Starcrash (1978) – Guilty Pleasure or Misunderstood Masterpiece?

The evil Count Zarth Arn has secretly constructed the ultimate space weapon. The son of the Emperor of the Universe has mysteriously disappeared. And only sultry space smuggler Stella Star, her selectively psychic co-pilot, and a misogynist robot gunslinger with a Texan accent can save the day. No, seriously. I’m not making this up.

Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash is more than just another Star Wars rip-off from the sci-fi boom of the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s a quirky marriage of European and American pulp sensibilities. It’s a loving tribute to Barbarella, Ray Harryhausen, and the space adventure serials of the ‘30s. It’s an oft derided and misunderstood mini masterpiece of Euro-exploitation cinema.

Caroline Munro, best known for playing a Bond Girl in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), takes on her first leading role as Stella Star. And she’s stellar. This female Han Solo may seem two dimensional on paper, but Munro imbues her with equal parts warmth, humour, and badassitude. And it also doesn’t hurt that she’s got a rockin’ bod and looks great in a space bikini.

The plot (if you can call it that) rockets the viewer from one improbable cliffhanger to the next—all with the charmingly arbitrary logic of child at play. After she’s arrested by the Space Cops for space-speeding, the Space Judge sentences Stella to a lifetime of hard labour at a nuclear power facility/slave death factory. While all the other prisoners are forced to wear unflattering grey prison uniforms, Stella rocks a revealing black bikini and matching knee-high boots. “The radiation’ll burn my skin off,” she complains. The next minute she’s staging a bloody space mutiny. Seconds later, the prison factory explodes, killing everyone. Everyone except Stella that is, who escapes without so much as her mascara smearing.

The next thing you know she’s receiving a full pardon from the Emperor and heading off on another exciting adventure. I guess her pardon also included killing all those innocent prisoners.

The Emperor is played with vacant charm by legendary Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer! Witness as Plummer displays his Rumpelstiltskin-like ability to turn straw-dialogue into pure spun gold:

Plummer was reportedly paid $30,000 in advance for three days’ work. He finished all his scenes in a day and a half.

Of course this is all just an excuse to have Stella visit a variety of different planets, fight against a variety of different foes, and wear a variety of different skimpy outfits. Did I mention how much I love this movie?

Each planetary outing is more outlandish than the last: On the Amazon Planet, she catfights her way through scores of scantily clad warrior women and conquers their colossal topless fembot. She freezes to death on the Ice Planet, but is brought back to life by rainbow beams that Akton shoots out of his hands. And she’s groped and nearly eaten by a band of amorous cavemen on the Trog Planet.

When she finally does meet Crown Prince Simon face-to-face, it is the most mind-blowing revelation of the whole movie:

Behold, young David Hasselhoff in one of his very first film roles. As such, he takes the role of ‘Simon’ seriously. So seriously, in fact, that his performance becomes a perverse parody of Christopher Plummer. He manages to transform—or  “Hoff up”—even the most innocuous dialogue into moments of unintentional hilarity.

But no one can out-overact Joe Spinell as Count Zarth Arn. Spinell doesn’t just chew the scenery; he swallows it whole!

What sunset? You’re in the middle of Outer Space!

But what do you expect from a super villain whose space base looks like this…

… And when it goes into ‘Battle Mode’ it does this…?

Throw in a Third Act space battle that exhausts the already-exhausted miniature effects budget, and a lightsaber duel pitting the Hoff against an army of stop-motion robots(!!!)  and you’ve got the recipe for either the greatest or worst space adventure film ever made.

Oh yeah, and Christopher Plummer does this:

Great Moment in Movie History? Or Greatest?


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