St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Twinks in Space

“Moscow-Cassiopeia” (1973) and “Teens in the Universe” (1974)

Moscow-Cassiopeia title card.
Moscow-Cassiopeia

I’ll interrupt what was going to be a Halloween countdown because I had to skip my regular movie night this week. I mopped up my infinite sadness with two Soviet science-fiction films I’ve had lying around for ages but haven’t quite worked up the gumption required to sit through them. Because you know this is going to be a little bit rough, right? It’s a movie in two parts, Moscow-Cassiopeia (1973) and Teens in the Universe (1974), featuring… aw what the hell, it’s basically twinks in space, okay?

A boy genius delivers a lecture to his class.

We start off with this boy genius delivering a lecture on a rocket expedition. Well no, that’s a lie, we actually start off with God, who is a middle-aged man with a mischievous sense of humor, and who will pop up every now and then to push the plot along and deliver random bits of information. The Russians have a seriously odd sense of humor, or at least very different from our sensibilities in English-speaking countries. It’s something I’ve noticed with other Russian movies, particularly comedies like Dezha vyu or Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future. There are some really great Soviet films, but you do have to be prepared for a style of film-making that we just don’t do.

The rocket expedition, we are told, will take twenty-six years to get to Schedar, a star in the Cassiopeia constellation, and another twenty-six years to get back. So of course you want to send a bunch of unsupervised fourteen-year-olds into space because that’s the only responsible thing to do.

Soviet Russian home life.

I suspect this glimpse of 70s Soviet home life is heavily optimistic, and even then everything is drab and there’s still a million people crowded around the same breakfast table. If I were him I’d want to fuck off into space as well.

A suit of armor on a spaceship.
Two of the boys argue because one has stowed away on board the ship.

See, this is what I love about Soviet science-fiction films. They are the only people who have this really domestic vision of space travel — this spaceship has wallpaper and a suit of armor! I love it. You get the same sort of domesticity in Planeta bur, where the spaceship has curtains and a pet cat. American films from the same time were all about gleaming white surfaces and flashing lights, but the Russians understood that the first thing people would really do in space is put up curtains and tacky wallpaper.

A boy trapped in a transparent pyramid in space.

The stowaway gets into a big snit with one of the other boys who takes himself waaay too seriously. As he’s running away, he gets himself stuck in the garbage disposal and flushed out into space in this plastic pyramid thing. All the girls laugh at the mortal danger he’s in.

Although the effects are dated, they hold up pretty well. The shots of space look decent and the production values are really impressive, even if the script is nothing to write home about.

A boy screaming.

A mouse escapes from the ship’s lab and startles the stowaway, who falls onto the controls and cranks the ship’s engines up to Ludicrous Speed. Thanks to this twink’s ass, the ship breaks the speed of light and gets slingshotted to its destination in mere months.

Teens in the Universe title card.
Teens in the Universe

That’s the end of part one. I don’t know how or why this was released in two parts because frankly bugger all happens in the first film. It takes the whole first film just to get them into space, whereas we could have just started there and ignored all the dicking around in lecture halls and training montages that comprise the whole of Moscow-Cassiopeia. So let’s get stuck into Twinks in Space, I mean Teens in the Universe, and find out what happens when they get there.

The boys have a huddle and sing a song.

The boys all huddle around and sing a song with great intensity. I mean GREAT intensity. Look at those faces. The amount of repressed adolescent desire is palpable. You can’t blame them, it’s probably been six months since they had enough privacy just to have a wank.

Robots with flares.

The teens get to the alien planet and get captured by some robots wearing skin-tight rubber gimp suits with bell-bottoms. Why do aliens always have bell-bottoms?

A girl with a very intense face.

The boys aren’t the only ones who can stare with great intensity. The longer I look at this the funnier it gets. Don’t look at her eyes, she’s trying to possess your soul like the evil painting from Ghostbusters II.

An alien boy gets hit with some kind of disco ray.

It transpires that on this planet they invented some robots and the robots took over. Now the only survivors are the ones who were in orbit when the war broke out. They live in exile from their own planet, but of course our plucky Soviet teens are going to help them out. They go down to the planet with one of the friendly aliens, who falls into the robots’ hands when they blast him with what I can only describe as some kind of disco ray. Seriously that actor deserves an award. Look at all that ACTING. To be fair he’s got next to no special effects to support him, so really the only thing he can do is get his funk on.

Two robots take off their heads.

I made fun of the disco ray, but the costume and set design is really good in this movie. The robots look good, and their city is surreal and spooky and very effectively realized. The sets don’t wobble quite as much as they do in Doctor Who or Star Trek.

A robot nanny walks a baby in a pram.

And there’s more Soviet domesticity! There’s this clapped-out older model of robot who is now a nanny walking a pram. It’s got a little bib and toys and everything. Again, I love this really domestic vision of outer space. It looks a bit silly, but at least it’s got some soul. It makes Hollywood movies set in space look really clinical and antiseptic. No wonder people in American movies all go crazy from the isolation and murder everyone. Just put some curtains up, problem solved.

The Skinny

One of the evil robots in charge.

“We are your friends. We are defective.”

While not especially interesting for its script or plot, these are a lovely window into the 1970s Soviet vision of space and they have some really gorgeous design and special effects work in them. I could have done with a lot fewer teenagers staring moodily into each other’s eyes, but then if you could figure out how to stop teenagers being moody you could sell it and make a fortune.

Two boys stare moodily into each other's eyes.

See what I mean? Moody bloody twinks for like three hours. Where’s that disco ray when you need it?