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Thursday, June 5, 2014


Charles Band, the producer who brought the world The End of the World (’77), produced an equally obtuse sci-fi in late 1977, released in March ’78. Laserblast is the sort of film that many decry as the worst film since Manos. Yet, Laserblast seems to have its fans as well. Roddy McDowell and Keenan Wynn have small rolls. The cast is mostly obscure folk. Kim Milford stars as Billy. Cheryl Smith plays his girlfriend Kathy. Frank Ray Perilli wrote the screenplay, which explains its obtuse quality. He also wrote End of the World (’77).

Quick Plot Synopsis
Two claymation aliens track down another alien in the desert southwest. That third alien has a laser cannon on his arm. The two Clayliens disintegrate the third, then leave in their ship. They leave behind the laser blaster and the necklace that’s needed to fire it. Enter Billy, a pretty-boy 20-something whose mother is a stewardess that would rather be in Acapulco than home with him. Billy is supposed to be an oppressed youth. His girlfriend’s grandfather (Wynn) is mean to him. The two deputy sheriffs abuse him. A couple of local jerk boys taunt and mock him. Poor Billy. While Billy is driving his old Chevy van on a desert dirt road, he comes across the laser blaster and necklace. He eventually figures it out and blows up some bushes. Back in town, Billy and Kathy attend a pool-side birthday party for Frannie. After several doses of juvenile humor, the party breaks up. Billy looks for Kathy, only to find the jerk boys trying to molest her. He stops them, but gets beat up too. Later, Billy puts on the blaster, his face gets all green, his teeth pointy and he has on white contact lenses: the Evil Alien look. Billy blows up the jerk’s old Buick convertible. A mysterious man in a 3-piece suit comes to down in a black Cadillac. He’s important enough that the Sheriff calls him sir. The mysterious Mr. Craig wants everyone rounded up for questioning. The deputies are mean to Billy again. Mr. Craig suspects Billy. Billy dons the blaster later and blows up the deputies (One in an outhouse). Evil-Billy shuffles out of town. He blows up the jerks too, in their new car ( a red '55 Chevy two-ten). Meanwhile, the Clayliens have been reprimanded by their commander for leaving the blaster on earth. They are sent back to fetch it. While Evil-Billy skulks around the desert, a plane flies low, looking for people to shoot. (illegal immigrants? Drug runners?) They spot Billy and shoot at him with a full-auto M16. Billy blows up the plane. Billy gets picked up by a hippy in his VW van. Billy blasts the hippy and drives his van to a studio backlot, urban set. He blows up a phone booth, a parked Oldsmobile, a mailbox and a newspaper stand. This last, was apparently the final straw. The Clayliens zap Billy with a pink and blue beam. The blaster disappears. Billy drops to the curb. Kathy comes up to his lifeless body and lays her head on his shoulder. Freeze frame, roll credits. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
For those who like non-mainstream story telling, Laserblast has that incongruous quality of “art” in the rough. (really rough) McDowell and Wynn are good in their minor rolls. The claymation of David Allen is actually pretty decent for a non-Harryhausen. Cheryl Smith, the slender blonde, with long legs and a knack for the vulnerable waif look, is at least easy on the eyes.

Cultural Connection
Disturbed Killers — A sort of tragic relevance to Laserblast is its basic story of a “troubled” young male who takes deadly revenge on his supposed oppressors. Isla Vista, Aurora, Columbine are just the latest examples of the real world version of this. Sadly, such mass killings by unstable people are not all that new. The 70s had its share of pointless rage bloodshed too.

Art Nugget — Despite the weak acting, pointless pyro-pandering and fragmented storyline, there may be a touch of literary raison d’etre in the script. Consider the laser blaster as metaphor for unlimited (destructive) power. Billy is the Icarus who shows us what happens when people get such power, how power, once wielded, becomes a narcotic. Perhaps in the hands of less slap-dash producers, Perilli’s script might have risen to something a bit more noble, instead of something rather small, wrapped in many layers of bacon.

Timeless Pandering — In addition to the usual sexual innuendo, hints of soft porn and mocking authorities, the most prevalent pander in Laserblast is blowing things up. Playing to that subset of adolescent males’ penchant for pointless rage, the producers and director blow up many things. In fact, the lion’s share of the fiim’s budget is devoted to the fiery destruction of several cars (each repeated several times in a sort of bomb-porn revel), an outhouse, a gas station, a pinball machine, a phone booth, a mailbox and a newspaper stand.

Giggle Talk — Sprinkled within Perilli’s script are lame sexual innuendos. At the pool party, Chuck and Froggy grill hotdogs and announce, “Get your red hot franks here.” A bikini babe saunters up. Chuck says he’d like to give her his red hot frank. Giggle. Later, same babe straddles Billy on the chaise lounge (and she’s topless at this point too), and offers him a hotdog. “Wanna bite?” she says. Giggle. Then there is the sheriff’s secretary who is loudly typing. He asks what she’s doing. “Oh, just bangin’ away,” she quips. Giggle. Actually, the secretary is played by Franne Schacht, who is listed as one of the writers. To what extent is fairly questionable. Perhaps she wrote her one line.

Untroubled — The script wants to portray Billy as the poor troubled lad (who vents his rage at his oppressors). But Billy had it made. Look at his life from a teen boy’s perspective. His only parent is away most of the time. Party! His mom is well off enough that Billy does not seem to need a job, or go to school. He has his own van. (This IS the 70s) He has a pretty blonde girlfriend eager to smooch. She lives with an old man as sharp as an eggplant, so easy to outwit. His chief rivals appear to be a dim-witted jerk and a nerd. How bad is Billy’s life? This is oppression?

Beast of Blasta Flats — There seems to be an homage to 1961’s Beast of Yucca Flats inserted into the script, for no plot-advancing reason. Two men with badges on their hats, fly over the desert in a Cessna 172, armed with a machine gun. They scan the desert for someone to shoot. Why? At least in Beast, the men knew they were searching for a killer. In Laserblast, they seem to just routinely patrol the desert to shoot people. Illegal immigrants? Drug runners? There is no point. The scene as homage at least makes some sense.

Pocket Full of Parallels — For no apparent reason than scriptwriter fun, Laserblast has some pairs of parallels to muse over. Consider Pete and Jesse, the two inept deputies and the Clayliens: Turtle 1 and Turtle 2, the bumbling enforcer aliens who leave the blaster behind. Consider Chuck and Froggy as a civilian match for Pete and Jesse. Consider the sheriff sniper in the plane as micro parallel to Evil-Billy. Note the simian celebrations of both after a “kill”. Then too, consider the Turtle aliens at the end, who successfully gun down Billy from on high — precisely what the Cessna men were trying to do too.

Take THAT, Lucas — An amusing cheap shot of rivalry occurs when Evil-Billy rides by a crude, simple sign with the Star Wars logo on it. Evil-Billy blasts it to papery bits. Take THAT, George Lucas! Director Michael Rae sure showed him!.

Bottom line? Laserblast is a low-grade B movie that might have been more interesting, but was too obsessed with blowing things up to focus on much else. It is not as bad as Manos, but it is not all that good either. It is worthy of its MST3K lampooning. The bots were fairly kind to it. Laserblast can suffice for low quality entertainment in the uncut version, provided viewers don’t expect Lucas, Spielberg, or even Corman.


Randall Landers said...

While you can argue Lord Acton's precept, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," I tend to think that Billy's transformation into the original alien villain meant that somehow the weaponry itself is sentient. I've always thought that this malevolent sentience took control of the first alien badguy and then Billy. Not much you can do about it, that's for sure.

The weirdest thing continues to be the plane hunting him down. Something nice would have been to have Mr. Craig ordering them into the desert and to shoot anyone there. Makes him more malevolent.

All in all, this was far more watchable as a teenager than as a middle aged dude, probably because Cheryl Smith is always fun to look at.

Nightowl said...

Yes, the weapon system was the corruptor. This notion would lend itself to 70s-style anti-war thinking -- that man is basically innocent (and just wants to make love, not war), but Guns -- especially big scary guns -- turn people into monsters. The aliens using their weapons as law-enforcement undercuts this message, but that's pretty common too.

I agree that having Mr. Craig identified as the sender of the plane would have helped the logic of the story. Perhaps that was lost in editing for some reason. Mr. Craig as sender-of-death would fit neatly into that other 70s idiom: Sinister Government.

Oh well, as you say, at least there was Cheryl.