As we’ve said many times amid the digital pages of B&S About Movies: the backstories on movies are sometimes more engaging than the actual movie itself. And this Alien-cum-E.T. VHS-hybrid is one of them. And, in spite of that fact, I still love this movie. Of course, the danger with these theatrically-shot but ultimately released as direct-to-VHS flicks from the ’80s, when reissued, first, to DVD, then Blu-ray, then into the Amazon-cum-Netflix streaming-verse, instead of sticking to the original artwork, those ’80s ditties are redressed with flashy artwork that grossly oversells the movie — and accomplishes in destroying the film’s only endearing quality: its nostalgia.
Then, ye, the dear B&S reader, say to yourself: “Those B&S guys are full of B.S. This movie sucks the feldercarb off the DeLorean flux capacitors. Frack them and their ‘nostalgia’ daggit-dunged memories.”
Hey, we get it, ye more-youthful-than-us readers. If our first exposure to Star Crystal were these two, home-video promotional one-sheets — and then we watched the movie — we’d feel hornswoggled, as well. For no one is encased in any “crystal” coffins or tombs, and nothing in this particular crystal’s clarity looks nothing like Tobe Hooper’s theatrical-distributed and thus, better known, Star Wars-cum-Alien rip from 1985, Lifeforce. And check that Gigeresque alien with toothy grin at the next asteroid, Buck.
Yeah, leave it to Roger Corman’s lipstick-on-a-pig art department minions at New World to dupe you into renting a movie. But, to be honest, I’ve never felt duped by this movie. Again, damn me and my nostalgia.
So, who came up with the idea to mesh Alien with E.T, you ask? Would you believe an ex-video director (Toto was one of his clients) and Cheech and Chong associate? It’s true. While he ended up acting in a space flick we’ve never, ever seen nor heard of, Space Chase (1990; and we sense a tingling in “The Force” that it’s recycling sets and etc. from Star Crystal . . . no it’s worse*), in addition to writing, directing and starring in a horror film we also never, ever seen nor heard of, Sandman (1993), the late Eric Woster (1958 -1992) made his feature film debut as a screenwriter with Star Crystal, a film that also used his past music video skills as an editor. (Oh, you’ll see Eric’s credits in the C&C movies Nice Dreams, Still Smokin’, Things are Tough All Over, and Far Out Man (okay, only one “C,” and with another “Eric”: the everywhere Roberts one).
As for the director behind the script: It’s TV actor Lance Lindsay (the IMDb lists only one credit: a 1976 episode of TV’s McCloud, but surely he did more series) in his directorial debut. And, as with Eric Woster, Lindsay took the celluloid bull by the horns to write, produce, and direct, yet another film we’ve never heard of nor seen, Real Bullets (1988). And has anyone ever seen Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs’s (Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington from TV’s Welcome Back, Kotter) acting-directing effort, Quiet Fire (1991)? We haven’t. Well, Lindsay apparently acted in that film as well.
So, that’s the full resumes on the writer and director put to bed. As for the actors: this is one of those films where no one was very good at their job, so they subsequently vanished from the business. The only actor able to develop a resume (who’s quickly dispatched in the film’s opening salvo) is an actress we’ve named dropped a few times at B&S: Emily Longstreth. Em starred in Private Resort (with Johnny Depp), the abysmal American Drive-In, and had a support role in John Hughes’s essential ’80s comedy watch, Pretty in Pink (1986). Oh, and we can’t forget the uttery-forgettable Wired to Kill (1986), that, if not for starring Kim Milford (Laserblast), we’d probably wouldn’t have reviewed it at all.
Set design and visual effects-wise, Star Crystal — courtesy of SFX Supervisor Lewis Abernathy (wrote Deep Star Six, directed House IV, bit-acted in James Cameron’s Titanic) — when considering its budget, looks pretty darn good. (The SFX team also includes Steven P. Sardanis; his work goes back to Charles Bronson’s The Stone Killer and 1974’s The Towering Inferno, and Chuck Comisky; he worked on Battle Beyond the Stars, Star Knight, and James Cameron’s Avatar.) Now, granted, the proceedings maybe not be as craftsman-good as William Malone’s quintessential low-budget Alien rip, Creature (1985), but just as good, if not better, than the space station interiors of the Canadian apoc-romp Def-Con 4 (1985). (Considering Def-Con 4 also carries the New World imprint, it probably is the same set, if not the same set retro-fitted to a degree; it looks like it to me.) And the practical, in-camera model work is fun to watch as well (the ship reminds of — but is not — the “hammerhead” from Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) as some reviews have stated). And the reason it looks so good: Robert Caramico*, who got his start with Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead (1965) and Lemora (1973), is the cinematographer. The space suits and various wares are also well-made. And the alien tendrils and humans-sucked-dry gore effects (that, considering the film’s R-rating, could of be bit more gorier) are pretty decent. And, when we finally meet the once evil alien that becomes a friendly alien, he-she-it looks pretty good, too — granted, it can’t run and just oozes and goozes in one spot, but, it does blink and glow!
Then there’s the acting . . . oh, whoa the thespin’ that just kills all of that hard SFX work. And the “suspenseful” chase scene between alien and human in the ship’s conduits/tunnels — as depicted by ’80s DOS-level video arcade blips on a rudimentary computer-map of the ship watched by the crew members . . . yikes! And what’s the deal with the ship not having any actual corridors or decks that forces the crew to crawl on their hands and knees through tunnels to get from compartment to compartment, e.g., from the bridge to the lab? (Rog, you couldn’t lend out the Battle Beyond the Stars sets? Since when are you apprehensive to set loaning-recycling?)
Anyway, if you’ve seen Alien — or any of its ’80s knockoffs (but this really isn’t as “Alien” as you may think) — you know the tale: In the year 2032, a routine expedition of a crater near Olympus Mons on Mars discovers a mysterious rock. And the crew of the SS-37 cracks it open. And it has a crystal inside (that acts as the alien’s “life force” and its “intelligence” . . . and an alien organism that grows . . . that leaves a gooey, “lemon” scent during its rampage. . . .
When the Nostromo-light (aka, the SS-37) shows up at the L-5 space station (aka, Gateway Station-light; yes, it’s also a “spoked-spinning wheel” station, but it is not the same space station from Creature, as some reviewers have stated) — with everyone on board dead-by-suffocation — a five-man (three women, two men) military-civilian technical crew is dispatched to run a systems check on the ship. Then the alien sabotages the station and the tech crew escapes the destruction aboard the damaged-not-repaired SS-37. With not enough a food to last the two-year shuttle trip back to Earth or a (hopeful) one-year rescue mission, they decide to search for supply depots in orbit between Mars and Earth to make the trip home. But not if the alien, known as GAR, has anything to say about it: it’s poisoned the ship’s water supply and now there’s not enough to make it to the first supply depot. The alien wants the ship to get back home — and not to Mars. But when a meteor storm damages the ship and neither homo sapien or xenomorph can get home, they realize they need to bury the galactic light-hatchet.
Truth be told: While the acting and its (many) bad bits of dialog detracts from the script, the story itself is intelligent and heartfelt, and the last act when GAR and the two surviving humans become friends and must depart to their individual destinies, is actually heartbreaking. But then . . . oh, that friggin’ song kicks in — that’s not as bad as the theme song to The Green Slime (1968) or as hokey as the eco-theme to Silent Running (1972), but still, it’s pretty bad — has to ruin that tear-jerking moment. If take away the strained thespin’, you’ll discover there’s actually a great movie in the frames of Star Crystal, with a sci-fi poignant message about humanity’s ways that’s ripe for a big-budgeted remake. Yes, Jesus Saves — even aliens. Come on, now: a film with an insight about love and freewill among the (alien) races? How can you hate on that message? (Personally, I enjoy a chunk of religion and philosophy chocolate in my sci-fi peanut butter.)
In my discussions with Sam, the Bossman of B&S (don’t tell Becca), about the film, he takes this film to task for the bad alien changing it’s xenomorphic ways after reading the human’s Holy Bible and for playing chess with a human (moving pieces with its mind) as a rip on the Dejarik hologram game from Star Wars. My irritations result from the overbearing “futuristic” soundtrack (by Doug Katsaros, later of the ’90s animated series, The Tick) (it’s mixed to loud), the British accented, smart-mouthed ship’s computer, and the Bechdel test fails of the ship’s engineer cast an unattractive bitch (the “Lambert”), the ubiquitous hot blonde being a weeping willow of the “what are we gonna do now” variety (ack, King Dinosaur), the hot brunette being a strong-willed bitch (aka the “Ripley”), and the men being dismissive, sexist dickheads — dicks who assign the women the grunt work (such as being in charge of the kitchen) as they kick back on the bridge to spew chauvinistic dialog and crack bad jokes. Oh, and our Captain kissing the passed out/knocked out female crew member: ick and eww.
What Sam and I do agree on — and everyone calls out — is “Crystal of a Star,” the caterwauling-awful end credits song by American-Icelandic singer and actress Stefanianna Christopherson, aka Indria. And if not for her starting out as a child-teen actress with roles in the Jacqueline Bisset-starring The Grasshopper (1970) and TV’s Mayberry R.F.D., and becoming best known for her work as the first voice of Daphne Blake in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, no one would probably have called out the song at all. (Well, yeah, they would have.)
You can enjoy the full film (seriously, you will) as a commercial free-stream on You Tube. The fine folks at Kino Lorber offer Star Crystal as an HD-restored DVD and Blu-ray (Ack! With the Giger-cum-Tobe Hooper faux artwork on the cover?). Used VHS tapes are still easily obtainable in the online marketplace. If you like to caveat your Blus before you buy, you can get the technical low down at Blu-ray.com. There’s also an older, bare-bones Anchor Bay DVD in the marketplace, which also proliferate the online marketplace.
* As Bill Van Ryn at Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum has said, “Robert Caramico has, as a DP, given us so many great films!” But Bill, Sam, and myself have never seen, nor been able to find, a copy of Robert’s lone theatrical directing effort: the faux “adults only” documentary Sex Rituals of the Occult (1970). So, to say “the search is on” in an understatement. He also shot Octaman and Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, so to say Robert “makes chicken salad of the daggit dung” is an understatement — and if you’ve seen those two films, you know what we mean!
And that’s the saga of Star Crystal!
* Update: Never say never, young star warrior. Once a movie gets stuck in our heads . . . we finally gave Space Chase a full review proper, and it runs at 8 PM this evening to close out our “Space Week” of film reviews. So join us!