Peter’s Retro Movie: Spacehunter – Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

June 25, 2012

Spacehunter (1983) Movie posterby Peter Nielsen

I must have been 16 years old when this was released on VHS here in Sweden. I don’t think I’ve seen it since, so my memory of it was pretty vague going into it this time around. What I do remember thinking back then, is that I thought the pairing of Peter Strauss as the down-on-his-luck adventurer Wolff and Molly Ringwald as Niki, a lone survivor of an earlier expedition, an odd choice.

Mr. Strauss has been in Masada, Brotherhood of the Rose and Rich Man, Poor man for instance and Ms. Ringwald in The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. See what I mean? Seems like two different worlds, right? But hey, I’m not complaining because it works and after watching the movie I can understand why.

The other thing I remember liking, was the title itself. Not the Spacehunter-part though, because, quite frankly, I’ve never understood that part of it. It doesn’t really make sense. Maybe there were to be a whole series of movies and the Spacehunter moniker was to be the common denominator or maybe they just thought that title looked cool? I don’t know and who am I to judge anyway, huh?

Now, the Forbidden Zone-part of it is a whole other matter. Me and my friends are old gamers and have played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games in our days. Some of the futuristic ones took part in something called the forbidden zone which of course wasn’t connected to this movie in any way, but it was still something we could relate to and thought of as cool.

Strike a pose!

Strike a pose!

The movie starts with a sightseeing tour going horribly wrong. The ship actually explodes, so it can’t go much more wrong than that, can it? It only leaves three female survivors who escape in a small pod which lands them on a nearby Earth-like planet. They are, however, very quickly “kidnapped” by some of the locals and whisked away. A reward for their safe return is issued and Wolff, who REALLY needs money, decides to go search for them.

He sets down on the planet and locates the three women almost immediately. They’re onboard some sort of steam powered train with sails, which actually looks very “steam-punky” in style.  There are several things in Spacehunter that has a steam-punk kind of look and I like that aspect of it. The planet has apparently been struck with some sort of deadly plague and has been quarantined for many years. This has left the population fending for themselves and many of them are deformed scavengers.

Overdog showing Niki his awesome... claws!

Overdog showing Niki his awesome… claws!

Ok… as Wolff is approaching the train, it’s attacked by a gang of “bikers” who are also after the three women. The train-riders are quickly over-powered and watch helplessly as steam-driven hang-gliders swoop down from the sky, pick the women up and whisk them away.

We learn that these men come from an evil dictator known as “Overdog”, who’s played by an almost unrecognizable Michael Ironside (Top Gun, Extreme Prejudice). Overdog is clad all in black and is more machine, than man. Kind of like a poor man’s Darth Vader…

Not that I’m making any comparisons, because Darth Vader would kick Overdog’s ass in a matter of seconds. He DOES, however, strike quite the imposing figure what with those gigantic mechanical claws he has instead of hands.

Now, if I could just find a place to land!

Now, if I could just find a place to land!

This does put a little bump in Wolff’s plans, as he now has to travel into the forbidden zone where Overdog’s lair is situated. On his way he meets Niki who, in exchange for food and shelter, agrees to be his guide. VERY reluctantly Wolff allows her to tag along! I say reluctantly, because she’s basically a big pain in the ass and she also stinks up the place. Personal hygiene is apparently not high on her priority-list.

A little later they run into one of Wolff’s former “friends” and associates, called Washington. He’s played by Ernie Hudson whom you might recognize from The Crow or Ghost Busters for instance. After a little arguing and fisticuffs he joins the merry group of rescuers and rides off into the sunset with them… WHAT?? No, I’m just kidding! They, of course, go deeper into the forbidden zone in search of Overdog. Along the way they run into both assorted misfits and weird mutants and all sorts of hi-jinks ensues.

A snow-plow on a desert-planet. Shouldn't you be on Hoth instead?

A snow-plow on a desert-planet. Shouldn’t you be on Hoth instead?

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is a highly enjoyable little sci-fi flick and I found myself liking it. A lot actually! It’s made in the era of practical effects and it looks great! It looks “real”, if you know what I mean. The spaceships are models, not CGI, and the different vehicles driven throughout the movie are real, heavily modified of course, but still real.

The different mutants are done with masks, prosthetics and make-up and Overdog’s deadly maze at the end is also very much “there” and is certainly scary-looking. All this gives it an almost authentic and touchable look which is hard to achieve with CGI. I like that!

I also have a strong feeling that it was released in a 3D version too. There are a couple of scenes that are dead give-aways and I’ve also seen posters stating that it was in 3D, but since I haven’t been able to check it out, I can’t be sure. The version I have isn’t and neither was the VHS version I saw in my youth, but maybe it WAS shown in 3D at selected theaters. Hell, I don’t know and it really doesn’t matter, because Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is a great little sci-fi romp in any format.

So until next time, my friends… why not check it out? And then share your thoughts about it with us in the comment section below?

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