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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.



Francisco Gonzalez said...

Wow dude, I had no idea there was almost a sequel to Star Crash, a film I love to death! It's hilarious! Thanks for pointing out The Humanoid, I'd forgotten about it, but wowzers, it's waaaay more derivative of Star Wars than Star Crash. I guess that has a lot to do with Cozzi.

Cozzi never wanted to rip off Star Wars, that was the producers, he wanted to pay homage to other sci-fi-fantasy films like Jason and the Argonauts and Barbarella, which we can plainly see he did.

Watching The HUmanoid now and man, it's waaaay more of a Star Wars rip off...enjoying the hell out of it though! I will be reviewing it soon, you know I love me some Italian rip offs!

Thanks for the awesome article.

venoms5 said...

I have seen STARCRASH a number of times now, Fran, and it's grown on me a bit. I used to not like the movie at all, lol. Actually, I had only bought the two disc set for the extras. Coupled with the Drive In channel playing it many times in the last several months, I like it more than I used to. The John Barry score is fantastic, and helps a great deal. Cozzi speaks briefly about the proposed sequel in the extras. Fortunately I had quite a bit about the proposed movie in assorted old magazines. Amazing how many movies got announced, or started and abandoned back then. It doesn't seem to happen as much nowadays.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

The Humanoid is pretty review for it will be up soon, but as of what I've seen so far, Star Crash is way more fun. The Humanoid seems more expensive though.

Star Crash is just a fun as hell watch...I laugh all the way through all the time. (And yes there have been many times that I've sat down to see it!)

venoms5 said...

I love the score. It makes STARCRASH a lot more bearable for me, not to mention anything with Marjoe Gortner is an easy sell. If only Caroline Munro could have stayed skimpy from start to finish, lol.

I look forward to your HUMANOID write up, Fran.

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