Yet another unbelievably trashy Euro-obscurity rescued from the abyss, in this case its original negative "purchased at a Rome bankruptcy auction" (!), The Beast in Space (1980) is a terrible mixture of '50s sci-fi movie cliches and would-be erotica. U.S. distributor Severin Films has released two cuts of the film available separately; this review covers the Unrated Director's Cut while a XXX Version, reportedly found in the basement of a condemned Bologna porno theater (!!), includes some added hardcore scenes apparently shot by others. Watching this Italian production, there's a certain fascination contemplating how such utter garbage actually got produced and exhibited to paying customers, but save for the fringe of insatiable Euro-trash fans The Beast in Space offers practically zero entertainment value.
Though there's a brief reference to Star Wars' light sabers (badly recreated here with cardboard swords covered with reflective material), The Beast in Space shows almost none of the influence of late-'70s sci-fi fantasy/spectacles, nor does it particularly borrow from the almost universally bad Italian space operas of the 1960s (The Wild, Wild Planet, etc.). Instead, The Beast in Space lifts its story and much of its look from low-budget Hollywood movies of the 1950s: Cat-Women of the Moon, The Phantom Planet, etc.* You'd think that by 1980 such material would be treated as high camp but no - everything is played straight, with almost no humor at all. There's not even a wise-cracking navigator from Brooklyn.
The thin plot has Captain Larry Madison (Vassili Karis) piloting a spaceship and her crew of seven (four men and three women) to Lorigon, a planet supposedly rich in that rarest of space minerals, Antalium. Also on board is Lt. Sondra Richardson (Sirpa Lane), with whom Larry had a brief fling shortly before take-off, he unaware of her identity.
Though unable to beat mercenary Juan Cardoso (Venantino Venantini) to Lorigon, the crew arrives safely on the strange planet, where the ship's "Antalium detector" (played by an ordinary metal detector) leads the hearty band to the castle-like estate of Onaf (Claudio Undari), the Maximilian Schell/Max Reinhardt-like keeper of the planet's master computer, which looks like a colossal toy robot.
Everything about The Beast in Space (La Bestia nello spazio) is unbelievably bad. The meager story is mercilessly extended to 92 long minutes, with several long sex scenes that, beyond being totally unerotic, grind everything to a halt. The sets and costumes are a hodgepodge of styles. Most of the set design and decoration is about on par with the '70s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV series, while during the flight Larry's crew wear uniforms resembling those worn on Space: 1999 but with caps like something out of a '30s serial. Exteriors of Larry's landing module reveal a plywood and house paint affair found in the very cheapest '50s films.
The film looks less like earlier Italian sci-fi spectacles than it does an overly ambitious semi-amateur production, the kind of thing one used to read about in the pages of Cinemagic magazine. A few special effects shots are almost okay, though most look ridiculous, like a shot of the spaceship's liftoff, with what looks like an ordinary sparker attached to the model, used to simulate the ship's exhaust.
Its production obviously inspired by Walerian Borowczyk's French-made The Beast (La Bete, 1975), also starring Finnish beauty Sirpa Lane, The Beast in Space's big draw, if that's the right term, is its taboo-breaking monster-rape scenes, i.e., faux bestiality. In this case, Lane's Sondra is raped by Onaf who undressed reveals himself to be a literal satyr. (All this takes place in a picturesque forest of birch trees, not the usual alien environment.) But what's intended to be shocking only looks ridiculous, as Undari clearly is wearing pantyhose covered with clumpy hair and outfitted with plastic-looking horses' hoofs. Barbara Eden's seduction by Pan in the family film 7 Faces of Dr. Lao was sexier than this. Later on the robot-computer likewise inexplicably becomes horny, though by this point in the film things have become so schematic it's hard to tell just what exactly is going on.
The incongruous sci-fi action and soft-core porn are both undermined by the sloppy production. Scattered shots are out of focus, the dubbed-in dialogue (even in this Italian edition) rarely comes anywhere close to matching the actors' lip movements, and the editing is crude. In what was intended, I guess, as erotic foreshadowing, the crew spot a pair of frisky horses mating, in squeezed 'scope footage from another movie. This might have been more effective had the footage been of wild horses, but the pair seen here are fully bridled and standing in front of a barn.
Video & Audio
Presented in a 1.78:1 enhanced widescreen transfer, The Beast in Space looks okay. The image is a bit soft and grainy, though that seems inherent in the original production rather than the transfer, and given the fate of the original film elements it's lucky the picture exists at all. The film is presented in Italian mono only with optional English subtitles.
Included is a textless, presumably Italian trailer and a casual interview with actor-turned-painter Venantino Venantani (who speaks English), also in 16:9 format. The latter is okay though given his long and varied career something a bit more thorough and organized would have been preferred. It is interesting to glimpse the '60s Italian stars that show up at his art exhibition, however.
Though better than, say, Galaxina and more competent technically than the vast majority of Jess Franco's erotic oeuvre, The Beast in Space is appropriately targeted at a very narrow audience of Euro-trash masochists likely to embrace the film and for them it's Recommended. All others will definitely want to Skip It.
* Readers Gail Cane and Sergei Hasenecz note that even the poster art was, er, "inspired" by something else. Sergei: "Even most of the poster art is stolen from a Frank Frazetta painting (specifically, his cover for Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Moon Maid) but I can't tell from the small image if it is repainted or simply reproduced from the Frazetta work."
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest books, Japanese Cinema and The Toho Studios Story, are now available for pre-order.