DVD: Laserblast (1978)

February 26, 2021 | By

Film: Weak

Transfer: Very Good

Extras: Very Good

Label: Full Moon Features

Region: All

Released: November 10, 2020

Genre: Science-Fiction / Exploitation / B-Movie

Synopsis: A rebellious ‘teen’ discovers an alien death ray in the desert and succumbs to its addictive power, zapping cars, gas stations, and humans with utter impunity!

Special Features: Theatrical Trailer / Slideshow (4:58) / Other Full Moon trailers.




The production of Laserblast in 1978 seems to be the net result of good timing which enabled a slight idea to quickly blossom into a full-fledged movie, but with a tight budget and a semi-coherent script, over the decades this Charles Band production evolved from critically panned nonsense to a Mystery Science Theater 3000 entry (Season 7, Episode 6); it’s also a bright, neon delight for fans of uniquely aged cinematic fromage – disposable late 70s / early 80s B-movies originally designed to fill drive-in screens, occupy half of a double-bill screening, and later tease weekend renters on the home video rental shelf.

Full Moon’s ongoing mandate to put out its early and iconic back catalogue in new DVD and Blu-ray editions has admittedly rescued titles which previously circulated as fullscreen DVDs using old VHS masters, but as with The Day Time Ended (1979), with the film negative long lost, the best available source is a lone print that required some serious digital cleansing.

The transfer still retains the grain and coarseness of a drive-in 35mm print – not necessarily a bad thing with these fromageries – and the image has been reformated from 1.66:1 to 1.85:1, with balanced colour correction that doesn’t oversaturate Terry Bowen’s lone feature film as chief cinematographer. Bowen’s long career as camera assistant (Caged Heat) and operator (Speed, The Relic, Holes) ensured the film is goosed with some great handheld shots in this ever so sort-of Rebel Without a Cause (1955) variant that’s injected with an alien death ray / revenge drama. Bowen’s cinematography also distracts from the sometimes crudely directed action scenes by one-timer Michael Rae, whom Band recalls getting the directorial gig because the former grip packaged his gear and the use of his expansive house and van for a swell bargain.

Laserblast has a number of fortuitous firsts, including the feature scoring debuts of Richard Band and Joel Goldsmith, son of Jerry Goldsmith. For this Special Edition, Band joins his producing brother on their first-ever commentary track, and the prolific composer provides a few recollections of his collaboration, and Joel’s use of pre-market synthesizer prototypes which make their occasionally effective score really punchy with fat synth chords. Like Day Time Ended, the original mono track was upgraded with a new stereo mix, and although there weren’t enough sound effects to create a semi-surround sound experience for Laserblast, the music is very prominent – too prominent, in fact, with the centre dialogue too low when the cacophony of explosions and score punch from the remix.

The source radio and party cues vary from awfully cheesy to medium-grade prog-rock, but the central theme and some eerie variations support the ongoing frictions of Billy Duncan (singer-musician Kim Milford, in his feature debut) as he fends off teasing teens, and the blackout periods where the alien pineapple amulet acts like a drug, drawing out malevolent a desire to incinerate his tormentors.

Billy’s revenge begins when he ‘stumbles’ upon a laser gun stupidly left by reptilian aliens after they track down and kill another (presumably) human addict (makeup artist / frequent Band collaborator Steve Neill), who was blowing shit up and drawing unwanted attention to dangerous alien technology. At least that’s the first of several assumptions one has to make if there’s a need to scrutinize why the reptilian aliens left the death ray and its controlling amulet behind in the film’s opening and kind of do it all over again in the finale. (Perhaps a deliberate attempt by Band to produce a sequel which never materialized?)

While Billy is taunted by two boneheads (Mike Bobenko, and Eddie Deezen in his film debut) and repeatedly hassled by Deputy Pete Ungar (prolific character actor Dennis Burkley), if one has to be blunt, his teenage life isn’t really that bad. Mom Eleanor (striking Janey Dey) is gone for long stretches out of state, and always pays his recurring speeding tickets; he only has 2 bullies, both just annoying uber-nerds; he has a hot girlfriend, Kathy (actress and musician Cheryl Smith); and while Kathy’s dad (Keenan Wynn, earning an easy paycheck) has a loose screw upstairs, he’s a harmless barker, and has yet to stop his daughter from dating, let alone meeting, slick Billy at their secret rendezvous with pre-set table decor, nookie-nookie rug and pillows, and ample noshings.

Milford’s background as a stage performer in musicals (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jesus Christ Superstar) shapes Billy into a lithe figure with dance-like, angular body movements when he’s possessed by the blinky-blinky alien pineapple necklace, and the neon makeup transforms the ‘teen’ into a green, weird-eyed zombie, with rows of sharp pokers for teeth.


Behold the toxic effects of wearing the mighty Alien Pineapple!


During one of his last long bouts of sobriety, Kathy convinces Billy to see a doctor about a bruise caused by the pineapple bauble, which has turned a bruise into a metal plate overnight. Unfortunately, Dr. Mellon (Roddy McDowall, who like Wynn, collected an easy paycheck for a day & night’s worth of playing a puzzled medical practitioner) is quickly incinerated in the second of many increasingly prolonged car explosions, while Wynn’s scenes shift from wan comedy relief to a retired in-the-know general who somewhat aids a mysterious government agent (The Godfather’s Gianni Russo) to track down the alien weirdness.

How they know each other and what specific info is exchanged between the pair isn’t dramatized – the screenwriters never fleshed out that nuance – but the finale establishes ‘agent’ Tony Craig as the next leading foil for that unrealized sequel, after the aliens return just as a cracked-up Billy destroys further cars, magazine racks, and U.S. Post mailboxes.

The script feels like the collision between differing mindsets: Frank Ray Perilli, a former gag writer for Shecky Greene and Dean Martin, may have penned the awful physical and verbal jokes, including a line for co-writer Franne Schacht, who also appears as the Sheriff’s secretary, busily ‘banging away’ on her typewriter. Schacht’s other credit with Perilli is co-writer of Fairy Tales (1978), which was Charles Band’s second poke an erotic kiddie classics, after Cinderella (1977), which also starred Smith. Perilli also penned the eyeball-centric shocker Mansion of the Doomed (1976) and Dracula’s Dog (1977) for producer Band.

Laserblast‘s dramatic material may have been written first, with humorous injections added later to broaden the material, and flesh out the script to feature film length, as there are a few moments that both pad the film and prolong the next bout of mayhem until the finale (finally) shifts to a straight chase. The sometimes clashing action footage was edited by Jodie Copelan, who passed away soon after the film’s completion, after having a lengthy career in episodic TV (The Fugitive, The Invaders, Mission: Impossible), and several cult films (Kronos, Night Tide).

David Allen’s stop-motion aliens are a little jarring, but you can successfully argue they’re one of the few contributions performed with great skill. Setting aside the creatures’ weird muttering and the slightly grimy background compositing, Allen’s movements are nuanced and elegant, and you wish more of the aliens existed. It’s no surprise Band used Allen’s skills in several films, as did Larry Cohen (Q: The Winged Serpent, Puppet Master).

Brothers Charles and Richard Band provide a fairly steady commentary, recalling the production’s genesis and the many talents who drifted into the production before establishing their own successful careers in film and TV, including Joel Goldsmith, several veteran TV actors, including Dennis Burkley (Dep. Peter Unger) and Ron Masak (the Sheriff), and co-makeup artist Ve Neill (Edward Scissorhands, Mrs. Doubtfire, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise). Co-makeup artist and special effects props Steve Neill also produced the heavily problem-plagued Day Time Ended, and provided a superb commentary on that film’s Blu-ray and DVD releases.

Laserblast enabled then twentysomething Band brothers to find their respective cinematic fortes, with Charles producing a string of sci-fi and horror films for Empire Pictures International and Full Moon features, whereas Richard soon graduated from production manager to lead composer.

Like Full Moon’s release of Day Time Ended, the commentary track isn’t listed on the disc menu – just the sleeve art – and there’s only the stereophonic mix, not the original mono. The lengthy slideshow features numerous behind-the-scenes shots of the actors, makeup, props, and sets, all underscored by the film’s main theme in stereo. Lastly, the trailer is pure hype, playing up Allen’s alien creatures rather than veteran name actors McDowall and Wynne.

Star Kim Milford appeared in Corvette Summer (1978), and his final film Escape (1990) was released posthumously after he died at 37 following heart surgery. Co-star Cheryl Smith appeared in several B movies (The Incredible Melting Man, Band’s Parasite), and after a small role in Robert Mandel’s Independence Day (1983) stepped away from film before passing away at 47 in 2002.



© 2021 Mark R. Hasan





External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDBSoundtrack Album — Composer Filmographies: Richard Band / Joel Goldsmith

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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