Peter Hyams’ horror comedy was way ahead of its time in 1992, and it’s a film that warrants so much more examination, mainly because of its prophetic view of television. Back in 1992 television was humongous and low income houses were finally getting access to cable television, so naturally there was a lot of ballyhoo about its addictive nature. Speaking as a television junky, “Stay Tuned” was a great bit of satire that also dabbled in to the arena of “So Bad it’s Good.” It’s not laugh out loud funny, but it’s often very clever, and never misses a chance to deliver some kind of word horror oriented pun.
Salesman Roy Knable (John Ritter) spends all his free time watching television, to the exasperation of his wife, Helen (Pam Dawber). One day, TV salesman Spike (Jeffrey Jones) convinces Roy to buy a satellite dish offering 666 channels. The new addition to Roy’s home entertainment system sucks him and Helen into Hellvision, a realm run by Spike, who is an emissary of Satan. For 24 hours, the couple must survive devilish parodies of TV programs if they want to return to reality.
John Ritter is very charming in “Stay Tuned,” as he plays a grade A couch potato whose love for television is beginning to interfere with his marriage. A lot of “Stay Tuned” is based more on the delivery of the concept, and not so much the explanation. We’re not really sure why hell is building its own channels and recruiting couch potatoes. There’s the idea that they want to redeem these people, but they go out of their way to murder them and take their souls. So… what lesson is Roy supposed to learn, exactly? And if the subjects do choose to stay in the television dimension, does that void the experiment altogether?
In either case, “Stay Tuned” is like the finale of “Shocker” stretched in to ninety minutes, as Roy and his wife Helen have to figure out how to survive through various channels, while they’re monitored by hell’s minions (Eugene Levy, Jeffrey Jones, and Erik King respectively) Through that device it gives the movie a chance to flaunt its excess word puns. There’s “Three Men and Rosemary’s Baby,” and “Driving Over Miss Daisy,” and “The Exorcisist,” and (at the time) his own personal hell: “Three’s Company.” It’s a fun bit of meta-ribbing on the fans and himself as director Hyams seems free to do just about anything. “Stay Tuned” is schlocky and it revels in being a schlocky horror comedy. While its attempts at social commentary fail (even if prophetic in a sense), “Stay Tuned” is a lot of fun with an admirably twisted sense of humor and neat concept.