What a gloriously stupid movie. I’m pretty sure that writer, director, and producer David Winters didn’t set out to make one of the greatest shitty movies in the annals of shitty movies, but, that’s exactly what he did. Mission accomplished. Take a bow. Revel in the applause.
But, wait, there’s more.
Winters had to leave the set just prior to filming due to bereavement, so the bulk of this flick was directed by Neal Sundstrom, who had been hired as assistant director. And yet, there’s still more!
After Sundstrom delivered a cut, the movie was deemed too short. There needed to be more movie. So, David A. Prior, who has an unimpeachable CV in b-movies, was brought in, uncredited, to shoot some scenes featuring writhing space witches that are totally unconnected to the rest of the movie, just to push this dog’s running time to the 90-minute mark. As much as I appreciate Prior, I’m an even bigger fan of a movie having no superfluous fluff, and if that means an 80-minute running time, then all the better. Oh, if that were the only flaw in this movie.
From 1988, Space Mutiny establishes its b-movie bona fides in its opening space battle sequence, because all of the exterior f/x footage is lifted from the Battlestar Galactica television series. I don’t mean a shot here and there. I mean all of it.
The Galactica plays the Southern Sun, a generation ship that has been wandering in the black in search of a new home for humanity. She is commanded by Alex Jansen (Cameron Mitchell, who appeared to be on break from playing Santa at the mall), a man of peace and reflection, laser-focused on the welfare of those in his charge. He’s opposed by Kalgan (John Phillip Law), the leader of the Enforcers, tasked with maintaining law and order aboard the ship, or something.
By the time this movie takes place, the Southern Sun has been traveling amongst the stars for many generations. Every person aboard was born and raised there, and they have every expectation that they will grow old and die there. This doesn’t sit well with Kalgan and others aboard. So, he begins plotting behind the scenes to kill Jansen and those loyal to him, seize the ship, and find a planet with breathable air and a sunny sky under which to settle down and become a ground-based psychotic dictator. It’s a laudable goal.
Kalgan is a silly bad guy. Law sneers his way through every scene, and has a practiced evil laugh that was made more for an Austin Powers flick than anything serious. His dastardliness is precious, and, despite a lot of screentime, not overused. Any scene where Kalgan is reasonable, or just not as unhinged, would be unwelcome. Law hammed it up to epic proportions, and it was shitty perfection.
But, why have one sneering bad guy when there can be two? James Ryan plays MacPhearson, a high ranking officer aboard ship. Jansen trusts him, but in secret, he is Kalgan’s second-in-command, working to gather intelligence about Jansen’s efforts to stop Kalgan. Ryan’s performance is almost wasted in this film. He plays MacPhearson as just as much of a baddie as Kalgan, and this movie can barely contain both of them. It’s a gift to us viewers.
Besides being sci-fi, this is an action flick. Cameron Mitchell couldn’t be expected to carry an action flick, so the hero in Space Mutiny is Dave Ryder, played by beefcake Reb Brown, no stranger to these pages. Ryder is a space pilot, and the only person aboard capable of battling Kalgan and his horde. He’s joined by Jansen’s daughter Lea (Cisse Cameron) as sidekick/love interest. She’s the kind of character who would have been described as ‘liberated’ back in the day. No weakling, her. Ryder and Lea enter battle with Kalgan and his Enforcers with gusto.
None of what I’ve written above is truly indicative of just how wild Space Mutiny is. It has just about everything the shitty movie fan is looking for in low-budget sci-fi. First is the repurposed footage. Roger Corman wasn’t the only filmmaker to use that trick.
There are lasers and flamethrowers. There are costumes made from lamé for the men, and leotards for the ladies. The ship’s computers are off-the-shelf PCs from the ’80s, and one compartment of the ship had keyboards tacked to the walls as some kind of sci-fi doodads. I suppose that’s better than the time a Roger Corman-produced space flick used rows of styrofoam dinner trays as wall decoration. Speaking of sets, the bridge set would find a ready home in a bad sci-fi flick from the ’50s, while the rest of the Southern Star’s vast interior looks to have been shot at the site of some abandoned heavy industry, like a power station or mill. Dusty concrete floors, rusty pipes, peeling paint, brick walls, and windows, yes, windows, the kind that let in sunlight, proliferate.
More moments of shittiness abound. In one scene, a prominent character is murdered by Kalgan’s men. She is seen almost immediately after sitting at her station on the ship’s bridge. She’s not somehow alive, again. It’s just bad editing. This type of discontinuity is apparent throughout, should one pay close attention.
It’s not mistakes like that which are so endearing, though. It’s things like the Enforcers’ buggies, which they use to travel around the ship. Take a look:
What an incredible scene. Sundstrom and company took some slow, unwieldy vehicles and filmed a chase scene — with lasers and explosions. I have no idea what kind of contraption is underneath the sci-fi shell, but it has a top speed of maybe 10mph, and Sundstrom turned them into the Mustang and Charger from Bullitt.
That total lack of self-awareness is baked into this film throughout. There isn’t a scene that doesn’t feel sprung from the imagination of a 12-year-old playing with dad’s camcorder.
Space Mutiny is one of those bad movies that will even melt the heart of that friend with the snobbish taste in movies. It’s just too full of unintentional comedy not to be appreciated. On top of that, it’s watchable, despite being an absolute mess of a film. That’s down to scenes like that ‘car’ chase, and the hammed up performances that only begin with Law and Ryan. Brown also chose to go sans subtlety in his performance. Even Mitchell, who by this point in his career couldn’t be blamed if he didn’t give a shit about any role he took, chose to actually act his part.
This flick is shitty gold, making Reb Brown the pound for pound SMS champion, with all three of his appearances making the top fifty of the Watchability Index. Space Mutiny slots into the #10 spot, displacing Cyber Tracker 2. It’s a must-see for bad movie fans, and for anyone with enough levity in their hearts to overcome requirements for art. Check it out.