?Italy is a land of incredible history and culture. Their contributions to the world of art are lauded the world over, including cinema. Especially cinema! Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, Michelangelo Antonioni, Franco Zefferelli, Bernardo Bertolucci — just a few of the Italian directors who have produced some of the finest movies ever made, and influenced cinema immeasurably.
Yet when it comes to science fiction films, Italy can’t seem to quite get their act together. Instead of making art, they seem to try to make B-movies… and fail even at that modest goal. Maybe the problem is that Italian sci-fi films always seems to be inspired by/ripped-off wholesale from American flicks. Maybe it’s because Italian sci-fi films have cardboard sets, impossibly cheap special effects and overall budgets that would make even Roger Corman shudder. Or maybe it’s because Italians seemingly prefer their sci-fi flicks to make no apparent sense.
But when you add these things together– the weird “homages,” the lack of funds, the insanity –sometimes you still get movies that are remarkably entertaining, if only for how goddamned crazy they are. Here are 10 of the craziest.
10) Warriors of the Year 2072
Directed in 1983 by Lucio Fulci, Italy’s godfather of gore, Warriors — a.k.a. The New Gladiators — is a quasi retelling of Rollerball with a little Road Warrior and a pinch of Blade Runner mixed in for good measure. The violence and gore is in no short supply which tends to make the whole thing more palatable. American actor Fred Williamson (who seemed to like life in Italy, or at least the cheap wine) and former Fantastic Voyage star Jared Martin are there to appeal to the international audience, which should be all you need to know about the movie’s budget.
9) King of Kong Island
A mad scientist experiments on gorillas, turning them into mind controlled slaves;. Also apparently there’s some soldiers and jeeps. This 1968 movie is famous for 1) not having a king, 2) not having any sort of a giant ape as the name “Kong” might imply, and 3) it takes place in Africa a continent, so no island either. It’s also not very good, which might be evidenced by the dime-store gorilla costumes. This is the kind of movie a 10-year-old stays up all night to watch and ends up learning the true definition of disappointment.
8) Super Argo and the Faceless Giants
Super Argo, a super human wrestler/hobbyist crime fighter and his guru sidekick (they were mandatory from ’67 to ’69 — thanks a lot, Beatles) combat an evil scientist who is kidnapping athletes and turning them into pasty, slow-moving robot slaves. Say what you will about the Super Argo series being somewhat cheap (which is absolutely true), they have one thing that current superhero films often don’t — a muscular lead actor that made Spandex look entirely convincing.
7) Cosmos: War of the Planets
1977’s Cosmos: War of the Planets looks as if someone saw an episode of Space: 1999 and thought “I’d like to make a movie of that, except without all that fast-paced action and labyrinthine plotting. Also, I only have $5.” And does it seem to anyone else like the crew is going to break into a space orgy after the asteroid narrowly misses their ship?
6) Wild, Wild Planet
The aptly titled Wild, Wild Planet is a mishmash of weird ideas colorfully wrapped in a warm blanket of completely laughable special effects. Made in 1965 and originally marketed as the “world’s first space horror film” (which isn’t even slightly true), it tells the tale of a mad scientist who plans to merge his body with a young heroine — not in the fun way — in order become some sort of interstellar Chaz Bono. Throw in creepy four-armed assassins, shrink rays, mini-skirted wearing femme fatales and a future full of vacuum tube computers, WWP becomes a movie that you actually shouldn’t miss, if for all the wrong reasons.
5) War of the Robots
Yay! More from the team that beat you senseless with War of the Planets!
This War is trying to be a late ’70s film but everything from the cheap-o special effects to the plot (kidnapped scientists, dying planet) feels like it go-go danced right out of 1966. Also, it’s hard to take a marauding army of robots seriously when they all have an identical, blond, dutch boy haircut. It’s like a Prince Adam invasion. MST3K fans might enjoy the presence of Antonio Sabato as the Captain, who is better known as “Toberlone” in the fan favorite Escape 2000. Others, not so much.
4) 1990: The Bronx Warriors
Italian filmmakers were so impressed with Walter Hill’s The Warriors that they chose to rip it off several times, the most blatant being this 1979 dystopian vision of a Big Apple overrun by gangs.
Former troubled teen actor Vic Morrow and Italian film staple Fred “The Hammer” Williamson are on hand to provide some box office credibility stateside. Despite being an obvious rip-off, it’s hard to hate the movie that brought us Trash, the lovable gang leader who most MST3K fans will know from this film’s made-10-years-later, in-name-only sequel Escape 2000.
3) The Humanoid
Remember as a kid, you’d have your heart set on Star Wars figures but your parents would go to some Bargain Clown-type store that only stocked total knock-offs and they’d bring you back some crap called “Starroid Raiders” or “Knight of Darkness” action figures? 1979’s The Humanoid is the cinematic equivalent of that. If you don’t believe me, get a load of “Gart Nader” in the clip above.
2) Yor, Hunter from the Future
Italy loves not to only borrow from sources but combine two popular films into one less than tangible pile. Yor is a good example of that — part Conan, part Flash Gordon, it tells the tale of a blond caveman who wears a mysterious amulet. Let me solve the mystery for you — it’s not prehistoric times but a post-apocalyptic Earth and Yor is a prince or a burgomaster or something.
There I just saved you two hours of puppet-y dinosaurs, greasy cave babes and the pre-requisite laser battler with Darth Vader clones in what looks like a refinery. Playing “Yor” is journeyman actor Reb Brown, known for esteemed roles like “The Captain America with the windshield-shield” and Dave Ryder in the MST3K favorite Space Mutiny.
For the record, Yor was released in 3-D in 1983 and was one of the fine films that killed the 3-D movement in the ’80s, so maybe we should bring it back.
1) 2019: After the Fall of New York
Badass Snake Plissken lookalike “Parsifal” is sent on a mission to post-nuke New York to retrieve the only fertile woman on the planet from the evil Eruak army, so she can be whisked to another planet for some sexy fun time. 2019 throws an incredible amount of strangeness at you, from the prerequisite guys on horseback with laser guns to hermaphrodite love slaves being issued by clown robots (seriously). There’s just something for everybody to love. Not to mention robot claws gouging out eyes and a completely unexplained tribe of half-man/half-ape guys who talk like gypsies. Did I mention Parsifal makes his getaway in what looks like a station wagon?
Any fan of questionable cinema will find themselves happy with the purchase of this weird 1983 film. As is always the case, beware the in-name-only sequel.