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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Good Ideas Poorly Executed Vol. 1: Laserblast (1977)

There are many things in life that people innately know are true. For instance, if you were to run with your head down at full speed into a brick wall, you will hurt your head. We don't need any scientific study to confirm this. As human beings, we already know that the result will be a headache at best and a concussion more likely.

In the world of film, there are also laws that cineastes know are inherently true. For instance, if you make a movie about lost love and set it in the Victorian era, you will likely get Oscar consideration, even if that movie stars Jimmy Fallon and Cloris Leachman as the leads. Conversely, if you make the most outstanding comedy in the history of film featuring performances that reduce audiences to tears from excessive laughter, you will not win Best Picture.

Another law is that the number of bad films released in any given year will outnumber the good films by at least two to one. Some years it's worse.  There are a small number of those bad films though that are based on good ideas; moments of inspiration where the writer tapped into that wellspring of creativity that flows around us every day and pulled out something genuinely unique. Then he took that genuinely inspired idea to a movie studio that showered him with praise for his insight and imagination and perhaps even paid him a small sum of money.

However somewhere in between that moment and the moment the final cut hits screens, something goes irreversibly, horribly wrong.   

This series is about those movies; the ones that started out as an idea with potential and ended up on the shit heap of cinema history.

Good Ideas Poorly Executed Volume 1:  Laserblast (1977) 

The Pitch:  It's like part Star Wars, part Dirty Harry! It can't miss!

The Budget:  Although no credible numbers could be found through my tireless fifteen minutes of digging around on the internet, the budget for Laserblast had to be negligible at best.  My theory is that the majority was spent on animating the aliens and spacecraft.  The remainder was spent on securing Roddy McDowall for a small cameo that could then be billed to draw in the unwitting (his name is misspelled in the credits).  The rest of the cast were paid in Cokes and Hostess Twinkies but were allowed to keep the bottles to turn in for recycling money.

The Result:  Laserblast is probably more well known as the movie featured on the last Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode in its Comedy Central run.  It's prime fodder for ridicule, but watching it without the help of Tom Servo and Crow, one can see that lying way down in the middle of this particular turdball, there is the kernal of a good idea. 

Tapping into both the awkward feeling of not being included and the nerd boy's love of all things Star Wars in 1977, Laserblast should have been the revenge film for every teenage outcast. Billy (who looks incredibly like Mark Hamill but is actually Kim Milford) is constantly hassled by the world.  He's picked on by school bullies.  He's hassled by The Man (local cops).  Even his girlfriend's senile grandfather verbally kicks his ass.  Plus, the first time we meet Billy, his mother is packing up to go to Acapulco for what can only be a swinger party. 

The guy can't win!  The only person who believes in him is his girlfriend Kathy played by Cheryl Smith.  She's the picture of 1970s natural beauty in this film.  Alas, it wouldn't be long before she would be slumming it in Revenge of the Cheerleaders.

I digress.

As we've firmly established, Billy's a loser.  Then, while randomly driving into the desert, he stumbles on a laser gun.  Yes, a laser gun from outer space.  Don't ask how it got there.  That's covered in the beginning but raises more questions than it answers. 

Suddenly, Billy's got power and a whole truckload of potential targets to unleash that power against.  Just writing this line, I'm getting excited at the possibilities.  How can this not be a formula for success?

Once you've asked yourself that question, rent Laserblast and watch it fall apart.  Here's a quick guide to what you can expect.

1.  None of the actors turn in performances worthy of anything beyond community theater.  Even Roddy McDowall is phoning it in.  This film features Eddie Deezen in his very first role and possibly the only one where he plays a bully instead of a nerd.  Also cashing their checks and leaving the set without looking back are veteran character actors Gianni Russo, Ron Masak and Dennis Burkley.

2.  Although they're supposed to be in high school, none of the main actors look less than 27 years old.  Also, I'm almost positive Billy was cast simply because he looks like Mark Hamill.  The Star Wars fixations are not something I dreamed up either.  In one scene, Billy uses the laser gun to blow up a Star Wars advertisement on a billboard.  The filmmakers were overtly aiming to draw in the Star Wars crowd and missed completely.

3.  The acting aside, the editing is shoddy with continuity errors being some of the more fun things to look for.  Is the necklace on? Off? On again?

Want to play a game?  Take a shot of your favorite alcoholic beverage every time Billy's monster makeup only extends to his neck.  You'll likely not make it to the final 15 minutes before blacking out.

4.  The film itself looks so washed out and brown that it resembles a 1970s Super 8 home movie.  That's not me exaggerating. 

5.  Then there's the script.  It's filled with plot holes and characters doing stupid things.  Not just normal we're-in-a-horror-movie-and-have-to-do-stupid-things stupid things.  I'm talking REALLY stupid things.  The most glaring of which is Billy actually picking up the laser gun in the first place.  To put it in perspective, he discovers it when it randomly makes his Coke bottle explode (thus robbing him of a nickel of salary).

Laserblast is horrible.  It's got so much going against it that it's a wonder it found its way to DVD.  The only saving grace is the animation of the aliens.  They're done old school Harryhausen-style and are definitely worth noting even if they do look like sentient turtles sans shells.

To Watch or Not To Watch... That Is the Question:

I hate to say it, but I'd recommend passing on all but the MST3K version (if you can find it).  There's not enough good here to recommend sitting through 90 minutes.  Realize when you read that sentence that I'm the guy who loved Frankenstein Vs. The Space Monster, Plan 9 From Outer Space and countless other low budget horror films. 

Yep.  It's that bad.

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