“Prepare yourself for a big surprise”: “War of the Planets” (1977) is a so-bad-it’s-good sci-fi stinker

By on June 11, 2018

Alfonso Brescia’s War of the Planets was the first of his five Italian-made English-dubbed space operas to rip off Star Wars, only Brescia’s film was actually released in Italy in September of 1977, a month earlier than George Lucas‘s American-made space classic.

Watch this so-bad-it’s-good sci-fi stinker — should you dare to be so bold — on Night Flight Plus.

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Brescia already had Cosmos: War of the Planets — a.k.a. Battaglie Negli Spazi Stellari, a.k.a. Anno zero: Guerra nello spazio (Year Zero: War in Space) — in the can when Star Wars was released in Europe.

He had the great fortune of being able to piggy-back on its success, even though War of the Planets wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1979.

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Brescia’s War of the Planets — the Cosmos and the colon in the original title were dropped eventually, call it colonic irrigation — is occasionally confused with Antonio Margheriti’s 1965 film of the same name.

Those confusions actually came after the film’s English-translated title was changed for U.S. distribution, both theatrically and on VHS/DVD.

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War of the Planets actually borrows liberally from a couple of space epics from 1968 —  Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Roger Vadim’s Barbarella — but it actually started out as a remake of an entirely different film, Mario Bava‘s 1965 sci-fi horror cult classic Planet of the Vampires (Terrore nello Spazio, which translates to “Terror in Space”).

That’s the movie which is said to have influenced Ridley Scott‘s 1979 blockbuster Alien, although back in the day Scott and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon claimed they’d never seen Planet of the Vampires.

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War of the Planets tells the story of “Capt. Fred Hamilton” (John Richardson, the lucky dude who co-starred with fur bikini-clad Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.) and his multi-racial crew, who wear skin-tight buttermilk-colored jumpsuits and ridiculous red water polo-style cloth helmets.

They’re on a mission in the Vega Sector (that’s deep space, y’know) when they pick up a strange signal beaming across the cosmos from an apparently strange planet. Their spacecraft, “MK 31,” is sent to investigate.

We love that their omniscient on-board computer is, no joke, called “the WIZ.”

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When they arrive at their destination, they discover the green, bald, pointy-eared humanoid population are being oppressed by The Immortal Monster, a malevolent super-robot (and you know how we here at Night Flight HQ hate those fuckers).

Hamilton’s crew — which includes “Mila” (Yanti Somer), who sports a godawful crew cut — destroy the super-robot, and then their planet explodes.

Their leader, “Etor” (played by Aldo Canti, a.k.a. Nick Jordan) and some of his crew mange to escape, but then it turns out that two of their own astronauts have become possessed, one frothing up like he’s washed down a mouthful of Mentos™ with a Coke™ (try it!).

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Hamilton and his crew dispense with the zombies, but then the super-robot infects their on-board computer on their return to Earth.

We’re leaving out a lot of the story, but you’ll have to watch ’cause we can’t tell you everything in one thousand words or less.

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We can tell you that one character says, “Prepare yourself for a big surprise,” which is just about the greatest way ever to warn the audience that something fucking awesome is about to happen.

Composer Marcello Giombini’s score samples Bach’s Toccatta and fugue in D-minor with lots of synth bleeps and bloops.

Read more about Alfonso Brescia and War of the Planets below.

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Alfonso Brescia

Alfonso Brescia was born in Rome, Italy, on January 6, 1930.

The prolific and versatile Italian filmmaker — who,  like many of his counterparts, also used Americanized names like Al Bradley or Al Bradly, or Albert B. Leonard — directed some fifty movies over a thirty year career, beginning with 1964’s sword-and-sandals epic Revolt of the Praetorians.

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Brescia generally made low-budget genre features, whatever was popular at the time: gladiator sword-and-sandal epics, spaghetti westerns, war movies, sexy Mondo docu-style flicks, gialli, erotica period pieces, martial arts movies, Amazonian epics, children’s adventure tales, contempo teen-themed erotica and sex comedies, suspenseful Eurocrime sagas… even full-blown X-rated skin flicks.

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In fact, his quadrilogy of five popular sci-fi space romps continued on to feature titles which were more obviously influenced by Star Wars, including 1978’s Battle of the Stars (Battaglie negli spazi stellari a.k.a. Battle in Interstellar Space; 1978’s War of the Robots (La guerra dei robot, a.k.a. Reactor); 1978’s Star Odyssey, a.k.a Sette uomini d’oro nello spazio (Seven Gold Men in Space, a.k.a. Metallica, a.k.a. Captive Planet, a.k.a. 1979’s Space Odyssey), and 1980’s La bestia nello spazio (The Beast in Space).

Some cinéastes consider the last of these five films — a hardcore porn film trimmed down to get a softcore rating for distribution — to be a wholly stand-alone film and not part of his space opera quadrilogy, but we’re not going to get into a dick-measuring contest with you about it.

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Since Brescia liked to work fast — War of the Planets was shot in about three weeks — and he obviously didn’t spend a lot of time on pesky production budgets, he was able to crank out a lot of films for the Italian film market.

He was also called upon to salvage a number of films which needed to have their directors replaced, which meant he came aboard those projects late, shot additional footage and saved a number of productions from the scrap heap.

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Brescia died in Rome, Italy, in 2001. He was 71.

Watch War of the Planets — and other S.B.I.G. sci-fi stinkers — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.