Space Chase (1990)

“To rule the galaxy, an evil dictator kidnaps a scientist and steals his invention, which will provide limitless energy for his robots.”
— Where have we heard this story before, Mr. Copywriter?

Uh, I have, in fact, seen this movie before . . . and George Lucas didn’t make it: Alfonzo Brescia made it back in 1977 and it was called Star Odyssey and the “energy invention” was Iridium/Etherium. The scientist who discovered it was subsequently kidnapped and a space rogue and the scientist’s space beauty of a daughter recruits a not-so-Magnificent Seven to save the universe — which is why this movie (just by the trailer alone) looks way older than its 1990 VHS-release date.

This time around, in the year 2097, the good doctor Ivan Integgin (which sounds like Iridium/Etherium), the head of the powerful Omega Institute, discovers a self-rejuvenating energy source, called Egrin (it sounds like, oh, never mind). It’s the answer the human race has hoped for to save the Earth!

Uh, hold on there, Starbuck . . . not if the evil Doctor Croam has a say about it. He plans, with his black-clad stormtroopers, to enslave the galaxy by stealing the discovery. And not even the Rebel Alliance, the United Galaxy’s Royal Fighters can stop him. But Han Solo Ryan Chase, a galactic bounty hunter and soldier of fortune (with gambling debts and a price on his head, natch), along with his Wookie buddy, Chewbacca, Arto, his blue-skinned Chameloid sidekick, Gloria, his smart-mouthed onboard computer, and the smart-mouthed (she’s not a skank!) Princess Leia galactic princess, Aurora, they’ll rescue Doctor Integgin and save the galaxy!

Yikes. Even the cover reeks of rotted, coagulated milk proteins.

What’s great about revisiting these VHS ditties all these digital years later is our celluloid Schadenfreude in the efforts of the young, burgeoning filmmakers who worked on the films, when they social media resurface to share their frustrations with their film’s troubled production. And in the case of Space Chase, this time it’s not the IMDb or a Facebook thread, but You Tube, as three of the actors — Bill Freed, aka actor Philip Notaro (an agent forced the stage-name change; he stars as Tane), Traci Caitlyn, aka actress Traci Hart (Princess Aurora), and Barry James Hickey (our rogue hero, Ryan Chase) — swap memories via the user thread on the embedded trailer (seen below).

And since we’ve never heard of nor seen this film — only first learning of it by way of our review for Star Crystal (this week), by way of that film’s screenwriter Eric Woster serving as the cinematographer on this film — we’ll have to use their insights to describe the film to you. Is Space Chase intended as a homage to the Italian Star Wars clones* of old?

Your guess is as good as ours.

While it looks like it was shot several years earlier during the Italian “Pasta Wars” craze of the early ’80s** (or, at the very least, languished on the shelf for several years before its release), writer, producer, and director Nick Kimaz’s non-union film was actually shot in 1989 in Palmdale, California. His mom did all of the “too spicy” homemade catering. At least one of the actresses, Julie Nine (starred as Romy), allegedly posed for Playboy — and she threw a fit on-set when her (expensive?) jacket was stolen from the set. Actress Traci Hart ended up dating and having a long-term relationship with Nick’s brother, Tom, who served as the film’s soundman, and she almost had Nick as a brother-in-law. If you’ve actually seen this obscurity, we’ll settle your bets: Nick Kimaz rented the baddie “black stormtroopers” costumes of Skeletor’s forces from Masters of the Universe from Cannon Pictures, as well as the props and sets from Battlestar Galactica from Universal. Yep, the starfighters were kitbashed from SR-71 model kits (actually, the in-camera model effects are the best part of the movie).

What’s really cool is that three of the film’s other actors who got their start in the business on Space Chase are still in the business. Michael Gaglio’s 87th film, Copperhead Creek, is in-production and Art Roberts is on his 193-indie credit with a role in the currently-in-production American Soldier. Then there’s the recognizable Patrick Hume. While he’s on his 67th project with the in-production Cockroaches, he’s guest-starred on the top-rated TV series Criminal Minds, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Rookie, S.W.A.T, and Sons of Anarchy.

When you consider Roland Emmerich’s Moon 44 was released in the same year, and that Space Chase was made thirteen years after the George Lucas inspiration it blatantly rips off, and that it looks like Alfonzo Brescia shot it as a “Pasta Wars” sequel to his Star Odyssey from 1979, these galactic proceedings make the plastic-verse of Glen Larson’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century look good. And if you know my disdain for that series. . . . Is Space Chase so-bad-it’s-fun as Space Mutiny or Escape from Galaxy 3, which serve as the pinnacles in space opera awfulness?

No, not quite, but Space Chase makes Eric Woster’s other space romp, Star Crystal, look even better. But if there’s ever a movie that needs to be dumped onto a Mill Creek 50-film pack, Space Chase is it. For it is a film that needs to be saved and transformed into a MST3K’d classic. How did this NOT end up on a Commander USA’s Groovie Movies or USA’s Up All Night movie block? How is it, across multiple video store memberships and my celluloid diving the discount bins and close-outs of video stores, never encountered a copy of this movie?! Yet . . . it ends up in dubbed in Turkey and Russia and clipped on You Tube? Ye programming executives of Comet TV: I hereby implore thou to get a copy of this film onto the channel, forthwith. If you can program Convict 762 and Timelock (both reviewed, this week), then you can program this well-intentioned, valiant Wiseauian space effort on your channel.

So, thanks Nick Kimaz. Thanks to you, today was a good today. For I enjoyed myself as I discovered a new, cool obscurity and I have a digital platform to share it with the readers of B&S About Movies. Yeah, a great day, indeed. Now, I need to get a VHS copy for my collection. To eBay . . . and beyond!

Sadly, there’s no free or PPV streaming copies of Space Chase on the web — not even on You Tube or TubiTV, where all lost VHS’ers of the ’80s go to die. Well, not to worry, in addition to the trailer (embedded above), and thanks to this film’s rabid fanbase, we found ten scenes/clips from the film that we’ve compiled into one convenient-to-stream, You Tube playlist. Enjoy!

* We’re reviewed all of those “clones” — well, we thought we did until Space Chase showed up! — with our “Attack of the Clones,” “Ten Star Wars Ripoffs,” and “Exploring: After Star Wars Droppings” featurettes.

** We paid tribute to ‘ol Uncle Al’s five Star Wars ripoffs with our past “Drive-In Friday: Pasta Wars Night with Alfonzo Brescia” featurette.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Star Crystal (1985)

As we’ve said many times amid the digital pages of B&S About Movies: the backstories on movies are sometimes more engaging than the actual movie itself. And this Alien-cum-E.T. VHS-hybrid is one of them. And, in spite of that fact, I still love this movie. Of course, the danger with these theatrically-shot but ultimately released as direct-to-VHS flicks from the ’80s, when reissued, first, to DVD, then Blu-ray, then into the Amazon-cum-Netflix streaming-verse, instead of sticking to the original artwork, those ’80s ditties are redressed with flashy artwork that grossly oversells the movie — and accomplishes in destroying the film’s only endearing quality: its nostalgia.

Then, ye, the dear B&S reader, say to yourself: “Those B&S guys are full of B.S. This movie sucks the feldercarb off the DeLorean flux capacitors. Frack them and their ‘nostalgia’ daggit-dunged memories.”

Hey, we get it, ye more-youthful-than-us readers. If our first exposure to Star Crystal were these two, home-video promotional one-sheets — and then we watched the movie — we’d feel hornswoggled, as well. For no one is encased in any “crystal” coffins or tombs, and nothing in this particular crystal’s clarity looks nothing like Tobe Hooper’s theatrical-distributed and thus, better known, Star Wars-cum-Alien rip from 1985, Lifeforce. And check that Gigeresque alien with toothy grin at the next asteroid, Buck.

Yeah, leave it to Roger Corman’s lipstick-on-a-pig art department minions at New World to dupe you into renting a movie. But, to be honest, I’ve never felt duped by this movie. Again, damn me and my nostalgia.

Ah, the ol’ used and beat-to-hell ’80s VHS that I burnt into blue screen.

So, who came up with the idea to mesh Alien with E.T, you ask? Would you believe an ex-video director (Toto was one of his clients) and Cheech and Chong associate? It’s true. While he ended up acting in a space flick we’ve never, ever seen nor heard of, Space Chase (1990; and we sense a tingling in “The Force” that it’s recycling sets and etc. from Star Crystal . . . no it’s worse*), in addition to writing, directing and starring in a horror film we also never, ever seen nor heard of, Sandman (1993), the late Eric Woster (1958 -1992) made his feature film debut as a screenwriter with Star Crystal, a film that also used his past music video skills as an editor. (Oh, you’ll see Eric’s credits in the C&C movies Nice Dreams, Still Smokin’, Things are Tough All Over, and Far Out Man (okay, only one “C,” and with another “Eric”: the everywhere Roberts one).

As for the director behind the script: It’s TV actor Lance Lindsay (the IMDb lists only one credit: a 1976 episode of TV’s McCloud, but surely he did more series) in his directorial debut. And, as with Eric Woster, Lindsay took the celluloid bull by the horns to write, produce, and direct, yet another film we’ve never heard of nor seen, Real Bullets (1988). And has anyone ever seen Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs’s (Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington from TV’s Welcome Back, Kotter) acting-directing effort, Quiet Fire (1991)? We haven’t. Well, Lindsay apparently acted in that film as well.

So, that’s the full resumes on the writer and director put to bed. As for the actors: this is one of those films where no one was very good at their job, so they subsequently vanished from the business. The only actor able to develop a resume (who’s quickly dispatched in the film’s opening salvo) is an actress we’ve named dropped a few times at B&S: Emily Longstreth. Em starred in Private Resort (with Johnny Depp), the abysmal American Drive-In, and had a support role in John Hughes’s essential ’80s comedy watch, Pretty in Pink (1986). Oh, and we can’t forget the uttery-forgettable Wired to Kill (1986), that, if not for starring Kim Milford (Laserblast), we’d probably wouldn’t have reviewed it at all.

Set design and visual effects-wise, Star Crystal — courtesy of SFX Supervisor Lewis Abernathy (wrote Deep Star Six, directed House IV, bit-acted in James Cameron’s Titanic) — when considering its budget, looks pretty darn good. (The SFX team also includes Steven P. Sardanis; his work goes back to Charles Bronson’s The Stone Killer and 1974’s The Towering Inferno, and Chuck Comisky; he worked on Battle Beyond the Stars, Star Knight, and James Cameron’s Avatar.) Now, granted, the proceedings maybe not be as craftsman-good as William Malone’s quintessential low-budget Alien rip, Creature (1985), but just as good, if not better, than the space station interiors of the Canadian apoc-romp Def-Con 4 (1985). (Considering Def-Con 4 also carries the New World imprint, it probably is the same set, if not the same set retro-fitted to a degree; it looks like it to me.) And the practical, in-camera model work is fun to watch as well (the ship reminds of — but is not — the “hammerhead” from Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) as some reviews have stated). And the reason it looks so good: Robert Caramico*, who got his start with Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead (1965) and Lemora (1973), is the cinematographer. The space suits and various wares are also well-made. And the alien tendrils and humans-sucked-dry gore effects (that, considering the film’s R-rating, could of be bit more gorier) are pretty decent. And, when we finally meet the once evil alien that becomes a friendly alien, he-she-it looks pretty good, too — granted, it can’t run and just oozes and goozes in one spot, but, it does blink and glow!

Then there’s the acting . . . oh, whoa the thespin’ that just kills all of that hard SFX work. And the “suspenseful” chase scene between alien and human in the ship’s conduits/tunnels — as depicted by ’80s DOS-level video arcade blips on a rudimentary computer-map of the ship watched by the crew members . . . yikes! And what’s the deal with the ship not having any actual corridors or decks that forces the crew to crawl on their hands and knees through tunnels to get from compartment to compartment, e.g., from the bridge to the lab? (Rog, you couldn’t lend out the Battle Beyond the Stars sets? Since when are you apprehensive to set loaning-recycling?)

Anyway, if you’ve seen Alien — or any of its ’80s knockoffs (but this really isn’t as “Alien” as you may think) — you know the tale: In the year 2032, a routine expedition of a crater near Olympus Mons on Mars discovers a mysterious rock. And the crew of the SS-37 cracks it open. And it has a crystal inside (that acts as the alien’s “life force” and its “intelligence” . . . and an alien organism that grows . . . that leaves a gooey, “lemon” scent during its rampage. . . .

When the Nostromo-light (aka, the SS-37) shows up at the L-5 space station (aka, Gateway Station-light; yes, it’s also a “spoked-spinning wheel” station, but it is not the same space station from Creature, as some reviewers have stated) — with everyone on board dead-by-suffocation — a five-man (three women, two men) military-civilian technical crew is dispatched to run a systems check on the ship. Then the alien sabotages the station and the tech crew escapes the destruction aboard the damaged-not-repaired SS-37. With not enough a food to last the two-year shuttle trip back to Earth or a (hopeful) one-year rescue mission, they decide to search for supply depots in orbit between Mars and Earth to make the trip home. But not if the alien, known as GAR, has anything to say about it: it’s poisoned the ship’s water supply and now there’s not enough to make it to the first supply depot. The alien wants the ship to get back home — and not to Mars. But when a meteor storm damages the ship and neither homo sapien or xenomorph can get home, they realize they need to bury the galactic light-hatchet.

Truth be told: While the acting and its (many) bad bits of dialog detracts from the script, the story itself is intelligent and heartfelt, and the last act when GAR and the two surviving humans become friends and must depart to their individual destinies, is actually heartbreaking. But then . . . oh, that friggin’ song kicks in — that’s not as bad as the theme song to The Green Slime (1968) or as hokey as the eco-theme to Silent Running (1972), but still, it’s pretty bad — has to ruin that tear-jerking moment. If take away the strained thespin’, you’ll discover there’s actually a great movie in the frames of Star Crystal, with a sci-fi poignant message about humanity’s ways that’s ripe for a big-budgeted remake. Yes, Jesus Saves — even aliens. Come on, now: a film with an insight about love and freewill among the (alien) races? How can you hate on that message? (Personally, I enjoy a chunk of religion and philosophy chocolate in my sci-fi peanut butter.)

In my discussions with Sam, the Bossman of B&S (don’t tell Becca), about the film, he takes this film to task for the bad alien changing it’s xenomorphic ways after reading the human’s Holy Bible and for playing chess with a human (moving pieces with its mind) as a rip on the Dejarik hologram game from Star Wars. My irritations result from the overbearing “futuristic” soundtrack (by Doug Katsaros, later of the ’90s animated series, The Tick) (it’s mixed to loud), the British accented, smart-mouthed ship’s computer, and the Bechdel test fails of the ship’s engineer cast an unattractive bitch (the “Lambert”), the ubiquitous hot blonde being a weeping willow of the “what are we gonna do now” variety (ack, King Dinosaur), the hot brunette being a strong-willed bitch (aka the “Ripley”), and the men being dismissive, sexist dickheads — dicks who assign the women the grunt work (such as being in charge of the kitchen) as they kick back on the bridge to spew chauvinistic dialog and crack bad jokes. Oh, and our Captain kissing the passed out/knocked out female crew member: ick and eww.

What Sam and I do agree on — and everyone calls out — is “Crystal of a Star,” the caterwauling-awful end credits song by American-Icelandic singer and actress Stefanianna Christopherson, aka Indria. And if not for her starting out as a child-teen actress with roles in the Jacqueline Bisset-starring The Grasshopper (1970) and TV’s Mayberry R.F.D., and becoming best known for her work as the first voice of Daphne Blake in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, no one would probably have called out the song at all. (Well, yeah, they would have.)

You can enjoy the full film (seriously, you will) as a commercial free-stream on You Tube. The fine folks at Kino Lorber offer Star Crystal as an HD-restored DVD and Blu-ray (Ack! With the Giger-cum-Tobe Hooper faux artwork on the cover?). Used VHS tapes are still easily obtainable in the online marketplace. If you like to caveat your Blus before you buy, you can get the technical low down at Blu-ray.com. There’s also an older, bare-bones Anchor Bay DVD in the marketplace, which also proliferate the online marketplace.

* As Bill Van Ryn at Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum has said, “Robert Caramico has, as a DP, given us so many great films!” But Bill, Sam, and myself have never seen, nor been able to find, a copy of Robert’s lone theatrical directing effort: the faux “adults only” documentary Sex Rituals of the Occult (1970). So, to say “the search is on” in an understatement. He also shot Octaman and Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, so to say Robert “makes chicken salad of the daggit dung” is an understatement — and if you’ve seen those two films, you know what we mean!

And that’s the saga of Star Crystal!

* Update: Never say never, young star warrior. Once a movie gets stuck in our heads . . . we finally gave Space Chase a full review proper, and it runs at 8 PM this evening to close out our “Space Week” of film reviews. So join us!

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Alien Intruder (1993)

“In the Year 2022 we made contact . . . too bad.”
— When copywriters know it’s all crap and just give up

So, what do you get when you cross Ridley Scott’s Alien with Robert Aldrich’s 1967 war classic The Dirty Dozen? Oh, and what the hell, a little pinch from Escape from New York can’t hurt. Oh, and let’s pinch Hal (and fem and porn ’em up a bit) from 2001: A Space Odyssey while we are at it. And since we can’t afford to pay twelve actors, we’ll get a dirty quartet. And the budget can swing a Lando Calrissian for a bargain and a song.

Saddle up, boys! Let’s make a movie! Yee-haw!

VHS image courtesy of ronniejamesdiode/eBay.

Commander Skyler (a sadly slumming Billy Dee Williams) offers four convicts (lead by the deserves-better-than-this Maxwell Caulfield) doing life at Earth’s New Alcatraz Maximum Security Prison the chance to have their sentences commuted for a “routine space salvage” mission. Of course, it’s all on a “need to know,” natch, and what they don’t know is that Captain Dorman (Jeff Conway, really hitting rock bottom) of the U.S.S. Holly became addicted to a virtual reality program run by the ship’s computer and he killed everyone on board.

Oh, and, in the grand tradition of Space Mutiny (yes, this movie also has a wealth of “rail kills”), Jeff’s space freighter interiors’ shoot-out was shot in the back of a wholesale warehouse (when you see the concrete floors and floor-to-ceiling metal shelves, you’ll see what we mean). Eh, why not. Let’s shoot inside a factory, too, since all of those pipes and valves look like the ship’s “engineering section.” Yeah, just tack up those corrugated metal sheets over there . . . and wire up some tube lights over there . . . hot glue some scrap metal and nobby-thingys over there. . . . Dude, where’s all of those leftover sets from Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars when you need ’em? I mean, what the hell, Rog? You lent them out to Fred Olen Ray to make Star Slammer in 1994. (Oh, guess what . . . Alien Intruder was, in fact, shot inside an old Oscar Mayer meat processing plant in Los Angeles. So, there you go!)

My space ship has a first name . . .

Anyhoo, Commander Skyler, his four convicts, and their “Mother,” aka, a Postironic “Model 4” Android, hop on board the U.S.S. Presley and head off into deep space for the “dreaded G-Sector” . . . and, what the hell? We’re in the Wild, Wild West, then a reenactment of Casablanca, and then an old ’50s biker flick? Huh? Maxwell Caulfield is running in a pair of Speedos, riding a surf board, and taking soft-porn showers with a beach bunny? And why is ex-model-turned-actress Tracy Scoggins in all of these scenes, smoking? (Oh, and if the western scenes look familiar, that’s because it’s the same sets from CBS-TV’s Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman on the Paramount Ranch back lot.)

Oh, I get it . . . to help the crew cope with the stress of long space flights, they bed down in virtual reality simulators to live out their fantasies. Of course, the computer’s VR-self is Ariel, a seductress in the form of . . . yep, Tracy Scoggins (of the ABC-TV prime time soaps Dynasty and The Colbys; Captain Elizabeth Lochley during the final season of Babylon 5 in 1998). And, before you know it, the crew is at each other’s throats for her skin-tight, red-dressed affections. Oh, I get it . . . Ariel is actually an “alien organism-cum-virus” that exists in the “dreaded G-Sector” and reprograms any invading ship’s computer to kill everyone on board.

We think.

What the frack is this feldergarb? No, we can’t blame this on Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (both which actually look better than this space romp, if you can believe that). No, we’re blaming this on Star Trek: The Next Generation, courtesy of that show’s Holodeck tomfoolery. But, you know what? As bad as it all is, Alien Intruder has a Space Mutiny-like fan base (and if you’ve seen that space ditty, you know what we mean); it’s fun to watch because the actors, while down on their luck, are giving it their everything. One fan, who runs the You Tube page bmoviereviews, went as far as to isolate several choice action sequences and dialog vignettes:

Billy Dee Williams Gets Smoked
DJ Bites It
Entering the G-Sector
Flamethower Death
“Hey, screw you, Mancuzo!”
“I’ll Fry Your Cortex”
Quit Yer Bitch’n Get In Yer Pod”

And it’s all courtesy of PM Entertainment, who brought us Anna Nicole Smith in all of her action hero bad-assness in Skyscraper (1996). If you need a heavy fix of movies starring Wings Hauser, Erik Estrada, Dan Haggerty, Traci Lords, Lorenzo Lamas, Sam Jones, and even more films starring Maxwell Caulfield, as well as William Forsythe, Micheal Ironside, and Jeff Fahey — basically all of the actors we love here at B&S About Movies — then look no further than the defunct PM Entertainment imprint (1989 – 2002). You can read up on the studio at their extensive Wikipage.

Now, if those clips and the trailer don’t do it for ya, you can free-stream Alien Intruder in its entirety on You Tube. And when you have a chance to see an alien Tracy Scoggins take a bubble bath, how can you not?

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Primal Scream (1988)

If you’ve surfed around our little ol’ slice of the web for a time, you know us QWERTY-bangin’ fools of the B&S About Movies cubicle farm in good ol’ Allegheny County love our regional and SOV filmmakers. Be it Don Dohler (The Alien Factor, Nightbeast) or Brett Piper (Queen Crab) — and regardless what the mainstream audience thinks of those filmmakers — we run the banners on-high for those ambitious, up-against-the-budget self-made auteurs. Our extensive reviews for such shoe-string produced, regional ditties as Richmond, Virginia’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel, Providence, Rhode Island’s It’s a Complex World, Atlanta, Georgia’s Evil in the Woods, and SOV’ers like John Howard’s Spine, Christopher Lewis’s Blood Cult, and Blair Murphy’s Jugular Wine, are evidence of that fact. Now we’re adding — it’s about frackin’ time — William J. Murray’s Primal Scream to the list. However, unlike most regional and SOV films, which take the more cost-effective shot-in-the-woods horror route, Murray, along with his writing partner Dan Smeddy, upped the game by deciding to honor their sci-fi idol, Ridley Scott.

Yes. I said Ridley Scott. On a shoe-string budget.

It took guts, four sets of balls, and helleva lotta misguided hootspa. And we love Murray and his crew of intrepid, novice dreamers for it. Call Primal Scream dime-store. Call it inept. But the in-camera miniatures, space suits and plastic-cum-cardboard set designs work and the just-staring-out, unknown cast sells the Murray-Smeddy sci-noir verse with class. As with Tommy Wiseau’s years later The Room: Primal Scream displays a lot of heart and you can’t help but enjoy the ride.

The Primal Scream VHS released in 1988 by Magnum Entertainment that I remember/images courtesy of cassiescottagets/eBay.

Beginning its production in 1981 and starting its two-year stop-start production process in 1983 under the title Hellfire — and shot, not on 16mm or video, but in 35mm — this Blade Runner-cum-Alien-inspired future world set in a Chinatown-styled 1997 concerns the discovery Hellfire, a new, highly volatile energy source mined on Saturn’s moons (for a pinch of Peter Hyams’s Outland from 1981). The mining operation leads to the usual sociopolitical bickering between a Weyland-inspired multinational corporate and interplanetary ecologists, as well corporations vying for a piece of the “green new deal.” Who cares if Hellfire earned its name by igniting human flesh and boiling internal body parts into goo. Hey, it’s “clean energy,” so says John Kerry, and it’s everywhere in space. So mine it!

When the controversy over Hellfire results in the brutal murder of a high-ranking Thesaurus corporate executive, Caitlin Foster (Julie Miller), his femme fatale sister (uh, oh), hires the Philip-Marlowe-inspired Corby McHale (Ken McGregor; yeah, he was in X-Men and Prom Night IV, but we remember him best for Ed Hunt’s The Brain), a burnt-out private investigator slumming in what’s left of Atlantic City, New Jersey, to sort out who’s behind the sabotage of the Hellfire project (foretelling Moon 44, Roland Emmerich’s own Ridley Scott-inspired film noir). Along the way, McHale picks up a spunky sidekick in the form of Lt. Sam Keller (Sharon Mason). Part of the interstellar corporate intrigue is Charlie Waxman, a seedy local bookie (Mickey Shaughnessy in his final film role; yes, he was in the classics From Here to Eternity and Jailhouse Rock, but this writer remembers ol’ Mickey best for his first sci-fi bow in the Stanley Kubrickian forefather, 1955’s Conquest of Space).

Impressive! I’m convinced.

When it came time to take advantage of the Blu-ray format to give Primal Scream a well-deserved, proper digital reissue in 2018, William J. Murray set forth to create the 45-minute making-of documentary Made a Movie, Lived to Tell, which is included on the Code Red Blu-ray reissue. The Blus are also easily available on Amazon, but analog purists (moi) can still find used VHS copies on eBay. (It took a few years of diving the discount bins of a couple-dozen home video store close outs before I had my own, beat-to-hell copy for my personal collection.) You can learn more about Primal Scream and its accompanying documentary at its official Facebook page and Dark Force Entertainment Facebook. If you’re into caveat emptor’in your Blus before you buy, you can get the technical specs at Blu-Ray.com.

What I love about this Primal Scream reissue is that William J. Murray, unlike Philip Cook’s low-budgeted similar space romp Beyond the Rising Moon (1987; equally-enjoyed and reviewed this week), stuck to his original vision and didn’t add any years-after-the-fact CGI patches. The 2018 Blu is the same movie we enjoyed in 1988 on VHS — only in a crisp and clean restoration.

If you’re into passionate, low-budget sci-fi, be sure to check out our reviews for not only Beyond the Rising Moon, but Ares 11, Space Trucker Bruce, and Monty Light’s recent offering, Space. And Primal Scream is a great addition to your sci-fi digital library.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Beyond the Rising Moon (1987)

It all began in the mid-’80s when independent Virginia filmmaker Philip Cook produced his first feature film — for a reported $8,000. Known as Pentan, after the film’s title character, his low-budgeted effort saw a limited, regional theatrical distribution as Beyond the Rising Moon in 1987. By the mid-’90s, before the Sci-Fi Channel added the double-Ys, the film played under the cable title — with a little CGI revamping — as Star Quest: Beyond the Rising Moon in 1995. Then, with the advent of the DVD age and digital streaming, Cook, who was never satisfied with the end product, re-edited the film — with a second batch of then, more-current CGI effects — and reissued the film as Outerworld in 2007 for Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming. The subsequent DVD-release includes the 1995 cut of Star Quest: Beyond the Rising Moon, along with a 15-minute “making of” featurette, a 10-minute deleted scenes reel, and art galleries tracing the film’s production.

If you read our recent reviews for Ares 11, Space Trucker Bruce, and Monty Light’s recent offering, Space, you know we love our inventive, up-against-the-budget “in space” flicks. And, as with those films, considering Cook completed the first version on a limited budget, the models and miniatures he designed, and the costumes and the “worlds” he created are a lot of fun to watch. The acting, while everyone is certainly giving the best to their abilities (they’re “underplaying” too much), is not a lot of fun to watch. It’s not awful, but we’re not exactly getting Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford with our leads.

In a world where Aliens meets Star Wars — with pinches of Blade Runner (and foretells Roland Emmerich’s later Moon 44), we meet Pentan (Tracy Davis, in her acting debut; vanished from the biz shortly after), an Earth-made, genetically-engineered female cyborg used by a Weyland-styled corporation to clean up their galactic messes. Designed without emotions, she finally comes to develop a conscious and wants out. The “out” comes in form of her newest assignment: track down the location of a crashed alien ship. Since the technology is worth millions, Pentan decides to double cross her employer and sell the technology on the open market. So, in order for our faux-Replicant Ripley to pull off this space caper, she needs a “Han Solo” as a partner: he comes in the form of Brickman (Hans Bachmann, in his acting debut, vanished from the biz shortly after), a desperate space rogue with a price on his head and a ship-for-hire.

The mid-’90s VHS. Thanks, Paul!

In the end: The practical effects, matte paintings, blue screens and plate shots (there were no large sets; actors were “processed” into miniatures), and spaceship miniatures produced in 1987 as Beyond the Rising Moon, is the best version of the film. While more money was spent — just over $120,000 — on the subsequent 1995 and 2007 reissues, the CGI didn’t make the galactic proceedings any better. And while the CGI is weak, it doesn’t mesh well with the practical effects and makes those ’80s-era effects look ever more dated than they are. This was the same problem many of us has with George Lucas’s constant re-tweaking of his initial Star Wars trilogy, in his attempt to have his first trilogy meshed with the new trilogy. The once acceptable, late ’80s miniatures from the Gerry Anderson Space: 1999-verse of Cook’s vision simply do not mesh with 21st century CGI. So, in our opinion, it’s ’87 theatrical over the ’95 Sci-Fi Channel version — and both of those version over the 2007 streaming version.

If you’ve exposed yourself to a lot of ’80s VHS-era sci-fi movies (such as moi), the production levels of Beyond the Rising Moon may evoke memories of New World Pictures’ better-known, 1986 direct-to-video feature, Star Crystal*. While that weak Alien-cum-E.T hybrid may have had the touch-of-Corman to its credit (but a still-strained cast of first-time-and-soon-gone actors), it makes Philip Cook’s efforts even more impressive. A little bit more money and more-established actors at his disposal, Cook’s debut could have risen to the level of William Malone’s Creature, which goes down as one of the best Alien-clones.

Yeah, I dig this movie. As an actor myself, I’d would have enjoyed working on this film.

While you can watch the later versions on streaming platforms, stick with this superior 1987 version — and be impressed by its creativity and ingenuity — that we found on You Tube. You can learn more about the film’s production and check out stills on Philip Cook’s official website for Eagle Films. While there, you can learn more about his other sci-fi films, Invader (1992) and Despiser (2003).

* We’ve never gotten around to giving Star Crystal a full review proper, but we do discuss it in passing as part of our “A Whole Bunch of Alien Rip-Offs” and “Ten Movies that Ripped-Off Alien” featurettes.

Update: Never say never . . . when a film gets stuck in your head, argh! We finally gave Star Crystal a review proper, it’s coming up at 6 PM this evening.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Hyper Space (1989)

So, yeah. Roger Corman made Battle Beyond the Stars, then recycled the sets, the models, the costumers, and the effects shots into Galaxy of Terror, Forbidden World, and Space Raiders, then lent it all out to Fred Olen Ray to make Star Slammer (1986). Sadly, ol’ Roger didn’t loan it all out to Silver Star Film Company . . . uh, oh . . . not the same Philippine purveyors of all manner of ’80s post-apoc and Rambo ripoffs by the likes of Jun Gallardo and Teddy Chiu? They actually tried to do a Star Wars-cum-Alien knockoff?

Yes. It’s true. Teddy Chiu’s — aka Page, aka Ted Johnson, aka Irvin Johnson (you know the aka-drill with Philippine auteurs) — Silver Star Films made the Kessel Run with director Carribou Seto, aka David Hue, aka David Huey (his credit for Hyper Space).

Oh, man. A Philippine Star Wars? Roll the tape!

Thanks, Paul! We can always count on you for a clean JPEG of an obscure VHS cover.

So . . . as in the Ridley Scott-James Cameron-verse, and as in William Malone’s superior, four years earlier rip, Creature (1985), space is run by a ne’er-do-well corporation in the 21st Century who sends out Dark Star-styled crews in long-range vessels to — instead of blowing unstable planets to harbinger colonization — dispose of Earth’s chemical pollution and nuclear waste into “hyper space,” otherwise known as “The Black Forest.”

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the ship malfunctions and wakes the crew out of their cryo-sleep and they realize they’ve drifted off course . . . and a fuel leak leaves them marooned in deep space . . . and the shuttle craft that can save them can only hold two passengers, aka “the life boat.” So, in between the Alien and Dark Star pinching, we’re also pinching ol’ Uncle Al Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, which, if you’ve been following along with our reviews during our May “Space Week,” got the Alien-remake treatment in 1981 and again in 1993 (yep, reviews are coming this week). And, wait a sec . . . since this is an an outer space “eco-message” film, we better toss Silent Running on the list. Of course, since everyone is turning on each other for those coveted shuttle seats, John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is tossed into the narrative mix.

Of course, while we love ’em: Lynn Holly Johnson ain’t no Tallulah Bankhead and Don Stroud ain’t no Humphrey Bogart. Oh, man . . . the careers this way-over-their-heads Philippine star mess destroys: Richard Norton (Equalizer 2000), Don Stroud (The Amityville Horror), and no, say it ain’t so Ron O’Neal . . . you were Superfly . . . Superfly! And Lynn? Yeah, you did The Sisterhood for Cirio H. Santiago back in 1988, but . . . oh, never mind. And for the wrestling fans — were talking at you, Paul Andolina of Wrestling With Film — we’ve got Big John Studd and Professor Toru Tanaka. And yes, that is a Van Patten brother, but not the one who portrayed Tom Roberts in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, that was Vince; we get James, here. Basically, it’s all of the actors that we get jazzed about at B&S About Movies . . . and it just hurts to see them desperate and scrounging for paychecks from Silver Star Film Company tackling, of all things, the Scott-Cameron-Lucas-verse.

Seriously. It breaks your heart. You just want to invite them all over to your house for the Thanksgiving weekend and put one of mom’s home cooked meals in their stomachs and embarrass them with your knowledge — and library — of their film careers.

The marketing and running times on Hyper Space are all over the place, with the initial U.S. VHS-versions running at 90 minutes. Then there’s two more versions: one at 81 minutes (with all of the nudity cut) and 87 minute-versions (that leave the nudity and cut the violence). Originally released in 1989, Hyper Space has been popping up in the foreign marketplace over the years as grey market DVD-Rs with the bogus “copyright” years of 1993, 1998, 1999, 2017, and 2019 under the titles Space Rangers, Space Rangers: Hyperspace, Black Forest: The Rage in Space, Black Forrest, and The Rage in Space. Oh, and don’t mix up the 1989 Philippine one with the somewhat coveted, North Carolina-shot Star Wars spoof Gremloids (1984) — which also goes by the the alternate title of Hyperspace (all one word) — written and directed by Todd Durham, who gave us the hugely successful Hotel Transylvania animated franchise.

Sadly, even with all of the grey market DVD reissues, there are no online streams nor a VHS rip of Hyper Space to share, leaving this bottom-of-the-barrel knockoff of a Corman-light Alien knockoff truly lost to the ages.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Starship Troopers (1997): Another Take or: Why I Need to Stop Worrying about the Poor Portrayal of Women in Space Flicks and Just Love This Movie

Author’s Note: Please note this is a film review that addresses the creative art of filmmaking only, which attempts to help the viewer reach an understanding regarding the creative development of its subject-film genre. This review is not a political dissertation in support of or in contradiction of any sociopolitical belief system (we get into Fascism and Nazism, here) and is not intended to incense any reader regarding social or free speech/opinion issues. This review was written as an affectionate tribute to our “Space Week” theme of films set in outer space.


Or, as I like to call it: Battlestar Beverly Hills, aka Melrose Place in Space, aka Space: 90210. Yes, Sam the Boss loves this movie (October 2018 review), but . . .

Oh, how much do I hate ye; Starship Troopers? Let me count the ways.
For the depth and breadth and height that
I cherish Escape from New York,
My said hatred is thrust upon Escape from LA;
That is how much I hate ye.
Oh, ye wooden, California pretty girls and fancy boys in space;
For how much I love Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm
Is how much I also hate Phantasm II;
For that is how much I hate you, ye faux-fascist star troopers
In your hockey-plastic, Buck Rogers wears.

Is it your driftwood acting?
Is it your unconvincing CGI on a multi-million budget?
Is it Casper Van Diem’s soap opera sheen;
For did he think he’d get a Tom-like cruise,
Onward to A-List stardom in his feature film debut?
Is it that the sheer force of Michael Ironside
And the amazing-in-every-film Clancy Brown
Can’t erase the perpetual goofy-gaze of Denise Richards (“I want to be a pilot!”)
Or the macho, toothy-mugging of Jake Busey?
And forget not the thespin’ boondoggles of Dr. Doogie.

Frack! This movie sucks the feldercarb off Doc Brown’s flux capacitor. I need a shot of tranya, Commader Balok. Fesarius-me the hell out of this mess of Klendathuian space crap.

Well, looks like we’ve got a Battlefield Earth II sequel.

I love how the Wikipage on Starship Troopers—as with the Wikipage for Alien that tries, and fails, to hide the multiple film and literary plagiarism lawsuits against that film—tries to hides the fact (via multiple edits) that Melrose Place in Space began its production history as a totally unrelated, outright ripoff of Robert A. Heinlein’s late ‘50s classic novel, Starship Troopers, known as Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine. Now, the updated Wikipage tells us that the film adaptation of Heinlein’s novel jettisoned his superior (common sense) title for the dumb, exploitive-cum-ripoff title of Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine.

(That’s as awful a title as Dan O’Bannon’s original title for Alien: Star Beast; a title that he blindly fought to keep (he thought “Alien” was stupid) for his remake (no, it wasn’t, he claims) of It! The Terror from Beyond Space and ripoff (no, it wasn’t; he never saw it, he claims) of Planet of the Vampires. Right, Dan. And Sam Raimi never saw Equinox, either. And even O’Bannon’s title was a clip: it was the title of a 1954 Heinlein novel.)

Uh, wrong, A-List studio digital content managers stacking the digital Wiki-decks.

The script for Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine was already in the production cue, and then—when the similarities to Heinlein’s book came to light, a rush was made (probably to stave off the eventual, Harlan Ellison-inspired lawsuit against James Cameron’s The Terminator, natch) to license Heinlein’s novel—purely for the title, while pinching some character and location names from the book, so as to make us think we were getting a Heinlein adaption (another Heinlein book-to-film was 1953’s Project Moonbase). (Man, this is as awful as all of those bogus Philip K. Dick adaptations that don’t resemble his books.)

Paul Verhoeven—who wowed us with RoboCop and Total Recall (speaking of Phil K.), shocked us with Basic Instinct, and made us groan with Showgirls—was certainly well-intentioned with Starship Troopers. He is, in fact, a superior filmmaker, and his pre-stardom films Soldier of Orange, The Fourth Man and Flesh and Blood are proof of that fact (see all three, do it). But then he had to go and toss out Heinlein’s novel and stick to the inane Bughunt script: Starship Troopers is Starship Trooper in name only.

Films, like novels, are subjective. And many read Heinlein’s novel as racist-offensive; that it was pro-fascism and pro-militarism, with a desire that the world should supplant democracy for nationalism; that the only way to solve the world’s problems—real or imagined, or to institute your version of “right”—is by dispensing a large-scaled Wehrmacht. And to that end: Verhoeven decided to infuse a blatantly exaggerated anti-propaganda and anti-conformist message, which, again, was the point of his extraterrestrial “big bug movie’: a critique of America’s military. (Yeah, right. America’s military is the force that needs to be taken to critique-task. Insert my eye-roll, here.)

My read—big surprise—of Heinlein’s novel is different: I don’t see it as “pro” anything: I read it as anti-everything. In my read—wholly against Verhoeven’s tongue-in-cheek celluloid interpretation—is that Heinlein’s point is that a fascist way of doing things doesn’t work. Nationalism will not work. In fact, I read Starship Troopers as a novelistic precursor to ‘70s nazisploitation: films misconstrued as glorying Nazism (and a mere post-review of one of those films gets you suspended-to-banned from social media platforms). To say that Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is pro-fascism is to say Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom is pro-fascism and glorifies Nazism.

And that assumption on Pasolini’s masterpiece couldn’t be more wrong.

Yes . . . but we didn’t want you!

As we discussed in our review of Naomi Holwill’s Fascism on a Thread: The Strange Story of Nazisploitation Cinema (2020), a brilliant document on that unpleasant genre of film, Pasolini’s wasn’t (as was Verhoeven, in my opinion) using Nazism or Fascism as theatrical window dressing (do un-dumb the fact that ST was just a stupid f’in, big alien bugs movie). Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom was a societal mirror forced into our face. American comedian Lenny Bruce wasn’t “filthy” for the sake of filth: the ‘60s world was smut-ridden; he simply made us—forced us—to look at society in its true form, as a warning for us to change the err of our ways before society was lost (and the ways we behave on social media these days, we’re already lost). And Pasolini’s film was, too, a horrifying lesson of the absolute corruption of power, a power-corruption in the same vein that Otakar Vavra’s Witchhammer (1970) addressed the issue.

And that’s what Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is to me: a lesson on the absolute corruption of power; that man, unchecked, would be so maniacal in his dominance that—when of Oliver Cromwell runs out of witches, Hernán Cortés runs out of Aztecs, the Mayans are wiped off the Earth, the last and American Indians are reservation-stockpiled, and when there is no gold at the end of Gonzalo Pizarro’s El Dorado-rainbow (a crazed dominance explored in Werner Herzog’s 1972 film, Aguirre, the Wrath of God)—man will conquer bugs . . . and squash them, well, like bugs, for domain and wealth.

No. Heinlein (IMO) is not comparing Jews or Negros to bugs; saying those peoples are lower than bugs and need to be exterminated like bugs (dear lord, don’t people read?). Heinlein’s pondering: When does it end. When is enough, enough. Is there an end to all your survey. What will man do when there is no one left to conquer and to subjugate?

Heinlein’s books were, in fact, an education on the value of racial equality and the importance of racial tolerance—not stamping out other races and religions for the superiority of another race or political system. It’s a book against what we know today as “cancel culture.”

How can Michael Ironside read the book and be a fan of the book, and then, reportedly, chastise Verhoeven for “making a fascist film” while on set? Maybe if Verhoeven actually read the book that he, reportedly, disliked, he would have realized the book was already a parody; that a biting sociopolitical statement laid inside its pages. So, Paul, we didn’t need a cast of thirty-something, shiny, happy pretty teenagers, along with bogus internet-social media feed inserts (based on Nazi propaganda films, ugh, who cares), to tell me: fascism: bad. The message was already there inside the book, Hollywood.

Then, there’s the muddled plot—and the utterly annoying-to-wooden, perpetually goofy-toothy “I want to be a pilot” grin (all I kept thinking of was Hermey the Elf from the ‘60s TV holiday special Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, with his “I want to be a dentist” wishes) of Melrose Place tenant Lt. Carmen Ibanez. She’s in a high school (?), romance with John “Johnny” Rico. She puts military junk in his head, to the chagrin of his parents, who don’t like her, and convinces Johnny that, to impress her, he needs to join up and “be a citizen.” Then she—because he’s on the military fast track to pilot-dom (and smarter than the 35% math-scoring Johnny)—reciprocates the flirts of Lt. Zander Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon; the only one up to the Ironside-Brown challenge) to the point the love-triangle she instigates inspires fisticuffs between her two suitors. (That’s so very Ross-teasing-Rachel Green of you, Carmen.)

Wanted: Carmen Ibanez: 12 million counts of murder.

Then, Carmen gets her “I want to be a pilot” wish! And while she’s on third shift—in lone charge of the helm of a multi-billion dollar starship and the lives of a hundreds-strong crew (and in-defense of the Earth, mind you)—Melrose-babe decides it’s proper military etiquette to have a little coffee clutch with Zander on the bridge. And while she’s hoping to have a little post-Starbucks Zander-in-the-uniform-pant, she misses the warning for a bug-asteroid coming out of Jupiter hyperspace—which was the whole point of the ship’s stationary orbit: asteroid patrol. And the asteroid rips away the ship’s communications array. And there’s no way to warn Earth. And her hometown of Buenos Aires is wiped off the face of the Earth by said bug-oid. And 12 million people are dead because Lt. Ibanez decided two-timing Johnny (who she subsequently dumps via hard-disk mail—again with the “I want to be a pilot” lamenting) with Zander over coffee-to-sex was more important than monitoring the helm. Of course, the logical thing to do is to promote Ibanez to Captain—and give her first chair, which was Xander’s old job (I think he died, or something). And, wasn’t it established that the spacecruisers have hyperdrives? So, if communications are out, why not hyperdrive back to Earth—ahead of the asteroid? And, in the opening scenes, didn’t one of the faux-propaganda films clearly show a space cannon obliterating an almost-ready-to-hit-Earth asteroid? Arrgh!

What is it with women-in-space flicks? Why can’t the women be smart and moral? Why must they be vapid, sex-driven, teasing jezebels? We need more Ripleys and Lamberts and less spandex-William Deerings and Lt. Ibanezes in sci-fi. And I thought the plot holes and dumb character motivations from BSG: TOS were feldegarb (more so after Lt. Sheba, daughter of Cain showed up). And I thought Wing Commander (1999)—with Freddy Prinze, Jr.’s pretty-boy-amid-the-awful-CGI-stars—was daggit dung. Low-budget epics like Project 762 (reviewed this week, look for it) and Space Mutiny have an excuse for their bad CGI and dumb characters and Bechdel-fails, as it’s a par-for-the-course that I expect and accept. But multi-million dollar A-List films like Starship Troopers—and Escape from L.A. (don’t get me started)—do not get that pass. They just do not, as I will not accept the “nuff said” logic that Starship Troopers “is a great movie” simply because Denise Richards and Dina Meyer are board as eye candy for the hormone-infused teens in the audience (and the he-man characters in the film).

By the Kobol Lords, I hate this movie. And I could surely count more ways (like the stupid-as-ass, backflipping faux-XFL football game; recruits handover paper induction forms to a behind-the-desk clerk using a rubber-notary stamp . . . in the friggin’ 23rd century: why not have recruits micro-chipped and hand-scanned, for example) . . . but that’d be like kickin’ a sick daggit when it’s down.

And besides, it’s time for lunch.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Convict 762 (1997)

The late, requisite screen baddie Billy Drago—best known for his breakout role in Clint Eastwood’s Palerider (1985)—brought me here. Billy Drago—of Chuck Norris’s Invasion U.S.A. (1985) and Hero and the Terror (1988)—kept me watching. And Billy Drago—who made Hunter’s Blood (1986) watchable and Banzai Runner (1987) bearable—made me take the journalistic plunge on Convict 762, so as to put another one of Drago’s film’s on the B&S site—out of admiration and respect to the dynasty that is Count Drago.

Another name amid the credits of Convict 762 you’ll recall is Luca Bercovici (who will always remind me as Dennis Christopher’s faux-brother), a writer, director, an actor who—across his 60-plus acting and ten-plus writing and directing credits, we don’t mention enough on this site, outside of his appearance in Space Raiders (1983) and his writing and directing Rockula (1990). We’ve never gotten around (and probably won’t) to reviewing his writing and directing debut of the Gremlins-cum-Critters rip Ghoulies (1985), which turned into a four-part franchise.

Then, with Josh Whedon reactivating the Alien franchise in 1997 with the series’ fourth entry, Alien: Resurrection, Luca decide, for his sixth directing effort, he would direct the fourth—and final—screenplay of the once prolific, low-budget scribe J. Reifel. Reifel saw four of his sci-fi scripts go into simultaneous production in 1996 for EGM Film International (The Shadowchaser franchise and 1998’s Outside Ozona), with Timelock*, The Apocalypse, and Dark Planet for Charles Band’s Moonstone-imprint for dual-distribution on home video and the Sci-Fi Channel (in the days before the double-“y”).

Now, because of Michael York starring, I’ve seen (and don’t remember because it wasn’t very good) Reifel’s Dark Planet. And sadly, if not for the retro-UHF channel Comet running Convict 762 this past January 2021, I never would have sought it out on Tubi to watch. And, even with the presence of Billy Drago, I’ll soon forget this film once it publishes and is lost amid the 1,000s of other reviews at B&S About Movies. And speaking of distribution and Charles Band’s marketing tomfoolery: In the wake of the success of David Fincher’s Pitch Black (2000) (again, there’s that Alien connection), Moonstone reissued Convict 762 to home video with a Riddick-esque cover. But be not ye duped, oh, star explorer, for this ain’t a Riddick romp, not by a long shot.

Don’t fall for the dick faux Riddick.

However, not all is weak tea with this direct-to-video potboiler: Convict 762 has its strong points beyond Billy Drago’s presence. And those strengths come in the form of the stellar, Cormanesque up-against-the-budget production design led by art director Ron Mason (who’s work you know these days for The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy franchise). Kudos also goes out to set designers Denise Dowden (who vanished from the business) and Ann Shea, who ended up at CBS-TV (to work on several of their long-running series, including The Big Bang Theory). Tip o’ the hats as well to costume designer Wendy Benbrook, who’s still at it with FX-TV (most recently working on You’re the Worst). Courtesy of that behind-the-scenes-team’s collective efforts, Convict 762, again, taking into consideration it’s a low-budget product touched by the hand of Charles Band, looks really good. That is, until the CGI spaceships and exteriors (really bad, like Escape from L.A. bad) rear their ugly head, and then the rest of the cast chokes-on-screen in comparison to the thespin’ excellence of the always-making-chicken salad-out-of-chicken-shite Count Drago.

At the risk of insulting the still-(for the most part)-at-it actresses: Having been down more horror and sci-fi rabbit holes than the average VHS-rental dog, I’ve seen more than my fair share of low-budget B-renters starring reformed porn actress of the Traci Lords and alas-starring Michelle Bauer, aka Pia Snow, variety. Hey, it’s par for the course when you celluloid-mainline too many Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau movies. So, when I see a cast of unknown names like Shae D’lyn (who still at it on Orange is the New Black and Boardwalk Empire; a 96-episode run on Dharma & Greg?) and Tawye Fere (from Rockula?), well, what would you think? So, I deserve a Bechdel pass on this one.

The truth is: If Lords and Bauer—who have more than proven their B-acting chops over the years—along with Linnea Quigley and Brinke Stevens, were on board as the all-female crew of the star cruiser Alexandria, this film would be so much more awesome for it. For with films like this: you must go ditch the unknowns for a full-on-familiar exploitation cast—or the film simply will not work. (And this film, ultimately, does not.) On the other hand: Roger Corman hired both Jim Wynorski and Fred Olen Ray to co-create Dinosaur Island (to get more mileage out his expensive Carnosaur footage) and that film works because, not only of their B-Movie triumvirate pedigree, but because they hired reformed adult actresses Michelle Bauer, Becky LeBeau, Deborah Dutch, and Toni Naples—which is why more have seen that film instead of this one.

At first, the idea of a crew of Ripleys and Lamberts sounds like a great idea. Until the script Bechdels-off-the-rails into a 1950s sci-fi throwback (Project Moonbase) (and I know that is NOT the film’s intention), with bits about women—even behind the command of a starship, mind you—are still bad drivers who get lost in asteroid fields because they can’t read star maps (and I thought Denise Richards’s character in 1997’s Starship Troopers was badly written; yeah, we’re giving that a new take, this week, for “Space Week”). (At least Bercovici keeps them in Nostromo-wears and out of the skimpy-wears.) Oh, and the gals forgot to get gas (or plasma, or atomic-somethings) poured into the drive-tanks. But, in the ladies’ defense: asteroid damage forced them to jettison fuel to save the ship from exploding (or something). Luckily, a penal colony (ugh, and we cue David Fincher’s Aliens 3, again) on the only-populated planet in the system is their lone option for repair and refueling. And it’s there that they meet Jason Vorhees and The Terminator, uh, I mean Mannix and Vigo. (Uh, yes, the very-similar Jason-in-space flick, Jason X, showed up in 2001—and Ron Mason worked on that film’s artistic team.)

Mannix (Drago) and Vigo (Frank Zargarino of the aforementioned Shadowchaser franchise and a few Philippine knockoffs, most notably the Mark Gregory classic Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission) both claim to be the last prison guard and last prisoner survivors of an inmate uprising that resulted in the deaths of everyone on the colony (and one of them is an android-cum-cyborg). Now, in the tradition of the last-two-men-standing-in-mistaken-identity-to-the-danger-of-a-group-of-bad-decision-making-ne’er do wells . . . I know I’ve seen this before . . . and I can’t place it. (Damn it! Was it a ‘60s Star Trek episode?) So, I’ll just say it pinched (reminds me) from the 1986 Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell actioner The Hitcher, where Hauer’s psycho leads others to believe Howell’s the serial killer. And whoever the serial is, here (the script, to its credit, does keep us guessing), they Jason-cum-Xenomorph-offed the Alex’s entire crew—sans Shannon Sturges, here as Commander Nile. Now, Nile could be a Ripley, but she has so much caked-on make-up and hair product (thus, the my-bad porn assumption) that the rugged-Alien ass-kicker the character aspires to be, is lost. (Sturges guested on several TV series; she retired in 2014.)

In addition to the Alien (sans the Xenos, natch) and The Hitcher, you’ll see a bit of The Thing (running through a dark complex contemplating ‘who is who”). What you won’t see: decent acting. What you will see: sharp, inventive set design and cinematography that isn’t exactly competing with its big-budget inspirations (but it’s pretty damn close), but it all certainly looks (way) better that the worst (and even the best) of ‘80s episodes of Battlestar Galactica. It’s just too bad the women-nauts of the Alex are more William Deering eye candy than kick-ass sexy Ripleys. (Ugh. Do not get me started on Glen Larceny’s Buck Rogers series.)

In the end: Convict 762 is for Luca Bercovici curio-seekers and Billy Drago completists only. And we expect and accept bad CGI—and poorly portrayed and scripted characters—with films like these: we do not except or accept it with A-List junk like Escape from L.A.(1996) (what were you thinking, Pam Grier?). Again, this pops on Comet from time to time, but you can watch a more convenient, free-with-ads-stream on Tubi.

* Timelock is also runs Comet from time to time (sometimes double-featured with Convict 762) and is also available on Tubi. Timelock is your basic “space prison” shenanigans romp that also pinches from Aliens and Aliens 3, as well as Peter Hyams’s Outland—and every other “peril in space” remote penal colony and terraforming colony flick of the ’80s. In fact, it all feels like it was made ten years too late (or released ten years too late), and works better in a binge-watching session alongside ’80s Alien knockoffs like Roger Corman’s Forbidden World (1982; scripted by Jim Wynorski, natch), William Malone’s Creature (1985), and Roland Emmerich’s Moon 44 (1990) than John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. (1996), which more than likely inspired its raison d’être—although ex-Bond Girl Maryam d’Ado ain’t no Ripley and the always likable Arye Gross (even when grunged up) ain’t no Plissken.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

12 to the Moon (1960)

“I am now switching over to my helmet microphone. Now I am tuning on my invisible electromatic ray screen, which forms a protective shield our faces, and I will continue my commentary through my mirco-tape recorder.”
— Dr. David Ruskin, with some expositional technobabble

Image courtesy of Chunky Vintage & Antiques/eBay

Okay, so the good doctor Ruskin explained away the lack of face shields on the ISO crews’ helmets. But how to explain away the astronauts strapping themselves down onto vinyl cushion tube-webbed folding-chaise lounge lawn chairs C-clamped to the walls? Or a world where they can invent visorless helmets (did Glen Larson see this for BSG’s Egyptian-helmets) and, as the plot unfolds, magnetic-deflecting meteor technology, but uses backyard lawn chairs for G-Force space flight?

It’s true: the crew cockpit is dressed with a lawn chairs. And the rocket’s flames are a piece of cellophane fluttering against a fan. But what did you expect from David Bradley, the writer/director who gave us the Mill Creek public domain ditty that is The Madmen of Mandoras (1963), aka They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968)? And to think Bradley started his career with adaptions of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt (1941) and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1950), both starring his high school chum, Charlton Heston (later of Planet of the Apes!).

Yep. From Heston to spaceship lawn chairs: only in the B&S-verse.

Now, you’re probably wondering: A major studio project from Columbia Pictures propped-out with lawn chairs and visorless helmets? And hey . . . why are some of the sets and props familiar?

Well, that’s because 12 to the Moon was an independent production by Bradley at California Studios, later known as Producers Studios, Inc., on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles — the same studio where another forgotten sci-fi cheapy, Mutiny in Outer Space (1965; look for our review, this week), was filmed. (The studio has since reincorporated as Raleigh Studios; learn more about the studio and other backlots and ranches at Retroweb.tv.) In need of a B-flick to double-bill with their recently-acquired Ishiro Honda-directed (1954’s Godzilla and 1965’s Rodan) Battle in Outer Space (1959) for Toho Studios, Columbia slapped their title card on Bradley’s film. After coming and going relatively quickly from Drive-Ins, Bradley’s lone star-romp received its widest exposure as result of Columbia, via its TV-arm, Screen Gems, distributing the film as part of their “X” syndication horror/sci-fi package that ran until the mid-‘70s on U.S. UHF stations.

Yeah, there’s nothing quite like the Soviets launching Sputnik in October 1957 to inspire quickie-junk sci-fi features—fully equipped with lawn chairs and faux-future plastic-swivel chairs at the control panels.

However, even with the lawn chairs and added-after-the-fact exposition to explain away the helmet snafu, the special effects—once the film hits the moon—with its “heat vents” peppering the weird lunarscape, is pretty good. And the production had the sense to rent (or could afford) official air force pressure suits and helmets (the visors removed because the actors couldn’t breathe and it distorted their photographic images). Sadly, there wasn’t enough money to shoot in color, which succeeds in making 12 to the Moon look ten years older than it is, when screened alongside Toho’s shot-in-color space flick (which is a loose sequel to 1957’s The Mysterians). In addition, we’re given an intelligent script from the scribe behind Val Lewton’s classics Cat People (1942) and (okay, a lesser not-so-classic) The Seventh Victim (1943): DeWitt Bodeen, who’s backed by producer Fred Gebhardt; he’s responsible for The Phantom Planet (which starred Delores Faith from Mutiny in Outer Space) (and there’s your déjà vu sets, thanks, Fred).

The ISO, the International Space Order, is formed for the purpose of the internationalization of the moon and comes to send its first manned mission (commanded by Ken Clark of Attack of the Giant Leeches fame and manned by Francis X. Bushman and Anthony Dexter from Gebhardt’s The Phantom Planet). The international crew of Lunar Eagle 1 comprises of 12 scientific specialists from around the world: 10 men and two women (and we’re introduced to the entire crew through a lengthy expositional voiceover as they board the rocket). Are the woman (Norwegian and Japanese) matriarchal-strong? Eh, a little. Could you imagine Ripley sitting in front of a mirror brushing her hair? Or Lambert, during a course correction, losing her balance and falling into—and to the pleasure of—Kane’s arms? Or Parker walking in on a showering-undressed Ripley or Lambert—and making a “This ain’t the Waldorf” joke? Well, that all happens here. It has to: for this isn’t Space: 1999, this is Space: 1950.

Those Bechdel test fails aside, we get a bit of insightful, sociopolitical tensions among a crew that still feels the sting of the Holocaust and Earth’s racist and warring past, with the good Dr. Oroloff bragging about mother Russia’s scientific wonders getting them into space in the first place, and the Polish Dr. Ruskin coming to the defense of Israel and the rights of Jews. Meanwhile, the German Dr. Heinrich hides his own dark past: his father was a Nazi death camp commander. Oh, and the French dude is an underground communist sympathizer out to sabotage the trip. (See? Pretty heavy, cold war plot fodder for a cheapy.)

Once on the Moon, it’s time to disengage the ol’ magnetic ray screens on the helmets and partake of the conveniently “air-filled caves.” Hey, Norway’s Dr. Ingrid Bomark and Turkey’s Dr. Hamid need to have that deep, passionate kiss, right? Why? Again: Space: 1950. Of course, the Moon, according to the hopeful—and greedy “science” of the day—is encrusted with diamonds, gold, and other sparkly minerals. But they also discover the moon is filled with flesh-eating, lava-like liquids that discourage excavations. And there are pockets of “lunar quicksand” at every turn!

Then the dastardly “Great Coordinator of the Moon” taps into the ship’s computers and prints out a message warning the crew to leave the moon at once. But first, the Moonites must study the Bomark-Hamid hook up to learn what love is . . . and please leave the two cats from the lab behind, because they’ve grown fascinated with Earth felines. Do the Moonites have cans of Sheba and bags of Meow Mix with Vitaburst Tender Centers? Don’t know: for this is a plot-holed world of invisible face shields, Zero-G lawnchairs, and feline-loving, invisible Moon people.

So, do the Earthlings head the warnings by leaving the Moonites in peace and all is moon lava under the ice cave bridge?

Nope.

The Moonies send a giant, freezing cloud to encase the North American continent in ice. So a plan is devised—that the French Communist dude tries to thwart—to drop atomic matter into a Mexican volcano, so as to trigger a massive, atmospheric heat surge that will thaw the U.S. (See? Sots of plot-twists for a cheapy.)

Alas! Impressed by the crew’s valiant efforts to save the human race (it was all a test, after all), the Moonites will spare Earth and will allow them to return with open arms (or whatever appendages disembodied, cat-loving moon aliens have). (I feel bad for the cats. How will the Moonites pet the cats? Cats need human—or humanoid—contact, after all.)

See? And you thought the plots of The Asylum’s recent Earth-faces-extinction flicks Astreroid-a-Geddon, Collision Moon, and Meteor Moon were far-fetched. For the more flights we make to the Moon or Mars, the more those trips stay the same. And you can take the trip with the 12 to the Moon on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Death in Space (1974)

When Colonel Cliff “Rocky” Rhodes (ubiquitous ’60s biker flick stalwart Jeremy Slate), commander of an astronaut crew, mysteriously disappears through an airlock during a mission orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, it appears to be a simple case of suicide . . . or was he murdered? In the vastness of space, and with their communications array damaged, only one of his crewmates can be the murderer. Who among the crew had a reason to kill Col. Rhodes?

Back on Earth, in Mission Control, George Maharis (TV’s Route 66; Murder on Flight 502 and SST: Death Flight), Cameron Mitchell, and Sandy Kenyon (The Doors tome Down on Us) work on the case while Susan Oliver (yes, the Green-skinned girl from Star Trek) frets as the put-upon wife. The ship’s crew stars Star Trek alum Robert Walker, Jr. (“Charlie X”), TV actor John Carter (The Andromeda Strain; fellow TV flick Earth II), and William Bryant, whose long TV career began in the ’50s and lasted into the late ’80s. Margaret O’Brien, who stars as Mrs. Rhodes, won an Oscar for Outstanding Child Actress* for Meet Me in Saint Louis (1944), starred in Jane Eyre (1943), The Canterville Ghost (1944), and continues to work in television and indie films. She’s currently in production on her 75th project, Love Is in Bel Air (2021).

Sadly, as I fondly as recall this flick, the adult screenwriter in me today sees this as a Bechdel test failure: why not have either Susan Oliver or Margaret O”Brien in a meatier role as an astronaut? Well, this is set in the same present-day Apollo-Saturn V-Skylab era that’s just a few nautical miles down the equator from Marooned (1969) penned by Martin Caidin of The Six Million Dollar Man (1973) fame. Men ruled the stars back in the Kennedy-era and women didn’t conquer space until the far-flung “future” in Project Moonbase (1953), Gog (1954), King Dinosaur (1955), and Angry Red Planet (1959) — even though they were stuck wearing sensible corked-wedged mules and smart black ballet slippers to go with their waist-tailored and pegged flight suits, and smart gauchos with knee-high boots. And screaming and imploring men to “do something” and shoot everything in sight.

But I digress. Again. . . .

Is the odd-looking “New Line” log on the box the same studio later acquired by Turner Broadcasting and merged into Warner Brothers? Your guess is as good as ours.

So . . . why are we here reviewing another Cameron Mitchell (Space Mutiny) sci-fi epic?

Well, it’s another “TV Week” at B&S About Movies . . . and all of that talk concerning Cameron Mitchell and his family’s galactic oeuvre for Allan Sandler and Robert Emenegger’s Gold Key Entertainment — which we discussed at length in our previous review of the studio’s 1981 release, Lifepod — got me to thinking of this ABC-TV movie obscurity (part of the “Wild World of Mystery” shingle) originally broadcast on June 17, 1974. Since I was Apollo crazy and still into my Matt Mason toys, I remember watching Death in Space when it first aired, then again in a post-Star Wars world during a late-night, local UHF-TV rebroadcast — pre-VCR (damn it).

Now, if you know your sci-fi the way we know you do, then you know the whole “murder mystery in space” plotting of this ’70s galactic progenitor was done to a lesser and lesser effect with the Canadian TV romp — which also aired in the U.S. as a first-run Showtime movie — Murder in Space (1985), and the Viacom/CBS-TV production Murder by Moonlight (1989) that, to make it all the more confusing, aka’d in the home video realms as “Murder in Space.” Courtesy of their respective directors, Steven Hilliard Stern (The Ghost of Flight 401 and This Park is Mine) and Michael Lindsay-Hogg (the Beatles “What If” flick Two of Us), and respective stars in Michael Ironside and Martin Balsam, and Brigitte Nielsen and Julian Sands, both films also ran as overseas theatrical features. The effects, sets and costumes are fine, but look cheap in the post-Star Wars environs and each feel like Battlestar Galactica: TOS (we’re reviewing that telefilm-verse this week, look for them) and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century two-part episode rejects.

Mattel’s Major Matt Mason courtesy of SyFy Wire. Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks have been trying for years to get a feature film made.

Sadly, like Don Kirshner’s lost-to-the-ages TV rock ‘n’ roll horror, Song of the Succubus, the only known surviving copy of the English language print of the Agatha Christie-inspired space mystery of Death in Space is stored at the Library of Congress. Never released in an English-language VHS (as far as our research indicates), this Charles S. Dubin-directed telefilm was, however, issued as a dubbed VHS throughout Europe (which is where our image comes from).

In spite of the “Red Scare” blacklisting frenzy of the 1950s (along with Dalton Trumbo, the Award-winning writer of Roman Holiday and Spartacus; the subject of the Brian Cranston-starring Trumbo), Charles S. Dubin, fortunately, was able to build a prolific resume (mostly for CBS-TV) consisting of over 100 series (including 40-plus episodes of M*A*S*H; a few Kung Fu episodes) and TV films dating back to the early ’50s. Making his first bow in the sci-fi genre with the one-season anthology series Tales of Tomorrow, he made his feature film debut with the early rock ‘n’ roll flick Mister Rock ‘n’ Roll (one of five films starring famed disc jockey Alan Freed).

William Bryant starring in the much easier to find King Dinosaur (1955).

Of his many TV movies, Dubin’s best known are his take on Cinderella (1965; starring Ginger Rogers!, Walter Pidgeon!, and Celeste Holm?) and Murdock’s Gang (1973; Janet Leigh), with the best VHS-distributed of them — courtesy of William Shanter starring (more Star Trek connections!) — being The Tenth Level (1976). That same year he directed his second and final feature film: the car-crashin’ hicksploitation romp, Moving Violation** (1976). And, if you’re a TV movie airline disaster connoisseur (Did you check out our last “TV Movie Week” back in December dedicated to those films?), he directed the Arthur Hailey-penned (Airport) International Airport (1985) starring Gil “Buck Rogers,” aka “The Polish Sausage,” Gerard.

The western-bred scribe behind the Brother typewriter is the one and only Lou Shaw, who not only tweaked the dialog on the U.S. version of Hannah, Queen of the Vampires, aka Crypt of the Living Dead (1973), and wrote The Bat People (!), but many-an-episode of Lee Major’s The Fall Guy*˟, as well as an aborted attempt to turn Westworld into the series Beyond Westworld (and Dubin directed the failed series version of Logan’s Run!).

Image Left: Robert Walker, Jr. from the Euro-VHS of Death in Space courtesy of todocoleccion.net. Image Left: ABC-TV promotional still of Jeremy Slate courtesy of Worthpoint.com.

Sigh . . . what I would give to see this faded childhood memory, again, that I’ll always pair with almost-the-Six Million Dollar Man Monte Markham’s The Astronaut (1972). Mill Creek Entertainment or TV distributor Park Circus (Do those Lane Caudell flicks in your library, too, Park Circus) needs to get in touch with the Library of Congress and get this one out on DVD or on the air of the national retro-channels Antenna or Cozi. Other lost TV movies I want to find — that are not uploaded online, anywhere — are the Adam West-starring Curse of the Moon Child (1972) and the ABC-TV “Wild World of Mystery” entry Distant Early Warning (1975) starring Micheal Parks.

Ah, those hazy, snowy memories of TV yore that haunt your ol’ analog memory cores — and reviews that connect Oscar winners to Star Trek guest stars and the guy who wrote The Bat People. You gotta love ’em.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

* Read the tale of Margaret O’Brien’s stolen and 40-years returned Oscar at The L.A Times.
** Check out our “Hicksploitation Month” round-up of reviews.
*˟ Check out our “Lee Majors Week” tribute, which includes a review of The Six Million Dollar Man.

And be sure to look for our “Space Week” review tribute to Lifepod, this week.