Star Kid’s Nightmarish Take on Superheroes Was Ahead of Its Time

Iron Man, but more fleshy and with an inside-face Jarvis

The year was 1998. Pokemon Red & Blue’s North American release was right around the corner, Apple was gearing up to unveil the first iMac, Titanic was on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of its time and Green Day and The Offspring ruled the radio waves. Before this revolution of late 90s pop culture touchstones hit the world, there was a film with aspirations of becoming just as big as the entertainment giants that would follow soon after. I am of course talking about Star Kid, a critical and commercial flop of a film that faded into obscurity quickly after it was released. 

Despite Star Kid’s failure, however, it left an indelible mark on all who saw it. I myself was haunted by this film as a child, left crying at just how disturbing it was. Perhaps its legacy is just that — a curiously upsetting film that traumatized some unlucky children twenty years ago. But now, in a time when same-y, overprocessed superhero movies dominate theatres, it’s worth looking back at some of the rougher experiments that preceded them. And if you want to talk rough, well, you can’t get much rougher than Star Kid.

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The Warrior of Waverly Street

Originally known as The Warrior of Waverly Street, Star Kid tells the story of Spencer Griffith (played by Joseph “the kid from Jurassic Park” Mazzello), who happens upon a “Cyborsuit”, which he uses to fight off an alien threat. The film was written and directed by Manny Coto, a director, producer and writer best known for showrunning the final season of Star Trek: Enterprise and writing for the fifth season of Dexter. Coto also happens to be a Trump-supporting right-winger who helped create The 1/2 Hour News Hour, Fox’s short-lived conservative answer to The Daily Show

Star Kid opens with a war between the Trelkins and the Broodwarriors, the latter being cookie-cutter alien antagonists with the goal of universal domination. In order to prevent their experimental weapon from being used as the Brood’s weapon, the Trelkins send it away, setting off the events of the film in a sequence that is ridiculously high-budget. It’s also pretty much the best the movie will look, since it’s all downhill from here. 

After the space war, we cut to Spencer Griffith (Mazzello) on Earth. Spencer is a bullied comic book nerd who can’t talk to his crush, has a busy 90s dad who picks him up super late from school (which is definitely just a big house dressed to look like a school), is called things like “Scab Juice” and “Fungus” by his older sister, and his mom is dead. Just when it seems like his life can’t get any worse, Spencer sees a shooting star land in the local scrapyard that turns out to be the Cyborsuit, which looks like a cross between the Putties of Power Rangers and robot Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man. The Cyborsuit reveals that it is an artificially-intelligent suit that, despite said artificial intelligence, requires a “biotic host” to move. Thus, it asks Spencer to get in him and he does so with very few questions asked, which is where things start to get disturbing

Enter The Flesh Dome 

Once Spencer agrees to be its pilot, the Cyborsuit spins around — displaying the shapeliest ass I’ve ever seen on a robot — and opens up its back. As soon as Spencer takes one step into the suit, it forces him inside of it before it seals up. There is no escape.

Remember, this is a children’s movie. 

In a horrific scene that puts Evangelion’s entry plugs to shame, Spencer is trapped in the veiny, fleshy insides of the Cyborsuit. Moments earlier, he had entered the suit upon deciding that his life couldn’t get much worse. He realizes how terribly wrong he was as he realizes he is gazing upon the inside of the suit’s face. I genuinely caution those with weak stomachs to avoid watching this clip, because it is the main reason why this movie frightened me as a child, and is still pretty upsetting today.

Spencer continues to scream for his life and call out for help as the suit fully integrates with his nervous system, leading to a “discovering superpowers” montage that transitions into a “test drive” montage weirdly accompanied by an Edgar Winter cover of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” All the traumatic, weird stuff is over, right? Wrong. 

A Boy and His Cyborsuit

Spencer decides to use his newfound powers in the manner of a teenage boy: he terrifies and near-fatally endangers his bully (after which he utters the line “Who should I abuse next?”), teaches the suit about the concepts of “fun” and “cool,” goes to talk to his crush at the carnival — resulting in the suit accidentally opening fire at the crowd with its laser hand — and steals a burger from a fast food drive-in. In the midst of all this, a Broodwarrior shows up to find the Cyborsuit. Oh, and by the way, the Broodwarrior’s arrival, and thus the first notion of any actual conflict in the story doesn’t happen until almost forty minutes in. Of course, this moment lasts about two minutes and then it’s back to more non-sequitur nonsense.

Remember the burger that Spencer picked up? You might think the suit would just retract its helmet and allow him to eat it normally. Except that this is Star Kid, so instead Cy pushes the burger through its gross rubbery animatronic face hole, chews the food and blends it into a gross brown orb made of only the “essential components.” He then forces the reconstituted burger down Spencer’s throat.

Hot For Teacher

Surely things couldn’t get worse. Surely now, we can get to some alien fighting action. No. Forget it Jake, it’s Star Kid. After finishing his “Cyborsuit Turd,” Spencer says he needs to pee and thus needs to be let out to do so. Unfortunately Cy “cannot comply,” and Spencer panics as he tries not to pee his Cybornetic pants. Cy finally gets the hint and readies a urination aperture. The problem is, it’s  right in the middle of the suit’s neck — thus tacitly informing the audience that the Trelkins have their dicks on their throats.

So, where does a kid stuck in an alien robot suit go when he needs to pee? His science teacher’s house, of course! Spencer breaks into the house of Ms. Holloway — who was introduced earlier in the film as a loose source of guidance — and asks for her help. What follows is a scene in which Ms. Holloway uses a screwdriver to open up the Cyborsuit’s crotch. After an unnecessary close up of Spencer’s face as he relieves himself, there’s an extended shot of Ms. Holloway making unsure faces in response to what she just witnessed. I’m not saying the film implies Ms. Holloway is attracted to her student in a power suit, but it’s not not implying it. 

The Battle Begins

Following this disturbingly sexually-charged scene, the Broodwarrior finally finds the suit and the first fight scene begins at 56 minutes in. For those keeping count at home, that’s thirty-eight minutes of exposition and nonsense, fewer than two minutes of plot to introduce the antagonist, and sixteen more minutes of nonsense before the conflict actually starts. Is it all worth it? Does the action kick off into an awesome fight sequence that speeds up the pace of the film? Hell no, this is Star Kid, baby! After the battle, Spencer up and runs away, bringing the film’s pace to a grinding halt once again.

Spencer wants out, convincing Cy to let him free despite hearing an exposition dump of sci-fi babble about the Broodwarriors that reveals Earth may be their next target. Cy complies, leading to a drawn out sequence of Spencer leaving that completely saps any energy that the film had built up in the fight prior. After some “avoiding the call to action” nonsense, Spencer gets a pep talk from his sister, and with this motivation, he goes back to find Cy and defeat the Broodwarrior.

With the help of his bully (who’s his friend now because he punched some respect into him or something) Spencer steals a car and recklessly drives around looking for Cy, causing a police car to crash into an above-ground pool. Eventually, he makes it to the scrapyard to find the Brood Warrior getting ready to take Cy away. It’s time for the final battle — and by final battle, I mean a 30-minute-long sequence where Spencer gets in Cy and very slowly and boringly fights with the Broodwarrior, leading Cy to get hurt. Spencer eventually defeats the Broodwarrior by squishing it in a car crusher.

After the Broodwarrior is defeated, Spencer cries over the loss of Cy, who is apparently dead. Or is he? The Trelkins suddenly arrive on Earth and fix Cy in an act of eleventh hour deus ex machina. Cy gives a heartfelt goodbye to Spencer before they all leave, but not before one of them places a medal on Spencer’s shirt… for some reason. After all this, Spencer’s dad shows up just in time to see the Trelkin ship fly off into the stars. With some smiles and hugs, Spencer and his dad walk off into the distance. 

The next day — oh, did I forget to mention that all of this took place in a single night? — Spencer gets dropped off by his dad and finally talks to his crush. Everything’s great now that Spencer learned confidence from a sentient alien bioweapon!

The Legacy of Star Kid

Star Kid was a commercial and critical failure, making back only $7 million of its estimated $12 million budget and receiving its fair share of below-average reviews — though Roger Ebert liked it for some reason. Thus, its only legacy is how bizarre it was: from the haunting costume designs to the inside-out-face and especially the weirdly sexually-charged scene between a boy in an alien suit and his adult teacher trying to pop open its crotch. 

So, the question remains, is Star Kid a good movie? Nope, not at all, it’s horrendous. But is it good kids’ superhero movie? Who’s to say? I surely don’t recommend showing this horror show to children, but maybe they like cheap, haunting animatronics and weird burger turds. But if nothing else, it’s a monument to a time before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, back when you could make a superhero movie about a horrible, disgusting original character seemingly designed to intentionally traumatize kids, and Roger Ebert would be obliged to comment on it.