Friday, July 9, 2010

Space Raiders (USA, 1983)

"Peter, listen to me. Things are always happening that we don't expect. You can think of them as an ordeal, or you can think of them as a great adventure. It's the adventurers who make it."
Hawk (Vince Edwards)

When I was a young lad of about five or six (or maybe seven)—in any event, long before I developed pubic hair—my sister and I were sent for a summer to stay with my cousins in what was then a blink-twice-and-you-missed-it mill town in Massachusetts called Lee. (I imagine Lee, which I haven’t visited for over 25 years, is probably relatively gentrified by now—the Main Street and Victorian houses were always too beautiful to leave to the natives alone.) It was there that I was allowed to see my first scary television show, though god only knows what it was called. It was either a Rod Serling show or a Rod Serling rip-off, but the title, like the plot of the episode, has long passed from my memory. What I do remember is that it was, at the time, the scariest thing I had ever seen in my life. When the mother was confronted by the ghost, I ran from the room in terror and couldn't sleep with the lights out for days, and I forever remembered exactly how horrifying it was.
Years later, while going to Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles (back when it was located next to MacArthur Park) one night during the heights of my drug excesses while I was in a fog from too much beer, too many Black Beauties and probably some bad, bought-on-the-street weed cut with oregano, I happened to be alone in the dorm TV room when some late-night local station reran the program—naturally, due to the condition I was in at the time I really can’t remember what it was titled or what the plot was now, but I do think it may have starred the late, great Sylvia Sidney (of Hitchcock’s Sabotage [1931 / full film] to Burton’s Mars Attacks [1996 / trailer]). As fucked up as I was, one thing I was able to comprehend: the show that had scared me shitless as child, that I held in cherished memory as one of the scariest things ever made, was a total piece of shit. The ghost that once had me poop in my britches was, in all seriousness, a man with a bed sheet over his head.
So, what does all that have to do with Space Raiders? Not much, really, other than I kept thinking of it while watching Space Raiders, which a friend told me was one the best sci-fi films he’d ever seen as a kid. And going by the paeans found on IMDB—which all have "as a kid" in one form or another sewn into the praise somewhere—many a person out there cherishes Space Raiders as one of the best science fiction films they ever saw as a child. Well, all I can say is things are different as a child, a time when Santa Claus still exists, adults never tell lies, storks bring babies, Jesus is the son of god, girls are icky and we all know we’re going to grow up to be president. But, as an adult, reality and facts are the way of the world—so, folks, I have to tell you: like that TV show I saw as a kid, Space Raiders is basically crap, and not even good crap at that.
Space Raiders is the second film of Howard R. Cohen, who wrote and directed six films of questionable quality before dying of cancer on April 3rd, 1999. His best film was probably his first, a totally ridiculous but oddly effective (particularly if you’re stoned and/or undemanding) horror spoof from 1981 entitled Saturday the 14th (trailer), while his worst could well be the 1988 sequel Saturday the 14th Strikes Back (trailer). The quality of Space Raiders may lie someplace in between the two, but it definitely tips towards the latter.
One could argue that since Space Raiders is a kiddy film it should deserves some leeway, but just because a film is for kids, doesn’t mean that it has to have retarded plot development and be laughably and terribly acted and directed. Besides, just how “kiddy” is a kiddy film in which virtually everyone (except the kid, regrettably) dies? Space Raiders is far less a kiddy film than it is simply another attempt by producer Roger Corman to milk as much as possible from the space battle scenes he originally had shot for the much more entertaining Battle Beyond the Stars (1983 / trailer), whence he also recycles the James Horner soundtrack. In doing so, plot and logic take a back seat to filling the 84-minute running time.
Space Raiders begins at the loading dock of some warehouse of “The Company” on some barren planet where “cute”, little Peter (David Mendenall) is playing with an alien stop-motion bug as C-3PO clones load and unload stuff. Suddenly there is a raid by a group of, dunno, mercenaries / pirates / intergalactic thieves who basically kill dozens of company cops before hijacking a cargo spaceship (that later proves to be empty!). Little Peter, instead of high-tailing to safety, stows aboard the cargo ship and once discovered requests that they take him home—and the group’s leader Hawk (Vince Edwards of The Killing [1956 / trailer], Cellar Dweller [1988 / trailer] and The Fear [1995 / trailer]) actually promises to do so. Adopted as some sort of mascot, in the course of the film Peter learns how to drink beer, cuss and shoot the spaceship ray gun—the last being a particular important skill when he has to face off the big bad previously completely unstoppable killer spaceship The Company has sent out to obliterate those who steal from them. In between, Peter continually wanders into trouble from which Hawk and his men (and obligatory gal Amanda [Patsy Pease of He Knows You’re Alone (1980 / trailer, Tom Hanks' debut film) have to save him. (More than once the viewer can’t help but shout—alas, to no avail—“Let the little snot die, whydonchya!?”)
The most entertaining aspects of Space Raiders is how everyone aims above their target when shooting but always makes a direct hit and the groan-inducing platitudes of the dialog. Other than that, although Peter also gets a lot of laughs for his utter inability to do anything that comes close to being called acting, the fact that he is directly responsible for the deaths of the entire crew doesn't exactly help make him sympathetic to the viewers. The film is bad, and regrettably, bad kiddy films are not as entertaining as bad films for adults, which at least usually balance their inabilities with explicit sleaze, violence, gore and other entertaining assaults on good taste.

That said, if you want a good kiddy sci-fi film from the same period, skip this turkey and go for The Ice Pirates (1984 / trailer), cause at least you don't have to have seen it as a kid to enjoy it now.

For your viewing pleasure, the first ten minutes of Space Raiders:

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