Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Retro Review: STAR CRYSTAL (1986)

(US - 1986)

Written and directed by Lance Lindsay. Cast: C. Jutson Campbell, Faye Bolt, John Smith, Taylor Kingsley, Marcia Linn, Emily Longstreth, Eric Moseng, Lance Bruckner, Charles Linza, voice of The Gling. (R, 94 mins)

There was no shortage of blatant ALIEN ripoffs throughout the 1980s--GALAXY OF TERROR, FORBIDDEN WORLD, and HORROR PLANET are but a few--but none were quite as bizarre as STAR CRYSTAL, released by the second, post-Roger Corman incarnation of New World Pictures in the spring of 1986. Inexplicably shown in multiplexes and first-run theaters, STAR CRYSTAL looks like a student film that somehow got picked up for nationwide distribution. Perhaps New World thought they had another DARK STAR on their hands. In the early '70s, USC students John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon got funding to expand their student film project to feature length, and when it was released in 1974, the sci-fi spoof became a cult classic that put both filmmakers on the map. That was decidedly not the case with STAR CRYSTAL, which was just released on Blu-ray (!) by Kino Lorber. The only extra is a trailer, but STAR CRYSTAL's backstory is likely an interesting one that probably warranted telling, because for better or worse--mostly worse--there's never been anything quite like it.

Little is known about the driving forces behind STAR CRYSTAL: writer/director Lance Lindsay and producer/editor/ special effects makeup artist/second unit director Eric Woster, who also shares story credit with Lindsay. Born in 1958, Woster broke into the business in the early '80s as part of the Cheech & Chong crew (he's credited as Tommy Chong's assistant on CHEECH & CHONG'S NICE DREAMS, THINGS ARE TOUGH ALL OVER, and STILL SMOKIN') and would eventually serve as the cinematographer on Chong's 1990 solo comedy FAR OUT MAN. After that, writer-director-star Woster began work on a horror film called SANDMAN which featured an unusual cast including Chong's wife Shelby, Stuart Whitman, Robert Wuhl, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gailard Sartain, Rose Marie, and Morey Amsterdam. On the last day of shooting on February 15, 1992, Woster died suddenly at the age of 33. Google searches reveal internet gossip suggesting suicide but those who knew him said he was born with a heart condition and his heart simply stopped beating. SANDMAN--not to be confused with J.R. Bookwalter's 1995 film THE SANDMAN or anything related to Neil Gaiman--is listed as a 1993 film on IMDb but doesn't appear to have ever been officially released, though IMDb and Letterboxd reviews magically exist. Lindsay's career is even more of a footnote: after debuting with STAR CRYSTAL, he wrote and directed the low-budget, straight-to-video 1990 thriller REAL BULLETS, which featured one-and-done would-be action star John Gazarian and several STAR CRYSTAL alumni, as well as a real actor in Martin Landau, coming off of two consecutive Oscar nominations for Francis Ford Coppola's TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM (1988) and Woody Allen's CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989) and yet still somehow reduced to appearing in a film by the director of STAR CRYSTAL. Lindsay has yet to make another film after REAL BULLETS and other than a supporting role in QUIET FIRE, a straight-to-video 1991 obscurity directed by and starring Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (best known as WELCOME BACK KOTTER's Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington), he completely fell off the face of the earth.

That leaves STAR CRYSTAL as the sole testament to the lunatic vision of Lance Lindsay and Eric Woster. Because so little is known about them and that, with one exception, the cast either went on to REAL BULLETS or nothing else at all, the famous crack from the MST3K skewering of MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE may also apply here: every frame of this movie looks like someone's last known photograph. The only cast member who had any semblance of a career post-STAR CRYSTAL is Emily Longstreth, and even hers didn't last long: the same year as STAR CRYSTAL, she had a supporting role in PRETTY IN PINK and the lead in the post-nuke sci-fi outing WIRED TO KILL, but she's best-known for co-starring as Kevin Bacon's girlfriend in Christopher Guest's 1989 comedy THE BIG PICTURE. Despite the film's critical acclaim, Columbia buried it, generating zero momentum for the appealing Longstreth, and she was out of movies by 1991 (her last credit is 1994's CONFESSIONS OF A HITMAN, which was shelved for three years). It goes without saying that nobody's career was advanced in any way by STAR CRYSTAL, which kicks off with an incredibly clunky opening as some space explorers on Mars find an egg and bring it aboard their ship. It hatches, revealing some strange crystal formation with some kind of lifeform inside. The tiny creature kills several crew members and the rest die when oxygen supply depletes. Their shuttle returns to its base, a space station that's destroyed in some kind of cataclysmic event, but not before five people manage to escape on the shuttle that just returned, embarking on an 18-month trip back to Earth and unaware that there's an alien stowaway onboard.

That cumbersome set-up takes up nearly 20 minutes, with Lindsay padding the running time and dawdling by establishing several characters (including a scientist played by Longstreth) only to kill them off almost instantly. The next 50 or so minutes are your standard ALIEN knockoff, with the quintet of irritating crew members--all of them awful actors--slaughtered one by one by the growing creature, which has somehow hacked into the ship's computer (named "Bernice") and is not only controlling the shuttle, but absorbing all of the information from the hard drive. To describe STAR CRYSTAL's plot is an exercise in futility, and for about 75 of its 93 minutes, it's amateurish, embarrassing, and borderline unwatchable. The story makes no sense, the acting is painfully bad, the logistical design of the ship is a Kafka-esque nightmare of inconvenience (the crew needs to crawl on their hands and knees through some narrow, tube-like shaft to get anywhere), the interior of the space station looks a hotel, visible text on computer screens are riddled with typos (some gems include "Artic" for Arctic and "Judisum" for Judaism), and there's several ill-advised attempts at humor, like hero Roger Campbell (played by one C. Jutson Campbell) making Campbell's soup and using a grating, faux-Jimmy Durante voice to tell colleague and disinterested love interest Dr. Adrian Kimberly (Faye Bolt) a story about his great-grandfather founding the legendary soup company.

All of this is periodically interrupted by shots of a crystal housing a shapeless, one-eyed lifeform that oozes goo and wheezes like the Blob with a bad chest cold. But this creature grows, and when it reaches full maturity, suddenly resembles E.T. crossed with a gelatinous turtle, creating the illusion of an extraterrestrial Mitch McConnell, albeit slightly more likable. It's here that STAR CRYSTAL decides to carve its own path in the crowded ALIEN ripoff scene, and the people who most likely walked out of the theater before the final act really deprived themselves of some joy. No spoilers here, but with its sudden empathy for humanity and the understanding that's reached between the two surviving crew members and the alien--named "Gar"--STAR CRYSTAL establishes itself as the MAC AND ME of ALIEN knockoffs, almost resembling some kind of bizarre MR. SHOW sketch, which makes it a must-see. Unfortunately, that means enduring the first 75 minutes, but part of me thinks this whole movie is some kind of elaborate, Andy Kaufman-esque prank on the part of everyone involved (the closing credits boast "Filmed entirely in space"). You'll also have the closing credits song "Crystal of a Star"--performed by Stefani Christopherson, best known for being the voice of Daphne on the first season of SCOOBY-DOO back in 1970--stuck in your head for a week. It's too bad Kino didn't track down any of the film's surviving cast and crew because STAR CRYSTAL is the kind of WTF? bad movie classic in the vein of recent DVD/Blu-ray unearthings like NIGHTMARE WEEKEND, THE EXECUTIONER PART II and R.O.T.O.R. that's ready-made for a midnight movie resurrection. And that Gar is just adorable.

STAR CRYSTAL opening in Toledo, OH on 5/23/1986, for some reason


  1. Back in 1991 I was in Santa Monica and walked into a resturant and Emily was the hostess. At the time I thought that odd as I had seen in so many movies around thart time. Here is a website from 2009 that says she has bi-polasr disorder:http://crazydaysandnights.net/2009/05/this-is-what-happened-to-emily-longstreth.html

  2. Thanks for the link. I did a little research on her while writing this, but decided she's such a minor player in STAR CRYSTAL that it might be too much of an aside. But yeah, she apparently had some mental health issues. There's also a few reports that say she was in and out of homeless shelters and died in 2015. Very sad.