"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Space Raiders

SPACE RAIDERS is another summer of ’83 RETURN-OF-THE-JEDI-coattail-rider, and this time I had honestly never heard of it. It was a small enough release that IMDb and Wikipedia just list the date as July. No specific day, just some point within the seventh month of the calendar year. This is a Roger Corman production, the first released under the Millennium banner – a short-lived company he oversaw as part of the deal for selling New World Pictures. (Their other releases were SCREWBALLS, SUBURBIA [distribution only], DEATHSTALKER, THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS, and LOVE LETTERS.)

I wasn’t surprised that SPACE RAIDERS was no RETURN OF A JEDI, or even that it was no SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE. I was pretty surprised when the credits started up and they were using James Horner’s theme from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. They just credit him with the score and recycle it all, from what I could tell. Easiest gig he ever had. I was even more surprised when I saw that the main spaceship in the movie was the same main spaceship from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. I probly wouldn’t have noticed with most movie vehicles, but how am I supposed to forget one shaped like a slug with boobs? I assume they reused footage, not just the model, but I don’t know for sure. I also gotta assume all the space ships are recycled from that movie, but I don’t really know that either. For what it’s worth, it’s pretty good miniature work, whichever movie it was done for.

This is a not-good movie, but I’m happy to say it’s not a total bust. Despite those cheapo shortcuts there’s some off-brand elbow grease put into other aspects. There are more alien makeups than I expected, including one of the main good guys named Flightplan (Thom Christopher, Hawk from Buck Rogers), who looks kind of like a Star Trek alien, and the main bad guy Zariatin (Ray Stewart, CHARO), whose eyes and brow don’t move but work well with his very expressive mouth and black teeth. There’s also a fun variation on the STAR WARS cantina, which I’ll tell you more about later.

The movie starts with a little boy, Peter (David Mendenhall, TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE, OVER THE TOP, GOD BLESS AMERICA) playing in a warehouse run by robots, trying to capture a stop motion alien bug. Suddenly the titular space raiders storm in, lasers blazing, and have a shootout with workers in construction helmets. The raiders achieve their goal of stealing a spaceship, which of course young Peter has taken cover inside.

We see Peter’s concerned parents on the ground and it kind of seems like it will be a hostage situation, but thankfully the movie ditches those wet blankets and sticks with the raiders, who turn out to be good people rebelling against a fucked up space corporation. Go fuck yourself Peter’s parents, you sellouts, I’m glad we never see you again.

At first the crew kind of ignores him, almost trampling over him when they have to run around the ship responding to attacks and stuff. But he gets used to it and makes himself useful by climbing into a part of the ship the others can’t fit into to fix a broken power converter or what have you. He also learns how to “shoot rocks” (asteroids), which is very much like a simple video game.

The guy that’s supposed to be the cool Han Solo character is called Hawk, played by 55 year old Vince Edwards, best known for playing the title character of the 1960s doctor show Ben Casey. He’s immediately super nice to Peter and promises to drop him off on his home planet of Procyon III. It’s the one female member of the crew, Amanda (Patsy Pease, HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE), who’s rude to the kid until late in the movie when she warms to him and shows the sensitive side beneath her rough exterior. Kind of a cool gender reversal there.

It’s not a fully separate world from ours like STAR WARS is – some space people come from Earth. That’s important for the production because they can have people wearing plaid shirts and stuff. Also they’re always drinking regular old cans of George Killian’s Red. The bar that serves the purpose of the Mos Eisley cantina or Jabba’s Palace is funny because there’s all this crazy alien shit going on but also the tables have red and white checkered tablecloths and mustard and ketchup bottles just like a diner on earth.

There’s lots of signage that probly has jokes on it, because I noticed one of them said something about “Patsy Clone.” Maybe that’s the singer here, the Sy Snootles. I don’t know. She looks like she could be on that show Dinosaurs.

This guy is the Max Rebo. He’s human instead of a puppet, but his organ is cool. He probly knows the Phantom of the Paradise.

As far as scum and villainy, there are these two bounty hunters who try to get the kid for a ransom. There’s a funny part where they’re sneaking around and an alien hooker (Suzan Hollis, also wardrobe assistant) asks them, “Wanna have a good time, boys?” One of them says, offended, “We’re havin a good time!”

In the finale the kid has to save the day by being the one that shoots down an enemy ship. Don’t worry, it’s just robots, he doesn’t end any human or alien lives. But it kind of foreshadows what will happen in the next Star Wars movie (not counting Ewok adventures), THE PHANTOM MENACE – a little kid accidentally getting into a space battle and winning.

Obviously the appeal of the premise is that many of us were little kids who loved Star Wars, and here was this movie about a kid close to our age getting wrapped up in a bootleg Star Wars adventure. For a kiddy wish fulfillment fantasy though there’s an awful lot of death and grieving. The first thing Peter sees on the ship is the crew trying to give first aid to a wounded comrade, failing to save him, then crying about his death and jettisoning his body into space, Spock style. The one major female character, Amanda, dies right in front of Peter, and then the same thing happens to the cool alien character Flightplan, plus the other two guys in the crew get killed and Hawk too gets wounded and seems like he’s going to die.

“Don’t die, Hawk!” Peter says.

“Guys like me don’t die,” he says, but then spends the climax of the movie barely conscious, weakly pointing at switches and making Peter take over the controls. In an impressive act of kiddy heroism, Peter remembers the first aid kit from the beginning of the movie, gets it out of the closet, somehow knows how to quickly assemble the equipment and use it properly to revive Hawk. Then it still kinda seems like he’s about to die after that, but if so the kid leaves before it happens. Phew. Technically counts as a happy ending.

If you have room in your heart for what could pass for a cheapjack adaptation of the Star Wars knockoff action figures you could buy at the dollar store then this is not a terrible way to spend 84 minutes, especially since they have a nice looking transfer of it on blu-ray (plus longer interviews with the cast than I was able to make it through). Even so, it makes it clear how special George Lucas and Star Wars were. Absolutely nobody who tried to copy it got anywhere close to matching it. It just wasn’t achievable by anybody else.

The specific person who wasn’t able to achieve it in this case was Howard R. Cohen, an editor of humor magazines and member of the ‘70s comedy group The Conception Corporation. He had already been a screenwriter for a decade (THE UNHOLY ROLLERS, THE YOUNG NURSES, COVER GIRL MODELS, VAMPIRE HOOKERS, FIGHTING MAD), and this was his second time as writer/director, following the much more famous (if only for the title) SATURDAY THE 14TH. He later wrote DEATHSTALKER and BARBARIAN QUEEN and had a stint writing for cartoons like Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, Care Bears, Rainbow Brite, and Beverly Hills Teens.

Tie-ins/not tie-ins:

There was a 1983 video game cartridge called Space Raiders, but I don’t think it’s related. Starting in 1987, the name Space Raiders was used for a British corn puff snack product. In 1997 it was the name of a British electronic music group, possibly named after the snack. In 2002 it was the name of another video game. Corman should sue the ever living shit out of each and every one of these dishonorable poachers trying to steal the shine of his Brand X Star Wars movie.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 18th, 2023 at 7:12 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

9 Responses to “Space Raiders”

  1. FYI: I was NOT made aware of this post via the RSS feed, because the feed is giving a “not a valid feed” error all of a sudden.
    It seems that it started happening when this review was posted (as the feed was valid earlier in the day)

  2. I read somewhere that BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was Corman’s most expensive picture (maybe just of the 80s), so it also became his #1 source for starship stock footage.

    The British dance music Space Raiders were pretty cool though and released a bunch of quality Big Beat. Sadly they only made two albums, but I like them.

  3. This one is way hornier and grislier than it has any right to be and that’s why it’s awesome. Corman was never 100% convinced that children’s entertainement was a market he could exploit properly, so he made sure to have stuff in there for his usual audience of teenagers and weirdos to enjoy.

    As a major Cormaniac, I love spotting recycled footage in his movies. It’s like when you recognize a sample in a hip-hop song.

  4. grimgrinningchris

    July 18th, 2023 at 1:05 pm

    I never saw this. Despite my devotion to renting anything that looked remotely LIKE this circa 83-86. I only know it from RedLetterMedia. Doesn’t the Over The Top kid drink a bunch of beer?

  5. grimgrinningchris

    July 18th, 2023 at 1:06 pm

    Also. Why haven’t you written up Phantom Of The Paradise, sir?

  6. I am happy to report that Space Raiders the corn snack are still readily available in the UK to this day. Appropriately enough they are a cheap knock off of the far superior Monster Munch corn snack.

    Space Raiders the movie is quite watchable, I don’t mind it.

  7. There’s so much to love about the “cantina” including the casual placement of laboratory glass as some kind of SF drink ware.

    James Cameron’s book TECH NOIR includes lots of good Corman nuggets and is well worth it for anyone interested in that kind of thing (plus, of course, loads of fun ALIENS / TERMINATOR stuff too).

  8. I had a page devoted to sci fi on my sight a long time ago, and after doing a piece on BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS I just gave up on SPACE RAIDERS after 10-15 minutes. Sounds like I will have to give it another chance.

    I re-watched PIRAYA during the weekend, and the trivia on that one says that Corman told Dante to remove most of the nudity because it interfered with the horror elements. You learn something every day.

  9. This one is sooo boring.

    Corman was reusing that spaceship and effects from Battle Beyond the stars at least til 1997’s Spacejacked. Footage from that movie must have shown up in a dozen other films, and Horner’s scroe got reused a lot too, not least of all by Horner himself for Wrath of Khan.

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