Galaxy of Terror (1981)
"Where death is only a nightmare away!"
After contact is lost with the crew of a ship on the planet Morganthus, a military vessel is sent to investigate. But after homing in on the distress beacon, the ship crash lands, stranding the crew on the planet as well. Investigating the remains of the other ship, the crew find themselves being picked off one-by-one by malevolent forces that they do not understand.
Galaxy of Terror was the first of producer Roger Corman's 80s double-dip into the world of Alien knock-offs and whilst the film shares little with Ridley Scott's classic (in that there isn't one alien going around killing people), the whole 'slasher in space' similarities can't be ignored especially once the crew arrive on the planet and explore a very similar-looking oval-shaped room with something nasty lurking inside. Think of it as a lower budget version of Event Horizon (long before that was made I might add) but a lot more confusing and you'll get the general feel for Galaxy of Terror, a film which is as frustrating as it is fun.
Made for the rumoured sum of $700,000, Galaxy of Terror belays its meagre budget and it is a credit to everyone involved for making it look as good as it does. The optical effects for the spaceships and planet look top notch, there are some really good matte designs (in particular the towering alien structure) and the ship set designs, whilst being made with what looks like egg cartons, manage to convey the futuristic setting admirably. Fun trivia: a certain production designer/second unit director named James Cameron received his big break on this film. The rest, as they say, is history. Cameron's touch of class is unmistakable here, as is that of a number of hungry, talented individuals who have since gone on to lengthy careers in the business thanks to Corman giving them their big breaks.
Unfortunately Galaxy of Terror has one major, major flaw that stops it from cult classic status and that it is there is hardly any story whatsoever. The ship crash lands on this strange planet and as soon as they go out exploring, characters begin to get killed off in bizarre circumstances without any real explanation. It isn't until really late in the film when one character explains all that you realise the crew are being killed off by their fears. Even the final revelations and obligatory twists and turns make little sense in the grand scheme of things. It's all very vague and very hokey so you just have to go with the flow. But there is a nice psychological terror undercurrent flowing throughout and even if there are few 'boo' scares, there's still plenty of stuff to get under your skin and freak you out.
Surprisingly, Galaxy of Terror is extremely downbeat. Almost everything that happens is as worst case scenario as possible. There's not an ounce of hope for anyone to survive this planet and you get the feeling that you're watching a load of characters get served up a smorgasbord. Suspense is a rare commodity here. Instead the film trades in the currency of gore....and lots of it. From charred bodies screaming in last gasp death throes, to limbs being hacked off to exploding (or should that be crushed) heads, Galaxy of Terror isn't afraid to do the dirty. It's just a pity we know almost nothing about each of the expendable crew and I can't help but think five extra minutes to develop them first would have been ideal.
The various creatures that the crew conjure up in their minds are particularly impressive too: a mixture of stop-motion, animatronics, miniatures and puppetry which gives it a nice old school 'real' feel. Perhaps the most infamous scene in the film involves one female character being raped by a giant maggot, having earlier confessed her fear of maggots. The scene throws in the token nudity but it's a bit tasteless to watch. Other scenes including the aforementioned head explosion and charred body are much more terrifying and brutal in their appearance, making a more lasting impression for gore hounds. The make-up effects work better than they have any right to.
There are few familiar faces amongst the cast, in particular a pre-Freddy Kruger Robert Englund as a rookie navigator. Sid Haig, who would go on to more fame as Captain Spaulding in House of 1,000 Corpses as well as countless other cult films, is on hand as an apparently-mute alien who likes to throw his crystal shard weapons around. Rumour has it Haig was unhappy with the dialogue his character had been given and asked if he could remain silent. Future soft core maestro Zalman King (he of Red Shoes Diaries fame) also stars as a hot-headed soldier.
It's a shame that the story is so weak and non-descript and the dialogue is atrocious because Galaxy of Terror is almost everything a low budget shocker should be. I just can't fault the film for its production values because a lot of hard work has clearly gone into making it look as good as possible on its low budget. For schlock value it's up there with the best B-movies. A cult flick though not the classic it should have been.
Galaxy of Terror
Director(s): Bruce D. Clark
Writer(s): Marc Siegler, Bruce D. Clark, William Stout (outline)
Actor(s): Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Bernard Behrens, Zalman King, Robert Englund, Taaffe O'Connell, Sid Haig
Duration: 81 mins