"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Prisoners of the Lost Universe

August 15, 1983

There are a few more to go but I have a strong feeling PRISONERS OF THE LOST UNIVERSE is gonna be the crappiest fantasy/sci-fi type movie in this historic summer of Jedi returns. I’m sure the terrible, washed out transfer on the DVD I rented doesn’t help – it’s a “Grindhouse Double Shock Show” paired with the 1979 Italian film STAR ODYSSEY – but everything about the production seems low rent. It’s all very ugly and low energy, filmed mostly just out in a rocky area somewhere, with acting and dialogue that made my wife ask if I was watching a porno. Then she decided it looked like the “Safety Dance” video, which is a very good comparison, although honestly with lower production value. I would bet that there was less time between conception and release than it took to animate the spider in KRULL.

The director and co-writer is Englishman Terry Marcel, his followup to HAWK THE SLAYER, but the cast is American and it’s filmed in South Africa. That’s why even though it opens in what we’re told is L.A. all the cars have the steering wheels on the right side.

Carrie Madison (Kay Lenz, AMERICAN GRAFFITI) is the host of The Weird and the Wacky, a popular TV show about “curiosities of this weird and wacky world.” While she’s driving to an interview with self-described “serious dimensional physicist” Dr. Hartmann (Kenneth Hendel, SNAKE DANCER) there’s an earthquake that causes her to crash into a pick up truck. The other driver is Dan Roebuck (Richard Hatch, Battlestar Galactica), who yells at her because the crash broke his Kendo stick (he’s a champion martial artist, he says) and then he continues to fret about his truck while she goes to meet with the doctor.

Dr. Hartmann invented a device he says can transport objects to another dimension. Of course, there’s an aftershock and he falls into the machine and disappears, and then Dan comes and knocks on the door and he also awkwardly falls into the thing, and then Carrie does too. These parts are pretty amusing because at no point does anyone react remotely like you would imagine any person to react to any of these events. For example, when Dr. Hartmann is magically zapped away Carrie kneels down to the machine as if she thinks he’s inside it and calmly calls his name.

Carrie finds herself alone in the titular lost universe, where there’s some rocky hills, some water, a few glimmering trees, some weird mutants. There’s a warlord named Kleel (John Saxon, a decade after ENTER THE DRAGON, a year before A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) who later kidnaps her, so she really is a prisoner for most of the movie. Kleel and his men ride horses, which they do call horses. She tells him go to Hell, and he’s really offended, so they must believe in Hell and call it Hell. Or it’s just a really shitty town for dumbasses to visit so it’s mean to tell someone to go there. I don’t know.

That stuff is later, though. First she’s alone but she pulls a huge grunting caveman called The Manbeast (Philip van der Byl, later in GOR and AMERICAN NINJA 4: THE ANNIHILATION) out of some mud, so he keeps showing up to help her when she’s in trouble. My favorite guys she runs into are these little fellows:

I don’t know what the fuck they are but they’re played by kids, their eyes flash and they make what sounds to me like seal noises. I guess they might be Baldknobbers?

Dan shows up and rescues her from the Baldknobbers. He does a little bit of sword fighting later (I guess that’s why talking about his Kendo stick was so important) but is not allowed to dress like a cool martial arts hero – he wears a plaid lumberjack shirt that never comes untucked, and he’s almost always wearing a toolbelt (complete with convenient grappling hook for falling off of cliffs). Even after they out of the blue start making out and drop to the ground it dissolves to later, Carrie is asleep in the grass, and Dan is walking away with the shirt tucked in and the fuckin tool belt on. I’m thinking maybe he just unzipped and left everything else on.

By the way, it did surprise me how quickly and suddenly they went from “we hate each other and now we’re dealing with a catastrophe beyond human comprehension” to “hey, let’s fuck on the ground.” But I’ve never been a prisoner of the lost universe, I don’t know what it’s like, I have no right to judge anyone else’s choices. And I see no harm in it. Honestly, good for them.

In part they untie a guy they find bound and blindfolded, called The Greenman (Ray Charleson, later in EMPIRE OF THE SUN, OUT FOR A KILL and UNITED 93). He shows them how some things work around there, gives a small amount of exposition. His makeup looks bluish grey to me and I couldn’t stop thinking he looked like a guy at a horror convention cosplaying Bub from DAY OF THE DEAD.

A short thief named Malachi (Peter O’Farrell, HAWK THE SLAYER) becomes Dan’s weasely sidekick for a while, they fight some guys in a cave, steal a sword, there’s a talking bird for a second, they get locked in a cage, Dan has to fight a giant guy (pro wrestler Danie Voges, I believe?) who disappears when he bumps against a magic boulder.

Meanwhile, Kleel keeps choking and forcibly kissing Carrie. Another woman he has enslaved (Dawn Abraham?) tries to stab him. He has a pet monkey. She finds out Dr. Hartmann, who still wears a lab coat, now works for Kleel, mixing explosive chemicals for him in a dungeon-like lab, and he already introduced guns to the lost universe, but doesn’t seem to feel very Oppenheimer about it. So fuck that guy. I’m glad they leave him behind when they go back to the found universe (spoiler).

One of the relatively cooler parts is when a bunch of ring-wraith looking ghouls pop out of the dirt like Power Rangers monsters. I’m hoping that somewhere some kid saw this too young and found this little part scary and only remembers this part so in someone’s mind this is a good movie. The same way people do with that robot lady in SUPERMAN III.

Our heroes get locked up in various jail cells, but make some explosives and rescue Carrie. She punches Kleel in the face, so it’s feminism. Sometimes there are cartoon sound effects during the fights. The music by Harry Robertson (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, TWINS OF EVIL) gets all exciting in a similar way to SPACE RAIDERS (via BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS).

At the end they somehow get zapped out of the universe and Malachi wackily screams “What about the [indecipherable]?” and it freezes and goes to the credits, so we never see them back home in South African Los Angeles. Maybe they didn’t even get there. Maybe they went to Hell.

IMDb trivia says it was a theatrical release internationally but straight to cable in the U.S. Makes sense I guess. It has been made fun of by Rifftrax and some German bad movie show called SchleFaZ. I can’t say it doesn’t deserve it.

Marcel went on to direct JANE AND THE LOST CITY (1987) and, strangely, THE LAST SEDUCTION II (1999). His son Luke is a special effects technician (6 UNDERGROUND, HEART OF STONE), his daughter Rosie is an actress (Holby City) and his daughter Kelly is a screenwriter (SAVING MR. BANKS, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, VENOM 1 & 2, CRUELLA) as well as a close friend of Tom Hardy who was brought in to rewrite his dialogue for BRONSON and even FURY ROAD, according to the great book Blood Sweat and Chrome. Now she’s set to direct VENOM 3, the RETURN OF THE JEDI of VENOM movies.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 21st, 2023 at 7:11 am and is filed under Reviews, Fantasy/Swords, 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 “Prisoners of the Lost Universe”

  1. The crappiest sci-fi movie of 1983? From the director of HAWK THE SLAYER?

    You sonofabitch. I’m in.

  2. Never heard of that movie, but I actually like to watch the opening 10 or so minutes of SchleFaZ* once in a while. In that part they actually talk about the movie, give some background info and it’s all in all the most (and only) fun part of the show IMO. Seems like I missed that particular episode.

    *Short for DIE SCHLECHTESTEN FILME ALLER ZEITEN (=The worst movies of all time)

  3. Here in the UK that particular video is unavailable for some reason. So assuming the rest of the world had the same as us, try this link:
    I’s gonna be in my head all week now. Danser!

  4. I always interpreted the last line of the movie as, “What about the watch?!” Because our hero had promised to give him his watch in return for his help.

  5. Ah, Jane! What was it about the ’80s that we managed to get 2.5 TV seasons and a movie out of a wartime comic strip the point of which of which was that the heroine was routinely, and inadvertently, stripped to her underwear?

    Was Glynis Barber really in the POINT BREAK remake? I might have to watch it one day after all. I hope she got to channel her inner Makepeace.

  6. This feels like one of those movies that sounds like a great idea when it’s late on Friday and I’ve probably drunk too much, but I get about 20 minutes in (to what’s probably a 80-minute runtime) and just can’t take it, so instead of running the smart play and going to sleep I flip over to, say, EVENT HORIZON for the 16th time, hoping I’ll finally like it.

  7. Republican Cloth Coat

    August 21st, 2023 at 3:19 pm

    The movement to boycott SA over apartheid wasn’t as pervasive in 1983 as it would be by the time of Lethal Weapon 2. But it was still something anyone going to get a paycheck would be aware of. So Richard Hatch was truly desperate. For me, the circumstances gives these movies a weird end of the empire context. Probably more apparent in The Wild Geese than this.

  8. I can remember skipping this, based on an even crappier cover than the poster above, in my VHS Hunter days. It pops up once in a while when I roam the wastelands of youtube. Perhaps it’s time to give it a shot.

    Kay Lenz was always something of a concept in my house in the 70s. When she turned up my parents would start laughing and talk about the suffering she probably would be put through in the next hour or so, be it RICH MAN, POOR MAN, HOW THE WEST WAS WON or THE PASSAGE. She was quite cool in WHITE LINE FEVER and MOVING VIOLATION, though.

  9. I caught Jane And The Lost City on TV one Saturday afternoon years ago and it’s… not a good film, mainly of interest to see what Sam J. Jones got up to after Flash and British comedian Jasper Carrott’s sole film appearance (with good reason).

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>