Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

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

Galaxy Of Terror (Roger Corman's Cult Classics)Galaxy Of Terror (Roger Corman's Cult Classics) [Blu-ray]


Mr. Fiendish said...

I agree with you for the most part, but I have to disagree on your little ripoff rant. MOst ripoffs are definitely shit, but even the shit is pretty damn entertaining. Great White is a lot of fun for the fact that it is a ripoff, and Piranha is a genuinely good movie featuring solid black comedy and kills. The industry is built on ripping off succesful product, look at how many remakes of Kurosawa films have been made into sci-Fi, the biggest one being the first Star Wars film. Hell even Speilberg admitted that Jaws was just a remake of the third act of Creature from the Black Lagoon with a budget. And hell I love Doomsday just because it has everything it advertised. Hey man, if a story was well told once, there's no reason why not tell it again in a different way. go ask Cameron himself over Avatar.

Franco Macabro said...

In my book, theres the good rip offs and theres the bad rip offs. The good ones take a premise from another film and run with it, the bad ones just do the same crap all over, and those films go down a couple of notches in my book.

Piranha is a great rip off of Jaws, precisely because it was fun, and it went its own way, it added the contamination of the water, plus the piranhas, it had the same premise, but it wasnt exactly the same. Corman knows how to make a good rip off.

Great White, is a blatant rip off, yet Im sure it has fun value all over it, I havent seen it myself but Im dying to. Still, plagirisim is written all over it.

I agree, theres fun to a good rip off, but those that border on photocopying another film simply loose my respect, they might be fun, but dont have my respect.

Avatar is a whole bunch of other films strung together (first one to come to mind is Dances with Wolves) but again, it has a whole bunch of elements we'd never seen on any other film before it. Mainly the environment it takes place in.

Star Wars was influenced by Kurosawa films, but it isnt the exact same thing either.

The rip offs Im bashing are those that dont even try to be original.

Fred [The Wolf] said...

I dig this film alot. Yeah, it rip offs ALIEN, but it's a fun ripoff. I definitely need to rewatch this one. It's been a very long time since I've seen it. Great review!

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks Fred! Your opportunity is here cause its just been released on dvd, along with a bunch of other Roger Corman Classics. Amongst them Humanoids from the Deep, which Ive been meaning to take a look at for years now!

SFF said...

It takes guts two write about stuff like this. : )

Thanks for the terrific review and the great points about Cameron's involvement and connection to Corman. That's certainly an important point.

I'm half tempted to check this one out based on your assessment and the Aliens connection. Thank you.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for commenting! I love reviewing obscure stuff, I do a little bit of everything on this blog, from Oscar Winning, to artsy, to indie, to b-movies, horror...you name it!

Im sure you will immediately see the visual similarities between both films, they are too obvious. It really does feel like Cameron simply used the blue print for this and adapted it to the Alien Universe. But of course, this wasnt entirely his film, the director was B.D. Clark, and this was his last film.

I Like Horror Movies said...

I have been looking forward to this one for years and am so stoked it is on DVD now, planning on making a double feature night out of Galaxy and Forbidden!! Thanks for the review Franco, got me pumped to see them and I had NO idea Cameron was working with Cormon at the time!

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, he was! Thats where his career as a filmmaker started. Same thing with Joe Dante who directed PIRANHA for Corman.

Corman also gave some actors their first stabs at acting in a film, Jack Nicholson for example, he first appeared in Corman's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and THE RAVEN. Corman was the training grain for many professionals of the film industry, the dude should get one of those life time achievement awards or something.

venoms5 said...

This has always been a huge favorite of mine and I was overjoyed to have been able to get a hold of the Italian DVD a few years back. Since then, I bought both the R1 and the Blu Ray disc, too.

Originally, ALIEN was supposed to have been a Corman movie anyway, but Dan O'Bannon got it back over to Fox after he disliked the deal Corman had offered.

Aside from it being an outer space horror movie akin to ALIEN, I don't really see it as a rip off considering its storyline is not the same in any way especially since it borrows more from FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) and the concept of an alien race forcing people to face and conquer their fears was from something else, too. They mention it on the DVD, I think. But I guess because it has creatures, a dead planet and astronauts walking down creepy corridors, I can see why many would classify it as such.

The budget for GOT was 1.8 million dollars. It was co-financed with United Artists. The $700,000 was what Corman was initially going to spend for ALIEN when it was going to be produced by him and directed by O'Bannon.

There's a great recent book on Corman that covers the making of every one of his New World Pictures. I reviewed it and a couple other Corman books a couple weeks back.

I'll take GALAXY over Corman's follow up, FORBIDDEN WORLD any day, although the sleaze factor is cranked up more for that one. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is a lot of fun with a great cast. Virtually anything with New World Pictures at the start is worth seeing in my book.

Franco Macabro said...

I know what you mean Venom5, the element of facing your fears has nothing to do with ALIEN, I agree, but that element of arriving on an alien planet and exploring an alien ship felt extremely similar, plus the whole dynamic between the crew, and the claustrophobia of the ship, even having a strange member on the crew whom no one really trusts...lots of similar elements, but, Galaxy of Terror goes its own way. I enjoyed it a whole lot, a little more than I enjoyed Forbidden World (a.k.a. MUTANT) Ill be reviewing that one this week!

venoms5 said...

Oh yeah, no doubt if it hadn't been for STAR WARS or ALIEN GALAXY may not have been made at all. Still, I'd be very curious to see Corman's version of ALIEN had the film stayed in his hands. On the Alien Quadrilogy set, O'Bannon talks about the version of the film when it was Corman and there's also early photos of what the main monster looked like. It was WAY different from the xenomorph we all know today.

The FORBIDDEN WORLD 2 disc set has the directors cut titled MUTANT on there. Curiously, the German DVD I have from a few years back is titled MUTANT. I've yet to compare them, but I'm curious if that version was the directors cut as well. There's a funny story in Beverly Gray's Corman autobiography about the premier of this movie (FORBIDDEN WORLD). Corman got into an altercation with an over zealous patron during the showing resulting in Roger getting a popcorn container full of Coke dumped over him after the feature.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey, I have that Quadrilogy, but I dont think I checked out those extras, Im gonna be checking it out to see those early production sketches, I love stuff like that.

But yeah, you have to wonder how Alien would have turned out had it fallen in Corman's hands. Maybe something that would resemble Forbidden World or Galaxy of Terror? It would have defenetly had a cheaper feel to it. Of course, ultimately what would decide the tone of the film would have been the director and crew behidn the thing, so who knows.

Thanks for the infor Venom5!

venoms5 said...

Dude, if you can get your hands on it, you should seriously check out that recent Corman book. It covers ALL his New World Pictures movies. There's lots of background info including box office stats and critical reception. I reviewed it and two other Corman books I have a couple weeks ago.

Franco Macabro said...

Im sure I'd enjoy it Venom, I love reading books on the filmmaking process! Im currently reading Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez...great fun reading that one!

And I also read David Mammet's Bambi vs. Godzilla, now theres a bitter sweet book on filmmaking, they guy seems to have no fun whatsoever making movies, but its obvious he is passionate about them.

I'll check out those two books by Corman, Im trying to finish the ones Im reading right now, but I have my eye out for those Corman books. Im also looking forward to reading Loyd Kaufman's "Make your own damn movie!" Looks like a fun read as well.

Thanks for the recommendations man!


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