Galaxy Of Terror (1981) 1/2 (out of 4)
Directed by: Bruce D. Clark
Starring: Edward Albert , Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Bernard Behrens, Zalman King, Robert Englund, Taaffe O’Connell, Sid Haig, Grace Zabriskie, Jack Blessing, Mary Ellen O’Neill
Forbidden World (1982) 1/2 (out of 4)
Directed by: Allan Holzman
Starring: Jesse Vint, Dawn Dunlap, June Chadwick, Linden Chiles, Fox Harris, Raymond Oliver, Scott Paulin, Michael Bowen, Don Olivera
WARNING: Some spoilers ahead.
Stephen Bond wrote an article about the difference between Camp, Kitsch, and Trash. Camp, he said, was art that put more talent into silly, tasteless work than was needed, like bad taste with a wink and some irony. Kitsch was material that aimed high but didn’t have the resources or talent to pull it off (like Ed Wood films). Trash, of course, aimed low and was low. To help drive the point home, he listed porn, most television, and Troma films under the trash category.
Roger Corman intrigues me because a lot of the low budget films he produced or directed seems to blur the lines between camp, kitsch, and trash. Whether it’s his more straightforward science fiction (Battle Beyond the Stars, Death Race 2000) or his space horror output (Galaxy of Terror, Forbidden World) there’s a very fine line separating the three. Galaxy of Terror, for example, sometimes aims to be a parable about enlightenment and that old line from JFK about there being nothing to fear but fear itself. It’s a little lofty for an Alien clone with sets made of fast food boxes and a scene in which Taaffe O’Connell is raped to death by a slimy maggot. So, it’s kitschy, but it’s also apparent that so much effort was put into the making of the film despite the harried production, plus funny performances from people like Sid Haig that I can’t help but find it campy, and when watching the worm scene I was certain I was at least watching very good trash.
Galaxy of Terror starts with the mysterious Planet Master (whose face is obscured with a glowing red ball of light) having a conversation with his personal witch about sending a team down to the planet Morganthus to help set some kind of game in motion. The team, using the spaceship “Quest”, is composed of a group of neurotics including Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie), visibly affected by a space disaster many years before, the cool and collected Cabren (Edward Albert with a porn mustache), Alluma (Happy Days’ Erin Moran) who has some kind of psychic ability that is never really explored in depth, Ranger (a pre-V, pre-Freddy Robert Englund), trigger happy Baelon (Zalman King), scaredy-cat Cos (Jack Blessing, dressed like Luke Skywalker), technical officer Dameia (Taaffe O’Connell), and the ever trustworthy Quuhod (Sid Haig) who says nothing for the whole film except for one line which communicates to us that he would “live and die by the crystals!” No need to understand anything about his mysterious crystals – just know how he feels about them. Oh yes, there’s also the ship’s cook Kore (Ray Walston) who may be more than a simple cook.
Sent under the pretense of investigating the disappearance of another crew, the crew members are soon getting picked off by various worm-like creatures, or a giant maggot, or in the case of Quuhod, his own damn crystals. One crew member gets fried and Robert Englund finds himself doing battle with his doppelgänger, which takes me back to those classic Star Trek days. It is soon revealed that our crew are being defeated by their worst fears come to life (see: Event Horizon) – and it seems like most of them fear slimy, wormy things the most (and Englund’s character is afraid of himself, I suppose). In the meantime, there’s the mysterious planet to enjoy, which bears a similar resemblance to planet LV-426 except with a shitload of fog obscuring the low budget sets. There’s a lot of fun to be had amongst the shlock though, including Erin Moran’s awe-inspiring bug-eyes, decent effects (including impressive work by James Cameron, who ironically would end up directing the official Alien sequel), and good performances from Walston and Englund. O’Connell’s big death scene involving the giant maggot gets points for being ballsy, even if the result is more amusing than terrifying (as O’Connell says on the DVD commentary track, she was told to wrap the thing around her like the octopus in Bride of the Monster). Galaxy of Terror is space horror that wants to be about something, but can’t help occasionally falling back on its habit of wallowing in the muck. It just likes being drive-in schlock a little too much, but that’s Roger Corman for you.
Forbidden World is like Galaxy of Terror‘s little brother – in fact, they reused a lot of sets from it. Originally called Mutant, it’s another Alien-type flick that starts off like Star Wars, with federation marshal Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) awakened from hypersleep by his trusty robot SAM-104 (child-like voice by Don Olivera), which looks like a mini-Boba Fett. There’s a space battle for no reason, scored to classical music, presumably to generate the feel of 2001. However, it only serves to underscore the film’s unmistakable kitsch factor, since the music has no real connection to the action underlying it. No matter; with the space battle out of the movie’s system, Mike is dispatched to a remote planet where the scientists stationed there have been playing God and whipping up all sorts of genetic mutations in an effort to grow better food, or some such nonsense. (Mike is barely ready for hyperspace, but SAM-104 gives him no time to prepare. There’s a similar scene in Galaxy of Terror; Corman must enjoy watching his characters fly by the seat of their pants). The trouble on the “Forbidden World” is related to “Subject 20,” an organism that was spliced with the genes of a human and became a monster which has wrecked the lab. It’s a funny sight when Colby arrives to see bloody animal caracasses everywhere and a slightly-crazed, cigarette smoking scientist (Fox Harris) who goes through the entire film without changing his bloody labcoat. (Nobody on this planet has much desire to clean anything up). Oh yeah, also on the team are Dr. Hauser (Linden Chiles), some throwaway meatbag support staff, and two very-friendly females (Dawn Dunlap, June Chadwick) who are prone to shedding their clothing at the drop of a hat. A sex scene between Vint’s character and Chadwick’s wouldn’t be out of place on Skinemax – and the next day he’s taking a nude sauna with Dunlap. After a very stupid intern opens the door to Subject 20′s cell, it breaks loose and starts infecting the crew in a manner similar to The Thing. They soon figure out that its genetic structure turns victims into a gooey, gory mess that is easier for it to consume (see: Troll 2). As the good doc points out, the irony is that their little food experiment has turned the tables on them.
In some circles, Forbidden World is generally considered inferior to Galaxy of Terror, but I don’t see why that’s the case. Sure, it’s not too interested in subtext, making it almost strict exploitation, but it’s such enjoyable trash anyway and it moves at a much faster pace (in a slim 77 minutes). It delivers plenty of grue and there is a rather disturbing sequence where a cancer patient must have his tumor cut out (without anesthetic) to be fed to the monster to kill it. The monster, by the way, has great chompers, and reminds me of the killer plant from Little Shop of Horrors. There’s some camp to be enjoyed here, too, when our two leading ladies take a naked sonic shower together while discussing how to successfully communicate with the beast. When Dr. Glaser (Chadwick) asks the creature (via computer keyboard) “Can we co-exist?” the creature responds with “Stand by…” (Its final answer is unambiguous). I note here that the film, while not featuring anything so over-the-top as a worm rape, has more visually disturbing scenes of decomposing corpses and dripping goo, courtesy of John Carl Buechler (think: Street Trash). The rest of the movie is padded out as much as possible with odd editing/flashback sequences and quick flashes of nude bodies in between the action. Hey, whatever works.
Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World aren’t going to win any awards for acting, screenplay, or cohesion – they are not “good” films if you are applying the typical standards. But they are very entertaining films, nonetheless, and pack a lot of creative energy inside them. Corman films are recognizable by their distinct, cheesy smell – they have something resembling a personality. They’re almost charming in their delivery of retro sleaze, especially in light of movies filled with soulless CGI effects. Camp, sometimes. Kitsch, sometimes. But always good trash. Both films have been released on DVD and Blu-ray in special Roger Corman’s Cult Classic editions, which feature very informative supplementals on the making of the films, plus trailers. The commentary track on Galaxy of Terror shows Taaffe O’Connell having a good sense of humor about her place in B-movie history.
- Bill Gordon
Buy Galaxy Of Terror on DVD
Buy Galaxy Of Terror on Blu-ray
Buy Forbidden World on DVD
Buy Forbidden World on Blu-ray