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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Prisoners of the Lost Universe (1983) review

 
PRISONERS OF THE LOST UNIVERSE 1983

Richard Hatch (Dan Roebuck), Kay Lenz (Carrie Madison), John Saxon (Kleel), Peter O'Farrell (Malachai), Kenneth Hendel (Dr. Hartmann), Ray Charleson (The Greenman), Philip Van Der Byl (Kahar, the Manbeast), Larry Taylor (Vosk), Dawn Abraham (Shareen), Giant Nabu (Danie Voges), Myles Robertson (Waterbeast)

Directed by Terry Marcel

The Short Version: Easily one of the goofiest, monetarily emaciated, yet charming fantasy movies ever made. The original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA's Richard Hatch and RICH MAN, POOR MAN's Kay Lenz are trapped in South Africa subbing for some prehistoric parallel universe. In trying to get back home they run into various human-looking creatures that are defined by what color paint they're covered in. Lenz is captured by resident warlord, Kleel, and Richard must Hatch a plan to rescue her. Amassing a Magnificent 3/4 of a Seven, they launch an assault on Kleel's cardboard fortress surrounded by a kindling wood fence. A bad movie in every way, the filmmakers of this DUNGEONS AND DRAGONless hodgpodge still manage to create a fairly brisk, and fun viewing experience; the sort you'd find in a vintage serial or an Edward L. Cahn movie from the 1950s.



After a light earthquake in California, TV star and host of 'The Weird and the Wacky', Carrie Madison, crosses paths with agitated repairman Dan Roebuck. Fate brings them to the office of Dr. Hartmann, a scientist working on a Matter Transmitter device. The scientist hopes to use Carrie's television program to show the world what he's accomplished. When the doctor is accidentally sent into a parallel universe by his own machine, Dan and Carrie inadvertently follow suit and end up in a world called Vonya. In between encounters with strange creatures and the brutal warlord Kleel, Dan and Carrie try to find Dr. Hartmann and their way back home.


What this British SciFi silliness lacks in budget it makes up for with dollops of energy and the sort of goofy matinee charm reminiscent of the serials of the 1930s and 1940s; even the title has this old-fashioned, cliffhanger quality about it. It would seem Marcel and his crew were cognizant of the high camp they were making. Evident in the funny dialog of Marcel and co-writer Harry Robinson's script, it's a brisk 90 minutes with likable characters and near-constant action. The speedy pace is propelled by a rollicking, lively score by co-writer Robinson that, while a better fit for a better movie, makes PRISONERS OF THE LOST UNIVERSE all the more palatable.

Robinson (also going by the name of Harry Robertson) had a knack for putting together big music cues for small movies, including some Hammer classics like the Karnstein trilogy. One of those films, TWINS OF EVIL (1971), has some of its cues reworked for use in this picture.

 
Fantasy movies were extremely popular in the 1980s. Pictures like CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981) and CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982) helped put the genre at the forefront. Some melded the genre with SciFi like KRULL (1983); while others like TIME BANDITS (1981) and THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984) were heavy on the surrealism. A Showtime cable premiere in the US but theatrical everywhere else, PRISONERS OF THE LOST UNIVERSE (1983) mixes SciFi with Fantasy--essentially the same template as director Marcel's previous effort, HAWK THE SLAYER from 1980. The difference in the above-mentioned movies is that they had big budgets behind them. All PRISONERS has is a few bucks. Lively dialog, a child-like appeal and passionate performances by the main cast is like a million dollars in its favor.


Shot in Cape Town, South Africa, the mostly wooded locales could have just as easily been photographed in the US or even the UK. The lack of sets (what's on display look cheap and ramshackle) and makeup effects these types of movies need shines a spotlight on the anemic budget. You know there wasn't much money to go around when the same small tree--in trying to pass for weird vegetation--keeps cropping up with what appears to be Tupperware bowls glued to the branches. There are a few cramped sets and some huts with a mini-cardboard castle in the middle that's supposed to be Kleel's stronghold. It wouldn't pass muster in a Roger Corman DEATHSTALKER (1983) sequel.


An essential element of Fantasy films is that they have monsters or sorcery lurking somewhere within their plot lines. PRISONERS OF THE LOST UNIVERSE has them, but they're mostly the DIY variety. The "creatures" of Vonya consist of actors painted green or covered in flour with potato sacks draped over them. There's also two giants--one of which is painted gold (kind of like the metallic automatons of 1964s TRIUMPH OF HERCULES) and the other is a club-carrying neolith that looks like he was kicked out of the cannibal clan in THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977). 

 
We also have a thing called a "Waterbeast"--an actor wearing a reptilian face mask but human-looking from the neck down. Actors covered in white paint with black stripes wearing grass skirts and vases on their heads are another. As for the humans in the cast.....


Richard Hatch (Captain Apollo on the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) and Kay Lenz (RICH MAN, POOR MAN) have chemistry between them and carry the picture where the fantastical elements do not. With little plot and even less special effects to speak of, the spirited dialog (barely) holds it together--even if the production as a whole is like a wet band-aid on a cut. Hatch is an irritable, foul-mouthed, Kendo-fighting electrician (hey, if Flash Gordon can be a football player...) while Lenz, looking like she just stepped out of a tanning booth, is spunky, sarcastic, and does her best Melody Anderson impersonation.


John Saxon, veteran thespian of countless movies (some of which he probably wishes he'd never appeared in), gives it his all as Kleel, the warlord; a barbarian who rules with an iron hand (that's frequently wrapped around Kay Lenz's throat) from the flimsiest fortress ever conceived. While everyone around him has their tongues in their cheeks, Saxon plays it dead straight; resulting in one of his most entertaining roles.

Other than Kay Lenz, the pretty Dawn Abraham is the traditional cheesecake of the Fantasy genre. Unfortunately, her character isn't the Sandahl Bergman or Sabrina Siani type. With little dialog and nothing much to do but be menaced and rescued, it's a throwaway role that benefits the protagonist and antagonist more than herself. Other than a few TV credits, Ms. Abraham appeared in the action flick, DEADLY PREY in 1987.



If you're a fan of the same director's HAWK THE SLAYER (1980), you know what you're in for; only this follow-up looks more impoverished. There's no Jack Palance, but fans of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978-1979) will get a kick out of an enthusiastic Richard Hatch doing a samurai impression. Less tolerant PRISONER viewers will break out of this UNIVERSE rather quickly, but bad movie buffs and some seeking a kitsch quick fix will be perfectly fine getting LOST in it for 90+ minutes.

This review is representative of the PAL Screenbound Bluray/DVD combo. Bluray reviewed. Specs and Extras: 1080p 16x9 1.66:1; Extras: Interview with Director Terry Marcel; Original trailer; running time: 1:31:08.


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