STAR SLAMMER (1986) Blu-ray
Director: Fred Olen Ray
Kino Lorber

Fred Olen Ray makes a throwback to classic serials with added T&A in STAR SLAMMER, on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

In a universe ruled by The Sovereign (Lindy Skyles, DOWN THE DRAIN), pantheon crystals are a valuable energy resource carefully guarded by rogue miners from seizure by the government. One such miner is Taura (Sandy Brooke, SLEDGEHAMMER) who valiantly defends her claim against the ruthless Bantor (Ross Hagen, WONDER WOMEN) who murders priest Zaal (Johnny Legend, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR) for his meagre collection of crystals. Taura is overpowered, but not before dunking Bantor's hand in acidic lava. Set up for Zaal's murder and hoarding resources, Taura is sentenced – by John Carradine making a one shot cameo – to imprisonment on the penal colony ship Vehement under the watch of kinky Warden Exene (Marya Gant, HALLOWEEN NIGHT). She is assigned to a cellblock and put through her paces by ringleader Mike (Suzy Stokey, THE POWER) and cellmates (including TERROR EYES' Vivian Schilling) under the one remaining eye of sadistic trustee Muffin (Ray's then-wife Dawn Wildsmith, HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS). Ironically, the combined efforts of Exene and Mike to break Taura forge a bond between Taura and Mike when they brave the "Arena of Death". Bantor, unhinged since Taura ruined his hand, has become an unstable embarrassment whose massacres are fostering sympathy for the underground movement so The Sovereign sends him to Vehement to "observe" the experiments of Dr. Po (Jade Barrett) who is developing a laser brain immobilizer to lobotomize rebellious subjects into serving The Sovereign. When Bantor – whose erratic behavior worries even his henchmen Krago (co-writer Michael Sonye, better known as NIGHTMARE SISTERS' Dukey Flyswatter) and Garth (SCALPS' Richard Hench) – threatens Taura, her cellblock rallies around her and they stage a great escape.

With the onscreen title THE ADVENTURES OF TAURA: PRISON SHIP STAR SLAMMER, STAR SLAMMER is a women-in-prison throwback to sci-fi serials of yesteryear with the plot chaptered as such (although chapter four is disproportionately long enough to make one wonder if the budget could not afford more title card opticals since it contains many opportunities to break off for new chapters). Deliberately cheesy with tongue-in-cheek performances, some amusingly artificial creature effects – including mutant rats designed by THE DEADLY SPAWN's John Dods who also recycles the alien creature from that film – and some prosthetic disfigurements courtesy of Matt Rose and Mark Williams who would go on to work for Stan Winston Studio on ALIENS while the space animation and opticals not licensed from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS were the work of Bret Mixon (LORD OF ILLUSIONS) and are of the same high quality of other neglected artists working during that period for the likes of Empire Pictures and other ambitious low budget productions. Brooke and Stokey are attractive if passable leads, but Hagen, Gant, and Wildsmith are far more entertaining. Bobbi Breese (EVIL SPAWN) makes a special appearance as The Sovereign's companion Marai, and Aldo Ray (BIOHAZARD) has a few lines as the scarred Inquisitor. Director Ray provides the voice of the robotic sentry Mouse while producer Jack H. Harris (THE BLOB) does the intercom announcements, Breese's husband Frank cameos as a game show announcer, and Ray's son Christopher also has a one shot appearance.

Filmed in 1984, STAR SLAMMER was released theatrically by Jack H. Harris Enterprises in 1988 and on VHS by Vidmark in 1993. Image Entertainment (who released the film on laserdisc concurrent with the tape release) released a 16:9 barebones DVD in 2001 (along with a number of other Harris titles), and Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray features a brand new HD master from 2016. The film still looks cheap but the colors are richer, detail is enhanced when it comes to the sets, optical effects, and bare flesh (as well as some prosthetic gore and creature effects), as well as the cinematography. The film was mixed in Ultra Stereo but the track sounds rather muddled when it comes to some on-set dialogue and the effects are not very directional on the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The score of Anthony Harris (COACH) fares better sonically.

Other than trailers for STAR CRYSTAL and FREEWAY, the only extra is a brand new audio commentary by director Ray who starts off relating how he became acquainted with Harris as well as his friendship with Sonye who was one of the main movers behind the film. Some of the interior studio scenes were shot on the sets of the Roger Corman production SPACE RAIDERS during the time that Ray was shooting BIOHAZARD (putting the female actresses in "Flashdance Sweats" making their jailbreak down the hallways), and that some of the crew would shoot SURF NAZIS MUST DIE right after. He explains that the reason that there is so little nudity other than Brooke was because they were locked into the cast because he was more concerned with hiring actresses who would show up rather than ones that would specifically do nudity when shooting the aforementioned jailbreak bits. Ray also reveals that the landrover seen in the opening sequence came from the LOGAN'S RUN TV series, some of the costumes came from Charles Band's METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED SYN, and also mentions that they intended to insert some effects shots from EQUINOX – a 16mm independent production that Harris picked up and ordered reshoots and additional effects in 35mm – but the quality did not match. (Eric Cotenas)