Kino Lorber's Star Slammer Release ReMasters
The Campy Space Prison Flick
When done right, filmmakers have the potential to deliver audiences the next Back To The Future, a crowd-pleasing gem that’s not only fondly remembered by those who saw it first but also the generations who’ve discovered it since being released. When done wrong? Well, I think it’s safe to conclude that you get something that looks, sounds, and ages like Fred Olen Ray’s Star Slammer (1986), the tale of a lovely lady (in space!) thrown behind bars (in space!) with nowhere left to turn (in space!).
Now – for clarity’s sake – Slammer isn’t an awful film. (Those who’ve seen it are sure to take issue with that statement.) In fact, I’d argue that it’s awfully ambitious – perhaps too much for its own good – as it tried to not only deliver Comedy and Science Fiction but also hoped to serve up a heaping helping of old-fashioned Exploitation. That’s an awful lot to chew much less digest, and it’s usually why some cult films typically don’t enjoy a longer shelf life: they appear endlessly and unnecessarily silly.
Still, what I’m thankful for in this regard is that Kino Lorber has opened the door to others getting the opportunity to discover some of the B-Movies of my younger days as so much of today’s efforts are overrun with some awful CGI animation: Star Slammer – even with all its blemishes (and there are plenty) – is a labor of love from the bygone days of small studios cross-pollinating their projects with one another. It may not mean much to some, but it means plenty to those of us who grew up watching this shlock.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“Taura, a voluptuous Amazonian beauty, finds herself mounting a battle against the forces of evil when she tangles with Bantor, a sadistic government official. Soon she is sentenced to hard labor aboard the prison ship Star Slammer and must prove herself to her young female cellmates before earning their respect and leading them in a daring prison break …”
Naturally, there’s plenty more, but I’ll diverge from there. What’s essential to know about this Slammer can be gleaned precisely from what director Ray tells you on the commentary track: “I was making a Saturday afternoon serial with tits.”
Beyond that perspective, however, Slammer is widely uneven, so much so that it’s hard to really figure out where all of this came from much less how it all managed to come together. Like so many B-Movies from the 1980’s, Slammer feels like an invention loosely plotted out on paper and heavily conceived on set. Michael Sonye’s screenplay only manages to pay lip service to the conventions of Comedy, Science Fiction, and Exploitation as most of the jokes are groaners, much of the ‘science’ we’ve seen before, and the sexiness is rather tame (even by 80’s standards).
Of course, intentional nostalgia for those kinder, simpler days of filmmaking (largely before CGI) is no reason to dismiss Slammer’s deficiencies, but Ray and company do manage to pull off what they started out to do here, no small feat regardless of the era. Any filmmaker worth his or her salt will tell you how much the work is a ‘labor of love,’ and back before everything could be “fixed in post” there were a wealth of craftsmen and women who had to get it up there on the silver screen. (George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron have really ruined audiences as so much of their worlds are conceived digitally: if that makes me sound old, then get off my lawn.) So if you can do like I did and set aside some modern preconceptions then you may find some guilty pleasure in a single viewing, though I suspect you’ll be hard-pressed to spin this disc again.
Also, as one who grew up watching those old black’n’white serials of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, Slammer worked for me probably as well as Ray intended. While it may not have the same grit or spirit of escape, it’s heart was obviously in the right place.
RECOMMENDED. Clearly, Star Slammer isn’t for everyone, but for those of us who grew up in the days when home video was a bit more adventurous with practical in-camera effects it should hit the spot just right. Yes, much of it may be unintentionally laughable, but I’ve often said that’s half the fun in discovering or re-discovering some of these lesser entries from the films of yesterday. I’ve no doubt everyone involved had a hand in the merriment, and Kino Lorber’s release is definitely worth a look (as is the commentary) for budding auteurs to learn a thing or two you can’t find in the books.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a Blu-ray of Star Slammer for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.