SATURDAY AFTERNOON B-MOVIE CRAPFEST: “Message From Space” (1978)

Kevin Long
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Yes, yes, I know, I know: It’s Monday, not Saturday. I’ve discussed this before: This feature is dedicated to the kinds of movies that used to get shown on cheap “Monster Chiller Horror” type local shows UHF channels in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, before MST3K simultaneously perfected and destroyed that format. And, yes, this feature *USED* to run on Saturdays, until we realized that people only look at this site from work, and hence no one read it on Saturdays, but rather the following Monday, if at all. Around that time I philosophically concluded was that I’m not so much talking about an *Actual* Saturday afternoon show, as such things are extinct, but rather something more along the lines of “The Saturday Afternoon of the Soul.” And, no, I have no idea what I mean by that.
In any event, whenever this intermittent feature turns up, it’s gonna’ be running on Mondays, so, hey, try not to be so rigidly literal, OK?

Anyway:

I actually saw this movie in the theaters when it was first released. It was, I think, the second of only three Asian films I’ve ever seen theatrically, the first being “Inframan,”(1977) and the third being Akira Kurisawa’s “Ran” (1985). The very looooooong time between this film and the third one might make you conclude that even as a kid I felt I was getting burned by grade-Z Asian flicks, and you’d be right. Even as a kid I knew it was crap. I haven’t seen any in the theaters since “Ran” (Which I loved) simply because I live in Nebraska, hardly known as a hotbed of interest in foreign films.

In fact, we had to drive two towns to the south just to find a theater that carried the movie, and it was an enormous effort to get my mom to go along. She just doesn’t much like film, and I think the last movie she’d seen in a theater prior to this one was “The Sound of Music” (1959). So it was an arduous uphill battle all the way, and in the end it totally wasn’t worth it. “I don’t think you should get to choose the movies anymore,” my dad said on the long, shame-filled drive home.

Neither here nor there, but I got a popcorn husk caught in my throat that night, and spent about a fifth of the film trying to cough it up in the bathroom, giving up, going back to my seat, feeling like I was gonna’ choke, heading back to the bathroom, trying to make myself throw up, failing (Honestly, I don’t know how teenaged girls do it), going back to my seat, heading back to the bathroom and trying to hack it out again, and so on. As awful as that sounds, it was better than actually watching the movie.

The Plot:

At some point in the generic future, on an unnamed planet that probably isn’t earth, in an unnamed solar system that probably is ours, the spacefaring equivalent of biker gangs are called “Roughriders.” Given that we only meet three of them, and there’s not even a spark of sexual tension, we can assume the name relates to a fondness for Teddy Roosevelt, and not any kind of reference to that brand of condom. (That’s an example of a gag I totally wouldn’t have gotten back in the day)

Anyway, these guys spend their days zipping around in their custom space ships, hell-bent-for-leather, whatever that means, taunting space patrol cops, and borrowing money from the mob to upgrade their equipment. The rest of the time they work as dishwashers in a local mob-owned nightclub that caters to the likes of Chris Isaak. (Everyone assures me he’s in the first bar scene in the movie, but I couldn’t spot him). When these two doofuses can’t pay back the money, their spoiled rich female friend, Meia, agrees to give them the cash if they’ll take her hunting for “Fireflies.” These are basically glowing particles of radioactive waste that’s been dumped in an asteroid belt (I assume it’s our asteroid belt, but honestly this movie is more vague on locations than “The American Astronaut”, so it’s hard to be sure). They fly to the belt, and go EVA without any space suits. They’re just wearing breathing masks. No, really!
While there, they discover a derelict space boat. It’s got a wooden hull and sails and everything. They go aboard, and find Etsuko Shihomi, who’s pretty, and a guy named “Rocky” who’s just annoying. Then they’re attacked by a huge badguy alien ship, the space boat is destroyed, and the good guys, plus Rocky and Etsuko scamper back to earth.

In the beginning of the film, we see the Good Aliens of the planet Jillucia get overrun by the Aliens called “Gavanas,” who’s empress dowager is a pretty obvious drag queen, so, y’know, they got that going for ‘em. In desperation, the leader of the Jillucians throws eight magic glowing space walnuts into the sky in hopes that the gods will lead them to eight heroes who will save their people from the Gavanas. Sooooo basically “The Magnificent Seven (Plus One) in Space.” This is an annoyingly overused plot, as I’ve detailed elsewhere.

One by one, the Magic Glowing Space Walnuts turn up with one of our principle characters, in a pocket, in a drink, mysteriously in their hand without knowing how it got there, and so on. We get a lot of the requisite “I don’t wanna’ do this! I wanna’ lie in bed and complain!” destiny-fighting stuff, during which one of the Roughriders and a gangster buddy sell Etsuko to a crazy old woman who wants to forcibly marry her off to her ugly mutant son (“People think he’s a monster because he was born on Pluto!”) Then the Gavanas show up and kidnap Etsuko and the gangster buddy.

The Gavanas have turned the entire planet Jillucia into a space ship with rocket engines and everything, and they come to earth to claim it as their new capital, what with it being pretty and all. Earth sends up defrocked and hastily-re-frocked General Vic Morrow, and his midget robot sidekick to stall for time in a pretty wildly incoherent scene that involves 18th-century-looking Napoleonic uniforms, slapping, pistol dueling, discussions of honor, sniveling cowardice, and (I think) laser-proof long-undewear, though I might be off about that last part. This concludes with the General Vic utterly failing in his mission, and The Emperor launching a lighthouse from Jillucia, which blows up the earth’s moon. Which, apparently somehow *wouldn’t* destroy earth.

Ok. Sure. Why not?

Anyway, after a lot more pointless meandering, and the surprise appearance of The True King Of Gavanas, who’s been stranded on a planet for like twenty years, and has a Magical Glowey Space Walnut too, the eight ciphers accept their destiny and launch a suicidal attack on the Gavanas. This fails almost instantly as they’ve been betrayed from within, but then the traitor changes sides again and dies heroically helping the Magnificent Remaining Seven to escape. They then attack more-or-less randomly, culminating in the Roughriders launching an attack down the Death Star Trench…excuse me, “The Gavanas Fortress Tunnel”, to blow up the reactor, which blows up the planet, and earth is saved.

The remaining Jillucians, The One True King, and the Roughriders decide to head off together on the only surviving space boat to go found a new world somewhere else, rather than head back to earth.

The End.

I re-watched this with my eldest the other day, and he could not stop laughing. It’s just that bad of a film. There’s so much I can point to as terrible or incoherent. Basically we start off with a blatant rip off of Star Wars, and head downhill from there. How blatant a ripoff? One character is named “Hans” and another is named “Solar.” The romantic through-line doesn’t work at all, the battle sequences wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Godzilla film twenty years earlier (Though I did quite like the design of the earth battleships).

Curiously, about a third of the cast are Americans. They’re clearly speaking English while the rest of the cast are clearly not. Everyone, however, is equally badly dubbed. I cut some slack for this, even if the Americans are dubbing their own voices, but it must be said that the opening credits say “And Introducing Peggy Lee Brennan as Meia.” Insofar as I can tell, this is her only movie, and she’s pretty terrible, with a Long Island kind of accent that’s just grating. I kind of want to know how she got the part in the movie. Did she put up some of the funding? A producer’s kid? What? Philip Casnoff – who went on to a much better career after this film – plays Aaron in a vaguely Vinnie Babarino vein.

I’m told the movie spawned a short-lived TV series in Japan. Sadly, it is not called “Space Boat: The Space Traveling Boat!” A German friend of mine has seen it, but I can’t remember if it was any good or not.

You know how people say “Plan 9 from Outer Space is the worst movie ever made?” It’s not true, not by a longshot. It’s simply the worst movie most people can sit through. I can name much worse. Hell, Ed Wood himself made movies far worse than Plan 9. That was probably his *BEST* film. I mean, as bad as that movie admittedly is, I’ve never once fallen asleep in it.
Honestly, the popcorn stuck in the throat 16 years ago was probably the best thing that could have happened to me: at least it kept me awake. This time through, I kept nodding off – even with my kid’s laughter – and had to go back and re-watch scenes.

Terrible.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS MOVIE?

Traditionally, extremely hard-right paranoid Conservatives have always hated the moon, up there, staring at us, taunting us, daring us to do anything about it. This is most recently seen in the repeated and ludicrous statements about how Muslims secretly worship it. Seeing as the moon is blown up in this movie (And no one much seems to care), I think, yes, Conservatives will like this film. Also, it’s stance on dumping nuclear waste in space will probably also be quite welcome. In short, yes, I believe both those qualities will more than offset the evil drag queen alien and the effeminacy of Vic Morrow’s uniform.

As to Democrats and Independents: Run away! Run away!

So whatever became of Peggy Lee Brennan, anyway?

And why is Chris Isaak in this movie?

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Kevin Long is a well-reviewed Science Fiction author, who has written three full-length anthologies, and is at work on several other projects. He used to blog under the name “Republibot 3.0,” but now that his stalker is dead, and he can afford to be less paranoid, he uses his real name. His personal website is here: http://www.kevin-long.com and his smashwords page is here https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/rthree Or, if you prefer Amazon, his books are here http://www.amazon.com/Ice-Cream-Venom-ebook/dp/B004XNLU8Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=... here, http://www.amazon.com/The-Undead-War-Other-Stories/dp/1481183931/ref=sr_... and here http://www.amazon.com/Its-Rocket-Science-Kevin-Long/dp/1481209663/ref=sr... Check out his site, and buy one of his books. He’s got a wife and kids to support!

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