Sunday, January 17, 2016

SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1983)




Rated PG
Running time: 90 min.

Back in 1983, Hollywood made a decision to bring back the 3-D experience for moviegoers. So the films they decided to drop on the paying crowd? Jaws 3-D, Amityville 3-D, Friday the 13th Part III-D and this one, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. I'm thinking that they gave up trying to work "3-D" into the title somehow. When watching this film, your 3-D anticipation is immediately paid off with the opening credits, as the title of the film COMES RIGHT AT YOU! It's also complete with "whooshing" sound effects to let us know that words can fly.

The film is a Canadian/American co-production, which is like combining poutine with hot dogs. Don't knock it until you've tried it. It was directed by Lamont Johnson, the bulk of his career spent directing television including several episodes of the original The Twilight Zone series. The star of the film is Peter Strauss, who has also spent the bulk of his career in television. Here he plays the role of "Wolff", who is a down-on-his-luck Han Solo type, floating around space taking on odd jobs in order to pay the rent. He's accompanied by his android, Chalmers, who is played by Andrea Marcovicci. She reveals to us that androids prefer sleeping in lingerie. They happen upon a signal requesting assistance in recovering three women who escaped their exploding cruise ship in a pod and crash-landed on a desolate planet filled with mutants and bandits and other scum. Wolff needs the 3000 Megs (mega-credits) reward and heads on down to save them. The problem for Wolff comes when the women are scooped up by some guys on hang-gliders and taken away. One thing about this that I found fascinating was that the women were rendered unconscious by expert chiropractors who can snap necks to knock someone out instead of just killing them.

The women are taken to the horribly disfigured Overdog, played by Michael Ironside. We all love us some Michael Ironside, who has appeared in some favorites such as Scanners and Visiting Hours as well as some of our favorite sequels like Prom Night II and Red Scorpion 2. Ironside is almost unrecognizable here as Overdog in an excellent creation by costume designer Julie Weiss and head makeup artist Del Acevedo. This allows Ironside to get lost in this character and really chew the scenery. One of the finer moments of this film sees Overdog ordering one of his lackeys to undress one of the captive women, as he hisses "Yes!....YEESSSSSSS!". Creepy and hilarious at once. Overdog wants the women as he plans on using their bodies to keep his rotting carcass fresh and vibrant.

Along Wolff's journey in the search for the women, he meets Niki, played by Molly Ringwald. She was 15 at the time of this film, and her character is quite obnoxious throughout. Wolff takes her with him because he really doesn't know where he's going. One scene that had me chuckling was when Wolff opted to sleep outside in a sleeping bag. I'm pretty sure that if I was on a strange planet with mutants and bandits and who knows what the hell else running around, I would be sleeping in my car. Also, there was a weird scene in which the much older Wolff was sleeping with the teenage Niki with his arm wrapped around her. Are there no laws against this on remote desolate planets? Terra XI is the destination planet for all perverted uncles. Niki claims to know where to find the women and leads Wolff in the right direction. They meet Washington, played by Ernie Hudson, who is a former friend of Wolff's from space academy or something, it's never fully explored. Hudson is a fine addition to the cast but his character didn't do much. There are also underwater amazons, human blobs that burst out of cocoons and mutated children that throw grenades from hilltops. It's a very interesting world we have here, but the plot and script don't explore any of them to any extent, just opting to move the main plot along instead.

The sets created for the film were very imaginative, including a maze that Overdog makes pariticpants run through, with death and dismemberment around every turn. The special effects were what you would expect from a sci-fi movie from the 80's not named Star Wars. The 3-D effects were really kept to a minimum so they were not too distracting. It looks like they spent their entire 3-D budget on the opening credits. For a director with a background in lower budget television, Lamont Johnson did an admirable job with this film. Peter Strauss was okay in the lead role, but there wasn't a lot of charisma there. Strauss plays the character straight when normally we would expect a grumpy loner in this role. Ironside as Overdog was the best performance in this film and I wished there was more of that character here. He wasn't nearly onscreen as much as he deserved to be.

I enjoyed the film enough to recommend it. There could have been more done with it, but what was there was enjoyable. If you were one of the ones to catch this in it's original 3-D format, watching it in 2-D should be the same experience, mainly because the gimmickry is held back for the most part, unless you like space needles aimed at your eyeball.

Score: 3/5.


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