Limp VHS-era Exploitation Movie Slams the Door on Watchability
DIRECTED BY FRED OLEN RAY/1986
STREET DATE: JULY 11, 2017/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
In the recent past, I’ve gone for the term “bottom of the barrel” to describe some lousy movie or other which I was writing about. I was wrong. Clearly I’d never encountered Fred Olen Ray’s 1986 babes-in-space adventure, Star Slammer.
But that said, I’m in the clear on the technicality that barrel bottoms, being physical objects and all, can be broken through. Star Slammer, in all of its low budget scraping and stitched-togetherness, slams right on through the bottom of the barrel, and happily keeps right on going.
An early effort in the director’s playmate-ogling filmography, Star Slammer (aka, The Adventures of Taura: Prison Ship: Star Slammer, or Star Slammer: The Escape) is a dull, stitched together cheapie. Shot over the course of more than a year, and made up of other people’s abandoned sets and footage. The spaceship effects shots are from Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars, the cityscapes hail from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century – both of which I might’ve been tempted at some points to call “bottom of the barrel”. Turns out they’re merely somewhere in the barrel. This particular barrel being entirely full of junk movies we’d rent at the grocery store in early 1990s.
What makes Star Slammer so difficult is the across-the-board overacting. As critic Mark Kermode would put it, everyone is pitched up to “eleventy-stupid”.
How bad is it? Much of the sets are cardboard tubing. (Certainly forgivable.) The score is a total rip off of the “Raiders March”. (Yeesh.) “Acting” is the wrong word for what the people on screen are doing. (Ouch.) It’s boring. (Deal breaker!) It betrays its origins of being shot in unrelated chunks over a couple years with the final unifying storyline only coming much later. (Ooookay…) And you know the tales of how certain directors would sometimes fall in love with their musical temp tracks during post production, opting to use them in the final cut? This director similarly fell in love with the slate markers and his voice saying “Action”, opting to intentionally leave certain instances of that in the movie proper. It’s as though the whole thing is one long outtakes reel. (No further comment, Your Honor.)
Fred Olen Ray shares many of the above details about how the film was made on his director’s commentary track, the Blu-Ray’s sole bonus feature. He also shares that he envisioned this to be a kind of “old fashioned adventure serial, with tits”. Although the latter quality would steer the rest of his career, Star Slammer doesn’t have more than a few quick seconds of nudity. It is, however, a mostly female cast aboard a prison spaceship, each one trotting around in skimpy outfits. The prisoners wear Flashdance style workout clothes with inmate numbers spray painted on. The lady wardens wear black leather bondage gear, often tweaked. One has a vegetable strainer covering her would-be exposed breast, with a smaller part of the gadget doubling as a futuristic eyepatch. She’s wrapped in clear cling-wrap to hold it in place. For all of that, Ray is actually good company on his commentary, entirely believable when he says he’s not the kind of person who’d want to watch “women in prison” movies, even though that’s a niche he ended up specializing in.
Visibly low production value is one thing, entirely forgivable, possibly even endearing in the right circumstances. (That said, the cinematography is actually really good! Go figure…) What makes Star Slammer so difficult is the across-the-board overacting. As critic Mark Kermode would put it, everyone is pitched up to “eleventy-stupid”. When every single performer is acting like they’re the sole crazy character, amped to the max, where can the movie go, tonally speaking?
The possible exception is Sandy Brooke as Taura, the heroic adventurer who is wrongly imprisoned and must revolt her way out. Her hair style changes offscreen even more often than she changes her shirt onscreen. Also in the cast in small paycheck roles are aged film stars Aldo Ray and John Carradine, though as the commentary points out, neither probably would’ve recalled working on this film. They each put in maybe a day. Aside from that, it’s a lot of non-actors who apparently replied to a classified ad to be in a movie. Blank stares and wooden dialogue abound.
New on Blu-Ray, Star Slammer is not the “so bad it’s fun” blast that it ought to be, ala Stryker or even A*P*E. Those nostalgic for the Be Kind, Rewind era of grocery video rental oddities may be inclined to give this a try, but viewer beware… You‘re going to need a bigger barrel!