Space Thing (1968)

Rating: C+

Dir: “B. Ron Elliott” (actually Byron Mabe and David F. Friedman)
Star: “Bart Black”, “Legs Benedict”, “April Playmate”, “Mercy Mee”
(actually Steve Vincent, Cara Peters, Carla Conway, Merci Montello)

After seeing clips from this, mercilessly dubbed in Barbie & Kendra Storm Area 51, I had to track down the original, a soft-porn SF romp crafted by the legendary Dave Friedman. In hindsight, I should probably have stuck with the first version: seeing the movie in its entirety doesn’t provide much more amusement. The main reason for this is the tedium of the sex scenes, which are so staggeringly dull and unerotic, you wonder how they could possibly ever have passed muster. In what could be a first for a porn flick, you may find yourself fast-forwarding through the sex to get to the rest of the film, since that’s where the entertainment value is to be found.

James Granilla (Black/Vincent – everyone here is operating under a pseudonym, apparently because Friedman wanted to avoid any of them becoming famous, as that’d let them demand more money!) is a sci-fi obsessed nerd, to the point that he’s ignoring the sexual needs of his wife (an uncredited Bambi Allen). After she eventually gets him to put down the SF magazines (a cameo for If – wonder what then editor Frederick Pohl thought of that?), and pick her up for the film’s first scene of aardvarking, he falls asleep. In his dream, he is Colonel James Granilla, a soldier in a war between the insectoid Planetarians and the humanoid Terrarians.

He is actually one of the former, but can shape-shift if necessary. And needed it is, because after his ship is crippled, he has to take human form to find refuge aboard a Terrarian ship. The crew are under the command of Captain Mother (Benedict/Peters), though they seem to spend less time exploring the final frontier, and more exploring each other – be that in girl/boy or girl/girl configurations. But, of course, not boy/boy; we aren’t perverts here. Apart from the Captain, who putts from the other side of the green, the other women are delighted to have new flesh in the shape of Granilla. He at first mistakes their aggressive advances as aggression, until he realizes (after a bit of voyeurism – he can turn invisible too) what’s involved.

However, the Colonel is intent on destroying the enemy, even at the cost of his own life. His first attempt involved plunging the craft into an asteroid. But the crew – showing competence entirely absent the rest of the time – are able to turn the impact into a soft landing. They go out and explore the surface of the asteroid which, in defiance of astrophysical norms, has Earth-like gravity, a breathable atmosphere and blue skies. In fact, it basically looks indistinguishable from Southern California. His plot foiled, Granilla goes to his back-up plan, which involved blowing the ship up with a mini-nuke. Why this wasn’t his first plan, is never addressed.

It has all the production values of Plan 9 From Outer Space, if half of that film had been filled with gratuitous nudity. The chairs on the spaceship seem to be a mix of bar-stools and, I kid you not, upside-down plastic buckets. Meanwhile, Friedman does what he can to avoid having to shoot synch sound, both by heavy use of voice-over from Granilla, and by shooting over the shoulder of the person speaking, so you don’t get to see their mouth. The costumes are absolutely awesome: very much a sixties prediction of what “the future” would look like. The SFX of the craft are equally inept: one ship looks like a post-modern lampshade, while the other appears to be an unauthorized appearance by a model of the USS Enterprise.

I’d estimate half the running time is taken up by sex scenes, and in space, no-one will hear you yawn. We may have been desensitized to such things, but if anyone ever found them a turn-on, they have my deepest sympathy for their repressed lives. They’re all dry humping and non-explicit licking or nibbling. We are talking reasonably attractive women, admittedly, and mostly natural (with the likely exception of Mrs. Granilla). The Captain, who is a bit of a sado-lesbian, possesses those curiously-shaped breasts which only seemed to exist in the sixties, having been driven out of existence in more modern times, by a strenuous program of selective breeding.

Still, I have to say, Captain Mother compels attention with her performance – and considering the silliness of the costume she had to wear, that’s quite some feat. Vincent and Peters actually look the part, especially compared to some of the crew; she vamps it up to amusing effect, while he has the square-jawed look of a serial hero. There are moments when it seems the film-makers are in on the joke, such as when Granilla takes out a picture of his family and gazes at it mournfully. Or his monologue, as he seems vaguely sorry about having to blow everyone up: “It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. In fact, some of their ways were becoming quite tolerable. But the thought of being the only male with these four women terrified me. I would be physically dead in the space of a week.”

Similarly, the opening credits are actually hand-painted onto the naked body of a woman. You wonder why that level of low-rent innovation didn’t apply anywhere else in proceedings. Instead, even at less than seventy minutes long, this comes perilously close to outstaying its welcome, with the lengthy interruptions for non-erotic cabaret you wish would stop, almost outweighing the cheesy charm of the more innocent elements. I’d willingly have paid to have seen a full feature of the terrible dialogue, poverty-row efforts at a “spaceship” and bizarre stab at science-fiction. The nudity here is definitely not required.