LASERBLAST Blu-ray Review – Infamous ’70s Schlock Gets A Hi-Def Facelift

Starring Kim Milford, Cheryl Smith, Gianni Russo, Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn

Directed by Charles Band

Distributed by Full Moon Features


Charles Band is a producer who might not always (or ever) have the budget necessary to bring his cinematic visions to extraordinary life, but any viewer can see ambition leaking off the screen. His output via Empire Pictures and Full Moon Features is a hodgepodge of high concept films primarily within the horror and sci-fi genres, nearly all of which are shining examples of how to stretch a buck. He was to the ‘80s and ‘90s as Roger Corman was to the ‘60s and ‘70s. Long before either of his infamous production companies came to pass, Band worked under the Irwin Yablans Company to create one of his most notoriously cheesy lo-fi features, Laserblast (1978). Set and shot in the barren desert of Southern California, this threadbare feature has made many a “worst of” list, been the subject of parody, and often occupies a subterranean spot on IMDb’s lowest-rated films.

But the thing is it’s not all that bad. Sure, it’s “bad” in the conventional sense that acting is subpar (with a couple notable exceptions), the story is standard fare, the plot is shaky, and the direction is lacking; however, despite all of these red flag deficiencies the movie itself is an entertaining ‘70s affair for aficionados of B-grade sci-fi and stop-motion animation, which is definitely the film’s saving grace.

After an opening in which a humanoid is vaporized by a couple of laser blastin’ stop-motion aliens way out in the sunbaked desert, we are introduced to Billy (Kim Milford), a chill So Cal dude who mostly lives alone since his mom is constantly traveling. Billy’s only close relationship is with Kathy (Cheryl Smith), his girlfriend who lives with her eccentric grandfather, Colonel Farley (Keenan Wynn). Although the town is sparsely populated, Billy still finds himself being harassed not only by the local cops, who enjoy getting high on their own confiscated supply, but also by Chuck (Mike Bobenko) and Froggy (Eddie Deezen), a couple of local bullies. Billy drives off into the desert to get away from it all and during his escapade he finds both the arm cannon and necklace previously worn by the now-vaporized humanoid. He lets off some steam by blowing shit up in the vacant, vast desert.

What Billy doesn’t know is the aliens from earlier are able to track his new weapon – and now they’re headed back to Earth. Also on his tail is Tony Craig (Gianni Russo), a government agent interested in getting his hands on alien tech. The necklace Billy found his caused a reaction with his skin, spurring a growth that gets ugly enough for him to pay Dr. Mellon (Roddy McDowall) a visit. The doc takes a sample and offers to have it examined further, but a late-night tragedy prevents that from happening. Billy is changing, and not for the better, transforming into a humanoid similar to the one seen in the opening. Kathy may be his only hope for salvation, but the deck is stacked against Billy’s chances for survival.

Look, there are massive plot holes and gaps in logic here but I can’t say any of that prevented me from enjoying this low-budget attempt. For one thing, the stop-motion animation aliens vastly elevate this film from what it could have been. Their design comes courtesy of an uncredited Randall William Cook, whom most horror fans will know as the man responsible for bringing the creatures of The Gate (1987) and I, Madman (1989) to life. The aliens look like bipedal turtles without a shell, and their use of a foreign language and the level of detail seen in the design shows a level of care and quality not glimpsed anywhere else in the film. Their actions are a bit confusing, though. In the opening the aliens kill the humanoid (whom we can later assume was a normal person changed by the necklace) but leave the gun and necklace, then later they return to Earth after Billy “activates” the items. Why not grab them after disintegrating the humanoid? It isn’t as though they were in a rush or under fire or anything.

It’s best not to try bringing logic to the table here because the story looks like Swiss cheese when held up to any sort of scrutiny. Aside from the aliens forgetting to collect the items they’re clearly after, there is also the issue of how and why the necklace has the effect of mutating its wearer, or why it seems like it only changes Billy at night… until the moment when it doesn’t and he’s running around like a daylight ghoul, blowing up everything in sight. How exactly is the government involved here? Does anyone other than the cast even live in this town? And let’s not even discuss the bizarre ending.

In terms of acting… well, also don’t expect a whole lot. Wynn is a goddamn legend and here he’s doing what he does best: chewing scenery with reckless abandon. McDowall is always a pleasure to watch, though his role here is limited. The biggest kick I got was seeing Eddie Deezen make his screen debut as a bully of all things. Deezen, who embodies every quality of a stereotypical nerd and probably weighs 98 pounds soaking wet. Seriously. Milford isn’t such a bad actor but the material he’s given doesn’t allow for much to showcase. To be fair, nobody has that chance here, but that’s part and parcel of the charm these low-budget sci-fi pictures possess.

Once the film moves past an extremely rough opening shot, the 1.85:1 1080p image isn’t nearly as weak as some might expect. The overall aesthetic certainly fits within the range of expectations viewers may have, appearing as it might have on dollar theater screens back in 1978. Color temp fluctuates slightly throughout, though colors themselves have a tiny bit of pop and look accurate. Film grain is moderate and while it does get a little ugly during nighttime scenes, there are only one or two scenes taking place at that time. The print shows some minor dirt and damage, nothing too egregious. Contrast is decent enough and, again, since about 90% of the film takes place during the day it allows for greater detail and depth to be glimpsed.

Unfortunately, the only audio options are lossy, with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 surround sound tracks available. The activity from rear speakers is limited, mostly for ambiance than anything else, so the stereo track offers something a bit more focused and faithful to the original mono mix. Either way, the sound shows its age with plenty of crackling on the high end and a faint-but-there hiss that permeates pretty much the entire track. That hiss manages to get worse at some points during the third act. On the plus side, the score by Richard Band and Joel Goldsmith (son of Jerry) is a synth lover’s wet dream, delivering all the electronic cues and pulsing bass with a genuine old-school sound. Dialogue is always clear and often balanced well within the mix. There are no subtitles.

The only real extra here is an audio commentary with director Charles Band and composer Richard Band.

Vintage trailers are included for Cinderella, Crash!, The Day Time Ended, End of the World, Fairy Tales, Mansion of the Doomed, and Tourist Trap.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Charles Band and composer Richard Band
  • Vintage trailers

The post LASERBLAST Blu-ray Review – Infamous ’70s Schlock Gets A Hi-Def Facelift appeared first on Dread Central.

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