Thursday, May 14, 2015

Spaced Out (1979)

It seems only fitting that the British film industry's contribution to the flood of cheap science fiction movies which flooded the market in the wake of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind should be a sex comedy.  After all, it was a genre which had pretty much kept commercial film making in the UK afloat for the better part of the seventies.  Spaced Out is every bit as cheap and corny as you'd expect, with no cliché left unturned.  In terms of production values it stands somewhere between a contemporary episode of Dr Who and the kids TV series Rentaghost.  In fact, in terms of its level of humour, Rentaghost is a good benchmark - an especially filthy episode with lots of sex and nudity, obviously.  Having said all of that, it is also a film impossible to dislike.  Personally, I found it immensely entertaining, much in the same way that seventies sitcoms are still entertaining: ignore the wobbly sets and - to modern sensibilities - non-PC humour and you'll find something surprisingly charming and innocent.

Whilst the spaceship interiors are all silver foil, flashing lights and bits of electrical junction boxes stuck to the walls, the exterior shots of the spaceship in flight are very impressive.  As they should be as they are footage from the Gerry Anderson effects library.  Unfortunately, the use of library footage also means that the spaceship changes shape, with shots of two different models being used - one for the ship in flight and a completely different one for its take offs and landings.  (Stock footage of the one used for the take offs and landings also turn up in the video for the Rah Band's 'Clouds Across the Moon', which otherwise has far poorer production values and design to Spaced Out).  But the ramshackle look of the ship's interior is consistent with the film's plot, which concerns a clapped out alien spaceship, a sort of intergalactic tramp steamer, being forced to land on earth to carry out essential maintenance, where they inadvertently pick up four earth people.  The ship's crew consists of three female aliens who have never seen a man before and have no concept of sex (which raises many, many unanswered questions about their reproductive cycle).  The earthlings, who were all in the London park the ship landed in, consist of teenager Willy, who was there to secretly whack off to his jazz mags, a bickering couple consisting of aloof pseudo intellectual Oliver and repressed Prudence, and boorish and sexually aggressive Cliff.

The plot develops fairly obviously from this set up, with the alien women, intrigued by both the earthmen's anatomy and Willy's wank mags, subject the men to various tests, before finally experimenting with sex.  Tensions between the earth people emerge, with Cliff having designs on Prudence, much to Oliver's chagrin, before the aliens determine that Willy represents the ultimate male body and so must stay with them to satisfy their newly ignited sexual desires, (Oliver has eyes only for Prudence whilst Cliff proves to be lacking in stamina).   Willy is persuaded to stay whilst the other three humans are returned to earth, before the ship continues on its journey, with Willy getting his end away with the captain so vigourously that it goes out of control and explodes in a strangely downbeat ending.

The closest thing to stars the film has are the late Tony Maiden as Willy, who had been a child performer in such TV series as Black Beauty, and the lovely Ava Cadell as Partha, the ship's engineer.  (At risk of being crude and sexist, I have to say that she had a truly magnificent pair of knockers).  Cadell was no stranger to this sort of film and gives a surprisingly engaging performance.  She later moved to the US where she eventually reinvented herself as the best-selling 'sexologist' 'Dr Ava'.  Perhaps the real 'star' of Spaced Out is director Norman J Warren.  A veteran of low budget British film making, Warren actually coaxed pretty decent performances from all of his cast and succeeded in giving the film an air professionalism, despite the meagre resources at his disposal.  Well paced and nicely edited, Spaced Out could, in the hands of a lesser director, ended up as just another soft core quickie.  Warren is probably better known for his efficient low budget horror flicks, (I have a real soft spot for Satan's Slave, whilst Terror is surprisingly effective attempt to imitate Argento-style Italian Giallo movies), and, a few years after Spaced Out, enjoyed some financial success with the Alien knock off Inseminoid.

Originally filmed and released in the UK under the title Outer Touch, the film was picked up for US distribution by Miramax, who made several changes - including the title - for the US release.  Most notably, the downbeat ending was excised and two vocal roles were redubbed.  The ship's computer acquired a camp US voice (as heard in the US trailer above) in place of the world weary British accent of the original, whilst the Wurlitzer (an automated psychotherapist in the shape of a juke box), originally voiced by Canadian Bill Mitchell, was redubbed by Bob Saget.  That's right, Bob Saget.  The same Bob Saget who used to be the voice of the older hero of How I met Your Mother.  There's a great question for pub quiz nights: which British porn film did Bob Saget appear in?  Whichever version of Spaced Out you see, it remains a likeable slice of seventies British sex comedy.  Surprisingly coy in some rspects (there are no full frontals, it's just bared boobs and bums on display) it really does come over as a slightly naughtier-than-usual sitcom of the era.  By the time Spaced Out was made the British sex comedy formula had pretty much been distilled to its basics: boobs, bums, bad jokes and sitcom stereotype characters.  Spaced Out pretty much delivers on all counts.  It's no masterpiece but, to everyone except those with hearts of stone, it provides eighty or so minutes of undemanding entertainment. 



Blogger gavcrimson said...

It might be a coincidence but the main theme to the film does bear a passing resemblance to ‘Doing the Best for you’ by Dave Davies,

If my dates are correct the Davies song was recorded shortly after Outer Touch came out.

6:56 am  

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