Sunday, 3 July 2011

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Galaxy of Terror was made by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures in 1981 and as you might expect one of the joys of this movie is counting just how many other science fiction movies it rips off. Its most obvious debt is of course to Ridley Scott's Alien and it was clearly intended to be marketed as a low-budget version of that movie although it arguably is closer in feel to Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires.

It does have a framing story that sets it apart slightly. It’s a very silly framing story but it certainly adds to the fun. We start with some kind of mystical old woman playing Space Invaders with a guy called the Master. He’s about to end the spaceship Quest off on a mission to an obscure planet. Another spacecraft, the Remus, crash-landed there and the Quest’s mission is to rescue any survivors.

It soon becomes apparent that there are unlikely to be any survivors. Something horrific has happened, but what? The crew of the Quest have other problem. They’re a collection of misfits and losers. If you were going to assemble the crew least likely to survive such a mission this would be it. They hate each other and they’re all borderline crazy.

They eventually discover that the only thing they have to fear is fear itself but that doesn’t help them one bit.

It’s an odd cast. There’s Ray (My Favourite Martian) Walston, there’s Erin Moran from Happy Days, and some cult fixtures like Robert Englund and Sid Haig. The acting is high on intensity and hysteria and low on real acting but in an oddball movie like this it works.

The real star is probably the production designer, a guy named James Cameron at the beginning of his career. On a limited budget he achieves marvels. The movie looks expensive, strange and doom-laden. The special effects are another powerful argument in favour of old school special effects as compared to CGI. The sets are terrific. Cameron would go on go bigger, but sadly not better, things.

There’s plenty of gore of course. There’s not much nudity. Only one scene really, but it’s certainly a memorable one. A female crew member gets attacked by a gigantic slimy maggot thing. First it sucks all her clothes off, then it rapes her. It’s amazingly, staggeringly sleazy. There’s not much more you can say about it. Even more extraordinary is that the scene as shot was apparently even sleazier but was cut to get an R rating and the original version unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view) was destroyed.

The plot doesn’t make a huge amount of sense and the further the movie progresses the less sense it makes.

It’s all entertaining enough in a very schlocky B-movie way. You probably really have to love the 80s to love this movie. It’s a very bad movie but it can be enjoyed as a slice of 80s kitsch.

Shout Factory’s DVD release is exceptionally good, probably better than this movie really deserves.


venoms5 said...

One of my all time favorites here, D. I don't recall them mentioning it on the extras here, but Dan O'bannon on the Alien Quadrilogy set detailed his displeasure that ALIEN was originally going to be a Roger Corman movie till he was able to keep it out of his hands. I liked this one much better than FORBIDDEN WORLD. I like them both, i just prefer GALAXY OF TERROR. Incidentally, Corman remade FORBIDDEN WORLD with DEAD SPACE, a thoroughly bland movie with Marc Singer in the lead.

Stacia said...

My husband and I were chuckling at this movie when it was on TCM a few months ago until a lead character died, and we were both pretty stunned because it was awfully graphic. It could indeed have only been made in the 1980s

dfordoom said...

Stacia, that's why I have reservations about 80s horror. Sometimes it's a bit too graphic for my tastes. And in a movie like this, which should be fun, it kind of kills the fun a little.