When British television production company ITC commissioned then changed their mind about a second season of producer Gerry Anderson’s science fiction adventure series UFO, Anderson wasn’t one to let all the hard work that went into pre-production design go to waste. He tweaked the scenario a little and gave the proposed series a new name: Menace in Space. This new take on the concept would feature the inhabitants of a moon base being hurtled out into space after a cataclysmic accident on Earth blows the moon out of orbit. Unfortunately, Anderson’s sleight of hand with his idea for UFO 2 didn’t fool ITC president Lew Grade, who remained unconvinced after the mediocre performance of UFO that a new Anderson science fiction series would be any more successful.
As a kid in the 1970s, I watched Space: 1999 fairly religiously. And perhaps not entirely unpredictably, I didn’t remember a thing about it other than the uniforms and the Eagle spaceships, the giant toy of which a friend owned and would pit in battle against my Micronauts Hornetroid. As to the actual content of any one episode, however, I drew a persistent blank despite the hours I’d logged watching it during one of its many syndicated Saturday afternoon broadcasts. I had a vague sense of it being sort of heavy, and maybe a little profound, or what passed for profound before the eyes of an eight year old. Despite being a member of the so-branded Star Wars generation, I had as a child and still have as a grown man a deep appreciation for science fiction at its most ponderous, heavy-handed, self-important, earnest, and weird. So when I had a chance, through the magic of an affordable DVD release of the series, to go back and revisit the series — or more accurately, visit it again for the first time, such as the case may be — I was quite excited.
Italian science fiction is an acquired taste, even more so than most other Italian genre films. They generally have a meandering quality to them, and the low budgets mean that a large portion of any film’s run time is composed of shots of guys sitting in front of decks of blinking lights. However, the Italians can only restrain themselves for so long, and eventually those scenes of people in control rooms will be replaced by wonderful space battles and miniatures of orbiting stations and rockets with upward drifting smoke wafting out of the backs. Antonio Margheriti, better known among the jet set who know Antonio Margheriti at all as the director of a bunch of “just entertaining enough” war and action films during the 1970s, was one of Italy’s first science fiction directors. His 1960s space “adventure,” Assignment: Outer Space proved that despite my interest in old science fiction and my profession as a journalist, combining the two into one talky film is not a recipe for maintaining my attention.
Compared to the appellations given to the protagonists of other 1980s action films — the Exterminator, the Punisher, the Executioner — the Stabilizer sounds pretty benign. You’d almost think that he was given that name only because all of those others had already been taken. But then you learn that what the Stabilizer is in charge of stabilizing is the very balance between good and evil itself. And that, it turns out, is a job that involves an awful lot of exterminating, punishing, and executing. But if that name was the result of The Stabilizer being late to the game, that might be explained by the fact that The Stabilizer is an Indonesian film, and that Indonesian exploitation filmmakers of its day were generally loathe to jump on any bandwagon until its moneymaking potential had been well proven. There is no word for “art” in Indonesia, after all (I totally just made that up), and if there was one thing that those filmmakers were interested in above all it was a return on investment, especially on the international market. This last caveat explains another trend in Indonesian genre films of the day; the practice of using Caucasian lead actors, which tended to make it easier to sell the movies to distributors outside of Asia.
At some point, online emoticon technology will advance to the point where there is a little smiley face thing that perfectly expresses the sentiment of me shaking my fist toward the heavens and yelling, “Dharmendra!!!” And when that technology exists, I will insert it into this and several other reviews, because it seems like every time I pick some weird subgenre of exploitation film to find a Bollywood version of, when I find it, it ends up starring Dharmendra and being sort of disappointing. Take, for example, my long quest to find a Bruce Lee exploitation film from Bollywood. Eventually it turned up in the form of Katilon Ke Kaatil, starring Dharmendra and well-known Bruce Lee impersonator Bruce Le.
It’s been too long since we last visited the bizarre world of cut-rate Korean cartoons made by a Chinese guy using Japanese robots and characters and marketed toward Australian television, so let us once again steel ourselves for the bad acid trip that is a Joseph Lai produced cartoon. Lai, to bring up to speed those of you who don’t know him, was a producer most famous for taking bits and pieces of cheap Hong Kong and Taiwanese movies and splicing them together to form a new movie, usually augmented by freshly shot scenes of white people in ninja outfits. The films border on works of absurdist art masterpiece. With titles like Ninja Phantom Heroes, Ninja Demons Massacre, and Diamond Force Ninja, Lai’s films — often created in conjunction with shadowy men of mystery Godfrey Ho and Thomas Tang — did far more than make no sense at all. They attained a rarefied air of complete and utter incoherence that has remained largely out of the reach of even the most incompetent of filmmakers.
I once stayed at a place in the Smoky Mountains that was a combo motel and biker bar. The toilet in my dingy room was a hole cut in the floor of the bathroom, covered with screen door mesh and with a stucco bucket sitting on the ground beneath it. Solar Adventure is another Korean cartoon spawned by the same batch of animation commissioned by some Australian company and produced by Hong Kong cheapskate crap film mogul Joseph Lai. It certainly isn’t a motel room with a hole cut in the floor leading to a stucco bucket I was meant to use as a toilet, but it is perhaps somewhat similar to what you might expect to find as the contents of such a stucco bucket. But if Solar Adventure is largely a bucket full of piss, crap, used condoms, and cigarette butts, then it’s lucky that I have a very high tolerance for such things so long as they are not being rubbed into my hair. And while Space Thunder Kids may set the bar for incompetent glory so fabulously high that it becomes nigh unattainable, Solar Adventure is no slouch in the incompetence field.
The special thing about Turkish pulp films is how, even at their most plagiarized, they can serve as an example of just how unique a complete rip-off can be. After all, no one ever mistook Turkish Star Wars for regular Star Wars, or Bedi, the Turkish E.T., for E.T., the American E.T. And the same goes for Seytan, director Metin Erksan’s almost ludicrously faithful remake of The Exorcist.
It’s time for another visit to that magical land where smarmy cheeseballs can sashay up to any hot dame that strikes their fancy and plant a kiss on her without getting slapped in the face or slapped with a lawsuit. The amazing kingdom where smart suits and cocktail dresses are the norm and endless explosive attempts at assassination are met with nothing more than a cocked eyebrow and a knowing smirk. It’s the astounding universe of the Kommissar X films, among the most enjoyable and most bizarre entries into the spy craze that swept across the world in the 1960s thanks largely to the success of the James Bond films.
I can’t say for sure whether or not this was the first movie based on a video game whose primary plot was “two characters fight each other,” but I think it might be. If not, it’s pretty close. Street Fighter is best known for being the final film of well respected, Academy Award winning actor Raul Julia, whose final gift to society was himself in a red leather fascist get-up, cackling and flying around and shooting lightning out of his hands. Some people lament the unfortunate timing of this movie and Julia’s death conspiring to turn Street Fighter into his memorial movie. I don’t really see things the same way, though.