Every year, I attend B-Fest in Chicago, a 24-hour film festival dedicated to the appreciation of B-movies. While there, I hang around with a crowd who hold a micro-budget film director named Cory McAbee in very high regard. I’ve been told to watch The American Astronaut dozens of times. Because I’m a horrible person, I haven’t gotten around to doing that yet.
But because my friend Tony is awesome, he randomly picked a film for us to watch one night, and that film happened to be McAbee’s Stingray Sam. Neither of us knew anything about the film until the main character started singing the song “Welcome to Mars” (backed by two bored-looking go-go dancers) and I realized that I had the song on my iPod already and all the pieces snapped together in my head.
Stingray Sam is a sci-fi western comedy musical (!) that pits a black-clad man named Stingray Sam and his partner The Quasar Kid against an interplanetary kidnapper. The format of the film is actually a six-part serial, which plays out in its entirety over the course of one tight hour. The film was made in black-and-white and bears many hallmarks of low-budget filmmaking (thrift-store costumes, sparse sets, uneven performances), but it has the wisdom to play to its best features. And the film’s best features are actually really great.
First of all, the film has a snappy sense of humor and great timing. There were parts where I was just howling with laughter. The animated parts (!) and the Narrator (who happens to be David Hyde Pierce) (!!!) are especially effective. (If anything, watch the film just to hear David Hyde Pierce say, “Durangooooo.”)
Secondly, the music is quite good. Director Cory McAbee, who also plays Stingray Sam himself, also happens to be part of The Billy Nayer Show, a “New York City musical group of questionable muscial genre.” The band plays one song in each of the six segments of the film, and each one is kind of ingenious. The one about “Fredward” should be the stuff of cinema legend.
Third, the whole thing just plain works. And it’s fun. If I make even just one thing in my life that is as strangely delightful as Stingray Sam, it will all have been worth it.
So, I recommend that you spend an hour of your life watching this. You can currently find it on Netflix Streaming, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, and Hulu. (It’s even free on Hulu!)
….and now I’m going to move The American Astronaut up in my queue.