Sunday, July 30, 2017

STAR SLAMMER - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Fred Olen Ray, that staunch bastion of the modern-day B-movie, delivers plenty of fun in STAR SLAMMER (1986), an ambitious, if oddly-naïve, women-in-prison film set in the outer reaches of space, which has – rather unexpectedly – arrived on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics in what is undoubtedly the film’s finest home video edition yet.

Produced by old-timer Jack H. Harris, best-known for producing Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.’s THE BLOB (1958) and DINOSAURUS! (1960), this late-breaking effort for the veteran producer takes place in a corrupt galaxy led by the powerful Sovereign (Lindy Skyles).  Sandy Brooke stars as Taura, who is unjustly imprisoned on the Prison Ship Vehemence, where she endures the usual indignities associated with the genre, including a ‘head trustee’ named Muffin (!) (Dawn Wildsmith, also seen in Ray’s THE TOMB [1986]) who gets-off on torturing the prisoners; numerous catfights; an intergalactic ‘Ilsa’-type warden (Marya Gant) who rules over the prison with an iron hand (“Any dissension among the prisoners will be dealt with severely!”); and the vengeful Bantor (Ross Hagen), one of the Sovereign’s magistrates, who had earlier lost his hand at the hands (pun intended) of Taura.

Much like a ’40s-style serial, which was F.O. Ray’s original – and quite successful – intention, the film is divided into 5 chapters (with in-joke titles such as “Death on Planet Arous”), plus there’s even an end-title card that promises a sequel (“THE ADVENTURES OF TAURA ON A CHAIN GANG PLANET”) which never materialized. Ray is obviously having a lot of fun here, and in a surprising show of restraint, nudity is kept to a minimum, with only a couple of brief scenes wherein Taura doffs her top (“You’re very firm!”).  Rest assured though, most of the female cast do sport typically skimpy prison garb, which, according to Ray’s entertaining commentary, was purchased at Zody’s, a now-defunct department store.  Attesting to the film’s economical approach, F.O.’s shrewd, cost-effective perseverance is evident throughout, and STAR SLAMMER utilizes footage from both John Carpenter’s DARK STAR (1974) and Jimmy T. Murakami’s BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980), all legally licensed from Harris and BBTS producer Roger Corman, which Ray says (quote) “added immensely” to the production.  He also made use of the sets from Howard R. Cohen’s SPACE RAIDERS (1983); costumes from Bruce Clark’s GALAXY OF TERROR (1981) and Charles Band’s METALSTORM – THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN (1983); and, in one of the film’s many outlandish scenes, he even had the opportunity to reuse John Dod’s memorable ‘eating machine’ alien from Douglas McKeown’s THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983)!    

Sandy Brooke, who went on to appear in F.O.’s DEEP SPACE (1988) and David De Coteau’s NIGHTMARE SISTERS (1988), embarks on her noble quest with solid determination, and carries the film quite well on her far-from-brawny shoulders, but much of its appeal stems from Ray’s gung-ho ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ approach, a technique which also served him well on some of his earlier films, such as BIOHAZARD (1983/84).  Like that film, Ray also populates STAR SLAMMER with numerous cameos from the likes John Carradine (his appearance here seems just as threadbare as it did in Jerry Warren’s FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND [1981]); Aldo Ray as the disfigured ‘Inquisitor’; and Bobbi Breese as the Sovereign’s significant other.

Although it had a very limited theatrical run, most people first stumbled upon this flick via Vidmark Entertainment’s 1988 VHS videocassette, which, for some inexplicable reason, was actually retitled STAR SLAMMER – THE ESCAPE.  In 2001, it was given its debut on DVD via Image Entertainment, whose edition actually looked pretty good for the time, but Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray easily outdoes all previous editions with an altogether cleaner, sharper picture.  Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it all looks nicely balanced, which further accentuates DP Anthony Elliott’s nicely composed cinematography.  The DTS-HD MA 2.0 also sounds fine, without any issues whatsoever.

The sole extra associated with the film itself is yet another superb audio commentary from director Fred Olen Ray who relates all sorts of great facts and anecdotes about this (quote) “Saturday afternoon serial with tits.”  Right off the bat, he begins discussing the famous Iverson Movie Ranch outside of Chatsworth, California, which, during the ’40s and ’50s was home to a number of television productions, such as the The Lone Ranger (1949 – 1957) and The Cisco Kid (1950 -1956); the same location was used for all of the present film’s opening scenes on Planet Arous. Ray initially approved Sandy Brooke for the lead part simply because she had that (quote) “jungle girl / Nyoka sort of thing going on about her.”  He goes on to recount loads of info on most of his eclectic cast and crew, including DP Elliott who (quote) “wouldn’t budge off the quality, which in turn made it (quote) “very demanding.”  He also laughs at times how the film (quote) “doesn’t deliver in so many ways” due to its generally amiable nature.  Even without a moderator, Ray has plenty to discuss and, like most of his movies, it’s never dull or boring.  Trailers for Lance Lindsay’s STAR CRYSTAL (1986) and Francis Delia’s FREEWAY (1988), a couple of other Kino Lorber Studio Classics titles, round out the extras.  Order it from DiabolikDVD or Amazon.

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