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Monday, February 16, 2015

Reel Bad Cinema: Laserblast (1978) review


Kim Milford (Billy Duncan), Cheryl Smith (Kathy Farley), Gianni Russo (Tony Craig), Ron Masak (Sheriff), Eddie Deezen (Froggy), Mike Bobenko (Chuck), Keenan Wynn (Colonel Farley), Roddy McDowall (Dr. Mellon), Steve Neill (first humanoid alien)

Directed by Michael Rae

The Short Version: Don't make Billy angry. You won't like him when he's angry. And you might not like this Charles Band produced nonsense about a boy, a laser gun, and lizards from outer space. Billy turns into a green monster as a result of some unexplained alien possession via a fashionable interplanetary pendant and an accompanying arm attachment which Billy uses to blows things up in slow motion. The script was apparently among the items LASERBLASTed, as it often feels patched together. See Roddy McDowall and Keenan Wynn for about five minutes; and Eddie Deezen in his most villainous role! A BLAST for bad movie buffs.

Two benevolent looking lizard men from another galaxy land on Earth while chasing an alien fugitive. After a brief exchange of laser fire, they disintegrate their target, leaving only the humanoid creatures laser gun and pendant. Scared off by a passing airplane, the aliens leave. Later on, Billy, a bullied teenager finds both the alien weapon and necklace out in the desert. Upon placing the pendant around his neck, Billy begins to mutate, turning into a green monster, using the laser gun to exact revenge on those who've wronged him and those who get in his way.

After the release of STAR WARS (1977), a number of FX artists (some of which worked on the George Lucas's SciFi milestone) had assorted low budget projects of their own ready to go before the cameras. Many of these went unmade or unfinished, while others got financing. LASERBLAST is one such film; and one that was supposed to lead to the realization of what was then a near ten year limbo of an ambitious project from this films director of special effects, Dave Allen. 

One of those Late Night Movie mainstays from the late 70s and early 80s, LASERBLAST is often considered one of the worst movies ever made. It's not quite in that category (in this reviewers opinion), but it's not for a lack of trying, either. Michael Rae's first, and only directorial credit lies somewhere between the realm occupied by lovable C-grade hack Ed Wood and the insomnia curing crapola of Larry Buchanan. 

The story is an interesting SciFi version of WILLARD (1971) with its slighted outcast getting revenge against those who have wronged him. In this case, the rats are swapped out with a high-powered piece of alien hardware. A form of intergalactic bodily possession takes place, randomly turning our hero(?) into a green monster resulting in lots of explosions represented in the films title. But while the story holds a great deal of B movie potential, the execution is static, the performances are unengaging, the pace leaden, and the script is messier than a Sloppy Joe. The editing is key to the movies lethargy. Scenes go on much too long with nothing happening. Why do we need to see over a minutes worth of people in a pool splashing water?

Likewise, many things go unexplained in Frannie Schacht and Frank Ray Perelli's script. What is the metallic object growing in Billy's chest? Where are all the people in the small town while it's being blown to bits during the climax? Some things are just sort of laid out for the viewer to figure out. The origin of the gun, the pendant, and the demonic looking alien wielding them is never explained; but it's surmised that the gun only works with the amulet in close proximity of one another. When Billy wears it, the strange jewel lights up apparently acting as some sort of otherworldly Manitou--transforming Billy into a green, sharp-toothed monster. It also hinders his posture; he wanders, sometimes staggers around slumped over like an inebriated gorilla, hoisting his arms into the air when he blasts something and doing this weird dance with his arm laser that resembles what Leatherface did with his chainsaw.

The one appealing attribute that keeps the picture teetering mere inches from falling into the bowels of forgotten celluloid are the films special effects--silly as they are, the gravy and biscuits of LASERBLAST.

Well known animator Dave Allen (David W. Allen) was in charge of the stop-motion sequences, overseeing the design and building of the aliens and other related FX. Reportedly given an eight week time-frame with which to complete them, Allen stated at the time he didn't get to do as much of the animation as he would have liked because of his full-time duties as Stop-Motion Director at CPC Associates, a company that produced television commercials. Despite Dave Allen's sole screen credit, Randy Cook (THE DAY TIME ENDED, CAVEMAN, Q, GHOSTBUSTERS) was the primary animator for LASERBLAST.

We see these creatures five different times--once at the beginning, twice in space, and two more times (briefly) on Earth at the end. They have a turtle-like appearance in the face, and are seemingly on the friendly side of your typical alien invaders; and only interested in recapturing or killing the far more evil-looking fugitive alien they're chasing during the outset. At first, viewers were only going to see the aliens at the beginning and ending, but potential buyers were reportedly impressed with the answer print to the point that more animation was necessary.

Originally, the aliens were going to be brought to life with actors wearing makeup, but executive producer Charles Band changed his mind, deciding to go with stop-motion animation; which, considering how bad everything else turned out, ended up as the best choice. From there, then 10 year old lizard man models intended for the unrealized RAIDERS OF THE STONE RING (a film that later morphed into the still unrealized THE PRIMEVALS) were going to be used for the animation sequences. With the hope of one day bringing his pet project to fruition, Allen thought it best to create all new lifeforms for LASERBLAST. Another STAR WARS FX alumni, Jon Berg, designed and constructed the aliens.

Steve Neill (THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER, END OF THE WORLD, THE DARK) designed the infamous alien laser gun arm attachment; as well as the green creature makeup of the main star. Neill donned his own makeup to play the fugitive creature chased by the reptilian beings seen at the beginning of the movie.

Live-action footage took place over a three week period in California and the Mojave Desert. The lean shooting schedule and miniscule budget may have yielded some decent FX, but everything else suffers, particularly the acting. 

Star Kim Milford made his big screen debut in LASERBLAST. A man of many talents (he starred in stage versions of Jesus Christ, Superstar and The Rocky Horror Picture Show), LASERBLAST isn't a good example of them. Further linking the film to the STAR WARS craze, Milford was working with Mark Hamill on CORVETTE SUMMER (then known as STINGRAY) at the same time. Milford died at only 37 from heart failure not long after having open-heart surgery.

Cheryl Smith (Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith) amassed a sizable resume of exploitation movies during her short film career. The former member of The Runaways had roles in such films as LEMORA (1973), CAGED HEAT (1974), THE POM POM GIRLS (1976), DRUM (1976), and PARASITE (1982). Much like the rest of the cast, she seems totally disinterested in the material she's given. Sadly, things didn't end well for the promising actress. Drugs ruined her career, and Hepatitis took her at the age of 47 in 2002.

Of all the bizarre things in LASERBLAST, easily the champion weird moment is the casting of perennial nerd king Eddie Deezen... as a bully! Yes, America's favorite four-eyed dweeb is Froggy, the toady of Chuck, the muscular thug; both of whom give Billy a bit of a problem. It's surreal to see Deezen oppressing anybody, and even more curious seeing him threaten to throttle Billy after what appears to be an attempted rape of his girlfriend! Thankfully, an imposing tennis racket was lying around to fend them off.

There are a couple of big names in LASERBLAST, and it's perplexing as to why they appeared. Their paycheck must have eaten up a good portion of the budget, but their obvious conviction is welcome to waken the viewer from the molasses level of delivery of most of the cast. Both Keenan Wynn and Roddy McDowall (whose last name is misspelled 'McDowell' in the end credits) appear for approximately 5 minutes each. Their throwaway roles could have been played by anybody, and are on hand for added marquee value. They're a welcome sight, and do fill in some of the wide open spaces of mediocrity the film resides in.

LASERBLAST II was announced in the mid 1980s, but never materialized. The original synopsis had boy scouts finding the alien weapon somewhere in Iowa. Near bankruptcy, Charles Band's Empire Pictures managed to squeeze out a remake of LASERBLAST in 1989 titled DEADLY WEAPON.

One of Charles Band's most memorable movies (I can't believe I just typed that), LASERBLAST is one of those films best appreciated at a certain age; but upon escaping adolescence, you wonder what was so great about it. The storyline itself works best for young kids; the way Billy acts when first finding the laser gun in the desert is akin to a kid obtaining a brand new toy. In a strange way, LASERBLAST succeeds because of its boyhood, maybe even "immature" mentality. Some will remember it best as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000; and others will remember it from its Drive-in days, or repeat airings on Shock Theater and the Late Night Movie when STAR WARS was all the rage, opening doors for filmmakers with big ideas, but occasionally small budgets to realize them.

This review is representative of the Full Moon DVD. Extras and specs: Trailers; 1.85:1 non-anamorphic (box says 1.66:1).


Francisco Gonzalez said...

I had no idea this film had a remake, now I am going to hunt it down. But speaking of Laserblast, I watched it for the first time a few years ago and reviewed it, I found it endearing in a way, but of course, I couldnt ignore its flaws. It's actually a very stupid movie, very immature, but I could still watch some of its moments while fast forwarding through some of the lame stuff.

Some scenes made no sense, like for example, the guy has got this ugly looking wound in his chest, that is being caused by an alien stone jewel thing...yet his girlfriend doesnt care and she kisses him and what if what he's got is contagious? Or deadly? She doesnt care, she just loves him anyway? Ha ha hahah....Roddy McDowall, it was strange seeing him here...on such a crappy movie, but oh well...

Funny part is that this movie is all about a couple of careless turtle aliens who left their freaky space gun behind...hahahha...I gotta admit that I like the angle of the gun turning the kid into a zombie monster thing...

Really curious about that remake! Thanks for pointing it out.

Abraham Phillips said...

Awesome write up. Perfect past.

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