starcrash in region 1, and Shout! Factory has really gone all out here. It’s really nice when a movie you love gets put on disc by people with similar affection for it.

The transfer is gorgeous. There are some shots that are dark, soft, and grainy, but those are all effects shots, and the degraded quality is simply the result of the cheap optical effects processes that were used for this film. I’m convinced that this is the best this film can look on DVD. It is worth noting that this disc contains the shorter Corman cut made for American distribution rather than the longer international cut (which was Cozzi’s director’s cut). The longer cut was released on one of the grey-market DVDs by Substance Films (which is how I originally saw the movie, thinking at the time that the disc was a legit release), a disc which was widescreen but didn’t look so good. Shout! Factory says they used the shorter cut because they couldn’t find good materials for the longer cut. There are a few lines of dialogue I miss, but given how good the film looks, I think they made the right decision. The excised footage (in poorer quality) is included on the second disc.
The extras on this set are beyond a fan’s wildest dreams. The feature includes two commentary tracks, both by Stephen Romano, who spent several years writing a (unpublished) book on Starcrash, and who is likely the world expert on the film. Romano’s first commentary track discusses the history of genre film in the 70s, the events that led up to the making of the film, and the back stories of the various crew and cast members. It’s worth a listen, but I feel he spends a bit too much time discussing the genre film explosion of the 1970s and not enough time talking about Starcrash. The second commentary track is scene specific, and is focused on trivia, behind the scenes stories and analysis. This one I found to be the more interesting of the two tracks. Director Luigi Cozzi is featured in a 40 minute interview, sharing some interesting stories (Including discussing the unmade Starcrash sequel that would have starred Klaus Kinski!) There’s an audio essay discussing John Barry’s score for the film. There’re a few trailers, including the American theatrical trailer, which features a commentary by Joe Dante (who originally edited the trailer in his early days working for Corman) and another commentary by Eli Roth. Rounding out the first disc is an extensive still gallery with pre-production art, storyboards, behind the scenes photos, promotional art and fan artwork.

The second disc has an extensive 70 minute interview with Caroline Munro, who talks about her career leading up to Starcrash, and tells some great behind the scenes stories about the film. There’s a 24 minute piece on the special effects; this featurette is directed by Armando Valcauda, who actually did the effects for Starcrash. It includes some really cool clips from various animation projects Valcauda has done over the years, an unused (and unfinished) effects sequence from Starcrash, and plenty of behind the scenes photos of the special effects work for the film. There’s a PDF file with the screenplay and some production art (It’s included at an absurdly high resolution! It’s a 116 page file and it’s 423 MB.) Finally, there’s a 10 minute home movie reel of behind-the-scenes footage with commentary by Stephen Romano.

This is the best package this film could’ve received. They could’ve included the longer cut, but it had already been released by another company, and it would’ve needed its own disc, which would’ve meant reducing the special features on disc 2. I’m extremely happy with the treatment this film received, and am grateful to Shout! Factory for rescuing a favorite of mine from obscurity.