A quick clarification: Star Crystal (1986) and Star Slammer (1986) are not available on the same Blu-ray disc, despite the two films make for an interesting evening of viewing. Kino Lorber consistently delivers an eclectic array of films, ranging from foreign high art (such as Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria ) to the Gene Wilder spoof fest Haunted Honeymoon (1986). More importantly, Kino Lorber has some gems of both science fiction and exploitation, and that’s where our double header comes in. Pack your Space Food sticks and Dippin’ Dots freeze ice cream, grab your Russian dogs, say a prayer to Our Lady of Weyland-Yutani, and let’s take a rocket ship to space, people!
Star Crystal (1986)
First, the bad news: Star Crystal (1986) is not a terribly good film. This pains me to say, as I desperately love campy science fiction films from any era. Not all movies have to be good, but if you’re going to err on the side of low budget and melodrama, you had better bring the camp to go with it (it’s really like cheddar cheese – so many things are improved with it). Star Crystal has so much potential to go the side of camp, especially considering that it comes from the 1980s, a hub of decadence, self-importance, and the need to not take itself so seriously when there’s good sex and easy solutions to micro and macro problems to be had. The problem with a campy 1980s science fiction film is that there’s this pesky expectation of a sense of humor, and well, Star Crystal is a bit of a dowdy, humorless schoolmarm out to steal your collection of marbles.
It’s not that this film doesn’t try – it makes honest attempts at both fear and greater philosophy. The plot beings in the year 2032, when a mission crew to Mars finds an egg on the alien planet and bring onboard their vessel. Way leads to way, and there’s an accident that kills the crew as the egg hatches. Contained within the egg are a powerful, mysterious crystal (as crystals are wont to be) and a slimy little alien. Cut to a couple of months later, when another spacecraft crew boards the ship… and encounters the alien, named GAR, who has grown intelligent and doesn’t take kindly to the intruders. As time ticks on, both GAR and the crew attempt to come to an understanding as they struggle to survive.
I place a lot of the blame of this film’s shortcomings on writer/director Lance Lindsay. Producer Eric Woster helped him conceive the story, but Lindsay wrote the screenplay and provided direction, which proved problematic at best. The dated throwbacks and faded technology actually help to up the camp factor, which is a good thing. However, the character development is simply flat. I found myself not rooting for anyone in this film. It was like Red Dwarf (1988-2009) and Mac and Me (1988) had a baby that didn’t get mom or dad’s sense of humor; it just got the weird-shaped head and propensity to induce yawns and groans. The compulsion to look down at one’s watch is no stranger to anyone watching this film. Clocking in at 91 minutes, I felt like I was traveling through space in a ship that had run out of gas and food supplies as well.
Round up: lots of dated imagery, but nowhere near enough substance to make it worthwhile. Unless if you want to turn it into a drinking game, in which case, tally ho, my space cowboy.
Star Slammer (1986)
And now for something completely different. Do you like acting that falls *just short* of even remotely passable? Do you love cliched ’80s dialogue? Do you love women in prison films, complete with Ilsa: She Wolf of the S.S. vibes, eye patches and fight sequences filled with orgasmic-sounding sighs and cries? Boy oh boy do I have some excellent news for you: Star Slammer more than delivers on each of these criteria and a whole lot more.
Also known as Prison Ship, this story brings to us the tale of Taura (Sandy Brooke), a woman unjustly convicted of murder and sentenced to seven years onboard a notorious prison ship… if she can survive the prison gangs, lesbian overseers, aggressive politics and corruption in the forms of both mutiny and an insane man out for revenge. Between tussling with gang leader Mike (Suzy Stokey, who chews each scene like it’s the last piece of pork chop in space, despite that it’s covered with grizzle and fat) and trying to aid the wrongfully-convicted Muffin (yes, that’s really a character’s name and it’s bloody fantastic), Taura has her scantily-clad work cut out for her.
This film features every staple of a women-in-prison exploitation film, yet performs the ultimate upgrade: it places these features into a poorly-constructed, intergalactic, 1980s wonderland of Aquanet and over-the-top eyeshadow in space. Oh, and creature effects with far more tongue planted firmly in cheek than budget, which could be either a disaster or a blessing given the hands of the direction. It should have been titled ‘Women in Prison’, IN SPACE! Most things are better in space (except for Star Crystal, which didn’t properly launch). Setting something in space has an effect akin to adding Bacos to a salad: it only improves the genre if done with a steady hand. Should we be surprised to learn that this film is the brainchild of director Fred Olen Ray? This is the same man that brought us Bikini Time Machine (2011), Dinosaur Island (1984) and Commando Squad (1987). He’s fantastic and this film is every bit as fun as you’d expect if you’re familiar with his work. In fact, I want to go to space prison if it’s like this.
The amazement here lies within the fact that, despite certain commonalities with Star Crystal, the tone of Star Slammer is infinitely more fun. As a result, Star Slammer winds up an immensely enjoyable experience because it’s not trying to be a serious think piece – it knows it’s not headed for Academy Award glory, and it decides that it wants to be the best little campy vehicle this side of Neptune.
Star Crystal (1986) and Star Slammer (1986) are currently available for purchase from Kino Lorber. Remember: Star Crystal bad, Star Slammer good. Now go forth and prosper.