Saturday, 11 July 2009

La bestia nell spazzo / Beast in Space

Beast in Space is a title that raises a question: Who, or what, is The Beast?

Well, to explain: The Beast was a 1975 film by Walerian Borowczyk, an offshoot from the previous year's Immoral Tales. It presented a distinctly adult version of the beauty and the beast myth, in which a young heiress fantasised about an 18th century French noblewoman Romilda de l'Esperance's dalliances with a prodigiously endowed bear-like creature, with these encounters then proving to have placed a curse on the noble family, including her feeble-minded, be-tailed husband to be, Mathurin de l'Esperance.

It is not exactly an obvious piece of material to combine with space opera, even if the form does affords the possibility by virtue of going "to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations [...] where no man has gone before," just as the presence of The Beast's Sirpa Lane explains the thinking behind the title.

Beast in Space could perhaps have just about worked worked as a parody or a sex film, as the two options its model presents. It is neither. Instead it's a space adventure that's played essentially straight, even when the most ridiculous pseudo-scientific dialogue is being spoken. But it definitely isn't suitable for children on account of the nudity and sex scenes. These scenes themselves present an odd combination of softcore and hardcore material to further distancing the film from mainstream audiences whilst probably being insufficient for their raincoater counterparts.

Though the DVD of the film presents two and a half minutes of generally harder material as deleted scenes, these images are largely indistinguishable from what appears in the film itself, being close-up of genitalia and mouths that are never re-attached to a specific body via pans, only cuts, in that time honoured inserts manner.

Beast in Space might also have worked had Lane had the kind of name and recognition value that could be used to actually sell it, a la Laura Gemser or Sylvia Kristel.

But in The Beast Lane played the noblewoman without dialogue and in the kind of 18th century wigs and underwear that don't really allow for making any immediate connection to her character here, whether she's wearing a flimsy about-to-come-off dress or a figure-hugging space/jump-suit and helmet. True, Lane had been more exposed as herself in the likes of Nazi Love Camp 27 and Papaya of the Caribbean in the interim, but these were hardly productions with the same kind of profile as The Beast and her debut film, Roger Vadim's 1974 The Assassinated Young Girl.

The poster

The plot, that thing which provides an excuse for the inanity and the sex, sees the crew of the MK31, led by Captain Larry Madison (Vassili Karis) being sent on a mission to the planet Lorigon where a rare and strategically vital metal, Entalium, is to be found.

Rivalling them in the race is the Han Solo-esque rogue Juan Cardoso (Venantino Venantini).

A personal edge to the rivalry is provided by the fact that Madison and Cardoso have already come to blows with one another over their rival positions - Madison doesn't like civilians and Cardoso doesn't like the space navy - and sexual possession of the beautiful Sondra Richardson, a lieutenant aboard the MK31 (Lane).

Lt Richardson finds herself plagued by strange dreams - some culled from Borowczyk's film, including the horse copulation footage - in which she encounters a giant robot, has sex with a hairy man-beast in some woods, and generally sees the crew of the MK31 (who also include Marina Frajese) going at it like their lives depended on it...

The MK31 is drawn towards a mysterious planet Lorigon where they re-encounter Cardoso, who has got there first, and his host and friend Onaf (Claudio Undari), one of the figures from Lt. Richardson's vision...

There are probably all sorts of subtexts that could be drawn out of The Beast in Heat - the implied existence of a primitive subconscious, with creatures and planets from the id even in the ostensibly civilised far future; the relationship between the military industrial complex and the rest of the world (or indeed universe) - but it's questionable whether the film-makers ever seriously thought about them.

Or, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a light sword is just a light sword...

What's there, then, are the surface pleasures: the bad dialogue (this must be the only film where someone actually says "Quickly! A bottle of Uranus milk!" with a straight face), acting, costumes, production design, effects, direction and scoring (courtesy of the inimitable Pluto Kennedy).

Or, in other words, one hell of a lot for the Euro-trash fan, especially if he or she is already familiar with any of director Al Brescia's other sci-fi epics of this period.

[More reviews and information on the film: and]

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