Starcrash (Review)


aka Scontri Stellari Oltre la Terza Dimensione
Written by Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates) and Nat Wachsberger
Directed by Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates)

The galaxy is threatened by a secret weapon from a mad dictator – something that projects red blobs into ships! The horror, red doesn’t go with most peoples’ outfits, which drives them mad. Or maybe the red blobs themselves drive the people mad. Whatever the case may be, the galaxy is in danger, so who’re you gonna call? Obviously two random smugglers! Wait, WHAT? It’s Italy, baby!

Starcrash is one of those films that if you love bad movies, you have to watch it. It’s the law. Bad Movie Law. That’s totally a thing. Because Starcrash is freaking awesome! There’s so much to love from every direction of cheese! We got crazy costumes, scantily clad space babes, a ridiculous robot, David Hasselhoff, light sabers, model spaceships (complete with model sprues glued to the outside!), fireworks explosions, blobby weapons, giant titans, dodgy dialogue, traitorous goons, amazing amazons, kooky cave dwellers, a hand-shaped space station, and scene-chewing villains. Mix that together and Starcrash crashes all over the screen with top notch entertainment!
Star Wars that is totally not Star Wars was a brief specialty in a lot of local movie production hot zones. Italy managed to produce more than most, thanks to Italy then being a source of hundreds of cheap films pumped out. While that system was slowly breaking apart, it was still cohesive enough to produce a good amount of science fiction junk that could cash in on Star Wars. Starcrash manages to be 1000% times more 1970s while still being an entertaining film that is a lot more swiftly paced than most of the Italian Star Wars ripoffs (the rest are almost universally long and terrible)
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Mister Universo (Review)

Mister Universo

aka Mister Universe
Mister Universo
Written by Tizza Covi
Directed by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel

Mister Universo
A pursuit for a lucky charm leads into a quasi-magical realism world with Mister Universo! The last of our SFIFF coverage, this time running over to the San Francisco Alamo Drafthouse for a fun Italian film that I probably wouldn’t have watched on my own if it wasn’t part of a festival and caught my eye in the movie listing. I’m glad it did!

Mister Universo is actually a sort of sequel to 2009’s La Pivellina (Little Girl), Tairo is grown and a lion tamers, now with a quest of his own. Besides the quest we still get an extended view of the family and friends of Tairo as he travels up and down the Italian peninsula, with most people playing themselves (or versions of themselves.) It is a fun slice of life into a culture that there isn’t really much about (except Covi and Frimmel’s other films!)

We begin following Tairo and him preparing for his show, hanging out with his girl Wendy Weber, and generally causing trouble with some of the circus performers he doesn’t like. These arguments have escalated to pranks, and Tairo soon finds all his stuff has gone missing, scattered around the park the circus is staying at. Tairo doesn’t have much and finds many items quickly, but there is one item that has completely disappeared, and it is important to him. An iron bar bent by a strong man when Tairo was a child, his lucky charm that he needs to touch before every performance.

Wendy is way more superstitious than Tairo, she is into charms, fortune tellers, putting candles in streams to remove bad luck/the evil eye. She is a contortionist bends her body in much the same way that the iron bar was bent. Tairo knows her interests and even takes her to one of those hills that goes down but is also going up (if you’ve been to one of them you know what I am talking about) for some neat scenes. He does find plenty of time to good-naturedly harass her little dog, Panico. While Tairo dismisses Wendy’s superstitions as nonsense, he has superstitions of his own and soon is off on a search to find the strongman so he will bend him another bar.

The bar was bent by Arthur Robin, Mr. Universe 1957, the first black Mr. Universe and also called Black Hercules. As far as I can tell he didn’t make any movie appearances. He does eventually appear in Mister Universo, so I guess he did end up in movies after all! Taizo’s journey lets him visit all sorts of relatives, including his parents, grandmother, cousins, brother, and other circus friends. The interactions with the performers and with the circus culture and families are the film, everyone knows everyone in a roundabout way, having worked with them long ago at some earlier job. Taizo’s big cats are aged and obviously overweight, they have health problems just from being so old, and one passed on earlier but there is no money for replacement animals. It’s a totally obvious metaphor for the whole circus industry aging out and fading away. We see it in the family members who have moved out of the circus life and are doing other things. Even Mister Universe himself is a shadow of his former self, though he still looks amazing for his age!

Superstition and reality blend to make Mister Universo an amazing travelogue that shows that there may just be some magic left in the world, but not in the obvious way.
Mister Universo
SFIFF 2017

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Cozzilla (Review)


aka Godzilla, il re dei mostri


Directed by Ishiro Honda and Terry O. Morse (USA)
Italian rearrangement and direction by Luigi Cozzi

Godzilla, il re dei mostri (hence after known as Cozzilla) began life long ago as 1954’s Gojira. After becoming a box office hit in Japan, the film was recut for America with scenes added starring Raymond Burr (at that time relatively unknown.) Godzilla, King of the Monsters proved to be a hit in America as well. Sequels were spawned, a franchise was born, and new Godzilla films were being produced 50 years later. The US cut of Gojira is not the only overseas modified version. Another one has gained some fame for the many odd alterations done to it. Writer/director Luigi Cozzi is a big fan of Godzilla, wrote a book about Big G, and is even nicknamed Cozzilla by his friends. Cozzi is best known here for being the director/Writer of Star Crash, Contamination, and the Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies, as well as the writer of Devil Fish (featured on MST3K.) None of those films are known for their stellar plots or special effects, but instead their cheese and terribleness. Here, one finds that even with a great movie base to work off of, you can ruin a final product.

Cozzi set out to share with Italy the great monster film, but he knew he would have to alter it for Italian audiences. In 1977, no one went to black and white films, thus Cozzi set up an elaborate colorization process known as Spectrorama 70. Colored gels were set behind frames of the film, oversaw by Armando Valcauda. New music cues were put together by Alberto Moro to go with the altered length of the film. Scenes were chopped out, and much new footage was added, but mostly World War II stock shots of bombed cities, weapons firing, and dead bodies. Yes, actual dead bodies. Also, a shark fights an octopus from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms towards the end.

The only known copy of this film is a VHS tape that had direct footage from a 16mm print (complete with reel announces.) As the tape was old, parts of it are choppy, and it appears to cut off abruptly at the end. wtfFILM got a hold of a copy of the tape and helped allow the world to see it, first by providing DVDRs and then uploading the film to Google Video. You can see the film here with their review. Some of the background information mentioned here was revealed there, and they even subtitled the movie themselves! As of this writing the store is closed, but hopefully it will be open soon, he has some other neat stuff around (including a trailer I saw for a restored version of Cozilla, which looks like it might be re-color-altered from Godzilla KOTM DVDs! Maybe that will get compelted soon and we can have a real treat!)

Godzilla has always been an allegory about the dangers of the atomic bomb, even when he was dashing out of a cave to save TV hero Zone Fighter (okay, maybe not then) but this version of the film takes that to an extreme level. It is so extreme, I was expecting the film to be chugging Mt. Dew and snowboarding out of airplanes into a volcano. It is a depressing kind of extreme, as Godzilla turns into an indictment of war and the human race in general. Thanks to the ample WW2 stock footage, we see far too many real dead bodies for anyone’s taste. Sure, the original film was about the horrors of the atomic bomb, but they didn’t make you want to go curl up in a hole and cry. Talk about brushing your teeth with a shotgun! Thankfully, the VHS quality and the Spectorama 70 color bleed takes the wind out of the sails on some of the images’ graphic details.

The overall use of the color does some nice work setting the atmosphere of the film at times. Godzilla’s attack and the Tokyo destruction are shown as bright red, and makes it violent, chaotic, and tragic at the same time. I enjoyed that choice of color, but at other times the random blues, greens, and yellows seemed to be chosen haphazardly. Some of the screenshots will just look odd because of that. I tried to make many of the shots identical to the ones in the Godzilla, King of the Monsters review, so you can flip between them and see how the color made them different (ignoring the obvious difference in video quality.) In addition, I threw in new shots of the older altered movie and the new inserted footage. As we go along the plot, I’ll point out what differs, and copy over some of the similarities, as the basic story is the same.

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Hell of the Living Dead (Review)

Hell of the Living Dead

aka Virus

Margit Evelyn Newton as Lia Rousseau
Franco Garofalo as Zantoro
Selan Karay as Max
Directed by Bruno Mattei

Low budget Italian Xerox copy of Dawn of the Dead, except this machine is out of toner and keeps giving a “PC Load Letter” error. Large portions of this film are just completely ridiculous, and I’m not talking about the fact the dead is rising to eat the living. If I were to take out the stock footage, the film would be around twenty minutes long. The long scenes are made even longer by their consistent slow motion state. Why bring attention to the stock by dragging it out and separating it from the rest of the inane film? Italy is known for making low budget rip offs of US films, especially around this time when they were pumping out hundreds of films, most of which had quick lives if they even made it to theaters before they helped found the video cassette boom of the eighties. In this case, someone figured that if they took Dawn of the Dead and added a few cannibal scenes, they’d score two genres for the price of one! Instead, they got an incomprehensible mess that succeeds only in spectacular failure on all fronts. So put on a tutu and top hat, grab your cane, and get ready to live the Hell of the Living Dead!

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Planet of the Vampires (Review)

Planet of the Vampires

aka Terrore nello spazio

Barry Sullivan as Captain Mark Markary
Norma Bengell as Sanya
Ángel Aranda as Wess
Evi Marandi as Tiona
Stelio Candelli as Brad
Franco Andrei as Bert
Fernando Villena as Dr. Karan
Directed by Mario Bava

It’s the future, and man is conquering space! Man is also conquering fashion, and wearing outfits entirely out of leather with gigantic collars. Not just normal giant collars, these collars are popped up, just like those Frat boys you see wandering around town with their polo shirt collars up. If this is the future of fashion, the human race is doomed. The fashion is brought up first and foremost, because this movie has incredible visuals that still hold up forty years later. The visuals inspired countless other science fiction films, some so blatantly you’ll view those classics with a new suspicious look, wondering what other things they ripped off. Director Mario Bava also directed Danger: Diabolik, famous for being the last MST3Ked movie. Now, you’d think Planet of the Vampires would be crawling with vampires. I am afraid I have some bad news for you folks, there are NO vampires in this film. Zero. None, Nada. No Space Vampires, No Salt Vampires, no Turkish Ripoffs of Salt Vampires. We do have aliens, and animated dead bodies controlled by the aliens, so the correct term would be either Planet of the Zombies or Planet of the Ghosts who Possess People. Another correct term would be the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation named Power Play. I don’t want to say Star Trek ripped this movie off, but with the many other things blatantly stolen from this film, it would be unsurprising that Trek went with the flow.

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