Editor’s Note: Due to their plot, costume, and SFX common denominator recycling, we are reviewing five films in this exploration of Alfonzo Brescia’s “Star Wars” films: Cosmos: War the the Planets, Battle of the Stars, War of the Robots, Star Odyssey, and Beast in Space—so, yes: it’s a five-in-one review. And we toss in a little backstory on Brescia as a bonus!
It all began with the 1964 sand n’ sandal flicks The Revolt of the Pretorians and The Magnificent Gladiator, along with an array of Poliziotteschi flicks. In between was an X-rated romp with 1969’s The Labyrinth of Sex and 1974’s seen-to-be-believed Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women. And it all pretty much ended when Uncle Al decided to take on George Lucas. We never saw him again on U.S. screens—big or small.
Be warned, young warrior: Uncle Al’s space romps make Glen “larceny” Larson’s Battlestar Galactica look like the Lucasian epic it wanted to be (and was not). Space: 1999 isn’t so dorky to you now, is it, space cowboy? Oh, but Uncle Al’s flicks are oh, so much more fun than the plastic-verse Star Wars dropping that is Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
So, have you ever met two guys debating the content of Alfonso Brescia’s “Star Wars” rips? Welcome to mine and Sam’s world: a bizarro-universe where he mixes colorful, alcohol concoctions based on movies and we destroy our livers debating superfluous movie facts, much to the chagrin of poor Becca. Not even a Bill Van Ryn smack-on-the-side-of-the-head cures our Bresciamania.
Sam is of the critics who believe Uncle Al’s “Pasta Wars” is comprised of only four films: Cosmos: War of the Planets (aka Year Zero War in Space), Battle of the Stars, (aka Battle in Interstellar Space), War of the Robots (aka Reactor), and finally, Star Odyssey (aka Seven Gold Men in Space, Space Odyssey, Metallica and Captive Planet).
I’m on the side that there was actually five films in the series, which completed with 1980’s La Bestia nello Spazio, aka Beast in Space in English venacular, aka “Star Wars V,” aka “Porn Wars,” because, well . . . it’s a porn movie.
Five! Arrrgh! Let’s break ’em down! But first, this 2012 trailer remix for the best known of Uncle Al’s “Pasta Wars” flicks: Star Odyssey.
Movie 1: Cosmos: War of the Planets (1977)
Many sci-fi connoisseurs believe Brescia’s “Star Wars” debut isn’t so much a rip-off of Star Wars: they opine it’s a homage to another Italian space epic, one that was produced amid all of those Antonio Margheriti-spaghetti space operas: Mario’s Bava’s Terrore nello Spazio, aka Terror in Space (known in American theatres as Planet of the Vampires; then in its U.S. TV syndication as Demon Planet).
On this point, Sam and I concure: Look at the costuming and alien-possession subplots of Bava’s and Brescia’s films for comparison. Adding to the celluloid confusion: Cosmos had similarly-influenced—if not the very same-recycled—costumes and sets as Margheriti’s films. In addition: Cosmos was also distributed as War of the Planets—which was the title of the 1966 second film of Margheriti’s Gamma One series.
Amid Cosmos’ self-recycled stock footage and shot-through-sheets-of-sepia-paper-and-cheese-cloth special effects, Cosmos also ineptly-lifted whole scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey (an astronaut completes an upside-down communication device repair-in-space) and Barbarella (sex via touching a “blue orb of light” between beds). The “plot” for those who fell asleep: Our heroes journey to a planet where a green-skinned race is subjugated by an evil computer . . . and the Earth’s Italian “Hal 9000,” “The Wiz,” is possessed by the evil alien computer. . . .
Is this plotline picked up in the next movie? Nope. But all the sets, props, and costumes sure do redux.
Believe it or not, with everyone tricked into believing they were seeing another “Star Wars,” Cosmos: War of the Planets turned a profit in theatres (while I didn’t catch it at the local duplex, my coin was taken by Lou Cozzi’s Starcrash, Michael A. De Gaetano ’74-to ’80 reissue of UFO: Target Earth, Pietro Francisci’s ’66-to-’77 opus, Star Pilot, and George B. Lewis’s, aka Aldo Lado’s The Humanoid). Everyone in the U.S., pretty much, watched Cosmos on TV, as it aired forever during the ’80s on Friday and Saturday night and Saturday afternoon UHF-TV.
You can watch one of the many uploads on You Tube.
Movie 2: Battle of the Stars (1978)
. . . And Uncle Al returned with his “Empire Strikes Back” in the form of Battaglie negli spazi stellar (aka Battle in Interstellar Space), but it was given a new U.S. title because it sounds suspiciously like “Battlestar Galactica.” And since that was Glen Larson’s cheap-jack Lucas rip, that makes this a Star Wars rip twice removed.
You never heard of it because Uncle Al’s “Star Wars II” suffered from poor theatrical distribution and a weak reissue via home video and TV syndication. Then, with all the alternate titling that plagues European films as they’re distributed to the international markets, spacesploitation buffs believed the almost-impossible-to-find Battle of the Stars was Cosmos—with a new title. It’s not helping when the main cast of familiar Italian actors Gianno Garko, Malisa Longo, Antonio Sabato, Yanti Somer, and John Richardson—with most of their supporting cast—appear in subsequent films as different characters (well, they’re the same, but with different names), adding to the continuity confusion.
Regardless, it’s not the same film.
Battle of the Stars is an entirely new film that cannibalizes Cosmos for stock footage—and all the costumes and sets return. As is the case with most “sequels” (Alien vs. Aliens and Mad Max vs. The Road Warrior being the exceptions to the rule), Battle is a just remake/reimage of Cosmos—with a little script tweak: Instead of Earthlings traveling to the planet-home of the evil computer, this time: the rogue planet (or was it an asteroid; don’t care) without-an-orbit-and-pissed-off-sentient-being running it comes to Earth (from the orbit of Ganymed, Jupiter’s moon) which . . . was the plot of Margheriti’s Battle of the Planets from his “Gamma One” series. Hey, er, uh . . . what happened to the ship with its computer, “The Wiz,” possessed by the alien computer in Cosmos? Is that cleared up in Part III? Nope, that plotline is done and gone. . .. .
Look, as someone who has seen Cosmos: War of the Planets a few times: there is no “sport fishing on Earth” scene and there’s no androgynous, platinum blonde 12-year-old alien decked out in a silver chain mail spacesuit helping the Earthlings with an ersatz Marksman-H training remote Jedi-ball. But there is in Battle of the Stars.
So, yeah, it’s the same effect shots, same sets, same actors, even the same situations (that 2001-inspired space station repair and that sentient alien computer set, for example, again) . . . but it’s a different film. It’s not up for debate: it’s two different films, space ace.
The snack bar is open . . .
Intermission with Jason of Star Command, Space Academy, and Ark II!
. . . and back to the show!
Movie 3: War of the Robots (1978)
Yes, Jason of Star Command, Space Academy, and Ark II from CBS-TV are the far superior productions . . . and all of Uncle Al’s one-piece spandex suits and pull-over headpieces were back for a third sequel . . . with a society of gold-painted skin people pinch-hitting for the green folks from Cosmos.
On this point Sam and I agree: There’s no “artistic” meaning behind it. Uncle Al simply ran out of the five-gallon buckets of green grease paint and he found some gold paint in the stock room. Ah, but all of the stock SFX footage, costumes, and sets—and whole scenes lifted from the previous two films—are back.
The “plot,” such as it is: Gold Aryan robots with Dutch-boy haircuts are on the brink of extinction. And the solution is to kidnap a couple of Earth scientists to save their planet. So a crack team of space marines (see Aliens; which wasn’t made yet!) are sent in for a rescue.
What makes “Pasta Wars III” so utterly confusing: All of the same actors from the last two films come back—as different characters. So, it’s a “sequel” . . . then it’s not. Will the fourth film tie up the loose end regarding the possessed Wiz from part one. . . .
You can watch this one of the many uploads of War of the Robots on You Tube.
Movie 4: Star Odyssey (1979)
So . . . George Lucas was still in production with the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back (1980)—and Brescia is already on his 4th sequel with 1979’s “The Gold Ayran Dutch Boy Robots” (as I like to call it) . . . but they really were back in Sette Uomini d’oro nello Spazi, aka Seven Gold Men in Space which, if you’re able to keep up with the alternate-titling of Italian films, became Star Odyssey for English-speaking audiences.
And you thought Roger Corman was the king of set, prop, and wardrobe recycling? Uncle Al’s recycling makes Glen Larson’s cheap n’ shameless footage, prop, and costume recycling from the Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers franchise-axis seem inspired.
The plot: In the year 2312 the Earth is referred to by evil aliens as “Sol 3.” “Darth Vader” is some guy in a (quite impressive) lizard skin mask (but it’s topped with a Farrah Fawcett-’70s feathered hair cut) that “buys” Earth in some inter-galactic auction to cultivate Earthlings as slaves to sell on the open market. And his army is the gold Dutch Boy robots . . . but didn’t we save them in War of the Robots? Welcome to the Brescia-verse. . . .
“Han Solo” is some guy in a shiny-silver Porsche racing jacket and a funky, disco-inspired spider web tee-shirt contracted for a The Magnificent Seven-inspired recruitment of a rescue team of rogues . . . thus ripping off Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars (and Corman ripped himself in the later productions of Space Raiders, Forbidden World, and Dead Space; yes, sets from Galaxy of Terror are in the mix amid all of those films, as well; he even lent them out to Fred Olin Ray for Star Slammer). Part of the “seven” are Uncle Al’s R2D2 and C3PO: a bickering male-female robot couple (the female has eyelashes and red lips) dealing with “sexual dysfunction” and “relationship issues.” And there’s a scrawny n’ skinny Han Solo-replicant acrobat who backflips and summersaults into battles—and makes a living fighting in boxing rings with Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots (know your ’70s toys). And what’s up with the “Luke Skywalker” of this space opera: Lt. Oliver ‘Hollywood’ Carrera? What’s with the obviously drawn-on mustache? Why is he hunching his back and arching his shoulders? Is it a parody of some Italian comedy actor we Americans don’t know about?
As result of Star Odyssey never playing in U.S. theatres or airing on U.S. UHF-TV in-syndication (at least not to mine and Sam’s recollections), the only way we watched this fourth “Pasta Wars” sequel was on numerous public domain DVD multi-packs. And regardless of the distributor, the “cut” of the film is always the same: somewhere along the way, the scissors were taken to the film and there’s several scenes out of sequence. Remember in Space Mutiny, when Lt. Lemont is dramatically killed off in a scene . . . and she shows up just fine in the very next scene? It’s like that, only it happens several times in Star Odyssey.
I keep promising myself that I’ll rip Star Odyssey and do a proper “fan cut” and put it back into its proper sequence in homage to Uncle Al. . . . Don’t hold you breath waiting for that You Tube upload.
You can watch Star Odyssey in all its continuity-screwed glory on You Tube.
Movie 5: Beast in Space (1980)
And now for the movie that’s come dangerously close to destroying a friendship. Alfonso Brescia’s oeuvre has that effect on people . . . well, just me and ‘ol Sam.
Anyway . . . remember the infamous, 1972 X-rated Flash Gordon porn-flick, Flesh Gordon (itself sequeled with Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders)? Did you ever wonder if Reece and Ripley (and we know they did, off-script and off camera) “got it on” in Aliens? Ever ponder if Han threw Leia across the Dejarik Chess Table and undid her cinnabons?
Well, welcome to Porn Wars.
There’s George Lucas, killing the box office with The Empire Strikes Back, and Brescia responds with his “Star Wars V”: 1980’s La Bestia nello Spazio, aka Beast in Space. The interesting twist to this “sequel” is that it not only occurs in the same Brescia Pasta-verse (courtesy of footage, costumes, props, sets, and actors recycling) continued from Star Odyssey, it’s also a “sequel” to Walerian Borowcyk’s infamously popular, 1975 French erotic-horror/exploitation movie, La Bête, aka The Beast. The “connection” between both films: erotica-exploitation actress Sirpa Lane sports a pair of Brescia-space tights and headpiece.
So how did they come up with the title Beast in Space, you ask? As result of her erotic/exotic films—especially The Beast—Sirpa Lane was a major star (and marketed as the “next Brigitte Bardot”) in Europe and christened with the affectionate stage name by the Euro-press: “The Beast.” (We also reviewed her work Joe D’Amato’s Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals, if you’re interested.)
Issued in “PG,” “R” and “X”-rated formats, the “plot” concerns the Earth’s search of the cosmos for a rare element: Antallum, the key ingredient for bomb construction to basically kill off everyone in the universe. But wait . . . Earth already possessed that wonder-metal to accomplish space travel in the first film . . . so is this a prequel?
Eh, that’s plot piffle in the Brescia-verse.
The real story: The crew is “horny,” with chauvinistic men and slutty women astronauts seducing each other on their way to the planet Lorigon to plunder the planet of its Antallum honey hole. Well, the planet’s sentient super-computer (not again!) isn’t having any of that nonsense. That’s his Antallum. So “Hal 9000” sidetracks the Earthlings . . . by inciting them to indulge in their deepest, darkest sexual desires. Oh, did we mention the gold Aryan Dutch Boy robots are back as well? And the well-hung minotaur from Lane’s sexual dreams is real and lives on Lorigon?
The English language upload is gone. All we have is this Spanish-language upload on You Tube for you to sample.
DVD Copies of Beast in Space
The fine folks at Severin (thanks, again for the Delirium pull-quote) discovered an obscure hardcore cut of the film: it adds a few minutes of unsimulated, aka real, grinding (from bodies doubles) and a nice and long (sorry) five minutes with The Beast’s monstrous penis—and his “climax.” That footage is said to have been shot after the fact and spliced-in; that cut was distributed throughout Europe.
As result of that discovery: Severin has two DVD versions in the market: An Unrated Version at 92 minutes and a XXX version at 91 minutes (the one with the body doubles footage). The footage variations are those hardcore shots of Onaf (Robert Hundar; 1977’s La bella e la bestia) raping Sondra (Sirpa Lane) and his penis in action, along with a sex scene between Capt. Larry Madison (Vassili Karis of 1979’s Giallo in Venice) and Sondra. The Unrated Version comes from the original film lab negative utilized for the Region 1 (North and Central America) DVD release by Severin, which they acquired from a Rome, Italy, bankruptcy auction. The XXX version was discovered in the basement of a condemned Bologna, Italy, porn theater.
Both Severin versions come with Bonus Features: The Unrated Version comes with a vignette from actor Venantino Venantini (Juan Cardoso in the film) who speaks at length about his career, working on Black Emmanuel (we’ve since reviewed Emmanuel IV because of its Cannon connection) and with Brescia. The XXX Version, again, offers the newer hardcore footage-inserts—along with a trailer.
While both versions are out-of-print and no longer available at Severin Films, used and aftermarket copies are available on Amazon and eBay; but emptor the caveats, ye buyer. You can get the technical rundown on the releases at DVDTalk. And if you’re a Brescia completists, like moi, you’ll get both for the collection.
So be it Star Odyssey or Beast in Space—or four or five films—Uncle Al’s “Pasta Wars” was over. After turning out his “Star Wars” films in a short four years, Brescia turned over the keys to the Millennium Falcon. But let’s cut Uncle Al a break: he was saddled with the cheapest budgets and pressure-shoot schedules that no filmmaker should endure in their careers.
Brescia continued to make non-science fiction films for the remainder of his career—14 more films for the next 15 years. At the time of his retirement in 1995, Brescia completed a career total of 51 films.
Most of Brescia’s post-1980 work was primarily restricted to Italy-only distribution. His career took a financially-positive turn in the late ‘80s with the worldwide-distributed Iron Warrior (1987; the third in the hugely successful, Ator Italian rip-off series of Conan the Barbarian) and Miami Cops (1989; violent Miami Vice-inspired buddy-cop flick starring Richard Roundtree). Sadly, even with the success of Iron Warrior and Miami Cops, Brescia was unable to secure distribution for his self-financed final film, the 1995 action-comedy, Club Vacanze.
Alfonso Brescia, the king of the Star Wars-inspired spaghetti-space opera died, ironically, in 2001.
And that’s the story behind tonight’s “Drive-In Friday” salute to Uncle Al.