In researching some movies for a potential new article, I came across an interesting sub-genre of the sci-fi movie category: women in space. Now, most movie geeks are familiar with Barbarella, the granddaddy of sci-fi chick movies, but there are some other "ladies in space" movies that, while not technically "great" or even "very good," may very well entertain anyone gathering up a group of friends for a "bad movie" night.
Star Slammer (1986, R, Amazon Prime VOD) The "women in prison" film genre was a pretty big thing in the '70s, but by the mid '80s it had pretty much run its course. Kudos to shlock director extraordinaire Fred Olen Ray for his attempt to re-invigorate the tired idea of girls-behind-bars by making the prison a space prison. Poor Taura (Sandy Brooke) is content to live like a primitive with a bunch of little people on a planet that looks kinda like California, but serenity is short lived as she is captured and sent to a prison in space. Things go from bad to worse as Taura has trouble making friends in the space joint, but after helping another female prisoner fight an alien monster, she ends up befriending the gang of tough space prison chicks and they hatch a plot to take out the evil Warden Exene and bust out! Got it? Good. This movie is terribly derivative of every other "women in prison" movie, but setting it in space really adds to the flavor. And on top of that, we are treated to yet another stellar performance from Mr. Ross Hagen. I have admired Mr. Hagen's work ever since I saw him in a biker movie called The Sidehackers, and he doesn't disappoint here as the evil Bantor. One second he's pushing his weight around and menacing the damsels in distress, the next he's being flogged into S&M ecstasy by a pasty-skinned space nut. Nothing in this movie will be original to most b-movie aficionados, but that being said, it is sci-fi sexploitation at its most serviceable.
Barbarella (1968, R, Netflix Streaming, Amazon Prime VOD)
Do you ever a hard time agreeing with your special lady friend over what kind of movie the two of you should watch together? You, being a guy, want something with action and guns; she wants a sweeter, more emotionally engaging story. Well, you can all thank me later fellas, because I have the perfect compromise of a film for the both of you. Jane Fonda plays the title character. As the movie begins, Barbarella is stripping all her clothes off when the president of the Earth tells her she must travel through space to find the evil scientist Duran Duran, who has invented a new type of weapon that could spell disaster for Earth (which has outlawed weapons). Barbarella gets back into some clothes and sets off to find Duran Duran and destroy his weapon, but she ends up in a series of other adventures that require her to wear very little. Okay, now that's the draw for the men out there, but there are two very big things for the ladies to enjoy in the film as well. The first thing is space bunnies. Sure, they aren't really on screen for too long, but they're bunnies...in space! The second is Barbarella's sidekick Pygar, a winged (and very buff) "angel" who rescues Barbarella from danger and helps her take down the evil scientist. All kidding aside, Barbarella really is a fun movie. Unlike the rest of the movies in this article, it was made with a massive budget and it shows. The set design is gorgeous, the costumes are quite sexy, and the whole scope of the movie is quite epic. A bomb when it was released in 1968, time has been kind to it and it's tough to not be seduced by the grandly loopy sci-fi shenanigans that are on display here.
Zeta One (1968, R, Netflix Streaming)
Let's go back to a time when a woman's favorite card game was strip poker, and men took off their neck scarves before loveplay. That time is 1968 and Zeta One is the film. It concerns a race of Amazonian alien women from another dimension (they call their home Angvia – oh, how the Brits love their anagrams) who are kidnapping pretty British girls for reasons I was never truly sure of. Hot on their tails are the brave men and women of the British Secret Service who won't rest until these well endowed alien women are stopped. To be honest, they actually take many breaks, and most of them are to stop for a little nookie. But when Britain's finest learn of the Angvians' plot to kidnap a London stripper known as the "Queen of the G-string," things kick into high gear as our heroes (I think they're the heroes, this movie honestly is a mess, plot wise) battle scantily clad space warrior women all the way back to Angvia. Zeta One bills itself as a light, breezy, somewhat bawdy comedy, and not an epic space opera with naked girls, and on that level it succeeds wildly. The music is groovy, the go-go boots are a' shufflin' and the story never gets in the way of the action on screen.
Vicious Lips (1986, R, Amazon Prime)
From Empire pictures comes a movie that I believe would have been more fun if they had just filmed the boardroom meeting that gave the green light on its production. I'm sure everyone in the room was just scrambling to figure out how to cram every film trope that was hot in 1985 (aliens, singing, big hair, etc...) into this outer space extravaganza. The result is a film about a group of feisty young ladies who have a chance to take their space rock band to the next level if they can just make it to a big gig across the galaxy. Alas, their ship crashes on a desert planet that isn't as uninhabited as they think. All in all, Vicious Lips is funnest for me when it thinks it has channeled the spirit of the master of '80s teen movies, John Hughes, with the girls sharing quiet moments discussing their space fears and space dreams. No offense, but these poor girls may have the biggest hair the '80s has ever seen, but nowhere near the acting chops to pull off any of the dialogue that requires them to emote. On the other hand, there's a scene where some of the crew take a cool, laser-infused space shower that almost makes this movie worth watching.
Queen of Blood (1966, NR, Netflix streaming, Amazon Prime VOD)
Here's a solid sci-fi potboiler from the '60s about a group of Earth astronauts that race to Mars after discovering that an alien spacecraft has just crash landed there. Upon their arrival, they discover the crashed ship contains a survivor -- a beautiful, green skinned woman. They bring her back to their ship, and that's where some strange things begin happening. Turns out, the Martian woman is a space vampire and she's hungry for astronaut blood. Queen of Blood is a little plodding at times (it does take a while for the movie to kick into gear), but it has a lot going for it despite that. First, it has a pretty happening '60s cast that includes John Saxon, Basil Rathbone and a pre-Easy Rider Dennis Hopper. (Side note: I don't think I've ever seen a Dennis Hopper movie where he doesn't shout most of his dialogue...until now.) Second, the production design contains some pretty nifty eye candy, in that '60s-vision of the future sort of way. And thirdly, it has a story that's pretty original for its time, what with space vampires and all.