Roger Corman takes a detour into family friendly sci-fi to cash in on the release of RETURN OF THE JEDI with the typically low-budget but charming SPACE RAIDERS, on limited Blu-ray and normal retail DVD from Scorpion Releasing.
When space pirates raid a warehouse belonging to the monopolistic "company" that supplies various populated planets with food and other goods, Peter (David Mendenhall, OVER THE TOP) – the young son of a company executive – takes shelter in the very supply ship the pirates have stolen. Lead by burned out former colonel "Hawk" Hawkins (Vince Edwards, THE POLICE CONNECTION), the pirates – whose numbers include second-in-command Aldebarian (Drew Snyder, WARGAMES), hotshot Ace (Luca Bercovici, future director of GHOULIES), runaway Amanda (Patsy Pease, HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE), and telepathic alien "Flightplan" (Thom Christopher, WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM) – have a lucrative deal with the literally slimy reptilian Zariatin (Ray Stewart), who lords over a remote space station peopled with various outlaws and rebels of various species, to steal ships and supplies for profit. The team considers ransoming Peter, but Hawk decides instead to find a way to get Peter home after he proves useful in helping their beat-up ship elude pursuing company security forces. Stopping over on Zariatin's space station – complete with a STAR WARS-esque cantina run by sleazy Lou (Michael Miller, DOC SAVAGE: MAN OF BRONZE) – they set up another trade with Zariatin to steal four company ships, one of which Hawk plans to use to get Peter back home. Little do any of them realize that the company wants them dead more than they want the boy alive and have sent a fully-automated and weaponized remote cruiser that is tracing Peter's index tag and mowing down anyone who gets in its way.
Sporting some neat production design and special effects ranging from quaint to impressive on the budget, SPACE RAIDERS is the most eventful of Corman's space operas but also the least ambitious. Effects shots – designed by a then-unknown James Cameron – and James Horner's rich orchestral score are recycled from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, there's little expository background about the state of the universe here or the evil "company", weird aliens at the space station are mere window dressing, and Mendenhall has a lot of "cutesy kid" screentime wandering around awestruck and walking into near-danger. It remains entertaining and even touching at times. Mendenhall plays well off a particularly engaging Edwards in a pseudo-father/son relationship that tweaks at the emotions. Besides the usual Dick Miller appearance – here as an intergalactic used car salesman seen in a hologram commercial in a cheap suit and a space helmet – the film also features character actors William Boyett (THE HIDDEN) and Howard Dayton (DINOSAURUS!) as a pair of kidnappers who want to ransom Peter (Boyett's fellow ADAM-12 alumnus Claude Johnson has a smaller bit part, as does Mendenhall's father during the opening sequence). POLTERGEIST's Virginia Keiser appears as the company's evil executive.
Director Howard R. Cohen started out as a screenwriter during Corman's seventies Filipino period writing for him as well as Cirio H. Santiago. He would continue to write for Corman in the eighties – including DEATHSTALKER and the new sequences for Walerian Borowcyzk's EMMANUELLE 5 which Corman picked up for Concorde – while also directing the SATURDAY THE 14TH films and DEATHSTALKER IV among others for New World and later Concorde. Assistant editor Stephen Herek would later helm CRITTERS and Disney fare like 101 DALMATIONS, THE MIGHTY DUCKS, and THE THREE MUSKETEERS while assistant production manager Rachel Talalay would fulfill the same role on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and make her directorial debut with the fifth entry in the series.
Scorpion Releasing has released SPACE RAIDERS in a two-thousand copy limited edition Blu-ray (direct from distributor Kino Lorber rather than Code Red's Big Cartel which is handling some of their other limited Blu-rays) and a regular retail DVD which has been supplied for review here. The dual-layer DVD features a progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen HD-mastered transfer that is crisp, colorful, virtually spotless, and sharp enough to expose transparent elements in the matte effects and grain from underexposure in darker shots. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono has a bit more heft than other New World productions of the period thanks to the opportunities afforded in the sound design from explosions, gun and laser shots, and the reuse of the Horner cues (one of a number of New World productions to recycle cues from this score). Super fans of the film and A/V enthusiasts will probably want to go with the Blu-ray, but the DVD is a perfectly respectable release.
Scorpion has produced three new interviews for the film. In the first, actor David Mendenhall (29:36) recalls working on his first film at age eleven including auditioning for Corman and Cohen (the latter would become a family friend and would later work with him again as vocal director for the cartoon RAINBOW BRITE AND THE STAR STEALER). He has warm memories of the cast, particularly Edwards, literally playing make-believe working with a prototype of a flight simulator for the scenes where he gets to blast ships and space rocks, as well as the timing of the film to be released around the same time as RETURN OF THE JEDI. He finishes up the interview with brief discussion of his subsequent films including his Cannon films OVER THE TOP with Sylvester Stallone, GOING BANANAS with Dom DeLuise and Jimmy J.J. Walker, and THE SECRET OF THE ICE CAVE with Sally Kellerman and Michael Moriarty, THEY STILL CALL ME BRUCE! with Johnny Yune, as well as his later Corman production STREETS by Katt Shea and co-starring Christina Applegate, but he regards his role in SPACE RAIDERS as a very special time in his life.
In his interview, producer Roger Corman (6:37) discusses New World's other space operas including BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and SPACE RAIDERS. In addition to recalling his working relationship with Cohen, he also recalls the difficulty of approaching the daunting task of casting a child actor in a large role by auditioning Mendenhall with a mix of scripted readings and improvisation, as well as finding a place for the requisite Dick Miller appearance in the film. The interview with post-production supervisor Clark Henderson (7:53) has the same opening and closing remarks as his interview on SORCERER in which he discusses what it was like to work at New World alongside then-unknowns James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd before talking briefly about SPACE RAIDERS (mainly about how the they had built up a stock library of spaceship shots and explosions from the earlier films to use here). The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (2:36) as well as trailers for SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE, SEIZURE, DESERT WARRIOR, and THE DIRT BIKE KID. The menu screen is scored with the same James Horner BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS cue as heard on the main menu for Scorpion's Blu-ray of SORCERESS. (Eric Cotenas)
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