Written by: Christopher O’Neill on September 30th, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: UK, August, 1979
Director: Norman J. Warren
Writer: Andrew Payne
Cast: Tony Maiden, Barry Stokes, Glory Annen, Ava Cadell, Kate Ferguson
DVD released: September 22nd, 2008
Approximate running time: 78 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 4X3 Fullscreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Odeon Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £12.99 (on a double bill with SEX CLINIC)
Synopsis: An unidentified flying object is forced to crash-land over Clapham Common. Stuffy research assistant Oliver and his uptight fiancée Prudence, lecherous dog-walker Cliff, and virginal adolescent Willy all witness the incident and move to investigate. The hapless onlookers soon find themselves being kidnapped by three voluptuous female aliens – the ship’s cigar-chomping Skipper, the ditzy medical officer Cosia, and the tomboy engineer Partha. These extra terrestrials, who have never encountered the opposite sex until now, are fascinated by their male prisoners – particularly by the “extra limb” protruding from between their legs! As the aliens put the men through a variety of physical, medical and intelligence tests, it is not long before they learn of sexual intercourse and discover the joys of first contact.
Many cult film enthusiasts regard Norman J. Warren as being among Britain’s best horror directors of the 1970s. Having helmed such pictures as SATAN’S SLAVE and TERROR, he has earned the reputation of being a highly accomplished and competent filmmaker in his field. One of Warren’s strengths is that he treated the genre seriously and his films were always played straight, but this dryness of humor would not suggest a suitable temperament necessary for handling comedic subject matter. It is therefore a surprise – and a joy – that he equates himself well with such material for SPACED OUT since it is not a film that should be taken seriously. Warren direction is professional but with a lightness of touch that, along with the crew’s ingenuity despite budgetary limitations and cheerfully agreeable performances from its cast, makes the picture good-natured fun.
Rather than attempting to compete with then contemporary sci-fi spectaculars such as STAR WARS or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, the filmmakers wisely decided to make SPACED OUT a send-up of/homage to 1950s B-movies. In doing so, the picture is freed of the restrictions of a low budget production and instead embraces the lack of resources with its quirky art direction and special effects. The sets are cheap but imaginatively decorated with presumably whatever bric-a-brac was available, resulting in a unashamedly tacky yet intriguingly anachronistic collage of late seventies cultural fades such as roller skates, Wurlitzer jukebox and bean bags. When the earthlings first encounter the spaceship – an effect that was constructed with lighting equipment shining through black plastic sheets hanging from scaffolding – one of the characters dismisses it as being a mobile disco! Even the impressive model work of the craft flying though space was achieved by recycling outtakes from Gerry Anderson’s television series SPACE: 1999.
Much of the SPACED OUT’s humor is derived from lampooning as well as emulating 1950s science fiction pictures but as reinterpreted through the 1970s connotations of sexuality. Its plot of a group of dominant female aliens coming into contact with extra male earthlings is inspired by FIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE but presented with the sauciness and nudity merely hinted at in that film, while the ship’s captain is parody of the alien invader from DEVIL GIRL FROM GIRL. As with the original character, she is aggressive, despises all around her and dressed in tight, shiny leather but portrayed with the modern interpretation that such attributes illustrate a taste for bondage and sexual domination. When not spoofing other films, the script, which Warren revised with Andrew Payne, is also a scatter shot gag reel of sexual innuendo (“Have you got a weapon down there?…It’s changing shape!”) and quintessentially British references to joining a darts team and drinking light ales in boozers with names like The Dog and Duck.
The strongest asset of SPACED OUT is its competent cast who are game for the low-brow material. Barry Stokes displayed limited emoting skills in several earlier film roles such as THE UPS AND DOWNS OF A HANDYMAN and PREY (also directed by Warren) so it is a delight that he delivers a surprisingly effective turn as Oliver, the stuffy yet sexually frustrated earthling who boards the ship. Obviously modeled on Christopher Reeve’s performance as Clark Kent, Stokes’ illustrates an impeccable comic timing rarely seen by the actor. Lynne Ross (as Oliver’s aptly-named love interest Prudence) and Michael Rowlett (as a sleazy chauvinist) are also entertaining as the other earthlings, but it is Tony Maiden’s portrayal of Willy that is the main attraction. A stand-up comedian, Maiden, who is first seen in the film masturbating to a magazine called ‘Bouncers’, possesses a goofy charm and it is the naivety of this character that is the human element which ultimately holds the picture together.
Equally pleasing are the trio of performances from the female extra terrestrials. Canadian actress Glory Annen demonstrated a disarmingly sweet screen persona in pictures such as PREY and FELICITY and that carries over into SPACED OUT. Currently recognizable as ‘the face’ of Severin Films (their logo uses an image of her from FELICITY), Annen brings a likeably credulous quality to the character Cosia and the film benefits from it. Kate Ferguson, an Australian actress whose screen credits mostly consist of a handful of television appearances, clearly relishes her role as the leader of the aliens. Obviously modeled on Patricia Laffan’s appearance as the title character of DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, Ferguson gives an amusingly aggressive performance as the Skipper and looks intimidating yet sexy in her leather costume. Ava Cadell, a veteran of saucy British sex pictures such as CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER, is in fine form as Partha and her cheekily impish personality is another winning element of SPACED OUT.
Of Warren’s filmography, SPACED OUT is among the least remembered. While this is partially due to the fact that it is not a horror film, it is also because the picture performed poorly on its UK theatrical release where, originally entitled OUTER TOUCH, it received little promotion while the advertising materials suggested dated straight-faced sci-fi eroticism (“Untouched by human hands…until…” read the tagline) rather than light-hearted cheeky comedy. Surprisingly, it fared better in America, where Miramax re-edited the picture and renamed it SPACED OUT in 1981. Some of the music was rescored, while the comments from the advice-dispensing jukebox and the ship’s computer were redubbed. The film’s ending was also altered too, changing the fate of the characters and adding an AMERICAN GRAFFITI-style “where are they now” montage. (Although the on-screen title is SPACED OUT, the version presented on Odeon’s disc is in fact the original British edition). The soundtrack features two songs written and performed by Jeff Christie, You and Me and Turn on your Lovelight.
Prior to this DVD’s release, there had been much debate regarding the correct aspect ratio of SPACED OUT. As Warren confirmed, he shot the film open-matte and cropping it to 1:85:1 would achieve its correct theatrical presentation. Initially, Odeon Entertainment was going to do this, but the transfer supplied by Euro London Films is problematic. For much of its 1:33:1 framing, the image appears to be open-matte as it reveals too much pictorial information at the top and the bottom (lighting equipment and a boom-mike are clearly visible during one shot). Therefore, cropping the film into a letterboxed ratio would be ideal. However, a large portion of the transfer is actually not open-matte as it cuts off information from the left and right of the image, so letterboxing these scenes would delete a significant amount from all four sides, rendering them unwatchable. After I brought this to Odeon’s attention, they revised their plans and have released SPACED OUT at a compromised but perfectly serviceable unmatted 1:33:1. Taken from a British theatrical print, there are several instances of debris and dirt but, with the exception of some light vertical scratching which appear briefly throughout the film, little of it is distracting and is fairly minimal. While a true letterboxed edition would have been preferable, this seems unlikely to occur without Euro London Films tracking down the original elements and re-mastering them (it is worth noting that the same master was used for the Jezebel/Image Entertainment DVD which was also issued at 1:33:1).
The audio, presented in Dolby Digital Mono, is clean without any noticeable hiss or damage while the dialogue is nicely balanced against the film’s electro disco music score.
Included on the disc is the American theatrical trailer that is letterboxed at 1:77:1 and anamorphically enhanced. This extra is a huge bonus as it allows viewers unfamiliar with the US re-edit of the film to sample the re-dubbed computer voice over not featured on this disc. It is in considerably rougher shape than the main feature but perfectly watchable. There is also a booklet with liner notes written by KEEPING THE BRITISH END UP author Simon Sheridan. Containing several quotes from Warren, it is an entertaining and informative read for anyone interested in this film. It is a pity, however, that Warren and Annen, who seemed to get on well together in EVIL HERITAGE (a short documentary on Warren’s career), couldn’t have provided an audio commentary track, but Odeon Entertainment’s presentation of SPACED OUT is overall a very nice package.