With a sterilizing crush of cold, the garland and pine sap encrusted holiday wake has finally ebbed to a comfortably calm level. It's with tranquil relief which I tap out a new Shock-O-Rama, you see, because it appears my long national Netflixian nightmare is over. The holidays have left me newly minted with the precision of a determined man. No longer will I feel like a man adrift upon a Black Sea of indecision; I cast you out, Netflix paralysis! (At least for this week).
The seedy cinema treat which reinvigorated my streaming senses is not a high quality blockbuster or a modern art house darling. That wouldn't much fit the schlocky nature of the column, no would it? Instead it is a bare breast brandishing, campy British spy-sex comedy from the ass end of the decade of love. And I knew, beyond tentacly darkness's doubt, that Zeta One (pronounced "Zee-Ta" by the silly British who crafted it) would strike all the correct pressure points, right from the opening credits. With a psychedelic shadow show ripped from a 1960's Ian Fleming production, Zeta One promises espionage action, daring dames, and salacious sexcapades- but this is in fact quite a bit disingenuous. The plot's actually more fun than that, for those with the stomach for cornball shenanigans.
James Robertson Justice, the robust Scottish actor who stared in dozens of films in the 50's and 60's, features here as the head of a nefarious organization who is aware of alien activity on Earth, and covets their technology for their own devices. Directly opposed to him is head alien Zeta (alluring Dawn Adams, who horror fans will know from 1973's Vault of Horror and 1970's The Vampire Lovers) and her crew of intrepid, busty spacewomen, who travel the English countryside in a spaceship cleverly disguised as a black tour bus (yet somehow contains miles of ventilation shafts). Trapped between these battle factions is secret agent James Word, who is a dash of Our Man Flint sprinkled with Sterling Archer, then baked into a hard drinking, love making pie.
Despite the plethora of nudity prevalent, Zeta One never actually feels as sleazy as it likely should. An effervescent air of self amused camp settles like a joyous cloud of indulgence, lending itself to the film as a shroud of decency (or perhaps civility). There are a handful of vignettes which work best to give potential viewers an idea of what they'll be in for: our suave secret agent plays a marathon game of strip poker with a sultry seductress that lasts for two hours and goes nowhere; Zeta's storm troopers (busty amazons clad merely in purple panties, pasties, and wound curtain cords) wrestle as part of their "training regimen"; our hero remarks that his disguise didn't quite work before casually discarding his mustache ala Archer; and an English aristocrat warms up for the deadliest game by shooting motorized ducks.
If this all sounds to remarkable to be true, remember that Barbarella was released only the previous year. Zeta One is nowhere near the same caliber experience, though it is still a ton of bouncy, cheeky fun. Perhaps the most apt comparison would liken this to Barbarella meets Our Man Flint with a healthy proportion of George Lazenby Bond. And, though the alternate title of The Love Factor is a bit misleading (as is that poster), there is quite a bit of drive-in skin. In the true spirit of those outdoor cinematic experiences, I highly recommend you pair Barbarella with Zeta One as a double feature full of trippy, arousing, and campy shenanigans. As luck and fate would have it, both films are currently available via Netflix streaming.
And if for some reason I've not been a convincing enough orator, check out the trailer for Zeta One and just TRY to resist.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.
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