The Daily Stream: Peter Hyams' Stay Tuned Is One Hell Of A '90s Throwback

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Stay Tuned"

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime

The Pitch: Roy (John Ritter) is a father of two and avid couch potato. One evening, when his precious remote control breaks, he gets a visit from a mysterious salesman named Mr. Spike (Jeffrey Jones) who offers him a new high-tech remote that allows Roy to immerse himself into his favorite shows. The new device actually transports Roy and his wife Helen (Pam Dawber) into the television and they are forced to fight for their lives as they have to survive several demonic versions of popular sitcoms and movies. If they can survive for 24 hours, they are free to go home. If they get killed, then their souls become the property of Satan forever.

Why It's Essential Viewing

It's October and we're all watching scary shows and movies to celebrate Halloween. But if you're in the mood to laugh and marvel at some '90s absurdity then look no further than "Stay Tuned." In 1992, millions of people were glued to their televisions watching Michael Jordan slay the NBA with the Chicago Bulls or checking out "Silence of the Lambs" which won the Academy Award for Best Picture the previous year. MTV was actually playing music videos and majority of the households in the United States had cable which provided a large amount of television shows and movies to choose from. Naturally, a satire on American's television consumption was inevitable and it came in the form of this ridiculously fun horror comedy. 

The satanic themes in "Stay Tuned" are cheesy and pretty delightful. The program that Roy and Helen get sucked into is called "Hellevision" and contains 666 channels. Spike is actually an emissary from Hell who wants to boost the influx of souls by forcing TV addicts to be killed in gruesome and entertaining ways. He tracks their progress in an underground control center alongside one of his henchmen (played by Eugene Levy). Helen and Roy encounter everything from cartoons, sitcoms, neo-noir films, Westerns, and music videos. Some of the most notable evil satire shows include "Duane's Underworld" with zombie versions of Wayne and Garth as well as "Fresh Prince of Darkness," a rip-off of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Other gems include "The Golden Ghouls," "Murder, She Likes," "I Love Lucifer," and "Autopsies of the Rich and Famous." There is a remote control showdown between Spike and Roy that takes place on the MTV channel complete with a cameo by Salt-N-Pepa. Excuse me, it's HTV (for Hell TV) instead of Music TV. While the married couple is busy fighting through the network and simultaneously working on their marital issues, their two resourceful kids are helping them from the real world. 

On The Highway to Hell

If the shows don't do it for you in "Stay Tuned," there are plenty of other nostalgic references to laugh about or find comfort in. These range from the clothing choices, to the dated technology and music. The film's soundtrack is filled with old-school '90s hip-hop featuring Salt-N-Pepa, Black Sheep, Doctor Ice, Kool Mo Dee, and Ultramagnetic MC's. 

The special effects are surprisingly limited despite the film's plot. Instead, it's just a lot of various sets built to resemble the original shows. However, the make-up is pretty great and all practical. The animation sequence in which Roy and Helen are in a killer cartoon version of "Tom and Jerry" is also really well done. While the film's writers may have intended to tell a serious moral lesson about how detrimental too much television can be, the film is a straight-up black comedy that encapsulates shows and culture of the '90s. And if watching too much TV puts you at risk of losing your soul then I guess we're all going to Hell, huh?