This weekend marks the 30th anniversary for science-fiction comedy Spaceballs, directed by genius funnyman Mel Brooks. No other director could pull off a movie with Spaceballs‘ weird cast of characters that includes the voice of Joan Rivers, Rick Moranis, John Candy, and more. Spaceballs was released during the decade of the Star Wars craze, but the film pokes fun at other sci-fi favorites from the period like Alien and Planet of the Apes. Despite being one of his most popular films and a box office success, Brooks’ film has the vibe of a lo-fi movie. We compiled some lesser known and appreciated sci-fi comedies that you might have missed in honor of Brooks’ film.
Halloween‘s John Carpenter started making Dark Star as a USC student with screenwriter Dan O’Bannon in the ’70s. From Roger Ebert:
This is a fun movie, and a bright and intelligent one. It bears few signs of having been made on a low budget, and the special effects are reasonably slick. And it has a mercifully low-key comic approach; many satiric comedies by young filmmakers are frantic and overwrought, but this one is wry, laid back and fond of its situations. And on the same program is Hardware Wars, a short subject starring steam irons, pop-up toasters and other kitchen appliances in outer space.
Night of the Creeps
Worth the watch for Tom Atkins’ badass performance alone. From the AV Club:
Fred Dekker’s 1986 horror-comedy Night Of The Creeps had the curious distinction of being simultaneously anachronistic and ahead of its time. By the mid-’80s, the heyday of campy, drive-in-ready B-movies about square young men battling creepy-crawlies from another world while trying to muster up the courage to ask their gals to the big dance had long passed. But the winking meta-commentary of Scream and Hot Fuzz wasn’t yet in vogue. Like Dekker’s simpatico next film, The Monster Squad, Creeps picked up a cult following, but that must be cold comfort to its writer-director, who hasn’t made a film since 1993’s RoboCop 3.
Now You See Him, Now You Don’t
Baby Kurt Russell stars in this Disney movie that was the first to be shown on television in a two-hour time slot. From DVD Talk:
This is a really fun movie for the whole family. Yes the jokes are corny and can be seen coming from a mile away, but the movie has a certain innocence to it that is appealing. Kurt Russell and Michael McGreevey, who plays Dexter’s dopey pal Schuyler, both do a great job in their parts as the scheming college students. But the star of the show, in my opinion, is Joe Flynn. His portrayal of Dean Higgins is excellent. The poor aggravated dean constantly looks like he is working on an ulcer. He is the perfect foil for the fun loving kids. Be sure to look for a young Ed Begley Jr. in a small part playing the honor student Druffle.
John Dies at the End
Don Coscarelli remakes David Wong’s bonkers novel of the same name, creating what we predict will be a midnight movie favorite in due time. From the Washington Post:
What happens is not so easily explained. But it involves time travel and zombielike pod people whose bodies have been taken over by a parasitic white fuzz from another dimension. Throw that in a blender, along with the kind of hipster humor familiar to fans of “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie,” and you’ve got a cocktail with a stoner-y, midnight-movie vibe.
A Boy and His Dog
Young Don Johnson stars as the only guy in a post-apocalyptic world with a telepathic dog in this dirty cult film favorite, adapted from a Harlan Ellison story. From Slant:
A Boy and His Dog is a grungy, fleet, and lively film, and as such it’s a shame that Jones, a legendary character actor, didn’t work more behind the camera. The film celebrates the apocalypse as an opportunity for the oppressed of society to do whatever the hell they please without the Man lording over them. These characters rob each other and kill and rape one another, but at least their transactions are direct and decipherable. Harlan Ellison’s short story of the same name was more scathingly satirical of the Norman Rockwell fantasies that Americans use to sanitize their ugliest impulses, but Jones emphasizes the material’s often quite funny western elements. The outrage that fueled much of Ellison’s work was complemented by the poetry of the author’s language, and Jones finds an ideal visual equivalent to that prose in his gorgeous Scope vistas and sharp, unfussy staging. A Boy and His Dog is an unruly daydream capped with a surprisingly jet-black acknowledgment of humankind’s genetic destiny to ruin itself.
Night of the Comet
Much smarter than it seems. From Diabolique:
Night of the Comet is a fun romp about an extraterrestrial event that virtually causes an apocalypse, and the hormone-heavy young adults who find themselves surviving amid the fall out. It’s Mad Max for the mall crowd, throwing in mindless zombies, sadistic scientists and an all-encompassing sickness into our heroes’ path. But more so, the film is about finding your place in the world, and those who had previously been alienated now are free to live without criticism and judgement. Night of the Comet shows that even in the most dire of circumstances, we can still balance our need to consume and be superficial with our need to survive and serve our basic human conscience.
An erotic spoof of the Flash Gordon serials from the 1930s — but with more beefcake. From TV Guide:
Its humor is ribaldry of the most sophomoric sort, but Flesh Gordon holds a place in the hearts of sci-fi fans for its detailed parody of the original Flash Gordon serial and for its surprisingly good special effects.
Because this is a Joe Dante film, the cast is packed with cameos and familiar faces from film and TV. Warner animation legend Chuck Jones and veteran character actor Rance Howard (father of Ron) appear as Safeway customers, but they’re easily overlooked because they’re standing next to comedy legend Kathleen Freeman (“The Penguin” in The Blues Brothers), who plays the customer from Jack’s nightmare. Martin Short’s former SCTV teammates Joe Flaherty and Andrea Martin share a scene with him as fellow patients in his doctor’s waiting room. Dante’s “good luck charm”, as the director calls him, Dick Miller, who appears in all his films, plays a cab driver picking up Lydia after she spends the night with Tuck. And the silent role of Mr. Igoe, chief henchman of Victor Scrimshow, is played by Australian tough guy Vernon Wells, famed worldwide as the fearsome Wez in The Road Warrior . For my money, Mr. Igoe’s fate in Innerspace tops that of anything ever dished out by Mad Max.
Another wacky one from New York City filmmaker Frank Henenlotter, one of the kings of grimy horror-comedies. From Eat My Brains:
Brain Damage is not a complex film, but it does present an honest and gruesome portrait of drug addiction without seeming condescending in the process. The quintessential lowbrow comedy found in all Frank Henenlotter films is dispensed with great care, never going too far and always coming off with a thoroughly endearing, eccentric sense of humor. This is Frank Henenlotter’s greatest achievement, and it’s a crime that mainstream audiences will probably never appreciate what very well could be the best exploitation film of the late 1980s.
Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla
Horror icon Bela Lugosi is probably rolling over in his grave about this one, but it’s hard to resist that title. From Scared Silly:
This movie is considered by the majority of movie critics to not only be among the worst movies ever made, but in a select group of the four or five worst ever. So why have I rated it so highly? The answer: Sammy Petrillo. For the uninitiated, in this film Sammy Petrillo isn’t just inspired by Jerry Lewis; he practically IS Jerry Lewis! His performance is so audacious that I can’t tear my eyes away – it’s that compelling.