Van Nuys Blvd. (1979)

The low-budget genre studios of Crown International and American International Pictures responded to the box office success of George Lucas’s American Graffiti (1973) with a glut of innocuous, teen-driven T&A comedies centered around vans, CB radios, and car cruising.

And Crown International Pictures gave self-professed Luis Bunuel and Federico Fellini-influenced writer-director William Sachs an assignment in December 1978. And he could make whatever film he wanted: provided it had a kid in a van, generous amounts of nudity with hot chicks, drag racing and cool cars, that it starred Playboy magazine 1974 Playmate of the Year, Cindy Wood, and that he shot it in 18 days.

There months later, with a script he punched out in 7 days, Van Nuys Blvd. was on Drive-In screens by March 1979. It became a box-office hit as it played to packed parking lots on double bills with fellow teen T&A flicks The Pom-Pomp Girls (1976), The Van (1977), Malibu Beach (1978), H.O.T.S, and Gas Pump Girls (both 1979).

In interviews Sachs mentions his admiration for Dr. Seuss’s 1953 musical fantasy The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, Buneul’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and Fellini’s 8 1/2 in the same sentence. So that tells you there’s no middle ground with William Sachs: He’s either is a misunderstood genius with a deep understanding of existentialism filmmaking and uses that knowledge to poke fun at the establishment and show us the ridiculousness of trends in our culture. Or he’s a B-movie hack for Crown and A.I.P.

One thing is for sure: William Sachs never gives you a predictable movie.

When the Drive-Ins were clogged with every manner of Vietnam War movie, he responded with the 1974 surrealist war drama, There Is No 13. When tabloid newspapers like The National Enquirer reached circulation milestones, and Sunn Classics struck box office gold with their conspiracy-documentaries The Outer Space Connection, In Search of Ancient Astronauts, and In Search of Noah’s Ark, he responded with the parody documentary-satire The Force Beyond. When Star Wars reignited an interest in science fiction and all manner of galactic slop appeared in the Drive-Ins, he responded with 1977’s The Incredible Melting Man and the 1980 genre homage-parody, Galaxina (again, with a Playboy Playmate of the Year as his star). Remember all of those over-the-top Death Wish-inspired revenge flicks? He made one: 1984’s Exterminator 2.

And that brings us to his car movie satire-homage that features everything that Crown International wanted—and the surrealism of a Fellini film with an underlying theme on the art of living that he wanted. So the angst-ridden kids of the Southern California’s famed “strip” drive off into night for their kicks in their “temporary lives.” And where do they go if their rebellion lacks substance: nowhere. And that’s the point of Van Nuys Blvd.

And why is a chick licking her lips? What’s this got to do with Luis Bunuel and Federico Fellini? Damned if I know. Watch the trailer and figure it out!

So, did Sachs accomplish his goal?

It depends. Van Nuys Blvd. is of a time and place. It’s time capsule of a post-sixties Americana culture filled with optimism and hope of the good old days. Anyone who was born after the mid-1960s might not be able to relate to the movie beyond its low-budget B-movie trappings. And it’ll look like just another T&A movie.

Bobby (Bill Adler, who starred in the aforementioned The Pom Pom Girls, The Van, and Malibu Beach; he also starred in the Quentin Tarantino-admired Switchblade Sisters) is a country kid who dreams of crusin’ in the big city after he sees a news report about California’s famed boulevard. So he sets off in his beat-up van. There he meets the drag-racing babe Moon (Cindy Wood) and her pal Camille (Melissa Prophet, in her acting debut; she later starred with Chuck Norris in Invasion U.S.A and in Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino).

When they’re arrested by Officer Albert Zass (Dana Gladstone, whose extensive TV resume led to a role alongside Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop II), a bullying cop hell bent on cleaning up the boulevard, they meet fellow ne’er-do-well van lover Greg (Dennis Bowen, Gas Pump Girls, TV’s Welcome Back Kotter) who’s filled with dreams but not the tools to achieve them. Along the way the quartet befriends “Chooch,” the requisite, brawny-older wise man and “king of the strip” (David Hayward, another extensive TV resume; he’s still acting, with three projects in production) who’s lost his dreams, and his squeeze, Wanda (Tara Strohmeier of fellow T&A’er Hollywood Boulevard and The Kentucky Fried Movie). Together the sextet stumbles through a series of goalless, plotless misadventures punctuated with non-offensive softcore sex scenes and sophomoric humor.

In 2018, the famed Wild Cherry, a customized 1975 Chevrolet G-10 that appeared in the film, made the news when the van was stolen and thrust into legal limbo. You can read more about the travels of Wild Cherry here and here.

What the hell? How can there be no free VHS rips of Van Nuys Blvd. online? Not even on You Tube, where all movies of old go to die? Well, besides the trailer (posted below), all we have of this vansploitation classic to enjoy online are these You Tube uploads featuring the disco-groove of the “Van Nuys Blvd.” theme song (featuring scenes from the film) and the not so “explosive” ending. It’s available as PPV stream at Amazon Prime.

If you’re interested in learning more about the hot-rodding and cruising culture of the ‘70s, you may want to seek out the other films in the short-lived vansploitation cycle with the first film of the bunch, Blue Summer (1973), along with the hicksploitation-hybrid C.B Hustlers (1976), Supervan (1977), Mag Wheels (1978), and On the Air Live with Captain Midnight (1979).

To learn where the vansploitation era originated, you can travel back to the rock ‘n’ roll oriented, juvenile delinquent films of the ‘60s made in the wake of the 1955’s Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause. Most of those films were produced by Roger Corman, such as 1958’s Hot Car Girls and 1959’s T-Bird Gang. Then there’s the wealth of ‘60s biker films that peaked with 1969’s Easy Rider, such as 1966’s The Wild Angels and 1967’s Hells Angels on Wheels.

You’re probably wondering: What’s this word “hicksploitation” all about? You can learn about that cycle of films with our “The Top 70 Good Ol’ Boys Film List,” a collection of down-home films produced from 1972 to 1986. And staff writer Roger Freese of Videoscope Magazine gets you up to speed on the T&A comedies with his “Exploring: 80s Comedies.” And finally, you can learn more about tabloid-inspired documentary films with our “Tabloid Week” of film reviews.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Box Office Failures Week: 1941 (1979)

Steven Spielberg had never failed on this level before. In fact, he’d never really failed before.

He’d been given some advice about the movie from John Wayne, who had declined to act in it due to ill health. Spielberg would recall that the Duke “said he felt it was a very un-American movie, and I shouldn’t waste my time making it. He said, “You know, that was an important war, and you’re making fun of a war that cost thousands of lives at Pearl Harbor. Don’t joke about World War II.” Charlton Heston also turned down a role in the movie. They were the lucky ones.

While only the fifth full-length film Spielberg would release theatrically, he was already growing self-referential, with Susan Backlinie getting nude and reprising her role as the first victim (just like Jaws), the gas station from Duel showing up and reusing Lucille Benson in a similar role.

Spielberg would later cede that personal arrogance is why the movie failed. That and the fact that he gave up control over the second unit and effects shots would be lessons he’d take with him for the rest of his career.

The movie begins six days after Pearl Harbor, as a Japanese submarine surfaces off the coast of Califonia. This is somewhat based in fact, as there was an event that has come to be referred to as the Great Los Angeles Air Raid of 1942. The commander of that sub, Commander Mitamura ( Toshiro Mifune, in the only Western movie where he used his real voice and wasn’t dubbed by Paul Frees) and Nazi general Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt (Christopher Lee!) have come to America to destroy Hollywood.

Later that morning, the 10th Armored Division M3 Lee tank crew, consisting of Sergeant Frank Tree (Dan Aykroyd), Corporal Chuck Sitarski (Treat Williams) and Privates Foley and Reese (John Candy and Mickey Rourke) are having breakfast where Wally and Dennis (Bobby Di Cicco and Perry Lang, who was in The Hearse) work as dishwashers. They all get into a fight, which Sitarski breaks up, because he can’t stand Americans fighting Americans.

Meanwhile, the maniacal United States Army Air Forces Captain Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi, who fell off his plane at one point and was in the hospital for a while; it was so funny that it’s in the movie) lands his Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter near that aforementioned Duel gas station and blows it up real good. And, if you’re still paying attention, Major General Joseph W. Stilwell (Robert Stack) is trying to calm the public who is convinced that World War II has come to America. Because, well, it is, a point hammered home when the romantic hijinks of Captain Loomis Birkhead (Tim Matheson) and press agent Donna Stratton (Nancy Allen) releases a bomb on the stage.

There’s a lot to keep track of.

While all this is happening, Ward Douglas (Ned Beatty) and his wife Joan (Lorraine Gary, also of that shark blockbuster) are allowing the military to install a gigantic gun on their front lawn. His daughter Betty dates Walter, who we met before, but now she’s only allowed to dance with soldiers. Oh yeah — Wendi Jo Sperber shows up as well, as she did in nearly every movie after 1979 that had a curvy best friend role.

Of course, all hell breaks loose, ending with a house going into the ocean as Robert Stack intones, “It’s going to be a long war.” Dude. It was a long movie and I’ve only summarized part of it.

This movie is overloaded with actors, like Murray Hamilton (are you sick of actors who were in that shark film yet?), Warren Oates, Eddie Deezen, Slim Pickens, Patti LuPone, Penny Marshall, Frank McRae (who pretty much invented the angry police captain role that every 80’s movie stole), Lionel Stander from Hart to Hart, Lenny and Squiggy as Willy and Joe (better known as Michael McKean and David Lander), Iggie Wolfington (who is also in Hex, a movie I love that no one remembers), Count Floyd himself Joe Flaherty, Lucille Benson (Mrs. Elrod!), Elisha Cook Jr. (Rosemary’s Baby), directors Samuel Fuller and John Landis, Robert Houston (who not only was in The Hills Have Eyes, but also made the bootleg Lone Wolf and Cub remix Shogun Assassin), frequent Clint Eastwood co-star Jack Thibeau, Andy Tennant (who would go on to direct Ever After and Fools Rush In), an uncredited James Caan, Jerry Hardin (Deep Throat from The X-Files) and, of course, Dick Miller.

The Japanese submarine crew was made up of laid-back Southern California dudes who were hired just because they were Asian. Mifune was infuriated by their attitudes, so he asked Spielberg if he could speak to them. An actual Japanese World War II veteran and one of the greatest actors of all time, Mifune spoke to them about getting in line before he became screamed and slapping them around, Needless to say, he was in charge from then on.

There’s a really awesome comic book adaptation of this that Heavy Metal released, with story and art by future Swamp Thing talents Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch. I had a copy as a teenager and much like how I saw most movies as Mad Magazine stories before the actual films, it’s how I experienced this movie for a long time.

Spielberg even wrote the intro to the comic, in which he said, “Columbia and Universal forced me to spend $30 million on 1941. The film’s actual cost was $12.5 million. The rest of the budget was spent on prostitutes and drugs. I can see 1941 more as a cleansing experience. The one possible way I can make you forget all the good things I’ve done in motion pictures. Be merciful.” You can still buy it directly from Heavy Metal.

So was it a bomb? Not according to co-screenwriter Bob Gale: “It is down in the history books as a big flop, but it wasn’t a flop. The movie didn’t make the kind of money that Steven’s other movies, Steven’s most successful movies have made, obviously. But the movie was by no means a flop. And both Universal and Columbia have come out of it just fine.”

That’s true — it made $92 million on a $35 million dollar budget. That seems like a success to me, at least financially. For his part, Belushi found the whole thing hilarious and was seen wearing a t-shirt that said, “Steven Spielberg 1946-1941.”

Perhaps the best review of the film came from Kubrick, who said that the movie was great. But it really wasn’t funny. Spielberg would agree and say that it would have been better marketed as a drama.

If this movie gave us anything, it’s this: Robert Stack remarked, after meeting Belushi for the first time, “That’s the craziest SOB I’ve ever met.”

Giallo In Venice (1979)

Let’s get it straight: giallo can class it up at times, but at its heart, it’s a scummy and brutal genre. No movie — save perhaps Play Motel or The New York Ripper — is as brazenly profane or messed up as this film. That’s saying something, because this is the kind of genre where the heroine can be totally fine with a man making love to her on broken glass (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh) or absolutely fine with the hero making a joke about having tradesman’s entrance sex with her as a reward (Strip Nude for Your Killer, which predates Kingsman: The Secret Service by oh, three decades or so).

In case you were wondering, this is all brought to you by Mario Landi, who made a sequel to the Australian movie Patrick with Patrick Still Lives, except his movie has extensive sex scenes. Because Italian exploitation, that’s why.

PS: Is it sad — or awesome — that I know that Patrick Still Lives was shot in the same house as Burial Ground?

Oh Leonora Fani. I watch your movies and feel bad for you, like you need protection from the maniacs making your films. Between this movie, Hotel Fear and The House By the Edge of the Lake, one starts to worry for your psyche. Here, she plays one part of a doomed couple — along with Gianni Dei, who played Patrick in the aforementioned Patrick Still Lives — who are killed by a maniac who likes to use scissors on very tender parts of his victim’s anatomy.

Reviewing all of this is a cop with wild hair played by Jeff Blynn, who shows up in Stallone’s Cliffhanger. He’s so hard boiled that he eats hard boiled eggs throughout most of the film’s running time.

Amazingly, Scorpion Releasing restored and re-released this film after they found the legendary uncensored version of this movie hiding in the attic of a Portuguese dental clinic. All copies have been sold out for a while, but man. Movies are weird sometimes.

This isn’t the kind of film that I’d recommend to anyone, however. It has little to no redeeming value, as even its soundtrack is recycled from Interrabang and Burial Ground. For all of the vitriol thrown at The New York Ripper, that movie is positively restrained when compared to this. What do you expect from a movie that outright tells you that it’s a giallo right from its title? There’s nothing subtle at all here.

Man, I feel like Evelyn Quince from Tales of Ribaldry. “Our once bawdy tale is turning into a tawdry tale of pornography! I don’t like it!”

But seriously, this is pretty much the scummiest movie I’ve ever featured on this site and I regularly ingest Joe D’Amoto movies. Watch it at your own peril.

The Amityville Horror (1979)

At seven years old in 1979, I can tell you that I was beyond terrified of The Amityville Horror, putting my hands over my ears and screaming every time the TV commercial came on as if the ghosts could come through the TV — keep in mind, Poltergeist was 3 years away — and get me.

Based on Jay Anson’s 1977 supposedly true book of the cultural phenomenon that was the house at 112 Ocean Avenue, this movie was originally going to be a made-for-TV movie. Instead, it became a major box office hit.

In the early morning hours on November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family with a shotgun. A year later, the Lutz family — James Brolin and Margot Kidder, along with their kids Greg (K.C. Martel), Amy and Matt (Meeno Peluce, who is the half-brother of Soleil Moon Frye and was in Don’t Go Near the Park) — move in and quite literally, all hell breaks loose (“yea, evil is as evil does and who / Yea, who but me could write this book of cruel”).

Rod Steiger, Don Stroud and John Larch play the priests who are ill-equipped to deal with whatever demons reside here. Yes, in the years since The Exorcist, the clergy has lost much of its ability to stop the fallen angels that make walls bleed and turn nice dads like Babs’ hubby into axe-carrying madmen. Poor Rod — this Hollywood royalty had his forehead smeared with honey so that bugs would crawl all over him.

Somehow, this sort of boring haunted house film launched a cottage industry. Even more surprising is the fact that it’s directed by Stuart Rosenberg, the same man who made the electric Cool Hand Luke.

Of all the movies they released, this movie remains American International Pictures’ biggest hit.

Because the movie had a low budget, James Brolin took less money up front but with a promise of 10% of the gross sales. He eventually received about $17 million, which if we adjust for inflation means he made $60 million dollars on this movie. Man, this Satan racket pays off. I love that Brolin complained that he didn’t get another role for two years. Dude — you made insane money on this one.

Ed and Loraine Warren, those lovable carnies, were involved with the investigation of the real house and somehow turned that into roles as the Demonology Advisors for Amityville II: The Possession, which is a much better movie than this one.

BONUS: You can hear us discuss The Amityville Horror on our podcast.

Supersonic Man (1979)

A superhero movie directed by Juan Piquer Simon, the same man who brought us Pieces and Slugs? Can the world be a more amazing place?

Once you realize that the spaceship in the beginning is just a repainted Cylon Raider model kit, you know what you’re getting in to. You’re getting into something great.

Supersonic is played by Jose Luis Ayestaran, a former Tarzan and bodybuilder who did stunts for Conan the Barbarian. In his human form of Paul, he’s Antonio Cantafora, who was in And God Said to Cain, Argento’s The Card Player and the incredibly titled Put Your Devil Into My Hell.

Once known as Kronos, Supersonic Man has been sent to our Earth to battle the evil Dr. Gulik (Cameron Mitchell!) and his gigantic robot. This is a movie that was made to rip off Superman, which seems like a noble purpose, but unlike the films that the Italian film factories churned out — I use that word lovingly! — to ape Mad Max or Dawn of the Dead, there weren’t a ton of superhero movies made. Which is kind of a shame.

Also, I realize that this movie is Spanish.

You can watch this movie on Tubi, complete with commentary from Rifftrax.

El Latigo Contra Satanas (1979)

Alfredo B. Crevenna made two movies about El Latigo (The Whip) — The Whip and The Whip vs. Satan, which is the movie we’re about to discuss. He also made 1973’s Santo vs. Black Magic Woman and 1979’s Fury of the Karate Killers, where Santo and El Tieneblas battles karate men.

There’s also another Whip movie called The Whip vs. the Killer Mummies directed by Angel Rodriguez Vazquez. You better believe I already have it.

The Whip (Juan Miranda) is pretty much Zorro with a whip. The difference is that he’s always battling much stranger things. This time, it’s cultists, b-roll rootage of a volcano and Satan himself, who has amazing delay on his voice.

Yes, in addition to being able to use a bullwhip, our hero is the master of the occult. I mean, what kind of man battles someone who he thinks is Old Scratch — armed with a flamethrower — and brings just a rope made out of cowhide? The Whip. That’s who, muchacho.

You know what? Just watch the whole movie right here.

Petey Wheatstraw (1979)

When Petey Wheatstraw (Rudy Ray Moore) was born — during a hurricane, no less — he emerged as a six-year-old talking child that beat up his doctor and then his father for keeping him awake all night. Then, his mama put him in his place and gave him his name.

Yep — The Exorcist has now met its match. And its match is the man who made Dolemite.

After being beaten by a gang, Petey was trained in the arts of kung fu and self respect, taking a vow to never bow to any man, living or dead. He grows up to become a nightclub comedian — just like Rudy Ray Moore — but two rivals kill his best friend’s son and then machine gun everyone at the funeral.

Lou Cipher — eight years before Angel Heart — offers Petey a deal. If he marries his daughter, he and his friends can come back to life and get revenge. Petey agrees and uses Satan’s pimp cane to get back against those that did him wrong. But can he get out of a deal with the devil?

The comedians who kill Petey are Skillet (Ernest Mayhand) and Leroy Daniels. They were a real comedy team who started out on the chitlin’ circuit all the way back in the 1940’s, where they worked with Redd Foxx and LaWanda Page. They also made appearances on Foxx’s show Sanford and Son.

How can you not love a movie that lists stuntmen as marshall arts performers in the credits?

You can watch this on Tubi.

Star Wars Droppings: Meteor (1979)

Author’s Note: This review previously ran on June 30, 2017.

James Bond in a Star Wars-inspired flick, along with the dude from the old American Express Card commercials and Brian Keith from Hardcastle and McCormick ranting with a bad Russian accent about the L.A Dodgers?

Thank you, Mr. Lucas. We believe in The Force. We believe.

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How do movies get inspired? Sometimes, they come to us whole cloth. Other times, they’re inspired by a book, a comic or an old TV show. And in other occasions, they’re based on crazy theories, like 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow taking a cue from the speculative science tome The Coming Global Superstorm by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber.

1979’s Meteor finds its inspiration in a similarly strange source: the 1967 MIT report Project Icarus. Yes, when casting about for a way to top the increasingly insane disaster epics of the 70s, the producers of this film went collegiate. How else do you top killer bees, burning skyrises, giant rats and cockroaches that shoot fire out of their ass?

The story? Asteroid Orpheus gets smashed by a comet, which means a five mile chunk of space junk is headed right toward Earth, but everyone is too concerned with politics. That is — until small pieces of asteroids start wiping out cities. Luckily, our government has a super secret nuclear missile platform called Hercules, which was once created for just such an event. Of course, this being the 70s and the Cold War, Hercules’ fourteen missiles are now pointed directly at Russia. Wouldn’t it have been cooler if there were twelve of them, one for each of his labors? It’s a moot point — those missiles won’t be enough.

Luckily, Russia has their very own satellite pointing back at us — Peter the Great. And even luckier, The President, played by Henry Ford doing the exact same character as he did in Fail-Safe (I can’t emphasize this enough, it’s like they copy and pasted him into this dreck), just blurts out on TV that both nations have the satellites and they just need the best scientists to work together: Dr. Alexei Dobov (Brian Keith of The Parent Trap and Family Affair) and Dr. Paul Bradley (Sean Connery of Zardoz and Outland*).

They interrupt Bradley as he attempts to win a sailboat race and he reacts to being called upon to help save the world the same way an elderly housecat would: by being a total asshole about it. I realize that Sean Connery’s whole schtick at times was to be somewhat contrary, but he’s like the worst movie riffer ever, constantly talking down to people and huffing and puffing his way through every single conversation. Yes, he’s also the hero of the film — but maybe that’s how they did things in the 70s. Asshole heroes and killing off Donald Sutherland.

Everyone meets in the NASA control center, located beneath Broadway. It’s a cavalcade of your favorite actors, as all disaster movies must be: Harry Sherwood (Karl Malden, The Streets of San Francisco), Major General Aldon (Martin Landau, Ed Wood and Space:1999) and interpreter Tatiana Donskaya (Natalie Wood of Brainstorm and Breakfast at Tiffany’s). Russia refuses to cooperate until more of the world gets destroyed. One only imagines if a Russian cut of this film existed, the Americans would behave much the same way.

By the time everyone gets their shit together, Hong Kong — home of the producers of this film — and the Swiss Alps both get annihilated. The latter is a particular tough loss, as a young Sybil Danning (pretty much every movie I ever had uncomfortable feelings during puberty to, but let’s just say Battle Beyond the Stars and Young Lady Chatterely 2) has decided to ski during the Apocalypse and pays the price. Just as the missiles are launched, the disaster part of this disaster film kick in, with New York City being struck and the subways being flooded, putting our main characters in peril.

Luckily, the missiles do their job and just as the good news hits Earth, everyone gets rescued. I’ve struggled to write a more exciting ending to this review. Honestly — that’s the movie.

Meteor was a BIG deal when released — tie-in toys, a pinball machine, a Marvel comic book — everything that a major 70s blockbuster needed. Some blame American-International Pictures name being on this as a reason for its failure, as people instantly expected cheese from AIP. Some blame the completely boring script. Others just think that everyone was sick of disaster films, as the 70s themselves were pretty much a disaster.

Nevertheless, Meteor is competently directed by Ronald Neame, who also helmed The Poseidon Adventure. But the characters never get much to do other than have a few minutes of development and then try and survive.

The real disaster of this film was the muddy subway scene, which was shot in the swimming pool sets that Esther Williams once swam in. Connery suffered a respiratory infection that shut down the film for two days, Mudlen was buried alive TWICE and Wood was almost sucked into a pump and killed. In fact, during the filming of these scenes, the actors had to stuff their openings with cotton and wash their eyes out between each take. You’d think Natalie would have the good sense to stay out of the water after this. Sorry — too soon?

Some closing trivia — Natalie Wood spoke fluent Russian, as she was born to Russian immigrant parents and originally named Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko. Brian Keith also was fluent, but he taught himself the language. He was a last-minute replacement for Donald Pleasence.

And the buildings that get destroyed? They’re a series of apartments in St. Louis that were designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the World Trade Center. If 9-11 triggers you, maybe don’t watch Meteor, because the WTC gets blown up real good in it.

If it wasn’t for Meteor, we wouldn’t have Armageddon. At least we now know whom to blame.

*Yes, we realize he was in some other movies, too.

This article first appeared in the Drive-In Asylum 1979 Yearbook. You can buy a copy at Esty, Drive-In Asylum’s blogspot. Also be sure to visit with Drive-In Asylum on Facebook.

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Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is currently playing in theaters and was theatrically on December 20 in the United States.

Star Wars Droppings: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)

“In the year 1987, at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA launched the last of America’s deep space probes. The payload, perched on the nosecone of the NASA rocket, was a one-man exploration vessel: Ranger 3. Aboard this compact starship, a lone astronaut, Captain William “Buck” Rogers, was to experience cosmic forces beyond all comprehension: an awesome brush with death. In the blink of an eye, his life-support systems were frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Ranger 3 was blown out of its planned trajectory into an orbit a thousand times more vast, an orbit which was to return the ship full circle to its point of origin, its mother Earth, not in five months…but in 500 years.

For 500 years, Buck Rogers drifted through a world in which reality and fantasy merged into a timeless dream.”

It’s strange to call Buck Rogers in the 25th Century a ripoff of Star Wars when the concept behind it predates Lucas’ film by at least five decades. That said, without the tale of Jedis, Universal would have never green lit Buck Rogers for television. Glen A. Larson, who had a production deal with the studio, was in charge.

The original goal was a series of TV movies, but Larson’s other Star Wars-ian project Battlestar Galactica was supposed to work the same way, but then had been released theatrically overseas and in the U.S. So Universal decided to release this movie in theaters on March 30, 1979, with NBC airing a weekly series as of September 20, 1979, which started with a slightly modified version of this feature.

As the pilot and two-part first episode for the series, called “Awakening”,” this movie features Gil Gerard — who was married to Connie Sellecca at the time (making them a power couple back in the days of Battle of the Network Stars) — as Buck, who has slept through the last 504 years and awakens in a brave new world (with recylced props, costumes and effects from Battlestar Galactica. In fact, even the ships on this show were brought back from Galactica, as The Earth Starfighter was originally designed by Ralph McQuarrie as a Colonial Viper).

Speaking of recyling, the inside of the Draconian flagship was used for the setting of the Motley Crue video “Looks That Kill.”

But I digress.

Buck soon learns that civilization on Earth was rebuilt following a devastating nuclear war — making this kinda sorta a post-apoc movie —  that occurred on November 22, 1987, and is now under the protection of the Earth Defense Directorate.

Buck is helped by Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray, who was all over 80’s TV) and a robot named Twiki who basically only says “budda budda budda” and was played by Felix Silla and voiced by Mel Blanc (who also voiced Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers). Buck also meets Dr. Theopolis (Eric Server), a computer in the shape of a golden smiley face. Theo was a member of Earth’s “computer council” and one of the planet’s scientific leaders.

The villain of this piece was Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley, who was C.J. Parsons on Matt Houston) and her henchman Killer Kane (Henry Silva in the movie, Michael Ansara on the series and hey, are those guys brothers?) and a henchman named Tigerman who dies in the movie but came back for TV.

The actual series was packed with guest stars who comprise so many of the people that we love: Peter Graves (Mission Impossible), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Markie Post (TV’s Night Court), Dorothy Stratten (Galaxina), Leigh McCloskey (Inferno), Richard Moll (every 80’s movie ever made), Jerry Orbach (Law and Order), Gary Coleman (pretty much the kinf of the 80’s), Jack Palance (so many movies but let’s say Welcome to Blood City), Sam Jaffe, Sid Haig (take your pick of amazing movies here), Vera Miles (Psycho), original Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers star Buster Crabbe and a litany of Batman guest-stars like Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Roddy McDowall and Julie Newmar.

I have fonder memories of this in my head as we didn’t have all that much science fiction on TV until Star Wars. However, the second season takes a definite turn, as Buck gets a whole new mission on the Searcher, a ship with the Latin motto “Per ardua ad astra” (“through adversity to the stars” or “through work to the stars”). Their goal was to seek out the lost tribes of humanity, or you know, the exact same mission as Battlestar Galactica.

Supposedly, despite the series decent direst season ratings, Gerard was displeased with its light, tongue-in-cheek tone, and frequently fought with producers. He told Starlog that he hoped the series would be canceled after the first season.

Admiral Efram Asimov, Dr. Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White from My Fair Lady)  and a robot named Crichton joined the crew, along with a hawk person named, well, Hawk (Thom Christopher, who is also in Deathstalker III and Wizards of the Lost Kingdom).

Now, the formerly funny show became as pastiche of Star Trek, with Hawk as Spock, Buck as Kirk and Wilma as Uhura, completely with a more feminine uniform that showed off her legs. Every episode was serious business, with evolution, ecology, racism, pollution, war, nuclear power, identity, the self and religion the order of the day, as well as the idea that Hawk’s people were from Easter Island and even an episode about satyrs.

Thanks to a combination of an actor’s strike and dwindling ratings, the second season went on ice after just 11 episodes.

You can tell the passage of time on the show by how brown Erin Gray’s hair is, as well as how bulging Gerard’s waistline becomes. He was warned by producer Bruce Lansbury about feasting on the company’s never closing craft service buffet to no avail. The producer asked costumer Al Lehman to slim him down via wardrobe, leading to Lehman’s nickname for the actor: the white polish sausage.

I kind of love the theme song for this movie. It’s so bad — nearly a sub-Bond theme than a science fiction ode or something closer to Maureen McGovern’s “Can You Read My Mind?” from Superman.

“Far beyond this world I’ve known, far beyond my time
What kind of world am I going to find?
Will it be real or just all in my mind?
What am I, who am I, what will I be?
Where am I going and what will I see?”

Star Wars Droppings: Star Odyssey (1979)

This is the fourth and final film in Alfonso Brescia’s sci-fi series — Cosmos: War of the Planets AKA Year Zero War in Space, Battle of the Stars AKA Battle in Interstellar Space and War of the Robots AKA Reactor — Star Odyssey AKA Seven Gold Men in Space, Space Odyssey, Metallica and Captive Planet is an Italian flavored take on space opera.

In the year 2312, Earth is sold to Kress, an evil ruler who wants to turn humans into slaves. Professor Maury and his band of, dare we call them rebels, set out to win the planet back from Kress and his cyborgs.

Those good guys include a space hero called Hollywood, a swindler named Dirk Laramie who wears a Spider-Man t-shirt who is played by Gianni Garko, Norman the gymnast who does cartwheels all day long and robots named Tilk and Tilly who blew themselves up at one point and constantly have to put themselves back together.

There’s also a wrestling match in the middle of this movie for seemingly no reason. Also — while it claims that the actors are listed in alphabetical order, they are not. Star Odyssey lies. It just lies to you.

You can buy this movie from VCI or watch it on the Internet Archive or Amazon Prime.