Color, 1983, 83m..
Directed by Howard Cohen
Starring Vince Edwards, David Mendenhall, Patsy Pease, Thom Christopher
(Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Space Raiders

By the time the third Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi, was rolled out with unprecedented fanfare from coast to coast in 1983, audiences had become accustomed to a Space Raidersseemingly endless onslaught of imitations involving young men on effects-filled hero quests. Roger Corman had already taken a stab at that with one of his most lavish productions in 1980 with Battle Beyond the Stars, so why not reuse some of those same sets for another one? And heck, that film's James Horner score was really nice and worked well as recycled material in 1982's Sorceress, so the third time should work just as well.

In case you hadn't guessed, the end result was Space Raiders, which made the space hero a younger boy than usual in the form of Peter (Mendenhall), a tyke playing in a warehouse owned by a sinister company with a staff of androids. Suddenly a gang of space pirates intruders, and while the ray guns are blasting away, Peter stows away on the ship they decide to comandeer. The leader, Hawk (Ben Casey himself, Vince Edwards, really looking worse for wear here), begrudgingly takes a shine to the new recruit who demands to be taken home. The rest of the crew, a motley bunch including the obligatory funny-looking alien, decides to let him stay aboard for a string of adventures involving space cops, space mobsters, and other space folks.

As usual for Corman, this was released theatrically by New World Pictures with a VHS from Warner Bros. populating video stores for years. It also ran as a reliable afternoon programmer on cable for years, presumably because you can only show The Last Starfighter so many times in one week. Pretty much anything from the '80s involving spaceships and/or kids was guaranteed to build up a fan following of some kind, and this one was no exception as its budget-deprived charms earned an entire generation of fans. You'd probably expect this to be a kid's film Space Raidersbased on the marketing and age of the main character, but the fact that it takes some seriously tragic turns in its third act may account for the way it stuck in many viewers' heads more than your average space opera programmer. Old pro Edwards is fine as Hawk even when his dialogue falls completely flat, while Mendenhall handles his wide-eyed duties well enough to keep the film moving. The best participant is arguably Thom Christopher, who plays Flightplan; weirdly enough, he had earlier played the recurring character Space RaidersHawk on the TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. The film as written and directed by the late Howard R. Cohen, who made this in between his two Saturday the 14th films. Pacing and artistic savvy were never his strong suits, but considering he probably had about ten bucks to shoot this, he managed to pull it off well enough on a Saturday matinee level.

For some reason Space Raiders remained stubbornly unavailable on DVD as Corman's New World output made its way through various video distributors over the years, with Scorpion Releasing's 2014 edition on Blu-ray and DVD marking its first release for the public in decades. As with most HD Corman releases, it looks pretty great overall with the obvious use of preexisting footage creating a little inconsistency here and there. Otherwise the gaudy colors really pop, the detail and film grain appear to be left as is, and the DTS-HD stereo track sounds... well, exactly like a 1983 New World movie.

There are also quite a few extras to provide some context here, too. David Mendenhall pops up for a video interview, "The Littlest Space Raider" (clocking in just under 30 minutes), in which he covers his career at the time working on General Hospital, his casting, and memories of most of the cast and crew, not to mention some of his later projects like Streets. Roger Corman gets his turn next with a six-minute interview about the film's place in his cycle of outer space action films, differentiating between stealing and homage and naturally mentioning the preexisting James Cameron sets which were modified for this film. Finally production supervisor Clark Henderson has an 8-minute interview about his work for Corman ("Quite a character!") while working in "a funky old lumberyard in Venice;" he also offers a nifty interpretation of this film as a sci-fi version of The Champ. Weirdly, Mendenhall would go on to star in another variation of The Champ story, Over the Top with Sylvester Stallone. Though the packaging doesn't mention it, the theatrical trailer is also included.

Reviewed on August 27, 2014.