Title: Galaxy of Terror (1981)
Director: B.D. Clark
Cast: Robert Englund, Sid Haig, Grace Zabriskie
Roger Corman (prolific director and producer extraordinaire) has produced some of the best and worst films in the genre. In my book, his good ones include The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) and Frankenstein Unbound (1990) the very last film he directed personally. But he was also responsible for more than a few rip offs. I mean what’s Piranha (1978) if not a rip off of the Jaws (1975) formula that Spielberg successfully turned into the first summer blockbuster ever? And what were Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World if not Alien (1979) wannabes? Both of these Roger Corman Alien rip offs have just been released on DVD and Blue Ray and today I’ll be reviewing Galaxy of Terror, the first of these two films to get made.
Story goes something like this: a group of space faring dudes and dudettes get sent to a strange and distant planet to see what happened with a ship that crash landed there, and to see if there are any survivors. Unfortunately, once they get there, they discover a deserted barren planet. The ship that crash landed is destroyed, and its crew is all dead. The trail of corpses leads towards a mysterious pyramid that looms in the horizon. Should they go and investigate it?
It’s always interesting to see where a movie that you love and cherish comes from. While watching Galaxy of Terror you will immediately notice similar elements to those found in Ridley Scott' s Alien (1979) and also in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). The cramped claustrophobic corridors, the diversified crew on the ship and the way they behave will remind you of these first two films. The way that the characters approach the alien planet and the mysterious pyramid will remind you of those first few minutes in Alien, when the miners first enter the space ship and find the Alien eggs. The reason for this is because for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what Roger Corman set out to do; a rip off of Ridley Scott’s Alien. There are no doubts about that.
What I didn’t know was that at the same time, Galaxy of Terror was actually James Cameron’s training ground for when he would get the chance to direct Aliens (1986). You see, James Cameron worked extensively on Galaxy of Terror and other Roger Corman flicks like Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). On Galaxy of Terror he directed a couple of scenes himself, he worked on set design and special fx. Roger Corman has jump started the film careers of many recognized filmmakers and actors. Joe Dante, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson and James Cameron are amongst them. As many of you might know, Cameron helped produced some films for Corman; he also later directed Piranha II himself. He would later go on to direct the ultra successful Aliens, but Corman was the producer that allowed Cameron to flex his muscles in the filmmaking/special effects world. Cameron would later tell Corman that on Aliens he simply did what he had done before on Galaxy of Terror, only this time he had money! And you believe him, because one look at Galaxy of Terror and you can immediately see similarities with Cameron's Aliens.
But a rip off is boring only if it is the exact same film it is ripping off, just ask the dudes who made Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) or watch Doomsday (2008). Or asks the Italians who ripped off their fare share of American films during the 70’s and 80’s. If I remember correctly, Universal Studios actually sued the Italian filmmakers behind a film called Great White (1981) for blatantly ripping off Jaws. These rip offs that I've mentioned are no fun because they were ripping off some other film and they didnt even try to be different, they simply plagiarized the formula and did the same thing all over again, which is of course a bore. But, a well made rip off can be a fun thing to watch! A well made rip off essentially takes the same premise and takes things its own way, gives it its own twist. I think I can safely say that Galaxy of Terror was a good rip off, it felt like a cheaper version of Alien, but at the same time it felt like it had slightly better production values than your regular Corman production. You see, Corman produced this flick after he had seen Alien and Star Wars, so he knew he had to up the ante a bit in order to play in the same ball park as those productions. As a result, Galaxy of Terror actually looks decent at times. Kudos to the filmmakers for using miniatures and matte paintings so well!
Galaxy of Terror also alls under the same category as films like Event Horizon (1997) and Sphere (1998). It’s the kind of film where characters confront their fears while out there in the emptiness of a desolate alien planet or in the middle of the blackness of space. Alien planets always a great ingredient for a horror film because filmmakers can exploit that fear of the unknown, which they do on this film. You know how it goes, at one point or another each of the characters is going to end up isolated and that’s when their fears attack them! And that’s when the movie turns fun because they each get attacked by a different type of creature or effect. And most of the fears are amusing; one of the most memorable death sequences involves a giant maggot that eats a female crew member. Now this being a straight forward b-movie, of course the slug undresses the girl before he rapes and kills her!
Speaking of the cast, we have an interesting assortment of actors on this one, some of them would go on to become horror film icons. Robert Englund stars on this one, this was pre-Nightmare on Elm Street, yet I loved the fact that the man who would be Freddy ends up fighting an evil version of himself when he confronts his fears. And at one point he realizes, “this isn’t real, it’s all in my head” and the fear disappears; same as Nancy does on the first Elm Street film! We also get another horror veteran in the form of Sid Haig who accepted to make this movie but only if he could play his part mute, because he hated the lines his character was supposed to say! He does say one line though: “I live and die by my crystals!” which is of course hilarious. Sid Haig’s character walks around with a pair of giant ninja stars that are made out of glass. He loves his crystal stars and is very attached to them! His obsession with them was kind of silly. The cast is rounded out by the always bizarre Grace Zabriskie, whom some of you might remember from a couple of David Lynch films. On this one she plays the crazy captain of the ship.
This films biggest asset is that it looks more expensive than it was. Reportedly, Roger Corman says the budget for this flick was 700,000 and damn, I have to say that for a low budget b-movie they got away with a cool looking flick for that amount of money. A lot of it had to do with James Cameron’s involvement in the film, he helped out a lot, designing and building the sets; he even directed some of the death sequences himself! Though, I hear Roger Corman shot extra nudity for the worm attack sequences and the grand finale of the film because he had to keep those investors happy and they were promised nudity on this film! So anyhows, this movie was well worth the wait. It was exactly what I expected, and a little more actually. A fun b-movie every step of the way.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5