Tuesday, April 29, 2008

THE BEAST IN SPACE (1980) d. Alfonso Brescia

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Despite being a genre that can provide a hearty serving of highly intellectual fare or possibly a mind-altering experience akin to nouvelle cuisine, science fiction can also be the truest of fluff. Films like FORBIDDEN PLANET and 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY can challenge your mind and push your soul onto new planes of existence, while films like LIFEFORCE or PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES can just be a hell of a lot of fun. Then there are films like THE BEAST IN SPACE, which takes science fiction to the very edge of its genre boundaries and mixes it with other popular trends of its time. Starring the late, great sex film icon Sirpa Lane and Spaghetti Western regular Claudio Undari (as Robert Hundar), THE BEAST IN SPACE is the creative child of Alfonso Brescia, the man who brought the world THREE FANTASTIC SUPERMEN, COSMO 2000 and many other science fiction, fantasy and action “gems”. While not a tour de force or a new direction in its class, THE BEAST IN SPACE is also not your average “space saga”.

THE BEAST IN SPACE is the story of Space Captain Larry Madison and his crew of space soldiers who are sent to the planet Lorigon to obtain a fabulous metal called Antalium. This rare element has extraordinary amounts of energy locked within its matrix, but Lorigon is an “unknown” world about which strange stories have been told. Accompanying Capt. Madison on the voyage is his lover, Lt. Sondra Richardson, who has been having disturbing dreams and waking fantasies about Lorigon and the denizens therein. Once on Lorigon, Capt. Madison’s crew struggles to maintain control of their minds and emotions as a result of the supercomputer Zocor, absolute ruler of Lorigon, protector of the Antalium and a sleaze-ball of a machine to boot. Before long, Capt. Madison’s team must battle hypnotic lusts, unending carnal delights, golden page-boy robots and a supercomputer bent on lascivious lechery before they can escape with their own “golden fleece”.

THE BEAST IN SPACE is an almost textbook example of a “good bad movie”. From the opening scenes in a cantina that looks like a mix of the disco influences of BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY mixed with the vibrant sexuality of any number of the later EMMANUELLE films, to the “talky” sci-fi story segments that try to marry elements of SPACE: 1999 with sex scenes typical of the “free love” 1970s, THE BEAST IN SPACE has it all. The general visual effects are primitive by today’s standards and aren’t really all that impressive when compared to its contemporaries, but they are worth a chuckle. What is actually more enjoyable is how the story is written around the lack of costly special effects and other visual imagery is used to compensate. For example, once on the planet Lorigon, the interior and exterior scenery constantly shifts between dark, underground caverns, misty and ethereal groves and glades, and sumptuous, exotic rooms appointed to look as if they were designed for a bacchanal. Coupled with the fact that three of Capt. Madison’s crew are shapely female space lieutenants dressed in skin tight uniforms or just as often out of their uniforms and engaging in energetic intercourse with their male crew members, THE BEAST IN SPACE does its level best to keep your mind off the weak story and even weaker science fiction visual elements, and like “the shell game” tries hard to keep you looking in another direction.

When scored just on the “appearance card”, THE BEAST IN SPACE does pretty well. It is colorful and atmospheric with a blend of older psychedelic characteristics and newer 1980s techno influences. The modern and abstract synthesizer score and incidental music adds a marvelously cheesy and simultaneously dance club appeal to the visuals. It is easy to get caught up in the fact that the story is so thin that large segments of the movie are either semi-pointless dialogue, equally pointless “suspense scenes” and supremely pointless soft-core sex, but that is part of this film’s charm. THE BEAST IN SPACE is an exercise in pandering to viewers who really could care less if the science fiction is engrossing or if the action scenes are exciting. This is all about slick packaging. It really isn’t meant to be taken as serious science fiction, and anyone who goes into THE BEAST IN SPACE expecting anything more is a loon. This film is carrying a torch started years before and that would continue well into the 1980s with films like SPACEHUNTER and ATOR. Ludicrous science fiction/fantasy was just as common as high-brow SF, maybe more so and seeing it for the cotton candy entertainment it was, and appreciating it on that level makes you a wiser and more tolerant film lover.

THE BEAST IN SPACE has a very thin but still enjoyable extras menu. There is a 17 minute “interview” featurette Venantino Venantini, who plays the “Han Solo” character of the film. Part of the featurette is a look at an art exhibit where some of Venantini’s paintings were hung and where Barabara Bouchet and Franco Nero could be seen hobnobbing with other European auteurs. Venantini’s reminiscences of his acting past and his experiences in Italian and American cinema are not mind-altering, but they are engaging if you are interested in a deeper look into the life of an actor from a time that has gone by.

THE BEAST IN SPACE is not the wackiest, nor the sexiest example of Euro-exploitation cinema, but it is fun. It is the kind of film where a good round of fruit and cheese supported by a nice sampling of good red and white wines might be a fine first course before watching the film. Putting yourself in a somewhat hedonistic frame of mind with good food and drink and then flirtatious conversation with attractive members of the opposite sex would be an outstanding method of preparing the spirit for an odd type of dessert, for that is what THE BEAST IN SPACE is, a final, sugary, appealing but not very nutritious course. As anyone will tell you, there is nothing wrong with gently partaking in dessert once in a while, as long as you don’t expect too much.


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