Two Roger Corman Scifi Classics

I watched a couple of classic Roger Corman science fiction classic during the weekend. First off is Battle Beyond The Stars a 1980 film directed by Jimmy T. Murakami and produced by Corman, starring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, Sybil Danning, George Peppard (yes, Hannibal from The A-Team) & John Saxon. The film was intended to be a “Magnificent Seven in outer space”, a homage to the classic western The Magnificent Seven which itself is a remake of Akira Kurusawa’s Japanese classic Seven Samurai.

The tyrant Sador travels with his army of mutants called the Malmori on their large & powerful spaceships to the peaceful colony on the planet Akir and demands that they submit themselves to his rule or he would use  a weapon called a “Stellar Converter”, which literally turns planets into small stars. To show that he mans business Sador has his men kill a random handful of people by shooting lazers at them from the ship. He gives them 7 days to make up their minds. Zed, the last warrior on the peaceful planet is old and blind and suggests that they hire mercenaries to defend their planet and offers the use of Nell – his ship, which has an artificial intelligence navigation and tactical computer for the job if they can find a pilot. Shad, a young man and the only one who has piloted the ship before volunteers and sets off on the recruiting mission. Just as he leaves the planet, a fighter ship that Sador had left behind to watch the planet follows him but Nell is faster and out outmaneuvers the mutants.

Shad meets Doctor Hephaestus (a rather ridiculous overacting Sam Jaffee), kept on life support, and his beautiful daughter Nanelia on the Hephaesstus space station otherwise inhabited by Android and asks for weapons. Instead the doctor wants to keep Shad there for his daughter so the two can mate and populate the station. With Nanelia’s help, Shad escapes and she goes to find mercenaries to help him. Shad finds Space Cowboy – a tuck driving, Western film loving, harmonica playing cowboy – who is under attack from hijackers. Shad saves Cowboy and his ship, a space freighter, from several hijackers. Shad learns that Cowboy is late delivering a shipment of laser guns to a planet which, as they watch, Sador destroys with his weapon. Lacking the fuel to carry the weapons home, Cowboy offers to deliver them to Akir. Shad talks him into teaching the Akira to use the guns. Shad then meets a set of five alien clones who share a group consciousness named Nestor, who join up in exchange for being entertained. Next he finds Gelt, a wealthy assassin who is so well known he can’t show his face on any civilized planet. Gelt offers his services in trade for the ability to live peacefully hiding among the Akira. Gelt’s spaceship is highly maneuverable and well armed. Saint Exmin, of the Valkyrie warriors, bugs Shad to join as she wants to prove herself in battle. She has a small but extremely fast ship and tags along.

Nanelia meanwhile is captured by a reptilian slaver named Cayman. Cayman possesses a powerful old ship with an eclectic crew of aliens. She quickly recruits Cayman to their cause when he learns that they are looking for mercenaries to fight Sador.  The 7 ships arrive at Akir and destroy the fighter ship and then go to meet the rest of the natives, who are cautious of the violent aliens at first, and discuss strategies. Eventually, Sador returns, but his fleet of fighters is intercepted by Shad and his new friends. Gelt’s ship is the first to be damaged by heavy fire and it crashes, killing him. Meanwhile, Cowboy and the Akiran natives, armed with his laser guns, fight off Sador’s invading ground forces. Next to be destroyed is Exmin,  then Cayman and his people and then Cowboy who pilots his ship a strafing run on Sador’s flagship. However, the mercenaries are successful in destroying all of Sador’s star fighters and the Stellar Converter, leaving only Sador’s flagship. Shad and Nanelia, flying in Zed’s Corsair, are captured by the flagship in a tractor beam. The pair escape in a lifepod after Shad orders Nell to activate the crippled Corsair’s self-destruct program. The Corsair blows up, destroying Sador’s ship. The pair return  to Akir victorious but grieve over the death of their new friends. Shad tells her that the Akira believe that no one is truly dead when they are remembered and beloved by the living. The Akira will remember the sacrifices made by the mercenaries and honor them forever.

Some good visuals, loved some of the ships but is extremely cheesy as was the norm for that era. Some of the sound effects seem to be stolen from the 1978 Battlestar Galactica while there is a Star Wars feel in the movie. I wasn’t too impressed but it’s good enough for a 6.5 outta 10!

The second movie on the list is the horror-scifi flick, 1981’s Galaxy Of Terror, which was produced by Corman and directed by Bruce D. Clark. It stars Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Sid Haig, Robert Englnd and Taaffe O’Connell. In a way the movie is a rip of 1979’s Alien and was one of the earliest films for director James Cameron, who served as Production Designer and Second Unit Director on the film.

On a planet named Morganthus  the last survivor of a crashed spaceship is attacked and killed by an unseen force. Far away, on another planet a woman and a man, who’s face & head is obscured by a glowing reddish-orange light, are playing a game speak cryptically of things being put into motion. The man is known as the Planet Master and he instructs one of his military commanders to send a ship to Morganthus on a rescue mission. Commander Ilvar is on the spaceship Quest which is chosen for the rescue mission. Quest has the worst captain (in the history of fictional spaceships ever), the worst away mission leader and the worst “esp / psi-sensitive / can detect life” woman in the history of science fiction! Piloting the ship is Captain Trantor, a survivor from a famous space disaster that has left her psychologically scarred and unstable and she endangers the lives of herself and the crew even before they can leave orbit, by taking off with the least amount of morning and the crew scrambles to get in place.

Quest crash lands on the planet’s surface after recovering from the landing, the crew prepare to leave the Quest and search for survivors. The surface team have significant problems with team leader Baelon, who is pushy and arrogant and totally unimpressed by Alluma’s, the psi-sensitive crew member, inability to detect any lifesigns whatsoever. Entering the vessel that they were sent to find and see that a huge massacre had taken place. They burn all but one body, which they take back for testing, but Cos, the highly-strung youngest member of the team, despite being reassured by his seniors, becomes increasingly terrified by being on the ship and, a short time later, he is killed by a grotesque creature. The crew discover that something from the planet pulled them down, and in order to escape, they investigate and find a massive pyramid-shaped structure. One by one the members get separated and killed by various creatures, including a huge, ugly slimy worm that grows quickly from minute size and attacks, disrobes and proceeds to rape Dameia, the ship’s technical officer. Clearly it shows humping motions and Dameia’s screams son turn to that of moans of forced orgasms and she dies. The others are burned or dismembered or consumed or crushed to death by monsters, which are later revealed to be created out of each person’s unique set of fears.

Finally only two members of the team, Ranger (Robert Englund) and Cabren (Edward Albert who looks like a cross between Tom Sellek and J R Bourne), remain alive. Inside the middle chamber of the pyramid, Cabren finds out that Kore, the ship’s crew, is actually the Master! The Master explains the pyramid is actually an ancient toy for the children of a long-extinct race, built in order to test their ability to control fear. Cabren is son attacked by various creatures including his dead crew members all an illusion created by the pyramid. Finally having survived all that can be thrown his way, Cabren kills the Master for allowing his crew to die, but becomes the new Master in his place. Which was the latter’s plan all along; his end being near he was looking for a suitable replacement.

The movie ends there; that’s it? What about Ranger? Do the dead crew members come back alive? Can Cabren do that now he is The Master? What is the point of all this if he can’t do much? No answers given in the movie, which is badly acted, badly shot and badly directed. Also has horror icons Robert Englund & Sid Haig (who barely says 2 sentences and acts terribly in the movie).I do however like the inside of the ships, which still look cool. But the movie looks a lot like Alien and Aliens, which Cameron would direct 5 years later. 6 outta 10!

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