Martin Rayburn dons his leotard...
After Christopher Lee's passing I decided to re-watch a couple of his movies. First up was The Wicker Man, a movie which Lee himself considers to be his finest work, and he is most likely right about that. But what would be next in my double-bill? I instinctively found myself drawn to this. A guilty pleasure of mine comes in the form of a little known Canadian science fiction feature, the meager budgeted Starship Invasions.
I don't know if Starship Invasions has ever been released on DVD (I still have an old battered VHS copy) as I guess there is likely little to no demand. This is a movie which I've mentioned to many people yet no-one has seen it or heard of it. You see, Starship Invasions came out in 1977, just months after Star Wars arrived, but from the look of the film you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was released a decade earlier, so it disappeared without trace. It's not a traditionally great film, not by a long shot, and it pales in comparison to the special effects laden science fiction which Star Wars (and to a lessor extent Close Encounters of the Third Kind) ushered in, but it's not without its merits, and equally importantly, for me at least, I have many memories of watching Starship Invasions as a child. All of which come flooding back on every viewing of this campy romp.
Christopher Lee plays Captain Ramses, the leader of an aggressive race of aliens bent on conquering our world. Earth is also home to The Intergalactic League of Races, a wonderfully benign group of otherworldly aliens in latex who monitor our world from their secret pyramid base under the sea. Using the guise of friendship, Ramses and the crew of his flying saucer enter the league's undersea HQ, only to turn on its members from within. With the league crippled, its last survivors scattered, Ramses's fleet is virtually handed Earth. Only with the help of a human scientist and UFO fanatic (played by Robert Vaughn) can the league's survivors prevail against Ramses, and Earth be saved.
While there's no denying the poor production values and cheap special
effects, I feel the story behind this
movie has some merit. The motivation of the aliens is well
established. They are not simply evil, but are in a bit of a tight spot
themselves. I was always taken by their means of communication, telepathy. I know it's been used many a time elsewhere but it's one of the things I always remember. Also, the primary method they use to achieve their goal is rather chilling, which also makes the film quite memorable. There is a scene in which the aliens attempt to control the mind of a suburban
Toronto housewife, forcing her to slit her own throat with a huge knife. The image of her shaking and
struggling to fight the mind control is relatively tame, I guess, but it's one that has had a lasting impression on me from the first viewing.
The inclusion of both Lee and Vaughn really adds to the film. Both know it's a low budget affair, but neither act like it. Vaughn turns a so-so scientist role into a pleasant success, and adds a much needed human perspective on the alien invaders. Lee, always capable of portraying villains successfully, does just that. Plus, just take one look at his outfit. Could anyone else pull that off?
Starship Invasions makes me laugh in some places (and cringe in others, it's true), and there's no denying it's campy element, but I
think you'll find that thanks primarily to Lee it's a memorable affair. The story
itself is fairly rich, with lots of details and connections filled in along
the way, so if you can ever track down a copy it's worth a watch. Don't expect a blockbuster, but if you watch it with an open mind then you'll find it's a nice little throwback to a time when sci-fi was fun.
By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary
bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows
up. He is currently 47.