Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-06-08 07:14

Written by: Marc Siegler, Bruce D. Clark, and William Stout (uncredited)
Directed by: Bruce D. Clark
Starring: Edward Albert, Ray Walston, and Robert Englund

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

ďAren't you afraid?"
"Too scared to be."

There was no way Roger Corman was going to miss the Alien train; after all, the King of the Bs produced at least a few Jaws rip-offs (despite the fact that Piranha was more than adequate the first time out). So it should come as no surprise that he produced a couple of Alien knock-offs as well, and Galaxy of Terror might actually be the best of the bunch. Like most of its type, itís a derivative schlock fest, but, to its credit, it is one of the most awesomely schlock-filled, and that has to count for something.

In some distant future, some galaxy is ruled by a guy with a red blob for his face who calls himself The Master. After the crew of a crashed spaceship is decimated on the remote planet of Morganthus, The Master decides to send out a military vessel to investigate. The Quest is headed up by Cabren (Edward Albert, done up to look like a poor manís Tom Skerritt), and his ragtag crew encounters a similar danger after crash-landing and discovering that Morganthus is crawling with malevolent life forms that begin picking the crew off.

If Alien is the Halloween of space horror--the elegant, refined take--then Galaxy of Terror is its Friday the 13th: a cheaper, trashier knock-off that trades in suspense for gore. However, Bruce Clark goes further than even Sean Cunningham dared to go, as Galaxy of Terror is thoroughly deranged and full of melting faces, exposed brains, severed limbs, and a full-on alien rape that has become the filmís most infamous sequence. A goopy, slimy creature feature thatís given a sleazy, 80s New World makover, this is thoroughly Corman, as the whole thing just feels like an excuse to show this stuff off.

The good news is that Corman actually has a lot of it to show off, and itís mostly good--sure, the plot is threadbare as hell, and there are no great performances to elevate the flat characters into anything thatís remotely compelling, but, at 80 minutes long, itís a movie that knows what it was created to do, and it does it. The effects are magnificently realized, and the set design (helmed by James Cameron when he was merely the king of second unit directing) is impressive; while Galaxy of Terror is definitely riffing on Alien and other films, itís done with quite a bit of flair and imagination. As cheap as the film obviously is, that budget is stretched rather remarkably, as it at least feels like youíve been transported to some bizarre, hellish world. Some of the sequences, like the one where some of the crew have to travel across a thin beam, are impressive, and the film moves well enough to keep the action (read: gore) at the forefront.

Itís also kind of charming how thoroughly and clumsily it attempts to ape Alien, right down to the twist that reveals the ulterior motives of one of the crew member. However, whereas the reveal involving Ash blindsides a viewer, this one is telegraphed about halfway through when just about everyone starts suspecting the cook (Ray Walston) of being up to no good, and he doesnít give you much of a reason to doubt these suspicions. Admittedly, the payoff is much different from Alienís, and it takes Galaxy of Terror into full fantasy territory; the whole thing sort of feels like Star Wars anyway, what with the lasers and the fatigues that vaguely resemble Luke Skywalkerís, and, by the end, it turns out the characters might be stuck in a place thatís kind of like that Dagobah cave in The Empire Strikes Back. As it turns, out the approach here is a little more psychological than you might expect, as the crew is being besieged by their own fears that have manifested themselves in the forms of the imaginative beasts that are attacking.

While I gently knocked the performances, itís hard to deny that the cast is at least an intriguing ensemble. Walston is one of many familiar faces littered throughout the cast, as youíll also find Erin Moran (of Happy Days fame), Grace Zabriskie, Zalman King (whose name is at least familiar to anyone who flipped past Showtime late at night), Sid Haig, and Robert Englund. Englund gives one of the better performances, if only because heís the only person that resembles an actual human in the process of losing his mind, plus thereís a fun bit where he gets to take on a dual role. Itís a shame that the movie literally forgets about his character by the end, though I suppose it leaves you with enough information to fill in the blanks as to his fate.

We often talk about films that are B-movies elevated to A-movie level; Alien was one such film. Galaxy of Terror, however, is a Z-grade movie that inches its way up to solid B status. It has moments of wacky brilliance, including that genuinely creepy rape scene where Taaffe OíConnell (and her body double) is raped by a giant maggot creature. Luckily for us, Shout Factory treats this stuff like it actually is A-movie material and has delivered a fine special edition for the film that features a pristine restoration that shows off the filmís unexpectedly nice photography, and thereís a host of extras, including a commentary with the cast and crew. The various featurettes tackle the filmís origins, its pre-preproduction, set designs, and its cast. Thereís even a feature where some of the crew share their memories of James Cameron, plus you get the usual trailers, photo galleries, and production stills. This is one of Shoutís best Corman releases for one of the legendary producerís better 80s efforts; along with Forbidden World, Galaxy of Terror represents a dynamic duo of extraterrestrial grime, gore, and sleaze. Buy it!

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