Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Inseminoid (1981)

With a sleazy title and a sleazy advertising campaign to match you just knew that Norman J. Warren’s 1981 sci-fi/horror flick Inseminoid was going to arouse the ire of society’s self-appointed moral guardians. And it did. Strangely enough, despite its premise (a female member of an archaeological expedition to a distant planet is raped and impregnated by a gruesome alien) this movie is nowhere near as exploitative as you’d expect. And although it’s a fairly obvious rip-off of Ridley Scott’s overrated Alien it stands up pretty well on its own.

The archeological expedition in question is just about to pull out and head for home when they discover some strange crystals. And one of the crew members starts to behave oddly after an accident in which another member of the team was seriously injured. Tensions are rising, further accidents occur, and there’s an unfortunate incident in which a team member is shot. It appears that Kate (Stephanie Beacham) acted in self-defence, but did she have to kill him? Then Sandy (Judy Geeson) is raped by an alien in a strange dream-like sequence, and finds herself pregnant.

She isn’t just pregnant though. Her mind is being taken over, she becomes savagely violent and develops a taste for human flesh. And she now has enormous strength. She begins to pick off the other team members one by one.

What makes this movie interesting is that Sandy doesn’t simply become a monster. The human part of her is still there, and she is horrified by her own actions. Judy Geeson switches instantaneously from vulnerability to a quite surprising degree of scariness (she does a very good mad look with her eyes). There’s a particularly chilling and effective scene as Sandy waits outside the Operations Room, telling the occupants in a silky and frighteningly calm voice that they might as well come out now because she’s going to get them eventually anyway.

Inseminoid was filmed in Chislehurst Caves in England, mostly in sets constructed in the caves themselves. Production designer Hayden Pearce, working in appalling conditions with a very limited budget, does a terrific job. The caves were apparently a nightmare location in which to film, but it was worth the effort, and cinematographer John Metcalfe shows what you can achieve with a few coloured filters while filming in virtually no light, if you happen to know what you’re doing. The costumes are also surprisingly good, with space suits that don’t look silly. Inseminoid looks better than it has any right to look. The actors are mostly adequate, but Judy Geeson is quite superb.

If only all Region 4 DVD releases were like this one. It looks splendid and it’s packed with extras. Norman J. Warren (who come across as a remarkably cheerful sort of person) contributes an entertaining commentary track, there’s a documentary on the making of the film and a short featurette on star Judy Geeson. Despite the horrendously uncomfortable conditions it sounds like everyone involved had enormous fun making this movie. Both the commentary track and the documentary capture the enthusiasm and the spirit of adventurous improvisation that fueled low-budget film-making in those halcyon days.

By the time Norman J. Warren hit his stride with Satan’s Slave the classic British horror film was already in its death throes. Which is a great pity because the three movies of his that I’ve seen so far have all been exceptionally good. Inseminoid is perhaps the last of its breed, and it’s a great little movie.

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