Along with the title of ‘Official Filmmaker of Shitty Movie Sundays,’ as mentioned in the review of Soldier, there are a few films vying for the title of King of the Shitty Movies. 1983’s Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, directed by Lamont Johnson, is a strong contender. Riding the post Star Wars wave of 80s sci-fi, Spacehunter really is a sci-fi adventure, as the film’s hero, Peter Strauss’s Wolff, is forced to confront bizarre obstacle after bizarre obstacle in his quest to complete his mission: rescuing three marooned space hotties from the clutches of the evil Overdog (Michael Ironside), a ruthless dictator exercising sadistic control over the desert planet Terra XI somewhere off in the far reaches of space.
After Wolff’s robotic companion is killed in an early botched effort to rescue the hotties, Wolff enlists the help of a local, Niki, played by a very young Molly Ringwald, in traversing the hazards of the planet. They travel in one of the better custom rides to grace Hollywood sci-fi, the Scrambler, what appears to be a Toyota Land Cruiser decked to the gills with plastic doo-dads and fake guns, but is exactly the vehicle I would want to be touring a hostile wasteland in. It’s the hotrod of dystopia.
Along the way, Wolff, Niki, and occasionally an old acquaintance of Wolff’s named Washington (Ernie Hudson) constantly find themselves maneuvering in and out of sticky situations involving bloated vinyl people, serpent worshipping Amazons, and the like, always being placed in danger, but never having to work all that hard to escape unscathed. Some of these encounters look impressive enough, and one is left to wonder what could have been made of these set pieces had Johnson been able to establish a real sense of suspense. These little road movie acts entertain, but the most important function they serve is padding the running time of the movie. There’s nothing wrong with placing characters in dire situations that ultimately turn out to be meaningless to the plot, but good films at least make it seem the heroes had to break a sweat in wiggling their way free of them.
While all this filler would seem an insurmountable detriment to the film, this is not so. Spacehunter is imaginative. The strange places the characters come across in their futuristic adventure are otherworldly enough that connection with everyday human conventions here on earth are upended. Terra XI is an unfamiliar place, a well-realized sci-fi environment.
As for Overdog, the more the viewer becomes familiar with him, the stranger things become. He wouldn’t be any more menacing than typical bad guy characters, such as the Toecutter from Mad Max, were it not for his appearance. Sadism is not enough for Overdog. The filmmakers cocooned Michael Ironside in a blanket of junkyard scrap and black imitation leather. His hands have been replaced with ridiculously oversized claws. Instead of legs, Overdog is attached to a mechanical boom that allows him to tower above those in his presence. His face has the pale color of a corpse denuded of all blood, and shiny metallic teeth protrude from blackened gums.
For a shitty film, one has to admire the amount of creativity that went into the production design. Bravo to all involved.
It’s quite a contradiction to sing the praises of a film while at the same time declaring it to be shitty, but that’s only if ‘shitty’ is used in a negative connotation. It isn’t here. Spacehunter is clearly a shitty movie, one of that breed that lets a viewer know the score from the opening credits, but it is far from being a pain to watch. Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is better than Alien: Resurrection.