Color, 1992, 84 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Alexander Cassini
Starring Michael St. Gerard, John P. Ryan, Maureen Teefy
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
One of the strangest things about living in L.A. for movie fans is the avalanche of independent local films that tend to pop up at one or two theaters for a week, usually four-walled (with the director or producer paying out of pocket to set up the run for a short period and do all the promotion). Anyone with enough spare time and money can discover some real oddities by hopping around outside of the usual multiplexes, with avenues like this being fertile ground for brain-damaging legends like The Room or Dangerous Men or almost the entire output of Henry Jaglom. The early '90s curio Star Time, a blending of art house social commentary and serial killer psychological study, definitely fits the bill here as it was made for very little money with only three principal actors, all shot either against pure blackness or austere bare walls. Fortunately it's also quite well made and has enough on its mind to justify its existence, with enough visual style and dark humor throughout to make it worthy of discovery.
Driven to despair by the cancellation of his favorite TV show, The Robertson Family, young Henry Pinkle (St. Gerard, who played Link in the original Hairspray and Elvis in several productions) decides to end it all by jumping off a bridge. He's stopped at the last minute by Sam (Ryan), a sinister Mephistophelean figure who talks him out of it by offering companionship and TV stardom. Sam supplies Henry with a creepy baby doll half-mask and a hatchet, instructing him with the aid of banks of TV monitors to kill suburban residents to fulfill his destiny. Meanwhile social worker Wendy (Fame and Grease 2's Teefy, married to director Alexander Cassini at the time) receives a videotaped suicide note Henry had sent before his thwarted attempt and manages to track him down to find that he refers to Sam as his manager. As it turns out, Henry has been very busy with his hatchet and shows no signs of stopping his deranged, media-induced obsession.
Though not a film for all tastes, Star Time is an eerie and effective portrayal of loneliness and psychosis in the age of heavy pop culture saturation, something still all too relatable today. It's a theme that was popping up at lot around this time with films like To Die For and Natural Born Killers picking up on the idea a couple of years later, though the treatment in this case is more of a surreal drama with some horror flavoring rather than the standard black comedy or slasher film you might expect. A highly memorable presence in such films as Runaway Train, Three o' Clock High, and Class of 1999, Ryan gets the showiest role here and owns it completely, while Teefy and St. Gerard play things in a more sedate, realistic key that bounces off of him nicely. The more violent material is kept mainly off screen and limited to aftermath shots of dead bodies, though the film does deliver in the blood department when it tries including a very startling gag at the end that still holds up very well.
Barely shown theatrically outside L.A., Star Time was given a fleeting VHS release from Monarch Home Video in a substantially altered version with Cassini making many changes for pacing including the removal of the entire original opening credits (which were created with a Xerox machine). The original version has been restored for the 2018 dual-format Blu-ray and DVD from Vinegar Syndrome, shining a spotlight on a title that's likely to be a first-time view for 99.9% of viewers. The transfer looks insanely good and blows away the old VHS version to such a degree that it looks like a completely different film, with many striking visuals now punching through with pristine clarity. The DTS-HD MA English stereo track also sounds excellent, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. The film can also be played with an audio commentary featuring Cassini and the label's Joe Rubin, which covers related film topics like Jane Campion, Peter Brook, David Lynch, and The Silence of the Lambs, as well as analysis of the film's treatment of the media and modern culture. However, the most fascinating bit comes with a take down of Ryan who was briefly fired and proved to be a "nightmare" on the set. Cassini also drops a few other fascinating nuggets along the way, such as his stint as a translator in America for "consummate professional" and "real bastard" Ennio Morricone. If you have your speakers turned up, be warned there's also a very loud bit involving a blaring fire truck outside around the 50-minute mark. Cinematographer Fernando Arguelles turns up for a separate video interview (31m37s) that focuses more on his general artistic philosophy and his intentions with this film to evoke a loneliness so intense "that it hurts you" with a number of obstacles turning up along the way including finding the right mask. The theatrical trailer is also included along with a Cassini short film, "The Great Performance" (5m10s), which takes a related look at fame, delusion and disguises, starring Mark Arnott (The Return of the Secaucus Seven) and Teefy as "the glamorous clown who speaks."
Reviewed on March 21, 2018.