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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Galaxy of Terror (1981) review


Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Robert England, Sid Haig, Zalman King

A group of militaristic space rangers receive a distress call from an unknown planet and are dispatched to investigate. When they arrive, their ship is damaged in the landing. After a crew member is badly mutilated aboard the ship the distress signal came from, the crew explores the planet's surface. They find miles of wrecked ships until they happen upon a gigantic, eerie looking pyramid.

Once inside, the crew members are killed off in gruesome fashion one by one by various creatures. It is ultimately discovered that the pyramid itself is an ancient alien toy left behind by an extraterrestrial race which forces those that enter to face their worst fears. If they can conquer that fear, they live, if not, they die. One of the rescue party manages to survive and comes face to face with the source of the horrors of the dead planet.

Spectacularly gruesome and overly enjoyable outer space horror opus from Roger Corman's New World Pictures. One of the most unusual and interesting casting jobs in horror/exploitation history is found here. The film apparently was released sans much of the gory footage that exists in it today. It was also released under several different titles-- PLANET OF HORRORS and MIND WARP: AN INFINITY OF TERROR being two.

Originally, ALIEN was to have been a Roger Corman movie but Fox, after being convinced by Dan O'bannon, decided at the last minute that ALIEN should be a big budget, big studio movie. Sets had already been built by James Cameron for the Corman version so these were put to use here. The sets created by Cameron are stunning. They are some of the most surreal and ghostly, not to mention ambitious, mattes and set design for a low budgeted production ever for such a low budget movie. Even still, it would have been interesting to see what ALIEN (1979) would have become had Corman went ahead with his version.

The gore and exploitation is ample. One of the most famous scenes in horror history is the maggot rape scene where former Penthouse girl Taffee O'Connell is raped by a giant maggot shortly after disintegrating a horde of them chewing on the arm of a crew member. It grows to enormous size and stalks her through the darkened tunnels before ripping off her clothes revealing her ample assets. The one part of this sequence that gets the most talk is that the female victim appears to be ENJOYING IT just before she expires! James Cameron reportedly directed this sequence but he's never confirmed, nor denied it.

Edward Albert, who would go on to a nice career in exploitation cinema, plays the main protagonist Cabran. He can be seen in the big studio sleaze-fest THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS (1982) starring alongside Susan George and Doug McClure. That film being directed by Kevin Conner who helmed the four Amicus Dinosaur adventures among other things.

Erin Moran, Joanie from HAPPY DAYS, gets one of the most spectacular death scenes. She plays an empath who happens to be claustrophobic. Reportedly, she isn't very fond of the film. She spends a good portion of her screen time with her eyes bugged out. Her being an empath means she senses the danger before it hits, but to whom and how she doesn't know.

Exploitation fans will no doubt recognize the greatness that is Sid Haig. He plays a (mostly) silent martial arts expert who, instead of laser guns uses shuriken-like weapons that are made of unbreakable crystals. Haig gets one of the best scenes in the movie and his character is one of the most memorable of all. This was my first exposure to Haig and it wasn't until some years later after seeing some of his other movies that I realized he was in this one.

Ray Walston of course is remembered for MY FAVORITE MARTIAN. He plays the mysterious Kor, the cook who may or may not be a more insidious character. Walston escapes the oppressively sleazy atmosphere with his dignity intact.

Zalman King plays Baylon, the trigger happy leader of the group who goes around frying everything in sight with his laser rifle. King would later go on to create the Showtime cable erotic hit tv show RED SHOE DIARIES as well as producing numerous other erotic movies.

Robert Englund, later to become famous as the character of Freddy Krueger, plays Ranger. Englund continued doing horror movies for the remainder of his career but occasionally did other types of roles outside the horror spectrum. One in particular was his role as the kindly alien, Willy on the hit miniseries V (1983).

Cameron would also direct 2nd unit on this film and go on to design other movies for Corman including his 'SEVEN SAMURAI in space' epic BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and do matte work on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Cameron eventually got his first directing gig on PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING although he would eventually be fired(!) from this film with Ovidio Assonitis (TENTACLES) finishing the film.

Portions of the interior of the space ships were nothing more than spray painted McDonald's Styrofoam burger boxes! This was one of Cameron's many cost cutting innovations. These same sets, slightly modified (and looking more like burger boxes), would turn up in Corman's even sleazier follow-up entitled FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982) which features the first ever barfing alien(!) After the multi tentacled toothy monster is fed a cancer tumor, it proceeds to regurgitate until it's nothing more than a large pool of slop. Many of Corman's sci-fi, or sci-fi/horror films utilized stock footage from his ambitious and sizably budgeted BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS from 1980. GALAXY OF TERROR though, was an entirely original piece.

GALAXY OF TERROR (1981) is a smorgasbourge of cool ideas and ample amounts of boobs, beasts and blood, plus a brief bit of kung fu action between Cabran and Q-uad (Haig) ensures a super drive-in feature with much entertainment value. For me the best of the ALIEN clones, even though this was originally supposed to be ALIEN, it's been a personal favorite of mine for years and a testament to what Corman and company could pull off with a small amount of funds and still deliver some low budget, but nonetheless gruesome thrills.

This review is representative of the Italian region 2 DVD. There is the original English soundtrack in addition to Italian audio options. Italian subs are forced on the English playback on this DVD.

DVD availability: Shout! Factory (region 1), Alan Young Pictures (R2; Italy), MGM (R2; Britain)


Sean M said...

Watched this last night and absolutely loved it!

Considering that this was made on a low budget,the look of the sets as well as the special effects are stunning.All of the crew members deaths are imaginatively grisly and in some cases very funny especially the guy that gets killed by his own severed arm!

The storyline is obviously very derivative but i did like the idea of the Master and the surprise ending.

It's not entirely clear what happened to Robert Englunds character who prior to the finale had already conquered his own fears.

9 out of 10.

venoms5 said...

Apparently this was quite a troubled production. There was a retrospective in an issue of Fangoria sometime late last year which I never picked up.

Corman spent more on this film, though than he normally did. His BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was estimated at 2 million and GALAXY OF TERROR was just a bit less. Corman had such stress on these two films, that for FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982), he went back to his penny pinching ways.

Presumably, Englund's character would seemingly die anyways. Even after conquering his fear allowing him to leave, he wouldn't be able to leave the planets surface.

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