When I was in college my friend Aric bought the soundtrack to a movie called Vampyros Lesbos at an underground record store because it was billed as a “sexadelic dance party”. It turned out to be everything you’d want from a score to a soft-core b-movie from the early 70’s. It is basically the definition of “groovy”, both in the sense that it has a really slinky quality and also in the sense that it’s really dated to the specific era where people would non-ironically say “groovy”. When I finally saw the movie Vampyros Lesbos, however, I discovered that it is everything the soundtrack isn’t: pretty slow, not particularly seductive, just kind of okay.
Zeta One is what Vampyros Lesbos should have been. Because it was made in 1969 and it has a ridiculous chesty woman in outer space on it's poster I was hoping it would have an Austin-Powers-ish tongue-in-cheek vibe, and it lives up to that in spades. It’s a film that swings, both in that the movie is breezily funny and in that you can kind of imagine most of the people in the movie having orgies on the set once filming was done for the day.
This is a film where the budget for white thigh high latex boots was clearly bigger than the build an alien lair for the villain budget because all of the evil Zeta women have fashionable kicks but they live in a blacked out soundstage. The fashion in this movie is incredible: the Zetas are fond of nuclear orange – a color so bright it would make a pumpkin blush – and yet they try to sneak around in the woods as if it was camouflage. The training outfit for their Amazon warriors is purple pasties and purple panties – impractical, but at least they match.
Basically, the movie is sexist trash, but it’s entertaining trash. When a new recruit is brought to the Zeta home base the first stop on the tour is the room where they bathe. (Their bathing area looks like a Roman emperor’s private playpen, and is separate from the lava-lamp-ish area you have to swim through to get into the Zeta compound.) After the new recruit gets freaked out by their wild ways she sneaks away via an air duct – and the camera follows her down the narrow chute looking up her skirt the whole time. What this movie lacks in dignity it makes up in chutzpah.
And what chutzpah! The total running time is less than 90 minutes and that’s with a twenty minute strip poker scene that starts the movie and then barely factors into anything that follows. Twenty minutes! It was ingenious, actually, because we know from the still photos in the opening credits that there is going to be nudity in the movie, and that opening scene goes on as long as it can without giving us anything too revealing. The tension between the inevitable result of the strip poker game and the incredible amount of stalling before we get to it creates as much of an air of suspense as a film like this is going to have. After all the clothes are off it’s all downhill from there: the rest of the movie gives us all the cheesecake you could ask for, but there’s only so much cheesecake you can eat before you start to feel a bit gross.
Movies like this seem like they would be plentiful – after all, a lot of what makes this movie seem so fun in this day and age are the Age of Aquarius-ish touches, like the crazy fashion and egg-shaped furniture, but those were all just part of the zeitgeist in 1969. But a surprisingly high number of those movies end up more like Vampyros Lesbos than like Zeta One – films without enough energy to be anything other than glacierly paced quasi-pornography. Because Zeta One packages it’s ample amount of bosoms in a story that’s endearingly goofy and keeps the whole thing movie it really comes ahead of the pack. After all, it’s more entertaining than it’s groovy soundtrack, and what more can you ask for from a movie like this?