The reptilian alien creatures in the film were works of stop motion animation by animator David W. Allen, marking the first chapter in a decades-long history of collaboration between Allen and Band. The alien spacecraft model featured in Laserblast was designed and built by Greg Jein in two weeks, and the musical score was written in five days by Joel Goldsmith and Richard Band, the first film score for both composers.
A green-skinned man wanders through the desert with a laser cannon attached to his arm. A spaceship lands and two aliens emerge, one of whom shoots the man, which disintegrates his body. The aliens depart on their spaceship, leaving behind the laser cannon and a metallic pendant the man was wearing.
Teenager Billy Duncan wakes up in his bed, seemingly disturbed, and learns his mother is leaving for vacation. He goes to visit his girlfriend Kathy, but her deranged grandfather Colonel Farley makes him leave before he can see her. As Billy drives around town, he is harassed by bullies Chuck Boran and Froggy, and by two police deputies who give him a speeding ticket. Billy wanders into the desert and discovers the laser cannon and pendant. He starts playing with the cannon, pretending to shoot things, then realizes he can fire the weapon while wearing the pendant. Meanwhile, on the alien spacecraft, the two aliens converse with their leader who shows them footage of Billy using the cannon, prompting the aliens to turn their ship around to head back to Earth. Context implies that the two aliens, upon departing Earth, left the cannon and pendant behind under the presumption that no other human would be able to use them as the green-skinned man had, but they have now learned that they were in error.
Billy and Kathy attend a pool party where Chuck and Froggy attempt to rape Kathy. When Billy discovers them, a fight breaks out but Kathy stops it; knowing Chuck and Froggy would outmatch Billy. Later that night, Billy uses the laser cannon to explode Chuck's car, and Chuck and Froggy barely escape the explosion alive. Government official Tony Craig arrives to investigate both the explosion and the desert where Billy found the cannon. Tony informs the local sheriff that the town must be sealed off.
Feeling sick due to an unusual growth on his body, Billy visits Dr. Mellon, who surgically removes a metallic disc from Billy's chest. Mellon calls the police laboratory technician Mike London to arrange for the disc to be investigated. A green-skinned Billy opens fire on Mellon's car that evening, killing him in an explosion. The next day, Tony investigates the wreckage and recovers unusual material, which he brings to Mike London, who concludes it is an alien material that cannot be destroyed.
At night, the green-skinned Billy takes his revenge out on the two police deputies for interrogating him about Dr. Mellon's death and kills both of them at a gas station. The next day, Kathy puts the pendant on Billy's chest while they are laying together outside. Billy immediately wakes up with green skin and deformed teeth and attacks Kathy, but she escapes. Law enforcement officials shoot at Billy from an aircraft, but Billy destroys the aircraft with the cannon, and later kills Chuck and Froggy by blowing up their car.
While Tony questions Colonel Farley and Kathy about Billy, the two aliens land on Earth and begin searching for Billy. After killing a man and stealing his van, Billy travels into a city and goes on a rampage, shooting random objects with the laser cannon and fires at his surroundings. Kathy and Tony arrive in the city and locate Billy, as the aliens spot Billy from atop a building and shoot him, which kills Billy and destroys the laser cannon. The aliens depart in their spacecraft and Kathy cries over Billy's corpse.
Laserblast was produced by Charles Band, who is widely known as a writer, producer, and director of B movies. Band described the film as a "revenge story" with a simple premise that he thought would be fun for the audience. It was Band who conceived the title of the film with the hopes that it would grab the attention of audiences.
Band said, "Most of the films that I made, that I conceived, that I was very involved with and in some cases directed, definitely started with the title and usually a piece of artwork that made sense. Then I would work back to the script and the story and make the movie."
The script was written by Frank Ray Perilli and Franne Schacht. Elements of the story were inspired by science fiction films, such as Star Wars (1977), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), while the characteristics of protagonist Billy Duncan – a disenchanted middle-class teen from a suburban setting – mirror those of James Dean's character in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
Band wanted Laserblast to be a "mini-Star Wars", and at one point in the film, a disparaging reference is made when Billy fires his laser gun at a Star Wars billboard, resulting in a tremendous explosion. During another scene, a police officer is confronted by a frightened teenager, who the officer dismissed as crazy by saying, "He's seen Star Wars five times!"
Billy is ignored and abandoned by his mother early in the film, demonstrating the dangers that can result from uncaring parents, one of the major themes of the script. The film also highlights the hypocrisy of police officers, particularly during a scene in which the two deputies smoke marijuana they obtained from teenagers. Commentators have pointed out several inaccuracies and plot-holes in the Laserblast script. John Kenneth Muir raised several of these issues in his book, Horror Films of the 1970s: "How does Kathy's dad know Craig, the government agent? Why do the aliens leave behind the rifle and the pendant in the first place? Why does the weapon turn its owner into a monstrous green-skinned brute?" Band explained in a 2006 interview that the more Billy uses the gun, "the more it sort of takes over his soul". Janet Maslin, film critic with The New York Times, pointed out that originally, when Billy wakes up immediately after the aliens kill the man with the laser cannon, it appears that incident was a dream. Later, however, it turns out to have actually happened after all.
Kim Milford, who had previously appeared in the original Broadway theatre production of Hair and the first production of The Rocky Horror Show, starred in the leading role of Laserblast, marking his first major motion picture appearance. Cheryl Smith, who later received greater recognition for her appearances in B movies and exploitation films, appeared in the lead female role of Kathy Farley. Smith disliked the role because she felt it was poorly written and that she did not receive enough rehearsal time. Gianni Russo, best known for playing Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather (1972), was cast in as government investigator Tony Craig.
Laserblast marked the screen debut of Eddie Deezen, who went on to play other archetypal nerd roles in films like Grease (1978), which was filmed before Laserblast started production, Grease 2 (1982), and Midnight Madness (1980). During a 2009 interview, Deezen remembered little about Laserblast, other than that it was a "shoddy production". Roddy McDowall portrays Dr. Mellon in the film, and his name is misspelled "McDowell" in the end credits. Keenan Wynn, a long-time character actor from a show business family, portrayed Colonel Farley, who provides comic relief as Kathy's crazed, paranoid delusional grandfather and former military man. The filming for Wynn's small role was finished in one day. Screenwriter Franne Schacht made a cameo appearance as the sheriff's secretary in the film.
Laserblast was directed by Michael Rae, marking his only directorial credit. Filming took place over three weekends and was made "for virtually no money", according to producer Band. The makeup effects in the film, including the gradual discoloration and degeneration of Kim Milford, were handled by makeup artist Steve Neill, who had previously worked with Band on the science fiction film End of the World (1977). Neill makes a cameo appearance in Laserblast as the mutated person killed by the aliens in the opening scene. Neill introduced Band to David W. Allen, the film animator who created the stop motion alien creatures in Laserblast. When Band and Neill met, the former was working full-time on his fantasy film The Primevals, which was ultimately never completed. Band had developed an interest and familiarity with animation, particularly the works of Ray Harryhausen, and wanted Allen to animate the reptilian creatures for his film. Although eager to work on The Primevals, Allen said he was not yet "sufficiently mature professionally" to undertake a project of that size, and he felt Laserblast was "something that was more manageable". Band and Allen would go on to work together on several other films and projects over the next 20 years.
The alien creatures were featured in 39 cuts of the film through five scenes. The first scene was in the beginning of the film where the aliens emerge from their spacecraft into the desert to shoot Neill's character. Two matte set-ups were used for effects, including one used to create the illusion of depth with Neill's character in the foreground and the aliens in the background. The sequence where Neill's character shoots the gun out of the hand of one of the aliens was done through wire-supported animation. In the second and third sequences, the two aliens are on board their spaceship, which is a miniature set designed by Dave Carson. The aliens speak with their commander through a monitor in the second sequence, and animations of the commander alien were shot separately and implemented into the scene using a rear projection effect. Both sequences also used rear projection to show footage of Billy and his destruction on Earth. The fourth sequence shows the aliens on Earth, looking at a burnt-out car destroyed by Billy. Footage of the car was rear projected behind the alien models; however, the projected footage was shot at night and the scene took place between two daytime live-action scenes, thus creating a continuity error in the film. The final scene is the shortest, and features a confrontation between the aliens and Billy. Matting was again used for the sequence where Billy is shot with a gun by one of the aliens from the top of a building. The aliens then fly off in their spaceship at the end of the scene through a cutout animation effect.
Randall William Cook, an animator who worked with Allen on the horror film The Crater Lake Monster (1977), provided uncredited animation work on Laserblast. Sculptor Jon Berg, who built the alien creature puppets based on Allen's design, was also uncredited for his work. Allen said in a 1993 article that he and Berg created more shots in the film "than originally bargained for". Special effects were assisted by Harry Woolman, and laser effects were provided by Paul Gentry. Greg Jein, the special effects model-maker who also worked on The Crater Lake Monster, designed and built the spacecraft featured in Laserblast. Jein had recently completed his work on the Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) when Allen approached him to work on Laserblast, which was the first time Jein designed a project himself. He prepared several concept sketches and, after one was selected, he constructed the 18-inch model (46 cm) in two weeks. Allen ultimately felt his animation sequences in Laserblast were not properly integrated with the rest of the film.
Joel Goldsmith and Richard Band, the brother of film producer Charles Band, composed the music for Laserblast, marking the first film score for both composers. The score was written in five days, and makes heavy use of synthesizer, particularly synthesized brass instruments, as well as electronic music. The music was also used in the Charles Band-produced film Auditions, released the same year, the 1986 science fiction film Robot Holocaust and the 1983 horror film The House on Sorority Row. The company Echo Film Services handled the sound effects. The alien language chatter between the aliens in Laserblast was later used as sound effects in the metal band Static-X's song "A Dios Alma Perdida", which is featured in their 2001 album Machine. During several points in the film when something explodes after it is shot by the laser gun, the scene is edited so that multiple shots of the same explosion are shown in succession. This type of editing became a trademark of Charles Band's films, and was done previously in his 1977 films Crash! and End of the World.
The film was distributed by the Irwin Yablans Company, and released on March 1, 1978. Irwin Yablans, who later produced the first three Halloween films, specialized primarily in distributing B movies and low-budget horror films. Laserblast was advertised in conjunction with End of the World, which was released the previous year and still playing theaters. At the time that Laserblast was released, audience interest in science fiction films was particularly high due to the release of Star Wars and the long wait until the release of its sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).
Laserblast has received largely negative reviews, and consistently ranks among the Bottom 100 list of films on the Internet Movie Database. A 1978 critique in The Review of the News said, "The only thing eerie about Laserblast is the thought that the people who made this loser are still running around loose." In the review, Laserblast was described as "an incomprehensible blending" of popular recent films like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with a script "so disordered we could not be certain that the reels were being run in proper sequence". It also criticized the props, particularly the laser gun, which they compared to a cereal box prize. A review by Variety magazine said the special effects were decent, but the script "has more holes than the laser-ravaged landscape." Janet Maslin of The New York Times said Kim Milford's performance was dull and that the script included plot-holes and inconsistencies. The Los Angeles Times critic Linda Gross said the script lacked "credibility, psychological motivation and narrative cohesiveness", although she praised Terry Bowen's cinematography, saying it "effectively captures the ambience of desert small-town life." It was described as one of the worst films of the year in the book, The Golden Turkey Awards.
Literary critic John Kenneth Muir felt the script had many plot-holes left many unanswered questions, and that there was "little effort to forge a coherent story out of the mix". New York Daily News writer David Bianculli described Laserblast as "numbingly bad". In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies, Phil Hardy describes it as "a wholly unimaginative film", adding, "Even the non-stop series of exploding cars becomes monotonous in the hands of director Rae." The Time Out Film Guide described Laserblast as a rip-off of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and said Billy's reign of destruction seemed random and senseless rather than driven by plot or characterization. The review called the film "the epitome of what Frank Zappa once hymned as 'cheapness.'" The Globe and Mail writer Robert Martin called the script inept, said Steve Neill's make-up effects were "frightful rather than frightening", and said Cheryl Smith could "barely talk, let alone act". Martin also stated the film was pulled from a Toronto theater after showing for one week.
Not all reviews were negative. Blockbuster Entertainment gave the film three out of five stars, and film critic Leonard Maltin gave it two-and-a-half out of four stars. In their book about science fiction films, writers James Robert Parish and Michael R. Pitts called Laserblast "an stimulating, unpretentious little film in the same vein as I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Parish and Pitts praised the stop motion animation and the performance of Cheryl Smith. Laserblast was among several films universally considered terrible that film reviewer Michael Adams watched as part of a book about his quest to find the worst film of all time. However, Adams said he enjoyed watching it on a B movie level. Monthly Film Bulletin said that Laserblast was "Band's first major box-office success on the exploitation circuit". According to Space.com, Laserblast has achieved cult film status. During a 2005 interview, Charles Band called the film "hilarious" and stated "it had its charm" like many films from its time. He also said that the film would have been made differently and would have had less critical reactions had it been produced with a larger budget.
Several critical reviews cited the stop motion animation as one of the film's only redeeming qualities. Richard Meyers, a novelist who also wrote about science-fiction films, described Laserblast as "basically repetitive and predictable", but included some redemptive qualities in the animation of Dave Allen and the makeup effects of Steve Neill. Science fiction literary scholar Peter Nicholls called it the worst of Charles Band's films, calling it "badly scripted, badly paced rubbish," describing Allen's "o.k. aliens" as "the only plus". Likewise, film essayist Dennis Fischer said Allen's stop motion animation provides the film's "sole moments of interest", and Cinefex publisher Don Shay called it the film's "only viable selling points". In their DVD & Video Guide, Mick Martin and Marsha Porter called it a "dreadful low-budget film with some excellent special effects by David Allen". Doug Pratt, who criticized the poor acting and dull dialogue, said the special effects and stop motion animation "are well executed, but the sequences without effects are fairly dumb". The authors of The DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter called the film "a dull and padded revenge-against-bullies tale", but said the stop motion animation were enjoyable enough that "fans are likely to be pleased with the low-budget film's positive attributes and willing to ignore the rest".
Laserblast was initially released on home video in 1981 from Media Home Entertainment. It was released on LaserDisc on June 30, 1993 by Shadow Entertainment, and was re-released on VHS on November 25, 1997 by Full Moon Entertainment, a distribution company started by Charles Band. It had a second VHS re-release on October 9, 1998, by United American Home Video. Laserblast was released on DVD on July 6, 1999, again by Full Moon Entertainment. The picture was presented with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and a stereophonic sound. The disc included no captions and no special features except for cast profiles and trailers for other Full Moon films. Doug Pratt, a DVD reviewer and Rolling Stone contributor, said the visual presentation was better than most films from its time, with fresh colors and only a few speckles, as well as a decent sound transfer.
The original motion picture soundtrack was released as a limited edition CD by BSX Records on August 1, 2005. It consisted of about 46 minutes of music over 25 tracks. SoundtrackNet reviewer Mike Brennan said it was "actually quite enjoyable in parts", but not the type of music meant to be listened to without the film. Brennan claimed it resembled some of the later and better-known works of Joel Goldsmith, like the scores of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Joe Sikoryak of Film Score Monthly gave the soundtrack one-and-a-half stars out of five, claiming that about one-third of the album sounded like "generic rock 'n' roll cues for a production unable to afford licensing existing songs".
Band originally planned to produce a sequel called Laserblast II, with production work to begin in August 1986 and a theatrical release expected to follow shortly thereafter. A tagline released for the film read, "The ultimate alien weapon is back." When plans for the sequel were announced, Atlanta-based film critic Scott Journal wrote, "I am one of the few people in the world who saw the original and, believe me, it did not merit a followup." However, Charles Band Productions fell into financial difficulties shortly after the production of Laserblast, and the project was eventually scrapped. However, the premise and elements of the abandoned sequel were later used in the 1988 Charles Band film, Deadly Weapon, which, like Laserblast, was about a bullied teenager who finds a powerful weapon and uses it to seek revenge against his enemies. Band continued to make films and eventually formed Empire Pictures.
Laserblast was featured in the seventh-season finale episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a comedy television series. In the show, the human character Mike Nelson and his two robot friends, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, are trapped in a satellite and forced to watch bad films as part of an ongoing scientific experiment. Laserblast was the sixth episode of the seventh season, which was broadcast on Comedy Central May 18, 1996. It marked the final episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on that network, before the series moved to the Sci-Fi Channel for its eighth season. At the time of broadcast, the MST3K creators did not know the show would eventually be renewed at a different network. Mary Jo Pehl, an actress and writer with the show, felt Laserblast was a particularly bad film: "The lead guy, Kim Somebody, is another sterling example of how filmmaking is not a meritocracy. The fact that this film was even made proves that 'anybody can do it.' You can find this either inspiring or depressing."
During the riffing of the film, the robot character Crow T. Robot claims the film "was run through a highly technical process called 'tension extraction'", and the other robot Tom Servo calls it so dull, "There's a point where it stops being a movie". Mike and the robots make particular note of film critic Leonard Maltin's relatively high two and-a-half star rating of the original film. The episode also makes several references to McDowall's performances in the Planet of the Apes films, and makes several jokes at the expense of Deezen and his stereotypically nerdy character, at one point dubbing him "heir to the Arnold Stang fortune". Mike and the robots repeatedly sang "Are You Ready for Some Football?" whenever Deputy Ungar appeared on screen due to his resemblance to country singer Hank Williams, Jr.
The Laserblast episode was included in the 2008 DVD box-set "Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition", along with episodes featuring the films First Spaceship on Venus (1960), Werewolf (1996) and Future War (1997). They were also made available for instant online streaming through the Internet rental site, Netflix. Dan Cziraky of Cinefantastique, wrote, "If you've never seen Laserblast, this is perfect MST3K viewing! It typifies everything wrong with the late '70s." During a 2009 interview, Eddie Deezen said he loved the show's parody of Laserblast.
In 2017, Eibon Press announced a comic book adaptation, as part of their "VHS Comics" imprint.