Friday, March 11, 2011

Galaxy of Terror

Galaxy of Terror is one of Roger Corman's many sci-fi efforts, and one that most often seems to be summed up (and passed by) as simply an Alien rip-off. While that's a reputation that might be earned, it's also an oversimplification that sort of misses the point. Galaxy of Terror is superficially like Alien, but only to the extent that Carnosaur is superficially like Jurassic Park. On first glance it might just look like a shittier version, but it's actually an interesting reinterpretation that's been passed through Corman's lens of exploitation and turned into something really unique.

A Jurassic Park clone would've been terrible if the only difference was that Corman replaced the dinosaurs with a silly looking sock puppet, but when you add things like mutant chickens, laughable decapitations, and women giving birth to giant dino-eggs, you have a viewing experience that's altogether different.

Similarly, if Corman had just copied Alien, but used a rubbery-looking monster and dropped H. R. Giger's biomechanical xenomorph stylings for cardboard corridors, that wouldn't be interesting at all. But what we have here includes such things as Joanie from Happy Days in a tentacle head-crushing scene, gratuitous use of exploding lasers, and a bestiality-rape scene starring a giant maggot.

Just in case your interest isn't piqued already, you'll also find the credits scattered with names like:

Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street)

Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses)

Ray Walston (Of Mice and Men)

and even James Cameron, working as second-unit director and production designer shortly before his directorial and screenwriting debut, Piranha II: The Spawning.

The story has our crew on a rescue mission to a crashed space station. They're supposed to be looking for survivors, which is strange considering that anytime they see anything unexpected they all panic and shoot it with lasers.

Pretty soon, Private Cos (Jack Blessing) splits off the group to check a dark corridor on his own. He is quickly dispatched by a very strange creature that we can only see a little of, but which apparently has one of each sort of limb imaginable. We see a tentacle, a couple of different kinds of crab pincer-like things, a hooked claw, etc.

Alluma (Erin Moran), the crew's resident psychic, senses some sort of distress signal coming from a spooky pyramid nearby, so the rest of the crew heads that way.

The crew splits into two groups, both ascending the pyramid from different angles. Commander Ilvar starts acting strange, then stops his group to go explore a hole...

and is immediately devoured by space-leeches.
( Video )

The commander's death leads the busty blonde, Dameia (Taaffe O'Connell), to announce "Ugh... I hate worms."

This turns out to be pretty much her only character development, in part because it's foreshadowing her own end. From here on, that's pretty much how most of the characters are treated.

Next up, Quuhod (Sid Haig) breaks his crystalline Krull blades while using them to prop open a giant door and, when offered a laser gun like everyone else, replies "I live and die by the crystals!" Of course immediately afterwards, Quuhod's left alone to guard the door. His crystal blade reconstitutes itself, but then breaks again when he picks it up. This sends a large shard into his arm, which then starts working it's way upward towards his torso.

( Video )

Quuhod quickly concludes that his best bet is to cut off the arm altogether, so he does just that. Unfortunately for him, it falls to the ground next to his other blade, which it immediate tosses into his chest to kill him.

By this point Dameia has decided to go back to the door to check on Quuhod. When she arrives, she finds his body, and while burning it with spacefire startles herself by nearly stepping on his disembodied arm which is now covered in spacemaggots (just in case we'd already forgotten her thoughts on "worms").

She starts lasering that arm into ash too, along with the maggots, only she ends up missing one.

It limps off and retreats to plan its revenge.

Dameia, rather than returning to her group at this point, wonders further away on her own, so we know she can't have long left. What we don't know is that the maggot is back already, and this time it's a giant rape caterpillar.

She wonders back into the doorway and basically just backs into the thing. In a matter of seconds it's managed to rip off and/or dissolve her clothing. The worm has its way with her for quite a while, then leaves her on the floor covered in rapeworm slime.

( Video )

Afterwards we jump back to Ranger (Robert Englund). Strangely enough, while exploring alone he runs into an evil version of himself.

Here we get to see a young, pre-Nightmare Englund developing his trademark sneer.

He eventually realizes that evil Robert Englund is actually a nightmarish character in his own head that's feeding off his fears and only has power as long as he's afraid of him.

Wait... what?

Meanwhile, a few surviving crew members get offed quickly to start wrapping things up. One is killed by this ridiculous thing:

Then Alluma (who's claustrophobic) finds herself having to squeeze into a small, increasingly shrinking tunnel. Just when you might start thinking that's she's going to be crushed or something like that, the tunnel comes alive with tentacles.

After the rape-caterpillar, this is where I assumed we were headed...

The scene ends up staying pretty tame up until the last moments though, when a couple of tentacles wrap around her head and crush it.

( Video )

Cabren (Edward Albert) and Ranger have now both figured out that it's their own fears which are manifesting as the means to their ends. Kore (Ray Walston) appears inside the pyramid with them now and reveals himself to be a "Planet Master." Cabren follows him, and then learns that the pyramid is used as a test to choose Planet Masters by finding those who can conquer their fears. Cabren, having done that, now has to fight all the pyramid critters... while doing a lot of flips apparently. Afterwards, he's faced with space-zombie versions of all his dead crew-mates.

Most look like they're in horrible zombie makeup,
but of course Dameia's just slippery and naked again.

Cabren manages to get rid of them all somehow. I'm really not sure how, he tosses a few of them around, then gets tossed around himself... then he takes a nap.

When he wakes up he only has to fight off Alluma. Once he does, he then kills Kore and finds that he'll become Planet Master himself now. So... by winning he's now stuck managing a barren planet forever.

At this point we fade to credits. No one cared what happened to Robert Englund apparently.

Galaxy of Terror is certainly an odd little film. It starts with a pretty straightforward space mission sci-fi setup, but then includes weird supernatural and fantasy elements. It explores all sorts of sideplots, some of which are dead-ends, without ever seeming like it's dragging on too long. It just keeps the strangeness coming at a rate that eliminates any possibilities of getting bored. Somehow it even takes 5 minutes to invent the plot of Nightmare on Elm Street and actually has Robert Englund play the part.

The practical effects alternate between being bad but amusing, and just being legitimately good. Nothing ever really looks so absurd that it totally takes you out of the story.

Also, where else can you see Joanie from Happy Days cutting her tentacle-porn career short with an accidental head explosion?

Corman's filmography is pretty daunting... and full of plenty of duds, but as far as I'm concerned, Galaxy of Terror is not one to miss.


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