Color, 1980, 85m. / Directed by William Sachs / Starring Dorothy Stratten, Stephen Macht / Rhino (US R1 NTSC) / DD5.1

If its star hadn't been murdered just in time to coincide with its premiere, the terminally limp sci-fi parody Galaxina would have dropped into obscurity so low it wouldn't pass muster for late nights on the USA Network. Perhaps the apex of cheap, brainless spoofs churned out during the heyday of Mel Brooks, this film trots out facile jabs at Star Wars and Alien so low they make The Ice Pirates look like Orson Welles. And if you actually remember both of these movies, this DVD will obviously be worth a look for nostalgic reasons. Aboard the spaceship Infinity, Captain Butt (Silent Scream's Avery Schreider, slumming even lower than usual) and his motley crew rely on the mute android Galaxina (Stratten) to navigate their ship from one mission to the next. Heroic space dude Thor (Stephen Macht) falls in love with Galaxina, but her built-in force field (or something like that) prevents them from making contact. The crew's newest mission, to find something called the Blue Star, forces them into hypersleep, while Galaxina deprograms herself and gains the capacity for speech and other, err, human functions. On a weird planet that looks suspiciously like an abandoned Western town set in L.A., lots of monsters get in the way and cause even more mayhem. Galaxina then gets separated from the crew. Then the audiences hurls objects at the screen.

Rhino's DVD is a prime example of how to build a nice glossy finish around a center of pure junk; from the terrific video game-style menus to the outrageously weird and clunky 5.1 remix(!), it's obvious someone holds this movie dear to their heart. A rough-looking but watchable full screen trailer is included, along with some hard to read bios. So what's the problem? Well, the movie itself looks terrible. One of the film's few assets, the skillful scope photography by Dean Cundey (Halloween), has been brutally sliced into a claustrophobic pan and scan transfer sure to induce a headache within minutes. If these are the best elements still surviving for such a relatively recent film, the future of our drive-in heritage is in great trouble indeed. The image quality itself is pale and smeary, a little better than the old Media VHS tapes (which were completely unwatchable) but not by much. Still, for a pretty low price you can have the kick of seeing the title Galaxina lined up on your DVD shelf, so maybe that's worth the investment by itself. The packaging promises a "hilarious Easter Egg;" if anyone figures out what it is, please write in and let us know. As far as space spoofs go, this is one to pull out when you've gotten tired of Space Truckers and Flesh Gordon.

Color, 1988, 94m. / Directed by John Carpenter / Starring Roddy Piper, Meg Foster / Image (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35) (16:9) / DD2.0

Roddy Piper (yes, the wrestler) stars as Nada (as in "nothing," get it?), a homeless drifter who goes from job to job and winds up in a construction position in an unnamed large city. A group of radicals keep breaking in on the TV signals and warning of an evil conspiracy that's been brainwashing the general public, but everyone tends to ignore it. After a series of government attacks on one faction holing out in a local church, Nada uncovers a pair of sunglasses which reveal that the world is not quite as he thought. All advertising and written material contains subliminal messages, such as "Marry and Reproduce," "No Individual Thought," and "This Is Your God" (printed on money). Even worse, it appears all the wealthy people are - surprise! - ugly skeletal-faced aliens in disguise. Pretty soon Nada is suiting up for battle, and the fun begins.

Generally dismissed as one of Carpenter's goofier films (along with Big Trouble in Little China), They Live has some serious things to say about right-wing suppression and the growing apathy near the end of the millennium. Piper's role seems tailor-made for Carpenter buddy in crime Kurt Russell (including such lines as the immortal "I've come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubble gum"), but Piper fills the action hero shoes pretty well. He got a lot of bad press at the time, but after we've endured such action wannabes as Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, he looks like Laurence Olivier in comparison. In fact, it's surprising how well this film has aged over the past decade, though it does suffer from a few flaws. Piper's idiotic fight scene with Keith David seems thrown in for no good reason at all and drags on way past the breaking point; it seems including solely for the purpose of pleasing wrestling fans. Also, the final sequence is a serious let-down, a knee-jerk jokey finish that wraps the film up on an abrupt, unfinished note. Interestingly, They Live now feels like a dry run for Carpenter's subsequent In the Mouth of Madness, an even more extreme look at the world's seemingly normal sheen being slowly removed to expose a completely different, malicious force lurking underneath (and which also features an unsatisfying ending). As Carpenter has explained, all of his films in one way or another revolve around normal people who become heroes when thrust into situations beyond their control; here, the hero deals with corruption in the aliens and the human beings around him who have sold out for wealth from the invaders. It's one of the most interesting sci-fi conceits of the past few years, and while the execution doesn't always do it justice, there's plenty of food for thought here for the open-minded viewer. The previous Japanese laserdisc version of They Live was incompletely letterboxed (about 1.90:1) and had a colourless, washed-out appearance that failed to do much justice to this satiric sci-fi political actioner. No director takes advantage of the full scope widescreen image more than Carpenter; and this DVD presents the full 2.35 image and features incredibly rich, vibrant colour and deep shadows, along with a fabulous Dolby Digital surround remix. Though it has no extras (the Japanese laser did have a pretty nifty behind-the-scenes featurette, so don't chuck it if you have it), this one was definitely worth the wait.

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