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June 27-July 3, 2007

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Cult Leader

Metalstorm vs. Spacehunter: '80s sci-fi that dared to suck in 3-D

By Steve Palopoli

IS THERE any movie gimmick that failed more spectacularly than the 3-D revival in the '80s? As far as I can tell, no one ever indicated they wanted those terrible glasses forced on them again, and despite wacky new descriptions like "Super-Vision" the process hadn't gotten much, if any, better technically since the '50s. Mostly it appears that franchises from Friday the 13th to Amityville Horror just wanted a different way to market the third films in their respective series.

What can you say about a trend whose high point was Jaws 3, a movie that featured a pre-title scare sequence of a shark attacking ... a fish! Apparently it took Great Whitey a while to work up its way up the food chain, because we don't see an actual attack on humans until almost 30 minutes in. It starts to get comical when an entire human pyramid of skiers is savagely ignored by Jaws 3, who seems content to lurk menacingly—but not that menacingly, all things considered—nearby. Are you kiddin' me? Jaws 1 would have been all over that shit! Even Jaws 2 would have managed to do some damage.

And yet this movie is better than the other 3-D second sequels from the early '80s, as well as the Italian 3-D entries from that time, Comin at Ya and Treasure of the Four Crowns. I was 11 years old when I saw Crowns, and into anything that even vaguely resembled an Indiana Jones movie, and even I couldn't sit through it.

The 1982 entry Parasite was just a dumbed-down Cronenberg knock-off, although I have read claims that it looked totally cool in its original 3-D. Doesn't matter, though, because the real marvel of the '80s 3-D trend came with the next film from Parasite's director Charles Band, who went on to found Full Moon Productions and make lots of weird B-movies. Before that, he took one more stab at 3-D, and it was called Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn.

It's not this 1983 movie itself that's so fascinating; in fact, it's possibly the worst movie to come out of the entire 3-D revival. What's amazing is that it's pretty much the same movie as another 3-D film from the same year, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. You know how assassination conspiracy theorists have that list of weird coincidences that supposedly add up to something, like "Booth shot Lincoln in a theater and fled to a warehouse, while Oswald shot Kennedy in a warehouse and fled to a theater"? Well, here's my list of equally astounding Metalstorm/Spacehunter synchronicities:

1. Both titles contain six words, a one-word title followed by a colon and then a subtitle five words long.

2. Both films feature a lone space hero in a postapocalyptic-type setting on a rescue mission to save the abductees of an arch-villain.

3. Spacehunter's villain, Overdog, traps his victims in a maze. Metalstorm's villain, Jared-Syn, traps his victims' souls in a giant crystal.

4. Overdog has mechanical claws. Jared-Syn's son Baal has a mechanical claw.

5. Each movie has exactly one cast member who went on to be a star: Kelly Preston in Metalstorm, Molly Ringwald in Spacehunter.

6. Both somehow were able to either hack into George Lucas' brain or use advance information about the much-hyped Return of the Jedi to rip it off in one scene each. Spacehunter approximates the fight scene on Jabba's barge; Metalstorm imitates the speeder bike chase on Endor.

7. Both movies rip off the exact same other movies—The Road Warrior, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars—in pretty much equal parts.

8. Both feature cheesy weird mutants and both have pretty hilarious worm-type creatures. The phallic look is apparently impossible to pass up in a 3-D B-movie.

9. Jared-Syn had a secretary named Spacehunter who warned him not to go into the Metalstorm. Spacehunter had a secretary named Jared-Syn who warned him not to go into the Forbidden Zone.

10. Actually, both titles are a lie. There is no metalstorm in Metalstorm, and Jared-Syn is not destroyed—in fact, he gets away at the end. There is a Forbidden Zone in Spacehunter, but no actual adventure.

Cult Leader is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Email feedback or the person you like for the maze here. To check out a previous edition of Cult Leader, click to the Cult Leader archive page.

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