Battle Beyond The Stars 1980 ****

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‘I eat serpent seven times a week’ says Gelt (Robert Vaughn), in one of a number of quotable lines from Roger Corman’s Star Wars rip-off Battle Beyond the Stars. There’s a certain logic to Corman’s thinking here; if Star Wars knocked off Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, then why not rip of Seven Samurai? Sure, The Magnificent Seven already Westernised that classic text, but why not lean into it and have characters like Cowboy (George Peppard) and to take things further, get Robert Vaughn back and have him say the same dialogue he did in John Sturges’s film? John Sayles was the screenwriter charged with sorting out the conceptual issues, and presumably his writing process involved being locked in a room with the script for Magnificent Seven, Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces and a massive lump of cheese, because cheesy action is what results. Henry Thomas is Shad, a young farmer dispatched to put together a group of mercenaries to defend his home planet against despot Sador (John Saxon). The team he puts together include various oddities like a lizard man, bald twins and a Valkyrie, played by the voluptuous Sybil Danning in costumes which make Caroline Munro in Starcrash look positively demure. With a James Horner score and James Cameron on effects, Battle Beyond The Stars has quite a pedigree, and the talent bring their A-game to this B movie. Jimmy T Murakami directs, so what do we talk about when we talk about Battle Beyond The Stars? Spaceship interiors seeming made of plasticine, planets made of candy-floss; it’s a strange universe to explore in low-budget cinema, but there’s a degree of knowing wit in the dialogue that makes Battle Beyond the Stars a guilty pleasure.

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Prisioners of the Lost Universe 1982 ***

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Terry Marcel is an unheralded figure, but his unique comic book sensibilities seemed probably out of step with both the 70’s and 80’s. He went from first and second AD on projects as diverse as Straw Dogs and Pink Panther films to taking the directorial reigns on cult classic Hawk the Slayer and comic-strip revival Jane and the Lost City. He’s got a certain swashbuckling style that was never matched by his budgets; together with producer and musical maestro Harry Robertson, they wrote the script for Prisoners of the Universe, a very 1982 project involving time-travelling portals; HG Wells’ The Time Machine, or at least George Pal’s version, seems to be a jumping-off point. And what a jump; Battlestar Galactica’s Richard Hatch is Dan, a man in a truck involved in a highway crash with Carrie (Kay Lenz) during a series of earth tremors. She visits the home of Dr Hartmann (Kenneth Hendel) a scientist who has constructed a portal to another dimension, and doesn’t see any reason by an earthquake might hinder his experiment, The three of them are transported a lost universe that looks exactly like a South African scrubland with some trees with paper plates attached, ruled with an iron fist by Kleel (John Saxon), who makes General Zod look like a social worker. There’s a giant who looks a lot like the late Greek singer Demis Roussos, talking geese, a midget thief and a number of the oddities which marked Hawk the Slayer, plus the kind of chat that grabs the attention; ‘This may only work on snakes who like music’ and ‘What am I supposed to do with a mad scientist for an hour?’ both rack up the points on the bad dialogue scoreboard in the first five minutes. Saxon, looking like Sean Connery’s stunt double and enjoying himself as usual, is something of a blast here, with plentiful catch-phrases and uncertain horse-manship; the actor had his fans in the US, but in the UK, John Saxon’s popularity dictates that his face appears on coins and stamps, and lucrative government grants are available to film theorists who can prove they’ve seen over fifty of his films. That’s not actually true, but it should be; meanwhile in a parallel universe that looks at lot like ours, Marcel’s daughter Rosie wrote the screenplay for Fifty Shades of Grey; fans of bad movie dialogue can connect the dots themselves.

Cannibal Apocalypse 1980 ***

saxonThere’s no shortage of odd entries in the Italian Eurotrash genre, but Antonio Margheriti’s 1980 thriller Cannibal Apocalypse has some unique selling points. The central one is John Saxon, always a strong performer, and doing great work as a Vietnam veteran who develops a desire to bite women. He’s not alone; there’s a plague of cannibalism brought back to urban USA by returning soldiers, and one of the men under his command has the virus. Margheriti’s film was somewhat ahead of its time with the Vietnam angle, but there’s no pretentions here, as Cannibal Apocalypse develops a somewhat rabid style through motorcycle chases, shoot-outs and occasional gore. While not exactly a cinema classic, it’s a tasty little B movie that managed to do something original in a moribund genre; the shotgun and flamethrower action scenes are to be commended to hardened horror and action veterans.