Thursday, February 26, 2015

Celluloid Trails: The Un-Making of Starcrash II

"When I contacted some American producers after the success of STARCRASH and offered them quite a few projects, they were only interested in making STARCRASH II."--Luigi Cozzi, Cinefantastique, September, 1981 

This entry of Celluloid Trails catalogs the various rumors and reports attached to the non-making of the sequel/followup to Luigi Cozzi's 1978 cult favorite STARCRASH. 

Luigi Cozzi's STARCRASH (1978), for all its technical faults, became a surprisingly profitable film around the world, particularly during its US release in 1979. Put down by original distributor AIP and picked up by Roger Corman, STARCRASH was a test for his company to gauge audience interest before producing a SciFi feature of his own. Regardless of what one thinks of the finished product, if Cozzi's picture hadn't been successful for Corman (it was one of their top hits at the time), there likely wouldn't have been a BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980); nor the handful of other New World SciFi films. 

The natural progression of a sequel to Cozzi's movie seemed inevitable what with the purported $16,000,000 box office haul. Considering its popularity at the time--while miniscule compared to the STAR WARS juggernaut--it's bewildering that a followup production didn't immediately head into hyperspace. Ironically, Cozzi had written another SciFi movie, the Stella Starless STAR RIDERS (see insert photo), before he even began shooting his most well known movie.

Co-written in 1977 with SciFi novelist, A.E. Van Vogt, STAR RIDERS would never make its way to the Silver Screen, at least not in the form envisioned by its creator. It did survive in the written form, though; the novel version of Star Riders would surface several years later in 1986 in Italy as I cavalieri delle stelle (The Knights of the Stars)

David Hasselhoff, Caroline Munro, Joe Spinell, Judd Hamilton

Going back to 1979, Cozzi's story was transformed into a STARCRASH sequel--allegedly by Judd Hamilton--and without the directors consent. The plot was altered and modified to suit Caroline Munro's Stella Star as the main character in the original Star Riders story was a man. In initial announcements, Stella and Elle battle an evil Queen (to have been played by Nancy Kwan) and her kung fu fighting space women while rescuing both a prince and princess. In other advertising materials the evil queen has seemingly been removed and replaced by the original villain of the story, Baron Waak (to have been played by Klaus Kinski;see insert). To read the full synopsis, there appears to be little room for Stella and Elle amongst a storyline rife with betrayals and throne usurping. Backed by Cannon with an alleged, and far more ambitious budget of $12 million, Jack Rabin (THE GIANT BEHEMOTH; THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE) was signed on to do special effects alongside returning Armando Valcauda. However, the film would remain in interplanetary purgatory for a few years before being sucked into the black hole of unmade movies.

By the middle of 1980, and a year after filming was supposed to have begun, it was announced Stella Star was set to fly again in what was now called STAR PATROL. Reported as being written and directed by Luigi Cozzi, it was to be the first of three sequels. In the interim, Cozzi made the ALIEN (1979) clone ALIEN CONTAMINATION (ALIEN ARRIVES ON EARTH), which was distributed in America by Cannon Films. Elsewhere, Caroline Munro was reunited with Count Zarth Arn himself, Joe Spinell, in William Lustig's MANIAC (1980), the second of three times they would work together. Munro was also up for the lead in the second film version of Peter O'Donnell's comic strip (and novels), MODESTY BLAISE. Munro never got to play the popular spy girl; instead, Ann Turkel played the role in what ended up as an unsold Television pilot in 1982.

By 1981, STAR PATROL was announced as being in the pre-production stage. How much pre-production is anyone's guess, if even any at all had been undertaken. Curiously, and regardless of his oft-reported attachment to the project, Luigi Cozzi was said to be adamantly against making a STARCRASH II. Apparently the director would have written a new script for the picture had he been notified as opposed  to the unauthorized tampering with his existing script; to him, the unrelated STAR RIDERS was not a proper fit for the character. Negotiations between Cozzi, Cannon, actor turned filmmaker David Winters (WEST SIDE STORY), and partner Judd Hamilton were ongoing in an effort to reach some sort of agreement.

Towards the end of that year Munro was slated to star in THE LAST HORROR FILM; initially described as a comedy horror picture from producer Irwin Yablans. The film ended up being produced by her then husband, Judd Hamilton and director David Winters. The filming of this, the third collaboration between Munro and Spinell, took place during the Cannes Film Festival in 1981; the producers figured they'd make a movie while attempting to drum up interest in STAR PATROL at the world famous film marketplace.

On Thanksgiving weekend that year at New York's Creation Con, Munro discussed this new horror film, and unveiled what was referred to as a preview for STAR PATROL. In a 1982 Starlog interview, Munro stated this next space adventure wasn't technically a sequel aside from her reprising the Stella Star role. She went on to describe it as a spy-styled, swashbuckling spoof. With the budget slashed from the originally ballyhooed $12 million to the much lower $2 million (the original was $4,000,000, if you can believe it), it was probably best for those involved to intentionally refer to it as a spoof.

Meanwhile, more rumors began to swirl in various magazines stating David Winters and his partner Sean Casey were in London attempting to get their own Stella Star adventure into orbit with an altogether different actress. Unknown to Munro or Hamilton (both of whom had likewise been rumored to have parted ways with Winters), the duo were trying to purchase the rights to the character from Cozzi, who refused without the participation of Munro and Hamilton. In an issue of Fangoria, Winters denied there had been a falling out between both parties, and stated he had two projects designed for Munro in the lead--one of these was an historical epic that would have seen her playing Queen Boudica; and the other was the on and off again STARCRASH followup; which, according to Winters, models and character designs were already being made (possibly some of these were part of the aforementioned preview). Despite all this, it was also reported that Munro and Hamilton intended to make the picture (now bearing the title of STELLA STAR) without Winters. 

With no compromise forthcoming, Cannon dropped the stalled Stella Star project, but retained Cozzi's services to helm two back-to-back HERCULES movies both starring Lou Ferrigno. Interestingly enough, his STAR RIDERS script, or what was later intended to be STARCRASH 2, was transformed into HERCULES (1983). Cozzi had a few other unmade SciFi-Fantasy projects around this time such as a space remake of THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952) starring Burt Lancaster; this one never set sail, nor did Ferrigno get to flex his pecs in a proposed 'Hercules 3'.

In the midst of all the rumors and false starts, a "sequel" to STARCRASH did surface in 1981 with GIOCHI EROTICI NELLA TERZA GALASSIA (EROTIC GAMES IN GALAXY 3), aka ESCAPE FROM GALAXY 3, released in some territories as STARCRASH 2. Its only connection was recycling the SPX footage from Cozzi's film. It's a rare case of an imitation of an imitation.

As for STAR CRASH's SPX director Armando Valcauda, he worked on another kooky Italian space opera, THE HUMANOID (L'UMANOIDE [1979]) for director Aldo Lado (SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS, THE NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS). Like STARCRASH, that picture had an impressive cast (Richard Kiel, Barbara Bach, Corrine Clery, Leonard Mann, Arthur Kennedy, Ivan Rassimov, Massimo Serato) and was far more derivative of STAR WARS (1977) than Cozzi's film was. AIP was apparently in discussions to distribute that one in the US, but passed on it. They were in serious financial troubles at that time, eventually being sold to Filmways in 1979. In 1980 Valcauda was attached to what was promoted as an Italy-Spain-US production, a SciFi flick titled TWO IN THE STARS (see photos above). To have been directed by Euro-western specialist Giuliano Carnimeo (Anthony Ascott), this film failed to launch as well. Valcauda worked with Cozzi again on his two HERCULES films for Cannon.

Caroline Munro worked for Luigi Cozzi one last time in 1989 with the horror film, THE BLACK CAT--a film that owed more to Argento than Cozzi's penchant for SciFi-Fantasy. Unfortunately, her last working relationship with the STARCRASH director was anything but pleasant; according to Munro, she was never paid a dime despite being reassured of eventual payment. Despite never learning the truth of what really happened, she stated to have no ill feelings towards the man who created Stella Star. Munro appeared in a few other horror pictures like SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986), FACELESS (198), and the little seen Paul Naschy tour de force, EL AULLIDO DEL DIABLO (HOWL OF THE DEVIL [1987]). She and Judd Hamilton divorced in 1986. David Winters remained in the business producing and directing various movies, and is still active in the industry.

Armando Valcauda, Caroline Munro, Luigi Cozzi
As for Cozzi, he did little else on the scale of his cult SciFi favorite. He worked on the troubled NOSFERATU IN VENICE (1988)--a film with a revolving door of directors; he directed additional sequences for SINBAD OF THE SEVEN SEAS (1989) uncredited; PAGANINI HORROR came in 1989 followed by the impressive documentary DARIO ARGENTO'S WORLD OF HORROR (1991). He later partnered with Argento to open the Profondo Rosso store in Rome, a genre-centric memorabilia shop. Last year, the man expressed interest in making movies again. As for the unmade STARCRASH sequel, the films most ardent worshipers would have gladly welcomed some further adventures of Stella Star.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Parasite (1982) review


Robert Glaudini (Paul Dean), Demi Moore (Patricia Welles), Luca Bercovici (Ricus), James Davidson (Wolf), Vivian Blaine (Elizabeth Daley), Al Fann (Collins), Tom Villard (Zeke), Scott Thomson (Chris), Cherie Currie (Dana), Cheryl Smith (Captive Girl)

Directed by Charles Band

The Short Version: This unfortunately reviled and underrated SciFi-horror flick has everything a B movie trash fan could ask for. In this post-apocalyptic downer, the year is 1992(!), the government is one big corporation, gas is $40 a gallon, and synthetic parasites do messy things to the human body. Robert Glaudini is an unlikely hero battling brutal gangs, a ruthless govt. agent, and a monster inside his belly eating him alive! Can he save a young Demi Moore from a fate worse than STRIPTEASE (1996)? Find out in this non-classy Drive-in non-classic. One of the better movies to bear the Band name.

In 1992 an atomic war has left civilization a wasteland. The government merges with a corporation called Xyrex. Referred to as The Merchants, the members of Xyrex brand the populace, putting them in work camps called 'The Suburbs'. Those on the outside not working as slave labor struggle to survive. Paul Dean is a scientist working on a lethal parasitic bacteria for the company. After learning of The Merchants plans for his experiments, Paul tries to destroy them all, but one of the creatures manages to burrow into his stomach. Taking one other specimen with him for study during his escape, he is pursued by a Merchant named Wolf to bring back the remaining parasite. If allowed to reproduce, the creature will send millions of spores into the air, and wherever one of them lands, a parasitic nightmare will grow.

In Charles Band's futuristic world of 1992 paper money is useless, coffee is scarce, and canned goods are as close to gourmet as you get. Beginning as a fast and cheap quickie style remake of THE TINGLER (1959), the script grew in scope as did a few holes in the plot. It's surprisingly well made despite some glaring inconsistencies that, along with a few other negatives, relegate PARASITE to the realm of B movie land; and it sits comfortably there despite a curiously low reputation among fans. Compared with any number of Band's Empire movies, PARASITE is high art. Fittingly, Band's tale of parasitic terror isn't an Empire film, nor does it resemble one, but foreshadows the type of movies that company would produce just a year later.

While we're on the subject, Band's bland roster of movies made for Empire Pictures yielded few genuinely good films. The best of the bunch are limited to RE-ANIMATOR (1985), FROM BEYOND (1986), DOLLS (1987), and ROBOT JOX (1989)--all of which are directed by Stuart Gordon. Of the rest, GHOST WARRIOR (1986), RAWHEAD REX (1987), and stretching things, GHOULIES (1985) are entertaining. When EP went out of business, Band brought Full Moon Productions into the world, and those were even less interesting, consisting mostly of disposable films about puppets and small-sized people, or small sized-people battling puppets. As there was a market for this sort of thing, the question of "why?" remains unanswered to this day.

The son of filmmaker Albert Band (I BURY THE LIVING, THE TRAMPLERS, HERCULES & THE PRINCESS OF TROY), Charles Band had few films as director to his credit in 1982. Among those he'd directed include the killer car movie CRASH! in 1977, and THE ALCHEMIST (1983) was in post as PARASITE was gestating. The project got more ambitious when Irwin Yablans (HALLOWEEN, TOURIST TRAP) came aboard as a co-producer. Budget-wise this was a good sign even if the film still looks cheap--New World Pictures-Roger Corman cheap; even replicating the use of McDonald's boxes to make a set look futuristic. Considering his later directorial work, PARASITE looks like it was made by a different Charles Band. Possibly in these later works, he had gotten too comfortable, the nervousness and ambition of these early features having become nullified.

After the atrocious Italian import COMIN' AT YA! (1981) reignited interest in 3D that had been dormant since the 1950s, a slew of them came in 1982 and 1983. The Earl Owensby 3D horror ROTTWEILER (aka DOGS OF HELL [1982]) came out first, but PARASITE distinguished itself by being the "First Futuristic Monster Movie in 3D!". There was some hesitance in shooting PARASITE as a 3D feature. According to articles of the day, the StereoVision 3D process was very problematic for this low budget movie. The short six week shooting schedule likely didn't make it any easier.

The late Swedish DP Mac Ahlberg's cinematography is one of the films finer qualities. Some of the tracking shots make the film look more polished than it is. The opening nightmare sequence sets the proper mood recreated off and on throughout the picture. Ahlberg's brooding camera style can be seen in the 1981 haunted house/slasher fave HELL NIGHT. Working for Band for the first time, shooting in 3D presented difficulties with lighting and sound recording; the latter of which resulted in a lot of looping in post. Ahlberg seemingly enjoyed the challenge as he returned to photograph Band's next directorial effort, the 3D movie METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED SYN (1983). He performed photographic duties on many of the Empire Pictures, including those helmed by Stuart Gordon.

As for the title star, Stan Winston reportedly spent two months designing the thing, while Jim Kagel sculpted it. Lance Anderson worked on the creatures, too. All three men went on to bigger and better things. The larger parasite took 3 to 4 operators to perform its various movements. It doesn't look particularly spectacular on screen, although a few shots do look great; some of these are when the toothy organism is partially cloaked in shadow, or obscured by an object. Essentially an elaborate puppet, it looks like it in shots where it's coming at you or exploding through chests and faces. Probably the creatures shining moment of realism is when it's discovered inside Cherie Currie's sleeping bag! This is one of the movies best moments of tension in the film, heightened by Richard Band's fantastic, if slightly derivative score.

Having never seen the movie in 3D, the numerous instances of things flying into your face are inescapable in 2 dimensions, and make one curious to partake in the experience. Some of these effects seem to veer off to the side of the screen, but others look like they might of been pretty great for shock value. The first ten minutes packs a lot of opportunities for all manner of objects, people and parasites to land in the viewers lap. One of the best is an extended sequence wherein Paul rescues a half-naked Cheryl Smith (one of two Runaways alumni in the film) from two psychos; or, as they're referred to in the film, Sickies. After a decent fight, Paul frees the woman only for her to reward his kindness by attacking him. This leads to another fight ending in Paul's psychotic attacker being bitten by a rattler, and topped off with a pipe impalement; the camera zooms in just as blood begins to run out of the end.

Another highlight is the adult parasite, now on the loose, dropping from the ceiling onto Vivian Blaine. In the next scene, her near mummified body begins convulsing. The camera gets in close, the music dies down, and the monster bursts through her face in an eruption of raw hamburger. There's another body-busting special effect during the opening nightmare sequence. The parasite explodes from Paul's stomach while tied down to a gurney. Actually, if you slow down the film, you'll see the monster come through his stomach, then suddenly it's coming through his head instead!

Speaking of gaping holes, PARASITE has one residing in its plot. The film is very successful at delivering the recommended serving of exploitation via its quotient of laser gun action, brawls, nudity, gore, and monsters, so it's not entirely noticeable at first. This particular road block is something of a scripting blunder concerning the monster and Paul Dean's intent to both study and kill it. Why does Paul need to find a cure for the parasite when he already knows he can kill them with high frequency sound? We seem him do this during the opening dream/flashback sequence; which he refers to during a conversation with Patricia in the last half. He then walks off into the woods, seemingly to ponder what to do, only to return a short time later acting like he's just now stumbled upon the idea of using sound to kill the one inside his stomach. Killing it with fire works really well, too. If all else fails, couldn't he just step on it and squash it? When he does destroy the one feeding off his innards, the monster erupts from his gut, yet Paul simply buttons up his shirt and runs around like the hole in his stomach is a minor flesh wound.

The acting in PARASITE is often cited as bad, and while occasionally wobbly, for the most part, the performers do their jobs well. Demi Moore, making her screen debut here, comes off among the least impressive, ironically enough. Considering how her star rose a few years later, there's little of sign of it here. As Patricia, Moore is feisty in the role. She's not a weak woman at all; aside from her altercation with Wolf, her scenes are limited to a line here and there and the occasional scream once the monster is on the prowl. Her presence is welcome, particularly in light of her later career.

Robert Glaudini comes off as an unlikely action hero during the first half of the film. Afterwards, his character drifts away from that, taking on a meek persona. He does fine as the troubled scientist with potentially deadly stomach problems. At least he looks like he's believably in pain throughout.

Luca Bercovici delivers what is arguably the best performance in the whole picture. Playing Ricus, the deplorable, yet ultimately honorable leader of the Ray Guns gang. He's a credible scumbag till bits of dialog paint an intriguing picture of his character, and how he got to where he is. His demeanor changes, if too late, once the ever growing parasite gets literally attached to his girlfriend played by former Runaways band member, Cherie Currie. 

If you're a fan of 80s TV shows, you'll recognize Tom Villard from any number of programs and movies. Probably his biggest success came with two seasons of WE GOT IT MADE (1983-1984/ 1987-1988). Villard plays Ray Guns gang member Zeke. He gets one of the best scenes, too, and one involving the monster. One of the films few jump scares, Zeke finds the parasite springing from its encasement, burrowing into his shoulder; only to make a hasty exit through his chest during the night. Villard was often cast playing goofy, or nerdy type characters, and he maintains that persona as the ill-fated Zeke.

Arguably the best performance comes from Al Fann, who plays Collins, the owner of the bar in Joshua. He delivers all his lines in a genuine manner. You can believe he's Collins. A character actor with over a hundred credits to his name, he's the most likable character in the film.

The one name in the cast is Vivian Blaine as the proprietor of the ramshackle "hotel" in the mostly deserted town of Joshua. Nosy and obsessed with her looks, she's awarded a facelift of sorts in the films most memorable money shot (mentioned above). Curiously, she's credited as playing Elizabeth Daley; yet near the beginning she tells Paul to call her Maggie.

Doubtful it's intentional, there's some themes that reflect current political climes in this country; one of the most glaringly obvious being the depiction of an overblown government becoming one with a corporate giant; linking it to the ensuing apocalypse. The world of PARASITE does well to show that government is good at screwing things up when they have their hands all over peoples lives. It's never expanded upon (this is a 'B' monster movie, after all), but hints are dropped here and there regarding the enslavement of the citizenry owing their existence to the government. This is echoed in Wolf's statement to Patricia, "You're very unpatriotic. Your government does everything it can to protect you and you are a damn ingrate!" To Wolf, patriotism is complete submission to government--a slave to it. Where would you be without Big Brother? His reference to Patricia as an ingrate references his disgust of those who choose to live outside of the Merchant's reach--those who choose individuality to the collective.

Ricus (Luca Bercovici) adds to this upon mentioning his time working for the "big business boys", displaying his brand (like you'd brand cattle) when he was forced into labor in what is referred to as "The Suburbs"; and not the suburbs of the classical sense. The hint of urbanization is prevalent in the script, and only as an insinuation via its references to the city and those who live outside of it. 

A sequel to PARASITE was announced in 1983, the same year Empire Pictures was founded. Despite the box office success of PARASITE, the body-devouring creatures failed to materialize a second time. A Variety advertisement listed star Robert Glaudini returning, as were the three scriptwriters, 3D specialist Chris Condon, and DP from the original movie. The plot would have apparently taken the action to the Xyrex corporation for "27 floors of living, creeping, shocking 3D".

After the release of PARASITE, Band and Winston were reported to work together on another film titled 'Crimson', but this production never materialized.

Severely dated with its post-holocaust 1992 time-frame, PARASITE is a much derided SciFi/horror movie within cult film circles. Compared with many other movies bearing Charles Band's name somewhere in the credits it's far more entertaining, if gratuitously so. Terribly underrated in this reviewers opinion, the curiosity surrounding the first futuristic monster movie in 3D undeniably has more to do with its casting and Stan Winston's association than any of the sleazy groceries it delivers.

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay DVD. Specs and extras: 2.00:1 anamorphic widescreen; theatrical trailer.

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