Galaxy of Terror (Bruce D. Clark 1981) and Forbidden World (aka, Mutant) (Allan Holzman, 1982)
From the 80’s synth-driven, transgressive fun of Harry Bromley-Davenport’s Xtro (I’ll never forget staring wide-eyed, in near orgasmic excitement, at the sight of that unbelievably goo-laden woman-giving-birth-to-a-full-sized-alien sequence, as next to me sat my absolutely gobsmacked and horrified mother, back in the early days of cable TV), to the wonky (and admittedly more than a bit clunky) exploding egg- and body-pleasures of that most enthusiastic poor man’s Italo exploitation-meister Luigi Cozzi with his Goblin-scored Alien: Contamination, right on into the strangely evocative, unsettlingly atmospheric (though some might disagree on those descriptions) cave-spelunkers-meet-gooey-alien-breeders tale in another spaghetti rip-off, Alien 2: On Earth (1980) – and that’s just mentioning a few of them! — this whole films-inspired-by-“Alien” retro (or, to be more honest about it, films-blatantly-ripping-off-“Alien” retro) has been as enjoyable so far, if not more so, than the (admittedly far classier) all-“Alien” retro I preceded it with, I figured it was high-time to dive back in.
The original four film franchise was respectable enough – with Ridley Scott’s initial film a masterpiece – but the slog through the vaguely entertaining, mostly-dopy Aliens vs Predator offshoots, underwhelming stand-alone Predator films (though the colorful first Predator sequel revealed itself to be a nice underappreciated surprise) and that horribly pretentious “Alien”-universe-revisionist Scott-return known as Prometheus, it all just consistently slides downhill (and that’s without even mentioning the equally dull last Scott attempt, Alien: Covenant, which I haven’t even found the energy to yet jot down my thoughts on). If there was a true surprise gain it was the discovering of the outstanding Dark Horse comic continuation of the “Alien” mythos, which I read concurrently as I was doing the retro. Whether through stand-alone speculative short stories, often on alien cultures and their interactions with those xenomorphs we’re all (or should be all!) familiar with by now, or longer-form ones that continued the enigmatic main mythos the books editors built upon, the various writers really consistently rose to the creative challenge. Good, often nicely provocative stuff. Well worth a visit, I say.
But back to that more unruly, disreputable lot that make up these garishly vulgar rip-offs. Something clearly would have been terribly amiss in the Universe — perhaps the Earth thrown off its axis – if rebel American filmmaker and businessman Roger Corman, the indie maverick who just seems to keep chugging along (wasn’t it just his 90-something birthday the other day?), hadn’t seized the opportunity and jumped whole-heartedly aboard the rickety rip-off bandwagon with a few low-budget entries of his own… and, what do you know, along came Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World, produced back-to-back (though with more money than the usual Corman pics were allotted… at this point, with the massive mainstream success of previously B-movie fodder like Star Wars and Jaws, he was smart enough to realize he had no choice but to up his game to compete) through Corman’s own New World Pictures production/distribution company… and these two films, I’m happy to report, don’t disappoint (well, if you’re expecting good taste, then of course they disappoint, but then you’re in the wrong aisle anyway, honey-pie… Masterpiece Theater is one over to the left).
You have to hand it to him, while Corman was known as a stickler with his films in terms of demanding certain juicy elements with which to capture the interest of the less-intellectually inclined parts of our bodies, he was equally as known for, as long as that criteria was met, giving great leeway to his talent to creatively play around in whatever (hopefully) sex-filled, gristle and muck-laden cinematic sandbox they found themselves in. It’s not rare to hear many of these behind-the-scenes artists, in later interviews, often from the vantage point of having gone on to successful Hollywood careers, talk of the sense of freedom to experiment and create on Corman’s films as some of the best, if not the best, times of their professional creative life (and that’s even with having been way underpaid and overworked by the notoriously stingy exploitation producer).
So while “Galaxy” and “World” share many of the same Big Mac- and egg-carton lined space ship sets (and I’m not joking about that, just watch the special features on the DVDs detailing how these young up-and-comers exuberantly carved cinematic magic out of so little) and are both more than sufficiently grue-ridden, they are also admirably very different films.
“Galaxy” is, by far, the more deliberately trippy of the two. Centered around a blue collar space ship crew, in proper “Alien” fashion, responding to a distress call from a far-off planet, the early scenes have most of the cast – an impressive bevy of recognizable faces, from cult figures like pre-Freddy Robert Englund, the very seriously acting Zalman “Red Shoes Diaries” King and Sid Haig, to once-television royalty Erin Morin and Ray Walston, rounded out by the hazel-eyed handsome Eddie Albert Jr, who it always surprised me never became a bigger star before he died relatively young at 55, and wonderfully sexy MILF weirdo Grace “Twin Peaks” (ie, Laura Palmer’s mother) Zabriskie — traipsing about some clearly Giger-esque space ships focused around a strange foreboding alien pyramid (with a lot of the inspired production – and also impressive monster — design led by a young, already apparently maniacally dictatorial James Cameron) on a vast planet (with the optical guys pulling off, ala, Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires some inspired miracles with double exposures and all that), before a mysterious force begins picking them off, one at a time, in deliciously nasty fashion.
While I’m not really sure the concept around having each of the crew members forced to face – and usually killed by – a literalization of their own worst fears (I mean… forget about Englund’s Ranger being faced with an exact duplicate of himself unaccountably being his greatest nightmare, I somehow missed the moment where Taaffe O’Connell’s big-breasted Dameia revealed her greatest fear as being raped to death by a giant slime-ridden maggot – not that I’m complaining, mind you, as it leads to perhaps the most unforgettable scenes of shamelessly exuberant bad taste ever achieved under a Corman title, and that’s one hell of an achievement!), or exactly what’s going on with that whole underlying enigmatic ‘Master of the Universe’ plot, with Corman claiming in the DVD special features he was going yet again to the well of subconscious Freudian ‘psychology’ he apparently was personally emersed in at the time for the tale’s underpinnings — a favorite conceit of his, certainly once the world granted him the position of cinematic auteur (anything to add a bit of class into the dubious proceedings) — but the effects work is all overall wonderfully inventive and fun, creating a kind of authentically bizarre milieu with a genuinely effective hallucinatory quality; it may not reach the inspired cinematic lunacy and inventiveness of Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, or close to the weirdo psychoanalytically-realized cinematic hallucinations of the great Jodorowsky, but it still more than holds its own, even today… and it certainly delivers with the lurid gore goods (and some really great moody sonics as part of the electronic score).
Forbidden World, on the other hand, why that’s a whole other can of squirming worms. With a lesser known cast, led by the most familiar face, second tier Jan Michael Vincent-lite Jesse “Macon County Line” Vint as heroic (if kinda dense) space travelling military officer Colby called in to a remote genetic research station on a distant planet to help a besieged scientific crew under attack from the seemingly invulnerable creature they’ve created, an amorphously shapeshifting life-form known as ‘Subject 20’ (to which the scientists have nicknamed a ‘metamorph’, perhaps having seen the “Alien” films), “World” plays out as the cheap, indulgently lurid, exploitation-minded “Alien” rip-off it is – and all the better for it!
I admit, at first I was a bit concerned, after the encouraging quasi-bizarre opening scene, with Colby, arising with the aid of his vigilant (if ineffective) sidekick android (one that looks a lot like a Storm Trooper with the unaccountably odd choice of a very high squeaky voice) from hyper-sleep, suddenly hit with a series of quick flashes — noticeably centered around nudity, sex and gore — of the future events soon to occur (especially odd as he’s not pegged as having any mental or clairvoyant ability… I guess just a little ‘teaser’ promise for those leering audience members, like myself, sitting in sweaty anticipation, hopeful for all the naughty bits that super-cool film poster art promised), the film then briefly turned into a space battle with a cruiser of aliens that look an awful lot like those hostile sand dwellers on Luke Skywalker’s home planet, in which I was pondering with more than a bit of disappointment the possibility that perhaps we were going to get more of a “Star Wars” rip-off, but – fortunately — once Colby and his ‘bot have managed to blow up the enemies (with a lot of that questionable looking space laser-fire that, I don’t know, never seems size-proportionately correct to me, even in the Star Wars films), Colby arrives on the remote desert planet of Xarbia, meets the two hot fully-endowed female ‘scientists’ (who can’t help but immediately express how horny they are, looking the muscular second-tier actor up and down, each telling him, voices dripping with suggestion, ‘We don’t get a lot of new faces around here’, to which he responds each time in full shit-eating grin fashion, ‘One thing I like about my job. I’m always a new face.’) and one of the younger – and clearly dopier — lab techs gets half his head gorily ripped off in fairly spectacular fashion, the movie settles into what it should have been all along – an exuberantly made (and well shot!) gore-strewn rip-off of Alien (and while there’s nothing on the lurid level of a giant maggot rape scene, man, do those two female scientists like to get undressed… often together… ah, Roger… gotta love his go-for-broke mentality).
The new wave kinda-rocking electronic score may not be overall as effective as was the far moodier one in “Galaxy”, but this is a different film, and under the circumstances, it works just fine for “World”, and even surprisingly creates a catchy beat or two along the way, with the hilarious moment during a reprise of the main theme, as an on-screen montage showing the various late-night doings of our crew – including Colby getting it on with one of the girls (fighting aliens is a tough business… a man needs a release… let the Metamorph busy himself by killing another scientist in the meantime!), ending on the reveal of the only black crew member playing what looks a lot like a water bong, apparently a musical instrument capable of capturing the sounds of multi-rock band instruments all-in-one.
The sets are as inspired as they were in “Galaxy” (not surprising as they’re re-using a lot of them). The cast is entirely committed, no matter how absurd it is (I love the scared girls eventually both walking around the entirely grue-strewn sets bare foot in pre-coital bathrobes).
Xenamorph inspired creature
If Corman proved anything with these two immensely enjoyable (and, dare I call them, mini-classic) lurid cinematic wallowings it’s that there was plenty more slime-strewn creative gold to be mined out of this particular disreputable Alien rip-off genre… and I, for one, whole-heartedly approve! Fortunately, thanks to a lot of enterprising filmmakers, there’s still a lot more on the docket to get to where these two came from.