I love science fiction, especially swashbuckling space opera adventures, so I may be predisposed to an overtly positive bias towards these sorts of movies. Then again there have been many genre movies imported to the U.S. and dubbed, too often badly, over the years that my love of the genre has made it easy to overlook budget tragedies and dated special effects. Many of these movies were utterly forgettable but a few, a lucky few, have gained cult status. In this rarified category are included a series of spaghetti space operas including BATTLE OF THE STARS (1977), COSMOS - WAR OF THE PLANETS (1977), WAR OF THE ROBOTS (1978), and STAR ODYSSEY. However there is actually a fifth movie that may be part of this mind-boggling space opera series. Stress on the word "may" because it's virtually impossible to find definitive information about these movies. My research into one specific title however has thoroughly confounded me.
And what movie elicits such confusion?
La Bestia Nello Spazio. .
Year Filmed: 1978
Video Release: 1980
Starring: Sirpa Lane, Vassili Karis, Lucio Rosato, Roberto Undari, Umberto Ceriani, Maria D'Alessandro, Giuseppe Fortis, Venantino Venantini, Dada Gallotti, Giuseppe Lauricella, Marina Hedman, Iren Szeremi.
Director: Alfonso Brescia. (AKA: Al Bradly)
Beast in Space is the only of Alfonso Brescia's space opera films that, as far as I have been able to determine, never had a proper video release in the United States. Which is astonishing considering the number of releases, each under a mind-boggling assortment of alternative titles, his other sci-fi flicks received. I have consulted print sources with dual entries, usually of alternate video titles, of what I know to be the same movie yet the author seemed oblivios to the fact. Worse I have movie guides that are even oblivious to the fact Al Bradly and Alfonso Brescia are one and the same person! My online research has been about as fruitful turning up equally baffling, contradictory, and downright impossible to verify information. It's no exagerration when I say there's more 'factual' documentary information on the 'net about the Roswell Incident than there is about these movies!
While English language versions of some of movies in this series are available on video they are so poorly dubbed and badly edited they play like a bad joke. Worse, the lack of information makes it impossible to determine what edits distributors may have applied to the movies. All of this is important to know before you start reading the review below. That said what might be ascertained about the movie, Beast in Space?
If you've read my review of Star Odyssey you may think you know the type of camp filled B-movie hijinx you are in for, but you'd be mistaken. Beast in Space is one of the stranger entries in Italian director Alfonso Brescia's oddball series of spaghetti space-operas. Sadly, as with the aforementioned Star Odyssey, information on this movie is difficult to come by. And the search is further confused by the fact a number of movies use very similar, if not identical, foreign language titles. For instance Mario Bava's 1965 space opera horror Planet of the Vampires original Italian title was Terrore nello spazio (Terror in Space). A title that may seem vaguely similar to Alfonso Brescia's 1979 Sette uomini d'oro nello spazio (literally 'Seven men of Gold in Space' AKA Star Odyssey) thus you can't just plug "nello spazio" into Google.
Websites further compound this confusion with citations apparently copied from foreign sources without fact checking. Normally this would not be a big deal but when the German language release of Beast in Space, Die Bestie aus dem Weltraum, also happens to be the exact same title used for Die Bestie aus dem Weltraum (20 Million Miles to Earth) an improbable mix of casts from BOTH movies is just the beginning of the problems encountered.
If I hadn't found a dub of this (albeit a very poor quality one) I might be inclined to disbelieve the movie was really related in any way to Star Odyssey. Yet terrible as the video dupe formerly in my possession was a quick glance at the costumes, opening sequence and sets identify this, if not part of a continuing space saga, then definitely as a movie using the same stock footage, sets, and costumes. Sadly Beast in Space has gone unmentioned in most print movie guides. Thus we are left to make of the movie what we can based on the shoddy video in our possession and what sparse information can be located on the Internet. So let's dive right in (may contain spoilers). .
A mustached lothario walks into a spacebar, glances around the room like a curious cat in heat, and quickly notices a lonely beauty sitting off in a corner. Glancing up the hot space honey smiles coquettishly, the lothario's mustache rises in expectation, and the sub-titles scream: "Quickly! A bottle of Uranus!"
Wow. Not even two minutes in and someone's looking to get drunk. This is either the beginning of a very good space western or a very bad B-movie. What actually follows is a story so convoluted that one wonders if the writer didn't use an Enigma machine to type the script on and neglected to pass on the cipher to the director. For instance the intro scene drags on as we are forced to endure the peacock strutting of drunken bar patrons and our lothario space hero looking to make a hookup that will lead to some primo seventies style casual loving.
But not before at least one pointless and poorly choreographed bar brawl. But, wait a minute, what's this? The bar brawl seems to have gotten that coquettish cutie sitting all alone hot and bothered! After a brief sex scene, if you can call it that, our lovely leading lady is besieged by nightmares. (There's a moral in that somewhere.) Believe it or not we're only about seven and a half minutes into the movie. I know what you're thinking. Seven minutes into a movie and it's already had a sex scene? This must be a porno!
Actually it's not, though there is some nudity. But all this is an important set up for the story that follows. No, really! See the dreams are presented as flashbacks of a toga-wearing woman running through a forest being chased by a lusty beast, which we only see the satyr like hooves of. This dream, as you'd expect, leads our heroine to sit up in bed screaming. .
Surprisingly our lounge lizard lothario hasn't slipped out the window with screaming sally's credit chips and is still there to offer her support. Inconsequential small talk follows intended to fill the viewer in on the dreams et al. Fade to the following morning where we see Mr. Lothario in uniform? Surprise! He's really one Captain Madison. .
We are quickly informed Captain Madison has discovered a bauble- which he picked up off the floor during the bar brawl no less- containing some unbelievably ultra rare and valuable element called Entalium. Apparently this stuff is really important for the production of "zenuclear arms" or some nonsense. So important he's being briefed on a mission to go stea- er- acquire some. And why didn't the owner of that bauble reclaim his item if it was so valuable? Well. .
The premise that someone would have such an ultra rare and highly valuable commodity on their person and carry it into a bar, to say nothing of dropping it, is weaker than suggesting no one would mind the CGI alteration in Star Wars to make Greedo shoot first. However the fact we're barely 12 minutes into this feature and there's still been no clear indication of what this movie is supposed to be about is far more problematical so, weak or not, at least something is finally going on.
Considering the fact my copy of this has a run time of 75 minutes and so far the only story set-up we've had is the sort of fluff you'd find in a bad porno, sans the porn, doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Even if this is edited down from a longer feature that's 12 minutes that has been wasted on utterly banal and pointless nonsense. So the payoff had better be good. So now that we know about the Entalium the story picks up, right?
WRONG! Captain Lothari- oh- I mean Madison returns to the bar to flirt with pointless brawls and a blond. There may be a integral plot reason for all this but if so it was lost on me. Then, after what seems like an eon we, blessedly, actually see people dressed up in those wacky bargain basement space suits prepping for a mission.
Now from this point onward the movie looks like it might have been pretty good as the story seems to follow the now standard Brescia formulae of a craft landing on a planet, disembarking crew, who then wander around and all but stumbling into aliens (read: the natives), which leads to hostilities between aliens and crew and in turn leads to a whole lot of random stuff happening. .
This would be a bit great clichéd B-movie fun except for the horrible quality of the video (which is not the movies fault) and those first tiresome 12-15 minutes that I suspect may be the result of a heavy handed video re-edit. Why? Well for that we need to examine. .
AVAILABILITY & ALTERNATE VERSIONS
Here's where we open Pandora's box. To the best of my knowledge Beast in Space has remained unreleased on LD or DVD yet has had several VHS releases. These include the severely cut: Bestia! Venus ja peto, Country: Finland, Label: Curly Video, Certificate: K-18; the purportedly longest running (at 86') and possibly most intact version: La bestia nello spazio, Country: Italy, Label: Sex and Violence, Certificate: V.M. 18; and a shorter 70' version available with (and without) hardcore inserts: Die Bestie aus dem Weltraum; Country: Germany, Label: Exquisit Video, Certificate: FSK 18.
Now the run time of my copy is 75 minutes, yet online sources indicate run times of 70, 86, and 89 minutes for this feature. My research has turned up a few forums where the German video, and it's shorter run time in comparison to the Italian video release, are discussed alas no mention was made of the actual run times or content differences. My best guess (which could be wrong) is the 75' version may contain inserts, but there's no hardcore footage in my copy.
Based on a clip included with an Italian review (see links below) I can confirm at least one scene involving a satyr and faux phallus appears cut. However, and this is far more telling, online citations list the "hardcore" version as being released under the title La bestia porno or La bestia porno nello spazio; which is NOT the title on my review source.
This "porn" release is purported to contain new explicit scenes of star Marina Frajese (Marina Lotar). I have no information on what those scenes might be or what edits may have been made to this version. However her wikipedia entry, found under the alias Marina Hedman, is of interest. It lists La bestia nello spazio (1972) as a credit in Ms. Lotar's mainstream filmography with mention of La bestia porno nello spazio (1982) as a separate credit in her porn filmography.
In short there is sadly just not enough hard information available to draw any solid conclusions. However my suspicions are the copy I reviewed was both severely cut and reedited. If anyone has any information on this title, or owns one of the pre-records listed above (or any archival version of this movie on video or film) I'd be very interested to hear from you regarding content, run time, et al.
Update 5/07/2008: For the curious here's a brief break down of the various DVDs I received from Severin. This update is purely for informational purposes. Reviews of the individual DVD releases may be forthcoming at a future date.
BEAST IN SPACE (DVDr) - Run time was 1 hour, 32 minutes, 33 seconds; I believe this represented the raw pre-release version of the film. Picture quality was light years beyond any of the VHS presentations. As was the run time, which included hardcore footage and extended scenes.
BEAST IN SPACE (Unrated DVD) - Run time was 1 hour, 32 minutes, 3 seconds; at a glance I'd say this is a rather creative edit that creates a soft core version of the above. Can't be 100% sure as I've only glanced at certain scenes so far but it looks like this may have been achieved through looping (scene/frame recycling). Personally I'd have trimmed scenes, moves some scens around, but that would have shortened the run time, not to mention be a re-write. The presentation here retains the feel and runtime of the original without compromising the director's work, beyond what's necessary to smooth over hardcore elements.
BEAST IN SPACE (XXX version) - Run time was 1 hour, 32 minutes, 5 seconds. At a glance this looks to be identical to the DVDr presentation. It's the full movie. Nothing appears to be left out. However the extras contain deleted scenes NOT present on the DVDr. Yowza!
I had assumed all German video releases under the title 'Die Bestie Aus Dem Weltraum' were identical and that the rating information I found referenced at a few sites applied to all releases, which was obviously an erroneous assumption. Which begs the question which version does the rating information apply to? What are the differences between the pre-rating and post-rating versions?
Luckily andras provided two awesome links to a (previously unknown to me) forum discussing the differences between German video releases. The reviews are obviously written in German but there are some very nice looking screen caps present. From the first link (neither are work safe by the way); DIE BESTIE AUS DEM WELTRAUM (ROWO vs. EXQUISIT); what I immediately noticed was the cover art. It's very similar to what I've seen yet also subtly different. .
And very informative. Worth noting is the spine, where the label is listed as "Star Video" despite the back cover listing this as a "Rowo Video" release. Too, notice the listed run time of 85 minutes. The review, however, states the actual runtime of the ROWO version to be 81 minutes 23 seconds and lists the EXQUISIT version as being 74 minutes 36 seconds; which is roughly the runtime on the version I reviewed. It thus appears probable the version I had was a dub of the EXQUISIT release, right?
If the link to Schnittbericht DIE BESTIE AUS DEM WELTRAUM - Die EXQUISIT-Versionen (a review of the EXQUISITE long (lang) verses short (kurz) VHS releases) is any indication the answer is, astoundingly, no. Or at least there's enough difference in the screen caps and what I recall actually seeing to raise some serious questions.
For instance The screen caps of the 'sex scene' from the beginning of the movie shows far more than I recall seeing. It's quite the eye opener. Yet, given what andras said about subsequent releases being cut more severely than previous releases, I'm going to venture a guess that, yes, the dub I reviewed was ultimately sourced from one of the EXQUISIT tapes simply because it has the same faux letterboxing effect. However whether the version I reviewed was a straight dub or a video hackers second or third generation re-edit I've no way of knowing. But it seems likely it's a cut and severely compromised print.
UPDATE 9/28/2007:Thanks to doctor kiss- who states he has the "Italian VHS under the title "La Bestia nello spazio", released in 1999 by Shendene & Moizzi, as part of the company's subtly-named "Collezione Sex & Violence" series"- from the Classic Horror Film Board I can now say, with a modicum of certainty, that Alfonso Brescia did, in point of fact, produce a quintology (5) of space operas. Here's the pertinent information:
"The "Sex & Violence" release additionally comes with a small Italian-language pamphlet (as did all the videos in this collection) containing an interview with director Alfonso Brescia, conducted by Davide Pulici, originally for Nocturno Cinema magazine, according to the acknowledgement printed alongside it.
Brescia states that he shot five films one after the other, and that this was the final one. He gives the titles, in order, as:
While that is what I had suspected it is good to finally have confirmation of the facts. It also appears that "Sex & Violence" wasn't the video distributor but rather a genre label, much like "sword and sorcery" or "peplum", which begs the question: What other obscure titles were released under this 'genre' imprint?
Doctor kiss also provided some interesting information about the run time of his release: "The PAL running time is 83 mins 25 secs, which likely equals the original Italian cinema running time of 86 mins. The small print on the reverse of the packaging notes that the video version corresponds to that registered by the censor as V.c n.74993 on 23 April 1980. The image is full-screen, and has a modicum less information to the left of the picture than the slightly widescreen caps shown in all the other reviews based on German video releases." Sounds like good evidence that two distinct and separate video versions of Beast in Space were released, an Italian video print and an Germany video print.
As to which video release most fully represents the director's original theatrical release I have no idea. Though I suspect most video releases of Alfonso Brescia's movies may not be representative of his theatrical prints based on the following statement (from the aforementioned review regarding the 1982 porn release) made by doctor kiss:
"Brescia is asked about this re-release version, which the interviewer identifies as having been put out with new footage in 1982. Brescia's response:
"I never knew anything about that! This is news to me!""
Very interesting. Alas, as Mr. Brescia sadly passed away in 2001, we may never know the answers to the myriad questions surrounding his uniquely mesmerizing movies.
Beast in Space, like every other movie in this series I have seen, has left me utterly dismayed. My knee-jerk reaction is to blame the editing or dubbing for the defects, yet, to be perfectly honest, it could be these movies were just plain bad. I'd like to give the director and actors the benefit of the doubt but it's difficult when it takes 16 minutes of fitful story non-starters for a movie to get to the point. That is either evidence of a bad script, poor direction, terrible editing, or perhaps a little bit of all.
The editing is quirky. At times the pacing seems better to suited to a television series. I'd love to comment further but the lack of any information about the original version of this movie only raises more questions. As does what little information I've found. For instance the artwork used in certain of the posters is rather curious. .
Zardoz was a weird movie unto itself. But using its artwork seems a bit strange. Beast in Space is a space opera re-envisioning of La Bete. So why use the Zardoz poster art? The only answer I can find is that, as with Zardoz, the average movie going audience will probably find Beast in Space a strange incomprehensible movie. Unlike Zardoz this is because it's a virtual celluloid train wreck.
Yet Alfonso Brescia's spaghetti space operas are unique hybrids that stick to a formula of emulating established and well-known movies and stories. Movies such as Antonio Marguerite's "Gamma I Quadrilogy" and George Lucas' Star Wars. However Toho released Wakusei daisenso (War in Space) the same year that Battle of the Stars came out in Italy and it, like Beast in Space, brought something different to the screen. They aren't just knock-offs or cheap copies; rather they are unique movies unto themselves. Which is why I highly suggest visiting Golub The Humanoid's site (link below) to see proper screen caps of this underrated gem. My only complaint is that Beast in Space is not yet available on proper DVD. That said here's my Score Card summary:
Links of Interest
Golob's Beast in Space tribute page (Must see site! Warning: May be NSFW.)
La Bestia Nello Spazio (Review in Italian.)
Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan
[This is an archived review. Originally posted here.]