There’s a pride that comes with renting a movie that I never heard of, that you never heard of, that nobody ever recommended to me before, and finding out it’s something interesting. Man, this one is not what I expected. I’m not saying I discovered an unheralded classic like I did when I stumbled across that Billy Dee Williams movie HIT! when it was only on VHS, but I definitely found an unusual one here.
And it’s all because of Slasher Search. As most of you know, every October I try to find some good slasher movies (preferably from the ’70s or ’80s, but I’m having to get lenient these days) that I’ve never seen before. Every year it gets harder, because the pool gets smaller, and I gotta look for more and more obscure ones, like the ones that haven’t even made it to DVD yet. In this case I got real desperate and ventured out of the horror section and I found this tape in Murder/Mystery/Suspense. It looked like it might be a slasher movie, seeing as how it showed a dude wearing a plastic baby mask holding an ax. Which can be used for slashing, is my contention.
Turns out STAR TIME is not a traditional slasher movie, but then again it’s not a traditional any kind of movie. It’s a surreal nightmare from the point of view of a crazy person named Henry Pinkle (Michael St. Gerard) who, despondent over the cancellation of his favorite TV show, decides to jump off a building. But an old man named Sam Bones (John P. Ryan, AVENGING FORCE, DEATH WISH IV: THE CRACKDOWN) starts giving him a pep talk about how he considered suicide before but why he didn’t do it and why Henry shouldn’t do it.
Then there’s a great moment where Henry asks, “Wanna jump with me?” and Sam thinks about it for a second, then nods his head and mouths “yes,” steps up to join him.
But a minute later Sam re-changes his mind and leaves, and Henry decides to follow him.
I’m pretty sure Sam doesn’t exist, but Henry thinks he does, and that he is his “manager” for “show biz.” Sam convinces Henry that he should start killing people in order to become famous. He puts on the baby mask, breaks into somebody’s house and sits and watches their TV. But when the occupant sees him Henry gets scared and runs off. Sam is so disappointed in Henry he threatens to drive him back to the building he was gonna jump off of, bullying him into going back in there. Thus begins the killing spree of “The Baby Mask Killer,” shown mostly in news montage. Sam is so hands on that he seems to help edit the news footage and goes over it to give Henry tips.
The movie is fearless about putting you into Henry’s delusions and not explaining what is real and what’s not. The continuity gets deliberately disorienting at times, for example starting a scene with Henry in a room talking to someone, then suddenly at the door as if he’s just arrived. There are many cuts to a wall of TV screens showing female lips, breasts, etc., and some abstract closeups on video static and shit. It’s arty in a very early ’80s way, so I was surprised when I realized it came out in 1992.
The other major character is Wendy (Maureen Teefy of FAME fame), Henry’s “friend from social services.” He spies on her when she’s sleeping naked, sneaks in and sleeps next to her bed wearing the baby mask, and other things that in my opinion are inappropriate. But we also see some humanizing glimpses of her life as she calls a friend and worries that she’s not doing a good enough job with Henry. (And I mean, not her fault, but it’s true, if there’s something that could stop him from wearing a baby mask and killing people she apparently hasn’t done it.)
St. Gerard doesn’t play Henry as evil or over-the-top crazy. He’s a clueless, timid manchild who never knows what the fuck is going on. He does little weirdo things like when Wendy accidentally pricks her finger he quickly wipes the drop of blood onto his thumb and then sucks it like a baby. In another scene he shows up at her door and momentarily imitates his idea of a cool, self-assured person, blurting out “I was in the neighborhood and I said to myself, ‘How the hell is old Wendy?'” Then he turns shy again.
My favorite weird thing he does is one that go by casually without much notice. While they’re heatedly discussing the dead woman they’ve found in a hotel room he takes the mostly-ashes cigarette out of her hand and takes a puff off it.
I kept thinking how much St. Gerard looked like Elvis Presley. Not like his fashion or his swagger or anything, just physically he looks like Elvis. So it made sense when I looked him up and found out he played Elvis in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE!, HEART OF DIXIE, the 1990 13-episode Elvis TV series, and an episode of Quantum Leap. Or you might recognize him as the Elvis-like Link Larkin from HAIRSPRAY (I haven’t seen it in years so I didn’t). It’s kind of cool that this movie about wanting to be famous cast a lead actor whose career is mainly based on his resemblance to one of the most famous people ever, but then never makes any reference to it.
The satire in this movie is not particularly deep. It’s another example of that thing I’ve mentioned before that was so big in the ’80s, where you were supposed to rage against the old Leave It To Beaver era TV shows for their white-washed image of the American family. At least I assume that’s the type of show you’re supposed to picture when Henry talks about his cancelled favorite show The Robertson Family and how he visits them every week. I guess in a way this is a precursor to NATURAL BORN KILLERS, but as sloppy as that movie is it is more specific and seemingly knowledgeable about the TV of its time. It also makes me think of THE CABLE GUY, which is my favorite of those crazy-people-obsessed-with-TV satires.
But is STAR TIME a horror movie? I’m gonna say… sure? It’s a unique one. It’s more interested in putting you into a sick mind than yelling “boo” at you or anything, but it does make you identify with Wendy and root for her to get out of danger. It does turn into a traditional slasher movie chase briefly, and there’s a good bit I can’t remember seeing before where she steps in blood, slides across the floor and hits her head on the wall.
At the end (in other words, SPOILER) Wendy finds herself on the roof top as Henry threatens to jump again. Since the beginning she’s been trying to prevent him from committing suicide. But now she knows he’s a serial killer, and he’s been trying to kill her. You know the selfless thing it seems like she might do because of her job and her personality, and you know the more normal thing she could do (just stand there and not say anything if he jumps). I felt for her being stuck in that situation.
The writer/director was Alexander Cassini, a rookie at the time. He only went on to direct a kid’s movie called THE INCREDIBLE GENIE and a couple TV episodes, including one of Roger Corman’s Black Scorpion. IMDb doesn’t list this, but the movie itself names Spielberg’s guy Janusz Kaminski as one of 3 “additional cinematography” credits. He’d already done several movies before that, including COOL AS ICE, but it’s still interesting to note in my opinion.
STAR TIME isn’t exactly what I’m searching for in this Slasher Search, but I’m glad I found it anyway.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.