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Plot: Spaces Babes crash-land on Earth. Hilarity ensues!

Apparently quite a few people are longing for the halcyon days when exploitation cinema catered to every discerning taste that Hollywood couldn’t or wouldn’t. In this day and age of superheroes and multiverses something like this is a breath of fresh air. Space Babes From Outer Space, if the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway, is a tribute to 1950s/60s science-fiction. Whereas the most accomplished and best remembered examples of the form were tightly-scripted and smartly written cautionary tales warning about nuclear annihilation and the importance of foreign relations usually in the guise of Cold War parables and Red Scare metaphors Space Babes From Outer Space has none such lofty or heady aspirations. As the scion of StarCrash (1979), Galaxina (1980), and Earth Girls Are Easy (1988) Space Babes From Outer Space has one thing on the mind and that is… boobs. Instead of pushing some or any kind of important message Brian K. Williams has made it his sole mission to have as many girls as humanly possible shake their boobs for the camera. Channelling the spirits of Russ Meyer, Andy Sidaris, and Jim Wynorski (which is pretty damn impossible considering Wynorski is still alive) Space Babes From Outer Space is just as outrageous and kitschy as its title suggests. Besides, the title just rolls off the tongue. Williams might just have made the favourite movie of every horny 15-year-old edgelord Redditor.

The creative force behind Space Babes From Outer Space is the husband-and-wife team of Brian K. Williams and Ellie Church. Williams and Church are the mavens behind the Indiana-based boutique production company Bandit Motion Pictures and with Space Babes From Outer Space they have taken to producing nouveau retro exploitation on the model of Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman (2012), Plan 9 (2015), The Love Witch (2016), and Commando Ninja (2018). Williams has been employed in just about every aspect of filmmaking before venturing out on his own. He’s an associate of and frequent collaborator with James Bickert from Work in Progress and both men seem to be on similar missions and creative plateaus. If interviews around production are to be believed Williams had an old script idea that he and Church reworked after a particular memorable night of heavy drinking. As with many of these ventures Space Babes From Outer Space was the subject of a successful crowdfunding campaign and delivers exactly what you want it to. According to a 2018 Idol Features interview with Church, and co-stars Alyss Winkler, and Allison Maier Space Babes From Outer Space was allegedly helmed in a brutal 10-day production schedule. Not only did it include principal photography but also the usual behind-the-scenes interviews and a glossy photo shoot. Written by Williams and co-produced by Church and Winkler Space Babes From Outer Space stars nobody you know or have ever heard of and “a bunch of strippers” from the Indiana nightclub scene. Considering how short the production time Space Babes From Outer Space looks incredible.

Exploring some remote quadrant of deep space Space Babes Carrieola (Ellie Church), Vanassa (Allison Maier), and Ragyna (Alyss Winkler) suddenly find themselves under attack by their sworn enemies, the repugnant Scrotes. In their desperation they open up a wormhole and are transported to that mythical planet they heard so much about, this Earth. Having sustained considerable damage to their ship they accidentally crash-land into a farmhouse somewhere in the wilds of Indiana. With their power cells depleted during their impromptu escape the three Babes need to find a source of energy to recharge their vessel. Marooned on a planet they know nothing about and in search of enough sexual energy to return home, the Babes deduct that they are left with no other option but to make first contact with the planet’s lifeforms. This happens quicker than they think when kind-hearted, socially inept Charlie (Brian Papandrea) comes to check out the ruckus and is instantly smitten with buxom blonde Carrieola.

Like any redblooded male Earthling Charlie is pleasantly surprised to find a trio of comically large-breasted Babes in pastel-colored spandex leotards in his home. Carrieola almost immediately ravages him once she her sensors detect his arousal. He’s charmed by a girl this straightforward and with the three insisting that they’re “not from here” he figures they must be tourists. His father Chuck (Josh Arnold) and mother Margo (Susan M. Martin) are happy enough to see Charlie finally bring a girl home. The way Charlie sees it the quickest way for the Babes to harness the sexual energy they require is to take them to the nearest stripclub, Night Moves. As luck would have it two strippers were just fired and before long Vanassa and Ragyna are gyrating around the stage. Things seem to be going their way until the Scrotes (Shane Beasley and Arthur Cullipher) launch a frontal attack on the Space Babes and each and every Earthling that happens to be in the crossfire. As the night deepens and the Scrote attack reaches its apex it will be up to Charlie to save his Space Babes from peril and imminent death. Charlie and the Babes manage to make it back to the barn and the Babes are able to recharge their vessel, only then does the malign Scrote Daddy emerge. Fated, championed and now hailed as their tellurian savior Charlie’s transported to the capital as an emissary of Earth and tasked with repopulating Titty City in what’s described as be an eternity of fornication with all of the planet’s most bosomy Babes. Would you believe this unbelievable tale is all a bedtime story that little Charlie (Drake Carter) is told by his foulmouthed grandfather (G.P. Bailey) while his mother Flow (Kelsey Carlisle) is called in to work the evening shift at Booty Bettie’s Fish and Tits?

If the plot synopsis wasn’t enough of an indication Space Babes From Outer Space is a free-for-all reach-around of plot elements borrowed from Barbarella (1968), Zeta One (1969) and 2069 – A Sex Odyssey (1974) with a dose of the puerile humour of Meatballs (1979), Porky’s (1981) and Revenge Of the Nerds (1984). Since this is a nostalgia-driven feature it lays on the references and puns on pretty thick too. First, there’s a portal-jump plot contrivance is straight out of Vampirella (1994) and the Babes crash into a farmhouse just like Marty McFly in Back to the Future (1985). In tradition of kitsch as Flesh Gordon (1974) the Babes’ aerodynamic spacevessel is, of course, boob-shaped replete with a virgin-white console decked out with tinfoil, colorful lightbulbs and (what else?) an ovary-shaped steeringwheel. The comparison to Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) and its economic ship/cockpit design is easy and obvious. The Scrotes are penis-shaped monsters modeled on the Rock Eater from Galaxina (1980).

Of the three Church comes to closest to resembling the late Dorothy Stratten in and as Galaxina (1980). Obviously that was the biggest inspiration behind Space Babes From Outer Space and if the costumes don’t sell it, Church certainly will. Daddy Scrote is an abomination somewhere between the pleasantly clumsy Ordric from Galaxina (1980) and the overzealous Lord Crumb from Bad Taste (1987). The fish-out-of-water comedy is very much in vein of Sorceress (1982) and the much expected (and usually odious) slapstick does, thankfully, not materialize. The Spaces Babes’ formal greeting is worth a chuckle or two. While not all of the jokes land (some of them are just plain vulgar) the Babes’ names are a hoot by themselves. Carrieola is an obvious contraction of Carrie and “areola” (or breast tissue), Ragyna may not be an anagram the way Angvia was but the idea is pretty much identical. Unbelievable as it may sound, Vanassa doesn’t have any superpower emanating from her ass. For shame, mr. Williams, for shame. Which is perhaps a good time as any to discuss where Space Babes From Outer Space falters.

The cringy dialogue is way too try-hard in its edginess and while the barrage of double-entendres, racy witticisms, and unrelenting sexual innuendo from the Babes is both cute and side-splittingly hilarious; the constant profanity and expletive-laden banter is not. A strategically-placed F-bomb can completely liven up a static scene, constant profanity is cheap, juvenile and speaks to a dire lack of imagination. The dinner scene in particular is cruel and unusual torture for exactly that reason. Equally frustrating but true, wall-to-wall frontal nudity and an avalanche of jiggling boobs of just about every shape, size and form grows exhausting too. While we’re about the last to complain about female nudity in a feature some moderation would perhaps have helped here. As producer and headlining star Ellie Church abstains from any nudity and has the most dialogue. As such the brunt of the nudity falls on Winkler and Maier who wonderfully rise to the occassion. Since the majority of the cast is best described as “a bunch of strippers” it almost makes you wish they dug up Julie K. Smith or Ava Cadell for the matronly role of Sandy and hired a recognizable (more cross-marketable) name like, for instance, Ava Addams, Jelena Jensen, Bella Brookz, or Korina Kova for the kink-specific role of Momma Milk. If TomCat Films can afford Veronica Ricci and Rene Perez veteran Jenny Allford certainly the average adult star must be within an indie’s reach.

Only in the isolated scene here and there (be it through amateurish scene composition, cinematography, or wobbly acting) does the feature betray its independent roots. The overall production value, acting and cinematography is surprisingly decent for a crowfunded feature like this which, sadly, isn’t always the case. At least nobody’s expected to do accents here. In Amazon Hot Box (2018) it was impossible to tell whether Church’s accent was supposed to be German or Russian, for one. Since this is supposed to be a 1950s sci-fi throwback we’ll never understand the black metal kid gag during the dinner scene. The Scrotes are funny enough by themselves but they never really pose much of a threat the way the aliens in Bad Taste (1987) did. Space Babes From Outer Space caters to a bunch of fetishes but the actual sex (and erotica) is pretty limited. This actually looks like a semi-professional product which is not something that can be said about the median TomCat Films or The Asylum flick. We can’t wait for Brian K. Williams to take on the Andy Sidaris spy-action romp, the Albert Pyun cyberpunk action, the Cirio H. Santiago topless kickboxing movie, a Jean Rollin lesbian vampire epic or a Pete Walker knickers and knockers terror-suspense spectacular. If Space Babes From Outer Space is any indication, Bandit Motion knows their exploitation and it’ll be interesting to see what they produce in years to come. Hopefully they’ll pick up Rene Perez babes Eva Hamilton, Stormi Maya, Nicole Stark, Emily Sweet, Spring Inés Peña, Sierra Sherbundy, Omnia Bixler, Gemma Donato, or Raven Lexy along the way.

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.