Laserblast (1978)

Laserblast_(1978)‘They say that cake is bad for me, but what about radiation?’

Billy is a small town rebel without a cause; abandoned by his mother, falling out with his girlfriend’s grandfather, and getting hassled by The Man. Then he finds a laser gun left behind by aliens in the desert, but what starts out as a cool adventure takes a more serious turn…

Chances are if you grew up in the 1980s and went to your local video store, you’d have rented a movie produced by Charles Band and his Empire Studios. A few of their productions actually made it to theatres: ‘Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn’ (1983) for one, but mostly they flooded the home rental market with low budget science fiction and fantasy. Subjects typically included giant robots, mutant monsters, killer dolls, and nasty demons. Quality varied wildly; from the excellence of a film like ‘Robot Jox’ (1989) to the wretched ‘Troll 2′ (1990). But everyone has to get that start somewhere and, for Band, it was with the less than stellar ‘Laserblast’ (1978).

The concept isn’t too terrible but, right from the off, we’re in trouble. Although the alien spacecraft may be just about credible (at a gigantic push) its occupants certainly aren’t: a pair of play-doh dinosaurs that converse in ridiculous squeaks and move with stop-motion so clumsy that it looks about half a century out of date. There’s also some poor casting in the matter of teenager Billy, as he’s played by 27 year old Kim Milford. Probably the only way the movie could have worked was with audience investment in his character, but all he does is sulk and whine. He also has zero charisma. Why blonde Cheryl Smith would want to hang around with him is anyone’s guess.

There’s also a problem with the tone. At first, what with the silly aliens, we look like we’re heading for kiddie territory, but then we take a left turn into comedy with a couple of Highway Patrolmen who smoke pot and cause traffic accidents. But, after that, it all gets quite serious when Billy uses the gun to torch a car belonging to local jock Mike Bobenko and his dweeby pal Eddie Deezen. Extended exposure to the weapon also brings about some unpleasant physical changes in our main man (there may be some emotional and behavioural consequences as well, but it’s sort of hard to tell). Things end badly all round, especially for the audience, as the ’action’ culminates in a ‘blink of an eye’ climax that attempts to redefine the word ‘lame.’

Laserblast_(1978)

E.T. grew up to be a badass.

It’s a mystery why well-known actors Keenan Wynn and Roddy McDowall appear, but Wynn also appeared in David L Hewitt’s woeful ‘The Lucifer Complex’ (1978) so his career wasn’t exactly on the up at the time. The biggest star here actually turned out to be Deezen, who is now a  voiceover artist, starring on TV cult hit ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ and in films like ‘Spongebob Squarepants: Sponge Out of Water’ (2015).

There were no happy endings for our young romantic leads, though. Milford’s next film was ‘Corvette Summer’ (1978) which starred Mark Hamill. This was quite ironic as Milford blasts a ‘Star Wars’ billboard here, in what is the movie’s only real creative moment. But a long and glittering career was not to follow, and he died during heart surgery at the age of 37. Cheryl ‘Rainbeaux’ Smith fought a decades long battle with heroin addiction before succumbing to associated complications in 2002. She’d spent two terms in jail, where she’d passed the time designing tattoos for fellow inmates. For a brief moment back at the end of the 1970s, she’d actually been a member of all-girl punk pioneers The Runaways, drafted in on drums to replace the departing Sandy West. Unfortunately, the band broke up for good almost immediately afterward.

With regard to ‘Laserblast’ (1978), one question remains; beneath the surface what is this curious movie actually about? ls it an allegory about the slow and inevitable corrupting influence of power? Or a subtle polemic on the evils of guns and the use of deadly force? A karmic tale about the wages of revenge? Or, on the other hand, is it just a very cheap and stupid film? Hmmm…which could it be?

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