Steven Spielberg’s sister Anne got her start as a producer for many of the cheapjack science fiction films of Robert Emenegger and Allan Sandler. She had worked with them – and Cameron Mitchell – as far back as 1975’s Death: The Ultimate Mystery. With apologies to fans of the original Doctor Who series, to me “E-Space” will always mean EMENEGGER SPACE, as in the Emenegger-verse of his series of movies in 1980 and 1981.
Emenegger Space is full of Grade Z special effects, bad acting, a few good ideas and an overall feel of striving for Alien and Star Trek levels but falling far, far short.
WARP SPEED (1981) – Set in the far-off year 2013 (!) this movie features the crew of a spaceship sent to determine what happened to the vanished crew of a multi-year mission to Saturn. The organization they serve is called Starfleet, which serves as a reminder that by 1981 there was just the original Star Trek series, its cartoon version and one movie, not the enormous universe of spin-offs that we have today. Point being that the term Starfleet was apparently open for use by other creators. Starfleet features in another Spielberg/ Emenegger/ Sandler joint, too.
Adam West plays Captain Lofton, the leader of the now-lost mission, and has assorted offspring of Cameron Mitchell backing him up in this movie. One such Mitchell, Camille, stars as Dr Janet Trask, a psychic who is sent into the abandoned Atlas vessel to investigate the cause of the crew’s disappearance.
Trask is outfitted with tech which sends back images of the psychic visions she receives of past events on the ghost-ship. Amid assorted David Lynch-style psychosexual interludes we see disaster strike the Atlas, followed by an aborted mission and ultimately a mutiny as the crew try to get the damaged craft back to the Earth.
The special effect for the Atlas also shows up in a few other Spielneggerdler collaborations, so get used to seeing it. A proto-holodeck features into the story as does a twist ending which makes no sense, but that’s part of the fun of movies like this. Features Psychotronic cult starlet Joanne Naill, plus Akosua Busia before she worked with Anne’s brother in The Color Purple.
ESCAPE FROM DS-3 (1981) – In keeping with Emenegger Space’s theme of nepotism this flick stars Barry’s brother Jackson Bostwick plus some Cameron Mitchell-spawn from Warp Speed. A pre-Police Academy Bubba Smith has a major role, too. God knows why.
The year is now 2045. DS-3 stands for Detention Satellite 3, one of a series of orbiting space prisons which no prisoner has ever escaped from alive. Into DS-3 comes Andrew Lavette (former TV Shazam! star Bostwick), an intelligence agent wrongly convicted for the destruction of a space station.
One of the top screws at DS-3 lost a brother on board the destroyed space station, adding another typical prison movie cliche as that man is very embittered toward our hero. Pen Pals, as in Penitentiary Pals, are synthetic females who provide periodic conjugal visits to prisoners who behave themselves and happy-drugs are also available for any prisoner who wants them.
The food in the space prison is a warm forerunner of the “cold snot”-style nutrients consumed in the Matrix. All inmates are injected with tech which allows the guards to inflict pain on any part of the prisoners’ bodies with the touch of a button.
By a coincidence from Movie Heaven, Lavette’s three neighbors in his cellblock each have skills that can help in carrying out the escape plan formed by our hero. Bit by bit, Lavette puts his plan together while struggling to survive his imprisonment and helping another inmate (Cameron Mitchell, Jr) quit using the happy-drugs.
Like all E-Space movies, Escape From DS-3 has some good ideas, but they get lost in a sea of prison flick cliches, bad acting and very low-budget special effects. This one commits the cardinal bad movie sin of being boring-bad instead of fun-bad.
THE KILLINGS AT OUTPOST ZETA (1980) – The Emeneggerverse’s version of Starfleet is still around in the first few years of the 22nd Century. This time they figure into a story which is a hybrid of Alien, It! The Terror From Beyond Space, Queen of Blood and Tom Baker-era Doctor Who.
Jackson Bostwick plays a security man in this story which also features Paul Comi, who played Stiles in the Star Trek episode Balance of Terror. Starfleet is sending out a THIRD rescue mission to determine what happened to would-be colonists on the planetary outpost Zeta, in the Altair system.
Though some people consider this the worst film from the Spielneggerdler trio, I didn’t think it was all that bad. At least it maintained my interest all the way to the end. The Killings At Outpost Zeta presents an amalgamation of “deadly creatures on an alien planet” set pieces from the 1950s to late 1970s.
Coincidentally, some of the Starfleet uniforms in this movie kind of resemble the ones the Star Trek films used beginning with The Wrath of Khan.
Furthermore, as our heroes try to find out what caused all the previous deaths at Outpost Zeta, a few story elements anticipate Aliens, so it’s tough to fault these low-budget filmmakers for tapping some of the same sci-fi tropes used by big productions from Hollywood.
CAPTIVE (1980) – It is sometime around the year 2020. For two decades the Earth has been at war with an alien race called the Styrolians over a priceless element called Styranium. Instead of Starfleet, this Spielneggerdler opus features an outfit called the Earth Patrol defending our planet from any potential enemy attacks.
Cameron Mitchell, Camille Mitchell and Cameron Mitchell, Jr are in the cast, with David Ladd – Alan’s son – adding to the nepotism pile this time around. In fact, Emenegger and Sandler get in on that action by slipping a few of their own family members into the cast. BELIEVE ME, you’ll be able to tell which ones by their horrible, horrible acting.
The story involves a Styrolian scout craft which gets shot down by the Earth Patrol. The vessel makes a crash landing and its two crewmen take it on the lam like enemy pilots shot down in a war movie.
The Styrolians may be aliens, but they look just like us Earthlings, have names like Caleb, can function just fine in our gravity and breathe our atmosphere … and speak English. (Though I grant you that may just be the general way some members of one army can speak the enemy’s language, but it would have been nice for the movie to tell us that.)
Cameron Mitchell, in one of his slimiest performances, portrays an old Styrolian veteran of the war. His hatred runs deep and he enjoys reminiscing about the early days of the conflict when his race could raid the Earth almost at will. David Ladd plays Caleb, a Styrolian “Tuber” or test-tube child. These Tubers are raised to obey and kill and have no investment in any family relationships, the better to serve in the war.
The two downed aliens take a farm family hostage. Dialogue tells us that the family still live like it’s the late 20th Century at the command of their grandfather. Like Cameron Mitchell’s character he is embittered, too, because Styrolian raids killed his son and daughter years earlier.
Ladd’s character turns out to be more compassionate than Mitchell’s. Caleb is fascinated by the thought of knowing familial love as he views it via Lori Saunders (of Petticoat Junction fame) and her siblings as they are held hostage. Mitchell tries to rape Saunders and gets killed, and the farm family try to help Caleb avoid the Earth Patrol soldiers hunting him down. A dumb, very inconclusive ending tops off this awful movie.
To me THIS is the worst of the non-comedy E-Space movies. The usual bad acting, bad dialogue, laughable special effects plus a weak story that has too few space scenes and enters Teenagers From Outer Space and Summer Of My German Soldier territory when Lori Saunders and David Ladd fall in love. Captive is a trial to get through.
PSI FACTOR (1980) – Remember the classically bad movie The Cape Canaveral Monsters, in which the “aliens” were depicted as circles of light from a flashlight or spotlight? PSI Factor takes that up several notches with aliens who look like really BIG circles of light and resemble the spaceship special effect in the Spielneggerdler movie Laboratory.
(And no, this has no connection to the 1990s program PSI Factor, previously reviewed here at Balladeer’s Blog.)
Peter Mark Richman and Gretchen Corbett costar in this film, meaning two things – one, the acting level is automatically much better than in other E-Space productions, and two, it feels like a rerun of The Rockford Files early on.
When scientist Edgar Hamilton (Richman) runs a project that makes the initial, confused contact with alien life forms he not only learns his superiors are trying to cover up his findings but also discovers he has unwittingly “invited” those aliens into his life. The life forms stage a few destructive, incomprehensible interactions with Hamilton and his lady love Lt Sheila Foster (Corbett).
Even when Edgar and Sheila become fugitives for trying to investigate the coverup the aliens are no allies, showing up at unexpected moments and nearly killing our main characters a few times. Ultimately a revelation about the ETs and the previous scientist to run Hamilton’s project results in a rushed ending which leaves WAY too many loose ends.
On the so-bad-it’s-good side there are two supporting characters in PSI Factor who will leave you rolling your eyes and muttering “What an eccentric performance.”
If you care, this may be one of the Spielneggerdler projects that come the closest to being a “real” or at least competent, movie. Well, except for the special effects, of course, and a concept that the filmmakers feel compelled to club viewers over the head with AND pile explanatory flashbacks on top of it.
LABORATORY (1980) – In this flick we meet some of the strangest aliens in the Emeneggerverse. They have humanoid outlines but they’re wrapped within shimmering disco-ball skin and are reminiscent of Eldrad from The Hand of Eldrad.
These aliens, who speak with distorted, almost robotic voices, come to the Earth in a spaceship that looks like a cartoon fireball. They proceed to abduct six Earthlings from a range of backgrounds to study them and subject them to physical and mental tests.
The testing takes place at an abandoned Air Force facility which the aliens have appropriated for their own use, enhancing the proto-X-Files feel to the piece. Corinne Michaels – better known as Corinne Camacho – portrays a spoiled rich bitch, Martin Kove plays a beefy rancher and Camille Mitchell stars as a musician who ultimately manages to use assorted musical notes to communicate with their abductors.
The other abductees are a black guy, a priest and an Asian lady, and their characters are no more developed than those brief descriptions I just gave. In fact the Asian (June Kim) barely speaks one line of dialogue before dying of fright and having her head removed for study. (A decently done special effect, actually.)
The abductees bicker and fight until some of them manage to work together to try to escape before they’re all dead. Laboratory combines The Prisoner with Cube and the aforementioned X-Files. The story even touches on the aliens “tagging” certain humans for future abductions and further study. Sadly, this movie has far more dull spots than interesting spots.
TIME WARP (1981) – Anne Spielberg WROTE this godawful failed “comedy” for Emenegger and Sandler. Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog may remember that failed comedies are my least favorite form of bad movies. Time Warp is a textbook example of everything I hate about them.
Adam West, Gretchen Corbett, Barry Gordon and Hildy Brooks appear in yet another Spielneggerdler abomination. Hell, even an old Superman – Kirk Alyn – tags along for the ride.
Astronaut Mark Devore (Harry “Chip” Johnson) is flying back from a failed two-year mission to investigate a black hole which supposedly was dangerously close to the Earth. It turns out the anomaly was really a time warp and somehow Mark’s body is now out of synch with the rest of the Earth. He is one year ahead of everyone else and therefore cannot be seen or heard by anyone except animals. (Just go with it.)
Devore’s wife Ellen (Gretchen Corbett) is anxious for her husband to return, but his ambitious superior Colonel Westin (Adam West) would just as soon act like Mark died on the return trip rather than admit that his pet space project did not find a black hole. In addition, he has the hots for Ellen.
Over the course of his long mission, Devore has formed a friendship with his spacecraft’s onboard computer Wes-10 and renamed it M.U.D. for “More Unnecessary Data.” Are you laughing yet? Johnson’s performance as the astronaut is like Tom Green to the Nth degree, making him thoroughly unlikable.
Mark’s “jokes” are never funny and he acts more like he has mental problems than like the zany but lovable nonconformist that the movie wants us to consider him to be. This film is absolutely awful and utterly unwatchable on any level, even the “so bad it’s good” level.
THE PERFECT WOMAN (1981) – There aren’t the words to describe how unbearably stupid this movie is. Joanne Naill and Fred Willard try hard but the script was written by idiots FOR idiots. Did Anne’s brother Steven already have that much power in Hollywood by 1981 that people were willing to appear in intelligence-lowering trash like this just to curry favor with him by working with his sister?
Cameron Mitchell being in this was no surprise but Ronnie Schell, Marie Windsor and Rudy Vallee were – even at that stage in their careers – above this kind of imbecilic project.
By the way, don’t be fooled by the poster. Despite it looking like Shelley Long and Kathryn Harrold might appear in this movie THEY DON’T!
The Perfect Woman makes Time Warp seem witty and sophisticated by comparison. The sound track … OH GOD THE SOUNDTRACK ALONE will make you long for the sweet release of death.
Watch the entire output of Pauly Shore and Adam Sandler, watch every Police Academy movie, sit through a continuous loop of Jerry Lewis “comedies” but whatever you do, DON’T watch this movie.
The story? Oh, yeah, it involves the idiotic king of a faraway planet sending two brain-dead lackeys to Earth to find the perfect woman for him to marry. Nothing is funny, very little makes sense and what does is often contradicted by events later in the movie.
Believe me when I say that even Rollergator is more entertaining than The Perfect Woman.
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