First, it was Sunn Classic Pictures, the studio that brought you Hangar 18.
Then it was Jack Palance terrifying the galaxy in The Shape of Things to Come.
Now, get ready for an explosive, galactic fantasy that will take you to the very edge of the universe and into the beyond . . . as Hal Roach Studios brings you . . . Starship Invasions!
“Hey, wait a minute? Hal Roach Studios? You mean the guys that made my dad’s beloved Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, and The Little Rascals comedies?”
Yep. The very same Hal Roach Studios.
Times were tough enough for ‘70s B-Movie actors, but did George Lucas have to go and make it worse? It’s bad enough the chief wrangler at Skywalker Ranch inspired Sunn Classic Pictures to make the Kessel Run . . . but the studio that created Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Donna, Froggy, and Spanky trying to outrun the Millennium Falcon?
The Force is a bitch.
So, do you want to see Thanksgiving Day parade-style balloons doubling as UFOs? Do you want to see Christopher Lee—yes, Count Dooku from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith—adorned in a black-stretchy, one-piece spandex Gumby outfit? (Come on, young readers . . . you have to at least know that obscure, ‘70s pop-culture reference if you want to play along with B&S Movies!)
Just when you thought that fighting force of over-grown popcorn-popper robots from The Shape of Things to Come was more than you could bear, here comes our beloved Count Dracula himself, sporting some nifty Gumby-space pajamas emblazoned with a large, green-winged Griffin logo as he commands an inflatable, UFO Earth invasion force. Seriously, this laughable, low-budget Canadian drek couldn’t afford to have Brian Johnson and Douglas Trumbull on the payroll, so the spaceships aren’t models . . . they’re balloons.
. . . Or so we thought. It turns out that there’s a deeper mystery to The Force with this film.
This tale about a UFO expert (Robert Vaughn) abducted by benevolent aliens who need his help to battle evil aliens began as War of the Aliens, so that it “resembled” Star Wars. But wait, we have UFO’s in this, so let’s called it Alien Encounter to align it with Close Encounter of the Third Kind. (Then it found a new life on VHS shelves and TV syndication as Project Genocide.)
The plot, as it is, is reportedly cobbled from “actual UFO accounts” to tell the story about the black-clad Legion of the Winged Serpent (real life accounts repeatedly spoke of black spacesuits emblazoned with winged dragons), a rogue group of human-telepathic aliens from the Orion constellation, led by Captain Rameses (Christopher Lee), who are searching for a new home to replace their recently destroyed home planet. Oh, and according to their study of Earthmen’s sperm: we’re not descended from them: they’re descended from us, puny humans! Oh, and there’s a multi-Intergalactic Space Base deep in our ocean—inside a pyramid!
Seriously, this movie rocks!
Pummeled by critics and sci-fi fans alike for its supposed ineptitude for its inane plot, sloppy make-up, crummy costumes, corny sets and special effects, Starship Invasions is actually director Ed Hunt’s purposeful, sincere homage to recreate the hokey-campy Republic Studios sci-fi serials of the 1940’s.
Unfortunately, Ed Hunt’s nostalgic concept was, it seems, lost on Lee and Vaughn, both great actors who, it seems, made an acting choice to give it their all—and make a silk purse from a sow’s ear: ice cream from crap, if you will. But what Starship Invasions needed was corny, campy acting—in the vein of fellow Star Wars droppings Galaxina or The Ice Pirates—to make it work. It’s their “playing it straight,” Shakespearian acting that ultimately led to the film’s box office and critical demise.
So what we have with this particular Star Wars dropping is a more “realistic” homage to George Lucas’s cherished, Buck Rogers, Commander Buzz Corey, and Flash Gordon serials, than his own tales of Luke Skywalker. So keep Ed Hunt’s intentions in mind and you’ll enjoying watching this charming space opera romp on You Tube.
Starship Invasions isn’t Ed Hunt’s first time at the “UFO conspiracy” rodeo.
In 1976 he crafted Point of No Return, another fictional (based in “fact”) sci-fi thriller about an investigator looking into a series of violent deaths, via suicide and murder, which are “somehow” connected to UFOs and nuclear research (this plot device is also used in Starship Invasions). In 1979 he wrote and directed a documentary proper: UFO’s Are Real, featuring insights from respected military and science professionals.
After venturing into slasher territory with the popular video rental, Bloody Birthday (1981), he was back to using aliens as story fodder with the equally successful, wacked-out horror romp—starring the awesome David Gale (aka Dr. Carl Hill from the Re-Animator series)—The Brain (1988; written by Barry Pearson of Firebird 2015 AD fame.) Both are highly recommended for fans of the ‘80s video fringe.
Seriously. Make it your New Year’s resolution to watch The Brain and Blood Birthday.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker was released theatrically on December 20 in the United States.