Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Shocktober Revisited: Galaxy of Terror

 In my continued efforts to turn left when you're expecting me to go right, I have opted to review Galaxy of Terror (aka Planet of Horrors and Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror) instead of Ben-Hur. It is true that I watched them back-to-back, and just like you got a write up for Lockout instead of The Cabin in the Woods, we're going to focus on the much schlockier part of a double feature again. The good news is that you don't have to be drunk to enjoy Galaxy of Terror, a Roger Corman produced flick that's just barely different enough from Alien to not be a ripoff.

 The funny thing is that the presence of James Cameron as production designer and second unit director actually lends credibility to the case that Aliens is a ripoff of Galaxy of Terror. It's not a case many people are making, but I'll explain what I mean in a bit. Corman commissioned Mark Siegler and Bruce D. Clark to create a movie about a mysterious planet where something sinister (alien perhaps?) has wiped out an expeditionary crew and is now preying on the rescue team. It's not exactly Alien, but if you were to say "give me a movie that's like Alien but isn't Alien," you might end up with Galaxy of Terror.

 When he loses contact with the last ship sent to the planet Morganthus, the Planet Master (SPOILER HIDDEN) informs Commander Ilvar (Bernard Behrens) that the Quest will be dispatched to discover if there are any survivors. The Planet Master assembles a hand-picked team to land or Morganthus: Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie), the lone survivor of an older disaster, Baelon (Zalman King), her first officer, Cabren (Edward Albert), Alluma (Erin Moran), a pyschic, Dameia (Taaffe  O'Connell) and Ranger (Robert Englund), engineers, scientists, and medics for the team. Also along for the ride are Quuhod (Sid Haig), a weapons expert who specializes in crystal throwing stars, Cos (Jack Blessing), a rookie, and Kore (Ray Walston), the cook. They find what remains of the crew on Morganthus, as well as a mysterious pyramid that hides their deepest fears inside...

 So the first thing I think I should mention is the cast. If you were reading the synopsis and saying, "Wow! He's in this? She's in this? Holy cats, they're all in one movie?" the answer is yes. It's a who's who of "Hey, I know that actor / actress," including people who would become Freddy Kreuger, Captain Spaulding, Sarah Palmer, and the creator of The Red Shoe Diaries. Or, maybe they'd already been Joanie Cunningham, My Favorite Martian, one of Blansky's Beauties, or uh, Eddie "Green Acres" Albert's son. It's an eclectic cast for a film that's best remembered for a woman having sex with a giant meal-worm.

 Actually, for a film made with very little money (somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million dollars), it has a ton of production value, a pretty good story, some interesting (and gruesome) death scenes, and despite the Giger-esque pyramid design, some neat designs. While Cameron was heavily involved in the look of Galaxy of Terror, I don't want to overshadow other Corman team members: Robert and Dennis Skotak, Alec Gillis, Al Apone, R. Christopher Biggs, Brian Chin, Ron Lizorty, Randall Frakes, Tom Campbell, and Rick Moore. It's interesting that some of the people involved in Galaxy of Terror would go on to work on effects for Aliens, because while Morganthus is supposed to be reminiscent of Ridley Scott's "alien" landscape, it looks much more like Cameron's vision of LV-426 from the 1986 sequel.

 Watching Galaxy of Terror, all of the exterior scenes, either mixed with models, rear projection, or both, is eerily reminiscent of the film Cameron would make five years later. While the interior of the Quest looks like a budget-modified version of the Nostromo and the pyramid has designs "inspired" by H.R. Giger (and, at times, Forbidden Planet and The Black Hole), the exteriors of Morganthus are going to seem more like a dry run for the "game over" scene in Aliens. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is an amusing parallel considering that Galaxy of Terror was conceived as a way to cash in on the success of Ridley Scott's Alien.

 Now, it is fair to mention that this is a movie where a giant maggot strips down Taaffe O'Connell, lubes her up, and then has sex with her (and they both seem to be enjoying it). It's a movie undercut by comical sound effects (especially during Bernard Behrens' death scene) and even though the story is more interesting that just being stalked by an alien, the ending is abrupt and anticlimactic. There's a character that, despite clearly still being alive, just disappears before the final confrontation, never to be heard from again. This is, make no mistake, still an exploitation picture, so most of the more intriguing concepts from Siegler and Clark tend to get swept aside for gore and (sporadic) nudity. Corman famously shot most of the "rape" scene because Clark refused to, and both director and writer objected to its presence in the film. In the end, it's such a bizarre scene that I had a hard time being disturbed by it, something I was expecting coming into the picture.

 Galaxy of Terror is a gory, schlocky, occasionally impressive slice of exploitation best enjoyed late at night, after a few beers (well, maybe you do need to be a little drunk) in the company of friends who don't mind their science fiction / horror on the cheap side. It's the kind of movie I'd imagine people who would come to Cap'n Howdy's Blogorium would watch, because why not? Between this and Lockout, it's not even a discussion. Bring on the space monsters!

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