29th Dec2013

‘Grindhouse 9: Laserblast’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Kim Milford, Cheryl Smith, Gianni Russo, Ron Masak, Dennis Burkley, Barry Cutler, Mike Bobenko, Eddie Deezen, Keenan Wynn, Roddy McDowall, Rick Walters | Written by Franne Schacht, Frank Ray Perilli | Directed by Michael Rae

Laserblast

The latest release from 88 Films’ Grindhouse Collection label, Laserblast is a very early Charles Band production that, for fans of 80s DTV productions, is probably one of the most notoriously “bad” movies to come from the Full Moon head honcho. Notorious in so much that the cover art for the VHS release (also present on this DVD) should be in the bad movie hall of fame… And so should some of the acting!

For those interested in a plot, Laserblast tells the story of Billy Duncan, a put-upon teenage loner who, after being bullied by two local teens and given a speeding ticket by two police deputies, wanders into the desert and discovers a laser cannon and pendant left behind by the green-skinned man on the run from a pair of aliens in the films opener. Now before I go any further I should point out that Billy is something of a sad-sack douchebag. When he should be partying poolside later in the film he sleeps instead, when his girlfriend wants to get romantic he sleeps (notice a pattern?) and hell, even his mother leaves him and goes on away without him at the beginning of the film! Anyway, back to the plot…

Billy discovers how the laser cannon works and proceeds to use it to take revenge on those he feels have wronged him, including the town bullies Chuck and Froggy. Of course revenge is not without consequences and the pendant, which allows Billy to control the weapon, slowly possesses him – turning him into another similarly green-skinned “killer” as seen in the opener; and the aliens who so cleanly dispatched the original owner of the laser cannon (fantastically rendered in low-budget stop-motion) make their return to clean up the mess they left behind.

As a fan of low-budget, often independent, genre cinema I have an incredibly low tolerance for bad movies – a tolerance which is often pushed to its limits by a number of straight to DVD fare, especially found footage flicks! I tell you this only because I expected Laserblast to be one of those films which pushed my tolerances to their limits. Yet surprisingly it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, by no modern standards would anyone call this a great movie, even by DTV standards this isn’t a great movie – but it is fun. Albeit cheesy, stupid fun but with a quaint charm too – the type of charm that, for an 80s fan like myself, can overcome *most* of any films shortcomings.

What also surprises is the cast. Laserblast features a number of familiar faces including Ron Masak (who would go on to play Sheriff Mort Metzger in Murder She Wrote), Dennis Burkley (a familiar face throughout the 80s and 90s, who also voiced Principal Moss in King of the Hill), Eddie Deezen (Grease 1 & 2, Wargames) and king of the apes Roddy McDowall, who was no doubt booked – in a cameo role as the doctor who treats Billy for a festering wound in his chest – for the kudos his name would bring to the production. The film also marks, in its alien creatures, the early work of FX man David Allen whose special effects work would be the backbone of both Empire Pictures and Full Moon in the 1980s and into the mid-90s, with the likes of Dolls, Ghoulies 2, Subspecies, Demonic Toys, Bride of Re-Animator and Puppet Master (of which he directed the second installment) all benefiting from his work.

I’m not going to try and convince you that Laserblast is some sort of long-lost sci-fi classic – it’s not. But it is “great” (I use the term loosely) example of Charles Band’s early work and you can clearly see the beginnings of the his, and by extension his companies, obsession with stop-motion animation and over-the-top storytelling – a trait which would eventually lead to the likes of the Puppet Master franchise and the Demonic Toys series.

The picture quality of this DVD from 88 Films is not much better than a decent VHS print with the same ‘soft’ look a well-worn tape has but given the source materials, the low-budget nature of the film, and the fact Band and co. never really gave any thought about future preservation, this is probably the best the film is ever going to look – and it’s most definitely not the worst print I’ve seen of this film, even if this DVD does look a bit washed out.

Laserblast is out now from 88 Films.

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