a film is as uninspired and as amateurishly made as Lance Lindsay’s Star Crystal (1986) is and ends with the
words “Filmed entirely in SPACE” following the end credits, you know that you’re
going to wish that you had those 93 minutes of your life back. Unfortunately, science
has not gotten us to the point where that is possible just yet. Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) was the
first low-budget Star Wars rip-off
that I saw theatrically and I was astonished at how unexciting it was. However,
it did give us James Cameron, Bill
Paxton, and James Horner so it wasn’t all
bad. Crystal, also a product of Roger
Corman’s low-budget production company, goes much further than Battle did in terms of “borrowing” from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Dark Star (1974), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Alien
(1979), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982),
The Thing (1982), Xtro (1983), and Lifeforce (1985). Released on VHS in April 1986, Crystal outright steals from these classic films. Crystal lives up to none of the exceptional movie artwork that was
used to promote it, which is a shame as the poster is probably the best thing
about it (though it hawks the action as taking place in 2035, not 2032 – is
there really a difference?), although it does have a fairly decent score by
the future, remember this is 2032 and not
2035!, two men on Mars extricate a rock from the planet’s surface and,
brilliantly, bring it on board the spacecraft. To think that these guys never
saw Ridley Scott’s Alien is a little
too much to believe. They have it analyzed by a scientist who determines that
it’s…a…rock. Yes, it’s a rock that leaks a mysterious white goo (no, I’m not going there…) which a crew member
sticks nearly their entire hand into out of curiosity. Apparently, they didn’t
see Larry Cohen’s The Stuff (1985)
either. It then begins to turn into a pitiful-looking alien. The rock turns
into some sort of crystal, and looks not unlike the titular Dark Crystal from
that superior film. These events cause the crew to die suddenly. Too bad it
didn’t have the same effect on the viewer. All the computers and onboard
spaceship equipment look like they were made by Radio Shack. The action (that’s
being kind) then flashes forward two months later when Colonel William Hamilton
is assigned to find out why the crew died. Maybe they watched the dailies and
committed suicide? An attractive blonde flirts with him in typical 80’s
fashion. Everyone on the ship has big 80’s hair, a true anachronism in 2032. Onboard
the ship (in reality a poorly-disguised shopping mall) is Roger Campbell (C.
Juston Campbell) and his right hand man who cracks unfunny jokes like “I’d
rather eat my shoe” when referring to the ship’s food. The ship begins shaking when
the cinematographer starts shaking it back and forth and crew members run
around frivolously. The shopping mall’s escalators are a hilarious prop.
could go on and on about this film, but I don’t want to ruin the special
awfulness of it for the viewer. I will say that the ending is particularly
silly and comes out of left field that features an anthropomorphized blob that
breathes deeply. The plot is picked out of many sci-fi films and the director
does what he can with the ludicrous material. It makes you wonder, however, if
the movie was originally written to be tongue-in-cheek or meant to be serious. Coca-Cola
appears in a product-placement moment, and the women on the ship are dressed in
outfits that make one half expect them all to break into calisthenics. It’s always
nice to have a blonde running around screaming, “We’re all gonna die!!” at the
first sight of outer space trouble. The gratuitous sex that was a mainstay of
such 80’s fare is completely missing from Star
Crystal and it makes one wonder who was the intended audience. Exactly ten
minutes into the film, a shot from within the mothership reveals a replica of
the Millennium Falcon flanking each side of the entrance. Really? Lucasfilm
signed off on this? May the Farce Be With You.
there is anything this film needs, it’s the Mystery Science Theater 3000
treatment. There is even the dreaded End Credits Song. Why do people think that we want a song at the end of movies like
you’re a fan of this film (no judgment; to each his own), you’ll be happy to
know that Kino Lorber has provided a top-notch transfer of the film on Blu-ray.
This is the one to get!
In the 1960s European cinema went mad for a style of filmmaking called portmanteau, which is a movie that consists of several short stories united by a common theme. One such film was the 1964 release "Les plus belles escroqueries du monde", released in English language nations as "The World's Most Beautiful Swindlers". The charm of such movies was that they generally gathered diverse, well-known filmmakers who contributed individual segments in their own unique style. The Olive Films Blu-ray edition of "Swindlers" showcases the work of four directors in generally whimsical tales that involve men and women who circumvent the law for their own personal gain. First up is a tale set in Tokyo, directed by Hiromichi Horikawa. Future James Bond girl Mie Hama plays a young woman who is frustrated by her "career" of working as a hostess in a bar where her duties are to keep male customers engaged in conversation. When she meets a middle-aged, wealthy eccentric (Ken Mitsuda), who walks around with a fortune in cash in a black bag, she sees an opportunity to exploit him using her sexual charms. She convinces him to allow her into his apartment where the lonely man is immediately entranced by her. However, he is embarrassed when she discovers he wears false teeth- and he makes the mistake of informing her they are extremely valuable because they are made of precious metals. When he conveniently succumbs to a fatal heart attack, the girl realizes that absconding with his cash would make her the obvious perpetrator of a crime, so she steals his dentures before calling the police to report the death. The "sting in the tail" ending, however, may be about dentures but it lacks sufficient bite when the young woman gets her just desserts in an unexpected way. Hama is a charming screen presence and its nice to see her in an early role. Director Horikawa squanders the opportunity to showcase the visual splendors of Tokyo by largely confining the action to interiors. However, the segment is reasonably entertaining.
Japanese poster that played up the charms of Mie Hama.
The second episode is directed by Ugo Gregoretti and is probably the most satisfying of the lot. Set in Naples, it involves a prostitute (Gabriella Giorgetti) who has been dumped by her lover and who is now homeless and desperate for money. She is befriended by one of her clients, a shy, kindly law student who devises a scheme in which she can legally marry a poor, elderly man who lives in a city-run shelter. This will provide her with the legal protections she needs to ply her trade and no longer be harassed by police. (The segment dwells on the archaic codes of morality that affected every man and woman who lived in Naples at the time). Things seem to go well until she jilts her ancient "groom" and her slavish law student in order to reunite with her cruel ex-boyfriend, who uses the marriage scheme to set up his own business. Before long, it is thriving as he acts as a manager to set up prostitutes in sham marriages to poor old men. The ironic ending in which poetic justice is meted out to both the hooker and her lover is rather clever and amusing. The third segment, directed by Claude Chabrol involves a team of young, good-looking swindlers ( Jean-Pierre Cassel and Catherine Deneuve among them) who have a chance encounter with a rich, obnoxious German (Francis Blanche), who has an obsession with the Eiffel Tower and who maintains a collection of memorabilia relating to the legendary edifice. They convince him to come to Paris, where they have set up an elaborate phony corporate operation under the pretense that they have been solicited by Parisian officials to find someone suitable to sell the Eiffel Tower to. The gullible German is giddy with glee at the prospect of owning the landmark building. There are some funny moments in which he is guided around Paris by his "business partners" and wined and dined by them, even though he ends up paying the tab for everyone. The segment shows a lot of promise but fizzles out with an abrupt and completely unsatisfactory ending that makes one wonder if Chabrol had run out of film or a brisk wind swept away the last few pages of the script. In any event, the bland finale compromises the amusing scenes that precede it. The final segment, set in Marrakesh, Morocco, is directed by the estimable Jean-Luc Godard and features Jean Seberg as an American journalist who comes into possession of counterfeit money. The police inform her that a counterfeiting ring is wreaking havoc on the local economy. Intrigued, she manages to track down the culprit, who agrees to an being interviewed by her (not a very smart move if you're a wanted man). The counterfeiter (Charles Denner) is a local peasant with a somnambulistic personality who justifies his actions by explaining that he uses his ill-gotten gains to help poor people. The segment starts off intriguingly with some exotic shots of Marrakesh but quickly devolves into pretentious, nearly incomprehensible blather. Godard keeps the entire latter half of the story confined to a back alley and presents the counterfeiter in a series of boring closeups. One can only assume that Godard simply wanted a free holiday in Morocco, as the segment is a complete snooze and ends the film on a bland note.