Suburban Grindhouse Memories # 8 – INTERGALACTIC HANDGUNS
by Nick Cato
If you were nine years old and loved to go to the movies, 1977 was a GREAT time to be alive; plenty of PG-rated genre films were released that year, most notably the very first STAR WARS, the cheesy but fun EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, and, a personal favorite of mine, ORCA (I mean, you can’t beat a killer whale biting off Bo Derek’s already broken, casted leg, can you?).
Just five months after the release of STAR WARS, another potential sci-fi classic made its way into theaters. Lured by (not only) its title, but by one of its stars (Christopher Lee), I went opening weekend to see STARSHIP INVASIONS (“We Know They are There, Advanced Beyond our Imagination!” claimed the official film poster). With R2D2 and Darth Vader fresh in mind, the poster and tagline for this one made it sound a bit more intelligent than Lucas’s classic, and the TV commercial (which featured quick shots of spaceships chasing each other) had me (and I’m sure many other STAR WARS fans) thrilled; surely we were in for another blast of intergalactic goodness.
However, STARSHIP INVASIONS (surprise, surprise) turned out to be NOTHING like STAR WARS. For starters there are hardly any spaceship battles until the final minutes, and by then most of the crowd had abandoned hope. I kept hope alive until the final reel, thanks to a plot that intrigued even my fourth-grade mind: A dying race of aliens attempt to take over the Earth by sending out a telepathic ray that causes humans to commit suicide. Fortunately, there’s another race of aliens (known as the “League of Races”) who have set up base in the Bermuda Triangle and are here to protect humanity from harm (I can’t recall exactly WHY…but the more I try to remember this film the more I feel like finding a DVD to re-watch it).
What stuck in my young mind all these years later are the scenes of suicide which must’ve freaked parents out who took their kids expecting to see another Luke Skywalker-ish extravaganza. One sequence in particular features a farmer sticking a handgun into his mouth and blowing his brains out. Being a PG-rated film in 1977, there was no gore shown, but this didn’t stop the audience (including myself) from gasping out loud. Being an (already) twisted youngin’, I was instantly drawn into the darkness and gloom this alleged sci-fi film had to offer.
Robert Vaughn plays Professor Duncan, a member of the good alien team. Naturally Christopher Lee is the head of the bad guys, but sadly he’s wasted here with a ridiculous outfit and an army of robots that look straight out of an old Buck Rogers serial (the audience cracked up whenever one of them came on screen. The complexity of C3P0 had apparently spoiled us all).
While STARSHIP INVASIONS is no masterpiece, its interesting plot helped it succeed despite its low budget. It’s one of the darkest sci-fi films from this era, and the aforementioned scenes of suicide pressed the boundaries of a PG-rating. By combining popular 70s topics such as UFOs, telepathy and the Bermuda Triangle, the film also serves as a 70s keepsake of sorts. The final “starship” battle between the good and bad aliens MAYBE looked a step or two above an old ATARI video game, but unlike the majority of patrons who purchased a ticket expecting another STAR WARS, this here young trash-film hound left the theater quite the happy camper.
And unlike that song on the first Ozzy album, STARSHIP INVASIONS didn’t inspire me to commit suicide . . . although I can’t say the same for the others in attendance. (LOL)
© Copyright 2010 by Nick Cato