Skip to content

Plot: scholar falls in love with a beautiful girl who might, or might not, be human.

It’s obvious that Mural (画壁) was supposed to be the next logical step in epochal Sino filmmaking on a big budget. A grand and sweeping ghost romance set against the backdrop of ancient China and a spectral world of immense ethereal magnificence. What was heralded as a spiritual continuation of Tsui Hark’s most oneiric productions Mural desperately wants to be the Zu: the Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) or Green Snake (1993) for this generation. Regrettably it ended up leaning closer to Dragon Chronicles – the Maidens From Heavenly Mountain (1994) than anything else, which is probably not what the directors intended. Mural was promoted as the next Chinese epic. Mural has a lot to offer on the visual end but has nothing substantial beyond just about every kind of superficial eye-candy. There’s no contesting that Mural is a veritable feast for the eyes and the gathered ensemble cast is ravishingly beautiful, but somehow we can’t shake the impression that Mural should’ve been a lot more than it ended up being. Released the same year as as A Chinese Ghost Story (2011) with Liu Yi-Fei (劉亦菲) and reviled for much of the same reasons Mural can proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with prestigious digital effects-heavy box office misfires as Gods Of Egypt (2016), The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (2017) and Mulan (2020).

Director duo Gordon Chan Ka-Seung and Danny Go Lam-Paau are action specialists but in recent years have been attempting to branch out. Chan got his start under Joseph Lai and Jing Wong and his most remembered movies in the western world are Fist of Legend (1994) with Jet Li and The Medallion (2003) with Jackie Chan and Claire Forlani. Danny Go Lam-Paau started under Wellson Chin Sing-Wai. That both men would find their footing in action and comedy is only natural given their beginnings. Painted Skin (2008) was the duo’s first attempt at adapting a story from the Liaozhai Zhiyi, or Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, anthology from Qing Dynasty writer Pu Songling. The basis for the screenplay is Hua Bi, the sixth story in Pu Songling’s collection of “marvel tales”. Mural chronicles the adventures of three men who happen upon an enchanted realm through a temple mural, believing it to be paradise, until the darker forces of that world come calling. The screenplay by Gordon Chan Ka-Seung, Lau Ho-Leung, Frankie Tam Gong-Yuen and Maria Wong Si-Man is faithful to the source material, but stumbles significantly with pacing and characterizations. Obviously Mural is derivative of better properties and it clearly had a decent enough budget. It was an ambitious undertaking reflected in three nominations at the Hong Kong Film Award 2012 - Best New Performer (Shuang Zheng), Best Costume & Make Up Design (Cyrus Ho Kim-Hung and Bo-Ling Ng) and Best Visual Effects (Chris Bremble). Mural desperately wants to impress with its sheer magnitude. Only it never quite gets there.

In ancient China virtuous and timid Confucian scholar Zhu Xiaolian (Deng Chao) and his loyal servant Hou Xia (Bao Bei-Er) are en route to the capital city for the imperial exams. Zhu plans on becoming a government official and doing good for his people. On the way there they become victims of an attempted robbery by mountain bandit Meng Longtan (Collin Chou Siu-Lung, as Ngai Sing). The three take refuge in a hillside Taoist temple where they are greeted by ascetic monk Budong (Eric Tsang Chi-Wai). In the temple interiors Zhu Xiaolian is drawn to a mural depicting six beautiful women in a vision of Heaven. Zhu is even more intrigued when Mudan (Zheng Shuang), one of the maidens, materializes right near him and he decides to follow her. He soon finds himself in the Land of Ten Thousand Blossoms, home of the fairies and an idyllic gynocracy where male presence is strictly forbidden and punishable by death. To repopulate the maidens drink from an enchanted spring but only are able to bear female offspring. Zhu Xiaolian hides behind Mudan when their Queen (Yan Ni) arrives for her daily inspection after her lovelorn majordomo Shaoyao (Betty Sun Li, as Betty Sun) has conducted the ceremonial assembly. Her Highness is a vain and iron-fisted ruler that requires constant adulation. The sole man of the court entourage is the Golden Warrior, Owl (Andy On Chi-Kit), fierce protector of the maidens and security detail of Her Highness, the Queen. The inspection is interrupted by the Stone Monster who professes his love for Mudan’s best friend, Cui Zhu (Xie Nan) – only to be slain by Owl and the female royal guard. Zhu Xiaolian hides in Shaoyao’s quarters where he unintendedly eavesdrops in on Shaoyao confessing her loniless to her mirror. Shaoyao is none too pleased with him but reluctantly agrees to escort him to Mudan’s dwelling.

He then finds himself back in the Taoist temple but fears that his presence might have put Mudan in grave danger. He wills himself, Hou Xia, and swordmaster Meng Longtan back to the realm where they are promptly surrounded by the royal guard and brought before the Queen’s court. The Queen allows the men access to the queendom and a life of unprecended luxury and abundance on the solitary condition that they each marry one (or more) maiden(s) of their preference or choosing. Philandering Meng Longtan weds downtrodden and submissive Yun Mei (Ada Liu Yan) but soon abandons her for flighty Ding Xiang (Monica Mok Siu-Kei) who voluntarily suggests a polyamorous relationship allowing him to take several concubines, among them Hai Tang (Lyric Lan Ying-Ying, as Yingying Lan). Morally upright Hou Xia cannot stand to see Yun Mei wronged by the boorish thief and marries her to restore her honor. Shaoyao instructs chaste Zhu Xiaolian to marry giggly Cui Zhu which frees him to continue his quest to find Mudan, or the maiden he truly loves. Soon the scholar discovers that the Queen has imprisoned Mudan in the burning pits of the Seventh Heaven for her transgressions. To free Mudan the fairies and the three men have to do battle with all the horrors of and in the underworld. A fierce battle ensues with the fairies and the three men of good emerging victorious but at the price of heavy losses. The queen regnant senses that her time has come and in quiet acquiescence relinquishes her throne and attendant powers to maintain community prosperity. With harmony in the realm restored Zhu Xiaolian and Mudan can finally spend their lives together.

What really kills Mural is its over-reliance on stunningly bad visual effects. Effects that come nowhere close to what television series Ice Fantasy (2016) and Secret Healer (2016) did so wonderfully on the small screen. At best they look like something out of a PlayStation 3 video game cutscene. At worst, as in the Stone Monster battle early on and in various of the Hell scenes, they resemble Albert Pyun’s Nemesis (1992) sequels. While Chris Bremble and his team deliver admirable effects under the circumstances the series Ice Fantasy (2016) did them better. Mainland China still has a long way to go before it will be able to compete with contemporary Hollywood productions. Thankfully not everything about Mural is bad. In its defense it is custodian to some of the most exquisite production design in recent memory. It tells its story on ornately build stages enlived with admittedly great looking green-screen vistas. It decks out the female cast in pastel-colored pan-Asian filigree costumes and truly mesmerizing make-up that often recall Joey Wong in A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). However good the costumes they not nearly possess the breadth and detail than those from the historical drama series Empresses in the Palace (2011-2015) or Secret Healer (2016). To its credit there are breathtaking scenery shots of China’s imposing natural wealth and beauty. It’s unfortunate that most of it is wasted on cringeworthy visual effects and a sluggish, aimless screenplay that never really capitalizes on any of its characters and is essentially clueless as to what direction to take the material it has chosen to adapt.

How can Mural simultaneously feel both hopelessly underdeveloped and in need of some rigorous slash-and-burn trimming? Next to the two directors an additional two people contributed to the script and, to be completely frank – it shows. Mural wants to be everything to everybody and thus is a whole lot of nothing. Mural primarily exists by the grace of Zheng Shuang who fills the designated imperiled maiden role with all the needed verve. The love triangle between Zhu Xiaolian, Mudan and Shaoyao is by all accounts what the Pu Songling story evolved around. Here the story’s more fantastic elements take precedence over the romance and that is what becomes Mural’s undoing. There was a great and tragic love story to be told with Mural but the screenplay apparently can’t decide what it wants to be. Early on a lot of resources were spent on the Stone Monster battle which was certainly a nice enough diversion, but it is of no narrative importance. The initial meet-cute between Zhu Xiaolian and Mudan is handled well enough but after that the screenplay seemingly doesn’t know how to develop the courtship and eventual romance between the two and instead bounces in all directions without ever finding an element to focus on. Mural would have been a lot better if the screenplay had been more focused and tighter. As such Mural never develops into a grand-scale fantasy adventure in the way that Zu: the Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) did. Neither does it revolve around a doomed romance quite in the same way as Ghost of the Mirror (1974) and A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) did. Deng Chao and Betty Sun Li singing the theme song certainly helps, but the score is no match for the work from Romeo Diaz and James Wong in Hark’s 1987 HK classic. Zheng Shuang (郑爽), Betty Sun Li (孙俪, Lyric Lan Ying-Ying (蓝盈莹), Monica Mok Siu-Kei (莫小棋), and Charlotte Xia Yi-Yao (夏一瑶) are as beautiful as Sino girls tend to be but they are no match for Joey Wong Cho-Yin (王祖賢), circa 1985-87; Moon Lee Choi-Fung (李賽鳳), circa 1985; or Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching (邱淑貞), circa 1992.

The most recognizable names of the cast are Betty Sun Li, Lyric Lan Ying-Ying and Collin Chou Siu-Lung. Sun Li was in was in Ronny Yu’s Fearless (2006) and Lan Ying-Ying was in Painted Skin (2008). Li and Lan Ying-Ying were together in the critically acclaimed historical drama Empresses in the Palace (2011-2015) where Li received top billing. Whereas Empresses in the Palace (2011-2015) allowed Li to showcase a variety of (often very profound) emotions here her role is rather limited. Collin Chou Siu-Lung is a decorated veteran of Hong Kong and Mainland China cinema. His earliest appearance of note was in Encounter of the Spooky Kind II (1990) but he’s known to Western audiences as Seraph from The Matrix: Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix: Revolutions (2003) as well as Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden in the entertaining DOA: Dead or Alive (2006). Next to there are, among many others, The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), Special ID (2013), Angel Warriors (2013), and Ameera (2014). Ada Liu Yan later turned up in The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (2017) and Bao Bei-Er years later starred in Yes, I Do! (2020) or the amiable Mainland China direct remake of My Girlfriend Is A Cyborg (2008). That Mural looks quite beautiful is to be taken quite literally as apparently most of the main cast were chosen from the modeling pool and they are helped tremendously by the costuming department. It’s not without a sense of irony that the lead faeries/maidens are named all after flowers and that the many unnamed fairy/maiden extras are portrayed by some of the prettiest Sino models in what are nothing but the most debasing (and inconsequential) of flower vase roles.

Gordon Chan Ka-Seung and Danny Go Lam-Paau are perfectly adequate action directors but between the two there isn’t a scintilla of feeling for romance or even the nuance that it requires to work. No amount of digital composited green/blue screen backdrops can replicate what the old masters did on location and soundstages. As a result Mural is at no point able to harness the same magical and near-fairytale qualities you’d expect of a production like this. Despite being custodian to one of the sweetest on-screen romances and dripping with saccharine sentimentality there was definitely potential for Mural to have been the next great Sino epic. The problem is the writing. Mural could have been one of the great romances had it been more tightly scripted. Alas that was not the case. The entire thing comes off as a handy, two-hour manual for socially stunted Chinese netizens unsure of how to interact with the fairer sex and, likewise, for them what kind of different men there are in the world. The dialogue lays it on thick so that the message is crystal clear. Only Husband Killers (女士复仇) (2017) would be even more blatant and obvious about it. While Mural is ostensibly beautifully lensed and probably better acted than it has any right to, never did a spectacle this expensive feel so insincere and hollow. No amount of beautiful women can save a production from an overkill of bad visual effects and aimless, horribly confused writing. Mural arrived a full six years after the Star Wars prequel trilogy (1999-2005) and effortlessly manages to look worse. Pu Songling deserved better. This is not it.

Plot: secret agent investigates disappearances in Scotland. Hilarity ensues!

Hailed as the ultimate in 60s kitsch and camp Zeta One had disaster written all over it. Produced by Tigon on an estimated budget of £60,000 Zeta One was a genre hybrid that could only have materialized in the late sixties. Written and directed by first timer Michael Cort and based on a story from Michael Glassman’s shortlived 1968 “photo fantasy” magazine Zeta – a publication somewhere between a glamour photography magazine and a science fiction serial – it largely was a preamble to get the assembled starlets out of their clothes with the thinnest veneer of a story. In all likelihood Zeta One is the single most memorable and bonkers gathering of future Hammer babes. Imagine what Pete Walker, Norman J. Warren, or Jesús Franco could have conjured up with that budget, a truckload of expensive Saarinen designer furniture, art-deco sets and about every bosomy British starlet of note at their disposal. This should, by all accounts, have been the ultimate knickers and knockers sexploitation romp of the decade. Zeta One lampoons not only the nascent James Bond franchise, it also spoofs science-fiction from a decade before, and is a psychotronic take on that old Mexican romp Planet of the Female Invaders (1966) or a gender-swapped variation on the Larry Buchanan space romp Mars Needs Women (1967). The abundance of skin, Valerie Leon in next to nothing, and the sheer concentration of British pulp celebrity cannot mask that Zeta One is virtually plotless, frequently incomprehensible, and terminally boring.

The late sixties were a unique time in the history of British cinema. The studio system of the prior decade had collapsed, the Summer Of Love heralded a new era of permissiveness and the porno chic was the latest vogue. The little players were forcing the hand of the old houses and daring them to follow brazen new directions they wouldn’t otherwise. Pete Walker, Norman J. Warren, and Tigon shepherded horror and exploitation into a new era of excess, where any story could be improved by adding a gratuitous helping of blood and boobs. Some ideas look good on paper but don’t hold up under closer scrutiny. Zeta One is one such case where all elements for a theoretical box office smash are present, but for some reason they never quite gelled and the production never became more than the sum of its various parts. Helmed by Michael Cort and Alistair McKenzie, first-time director and writer, respectively – Zeta One was anchored by a bevy of bosomy British belles in a permanent state of undress. Yet the promise of so much naked flesh wasn’t enough. Zeta One sank to the murky depths of imagination from whence it came. Zeta One is the Holy Grail of British exploitation and not to be missed.

In the late sixties Tigon British Film Productions had some minor successes with Witchfinder General (1968) and the Lovecraft adaptation Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) and would have in the following years with The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), Au Pair Girls (1972), and The Creeping Flesh (1973). Zeta One capitalized on three cinematic trends of the day: the burgeoning Eurospy cycle that followed in the wake of the James Bond episodes Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), and Thunderball (1965); the renewed interest in all things science fiction following Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Roger Vadim’s sexy space romp Barbarella (1968) from the Jean-Claude Forest comic of the same name (which was particularly successful in the UK); and bawdy sex comedies as School For Sex (1969) made in response to the laxer censorship regulations and the permissive sexual mores following the Sexual Revolution. If all of that wasn’t a crazy enough combination by itself Zeta One tops it off by being a brief feminist fable and women’s liberation fantasy in tradition of British spy romps as The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967), and Deadlier Than the Male (1967). Under the auspices of a better filmmaker Zeta One could have worked as a delicate balancing act. Alas, Michael Cort was furthest from an experienced director and he would never direct anything again. Ever. Without Zeta One the world would never have known The Girl From Rio (1969), or lovably zany excursions into science fiction pulp as Luigi Cozzi’s candy-colored StarCrash (1979) or William Sach’s equally insane spoof Galaxina (1980).

Returning home from an undisclosed mission Section 5 secret agent James Word (Robin Hawdon) is surprised to find company secretary Ann Olsen (Yutte Stensgaard) waiting to debrief him. The two engage in friendly banter, a good amount of drinking and smoking, and a bout of strip poker ensues wherein Ann ends up disrobing completely. The two inevitably end up between the sheets and Ann at long last comes around to inquiring about the more salient details of Word’s most recent investigation in Scotland. W (Lionel Murton) assigned Word the case of Major Bourdon (James Robertson Justice), an underground figure, who himself was conducting an investigation into a string of disappearances around London. In order to find the abductors whereabouts Bourdon learns from his second-in-command Swyne (Charles Hawtrey) that the next intended target is burlesque dancer Edwina 'Ted' Strain (Wendy Lingham).

W orders Wordon to protect Ted by all means necessary and thus discovers that most of the abductions are conducted by Atropos (Valerie Leon) and Lachesis (Brigitte Skay). Word deduces that the Angvians abduct terrestrial women to repopulate their own dimension as they have no biological manner of reproduction. What Word doesn’t know is that a deep undercover agent named Clotho (Anna Gaël) is using her womanly wiles to manipulate the intelligence community. Bourdon’s goons figure that the only way to lure the agents from the interdimensional realm of Angvia to Earth is by using Edwina as bait. With various Angvians minions taken prisoner over the course of the operation queen Zeta (Dawn Addams) is left with no other option but to initiate “Action 69” and let her armies of war descend screaming for the heavens upon the Scottish estate where the stately Bourdon manor is located. Word relays to Clotho how he showed up just in time to witness the aftermath of said fierce battle which prompts her to reveal her true motives. Clotho teleports James back to Angvia where he’s rewarded for his bravery with an eternity of fornication with all of the realm’s most carefully selected and perfectly proportioned belles.

No matter how nonsensical or ridiculous Zeta One gets it’s custodian to some truly outstanding production design from Martin Gascoigne. A better director would have made better use of Gascoigne’s combination of high-end Finnish plastic vacuform furniture from the Knoll line, shimmering foil walls and flashing multi-coloured chequer-board lights. Zeta One was filmed at a semi-converted wallpaper factory that was Euroscan’s Camden Studios in North London owned by producer George Maynard and Michael Cort. When production wrapped as Cort went over-budget and over time Tigon had around an hour’s worth of incoherent material in the can. Zeta One was buried in the Tigon vaults about 18 months before an attempt was made to salvage the project. A 20-minute long framing story was shot with a returning Robin Hawdon and Yutte Stensgaard as the company secretary tasked with debriefing him. It was a decent enough attempt to make something out of nothing but it’s a sad day indeed when not even a bare naked Yutte Stensgaard can manage to liven up proceedings this dreadfully dull. Like the remainder of the cast in the main portion of the feature Stensgaard was never shy about disrobing. As disjointed and detached from the main portion as it feels the 20 minute opening at least is halfway entertaining despite its static nature. Which brings us to the only reason to even bother tracking down a copy of Zeta One

The women are universally and uniformly delectable and can be seen almost wearing suede mini-dresses and white, thigh-high boots whereas the storm troops wear nothing but long black wigs, the skimpiest purple knickers and nipple tassels. It truly looks as insane as it sounds. Yutte Stensgaard, Brigitte Skay, Valerie Leon, Kirsten Lindholm, Gilly Grant and Anna Gaël all can be seen in various stages of undress with Dawn Addams appearing peripherally. First, there are the three girls that went on to become Hammer Film babes. Yutte Stensgaard featured in If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969), and Some Girls Do (1969) the same year and would go to star in Lust for a Vampire (1971). Brigitte Skay debuted in Sexy Baby (1968) and her post-Zeta One resumé includes the Mario Bava giallo A Bay Of Blood (1971), the Italian blockbuster Homo Eroticus (1971), and the Luigi Batzella giallo Blackmail (1974) and his il sadiconazista The Beast In Heat (1977). Valerie Leon would famously star in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971), as well as the popular Carry On (1958-1992) comedies, and was at one point tipped to play Vampirella. Dawn Addams was the elder stateswoman who had starred in Fritz Lang’s murder mystery The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) and The Vampire Lovers (1970). Of the many Angvia extras Kirsten Lindholm (then still Kirsten Betts) and Gilly Grant are by far the most retroactively famous. Lindholm went on to play supporting roles in the Karnstein trilogy The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust for a Vampire (1971), and Twins of Evil (1971). Grant was a veteran of Pete Walker sexploitation with roles in The Big Switch (1968) and School For Sex (1969). Gilly would end up in the Lindsay Shonteff actioner Clegg (1970) as well as the considerably more high profile Carry On Matron (1972). Second, none pulled off quite the trajectory as Hungarian import Anna Gaël.

Anna Gaël was born in September 1943 in Budapest, Hungary as Anna Abigail Gyarmarthy. Gaël debuted in 1962 and starred in a number of Hungarian, German, and French films before landing in the art film Therese and Isabelle (1968) and the World War II epic The Bridge at Remagen (1969) before starring in Zeta One. Most notably she could be seen in the terror film The Woman Is a Stranger (1968), the forgotten giallo The Rage Within (1969), and the French vampire spoof Dracula and Son (1976). Gaël first met Alexander Thynn, Viscount Weymouth in Paris, France in 1959 and would remain his mistress even though she herself was married to French film director Gilbert Pineau at the time. Gaël married Thynn at a London registry office in 1969 and in the process became Anna Thynn, the Marchioness of Bath. Gaël semi-retired from acting in 1970 and reinvented herself as a war correspondent covering conflicts in Vietnam, South Africa, and Northern Ireland. Thynn continued acting sporadically until retiring officially in 1981 after which she disappeared completely from the silver screen. Charles Hawtrey was another veteran of the British screen with credits dating as far back as 1922. From the middle until the end of his career Hawtrey was another regular in the Carry On (1958-1992) franchise with which he remained until 1972. More tragic is seeing James Robertson Justice in pseudo-softcore dreck as this. Justice had a long and storied career on both sides of the Atlantic and appeared in Vice Versa (1948), The Black Rose (1950), Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), David and Bathsheba (1951), Anne of the Indies (1951), the Doctor franchise (1954-1970), Land of the Pharaohs (1955), the multi Academy Award-winning World War II epic The Guns of Navarone (1961), and the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

Alistair McKenzie never wrote anything again, and who can blame him? A race of comically large-breasted, Amazon women abduct terrestrial women to repopulate their dimension and are aided in doing so by a bumbling, clumsy, womanizing secret agent. It’s practically a science fiction riff on Jess Franco’s Red Lips two-parter Two Undercover Angels (1969) and Kiss Me, Monster (1969). By 1969 James Bond was a veritable cultural juggernaut, Sean Connery’s tenure as the secret agent had come to a close after 5 movies and On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) saw George Lazenby taking over the role. Casino Royale (1967) was the earliest Bond spoof and for a while Italy and Spain took the lead in ridiculing the very target-rich spy-action genre. There’s an M character named W, there’s James Word (“his word is our bond!”) and the usual bevy of bosomy British beauties. In a bout of typically British humour the dimension the women hail from is called Angvia (an anagram of, yes, you guessed it, vagina).

For no discernable reason Anna Gaël, Brigitte Skay, and Valerie Leon play characters named after the Greek goddesses of fate and destiny, the Moirai, or the Three Fates. While they constitute principal players in the plot their Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos bear no meaningful semblance to their mythological counterparts. The idea is certainly present but McKenzie never fleshes out (there’s plenty of opportunity to ogle their bared flesh, though) their, or any other, character enough to truly amount to anything. Yet as completely and utterly bonkers as Zeta One is most of the time, it’s quite unbelievable just how boring it is seeing Yutte Stensgaard lose her clothes in the world’s most artificially protracted game of strip poker. At least you get a gander at Stensgaard’s perfectly-shaped ass as a well-deserved bonus. You’d imagine that seeing top-heavy Valerie Leon (who just like her fellow Vampirella prospect Caroline Munro never did any on-screen nudity) strut around the English woodside in the tiniest purple bikini bottoms and pasties would elicit more fireworks, yet no sparks erupt. Likewise is it easy, and completely understandable, to confuse Yutte Stensgaard with Anna Gaël. Neither really has much in the way of defining characteristics. Granted, there’s definitely something about seeing this many UK starlets disrobed so frequently. Zeta One is the kind of production that could only have been greenlit in the late sixties…

Zeta One puts exploitation back in exploitation movie. There are more than enough funbags for any warmblooded male but none of it is particularly fun. Had director Michael Cort and scriptwriter Alistair McKenzie actually had any clue this could have served as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of all the cheap science fiction and spy-action productions masquerading as alternatives to James Bond, Bulldog Drummond, and their lesser imitators. What should have been a British counterpart to the popart decadence, unbridled sensuality, and boundless swagger of Piero Schivazappa's The Laughing Woman (1969) (with Dagmar Lassander) instead became, more than anything, a cautionary tale of everything that could go wrong during film production. Not even a flamethrower, a chainsaw, or Valerie Leon’s barely-there war bikini could salvage the flaming hot mess that is Zeta One.

If Zeta One is anything (it’s a whole lot of nothing the rest of the time), it’s a spiritual precursor to Pete Walker’s hugely entertaining proto-slasher The Flesh and Blood Show (1972). If the late Russ Meyer or Andy Sidaris ever came around to making a science fiction romp it would probably have looked something like this. It’s seldom that exploitationers are boring, but Zeta One charts new highs… or lows, rather. In a post-Barbarella (1968) world the most natural response to the James Bond spoof craze was something as thoroughly and unflinchingly British as Zeta One. And the craziest thing of all? Italy didn’t try to imitate it en masse by the very next month. Germany would duly attempt such a thing with the mildly insane 2069 – A Sex Odyssey (1974) prompting Britain to its own with The Girl From Starship Venus (1975). Somebody had to lay the groundwork and Michael Cort was the one to do it.