Wednesday, September 08, 2010

"Galaxy Of Terror" (aka Planet of Horror aka Mind Wipe) dvd (1981) - movie review

At long last, the often referenced but seldom seen (the VHS tape was only produced for a short time and it never existed on Laserdisc) New World/Roger Corman "Alien" inspired scifi horror gem "Galaxy Of Terror" has made it's way to dvd! Part of Shout Factory's top notch Roger Corman Cult Classics series, "Galaxy Of Horror" joins a recent, welcome parade of hard to find genre flicks that are finally being cleaned up and making their way into a wide, easy to find release. The last year alone has been pretty damn nice on this front, as I've been treated to great looking copies/edits of movies that I was starting to think I'd never see on dvd like Argento's "Four Flies on Grey Velvet", Fulci's "Black Cat", "Death Race 2000", "Night Of The Creeps", "Humanoids From The Deep" and "Dark Night of The Scarecrow" among others. Makes for some mighty fine movie 3am on a Saturday with an IPA and popcorn viewin'!

Anyways, Galaxy Of Terror is, up front, kind of a hodge podge of Alien/Geiger LSD horror tropes by way of 50s sci fi rubber suit monster movie, but really, it's a lot more than that. It rips off (to pretty damn good effect considering the budget) everything from "2001" to "Planet of the Vampires", and ends up with it's own vibe that somehow retains the New World Pictures cheez/camp factor and at the same time has an actual creepy sci fi feel that makes for a really fast paced, entertaining flick.

The cast is really stellar as far as this kind of thing goes, with stand out performances by genre favs Sid Haig and Robert Englund, as well as a pre-WIld Orchid/Red Shoe Diaries Zalman King (acting, not directing), Grace "Big Love" Zabriskie (chewing up the scenery, chomping it up and spitting it back out as Orsan Scott Card fashioned nails), Ray "My Favorite Martian" Walston and a constantly wide eyed space psychic Erin "Joanie Loves Chachi" Moran.

Like I said, Grace Zarbiskie is totally awesome in her over-the-top portrayal of Captain Trantor, last survivor of an infamous ill-fated space mission, who is now in charge of commanding the rag tag crew of the very cool looking star cruiser QUEST, sent by "The Master" (kind of a glowing, mysterious space president) to the very same planet to look for survivors of a recent space mission gone (surprise!) horribly wrong/missing. After a ridiculously amped up launch/FTL/space flight sequence The Quest crash lands on the super fucking cool space-storm lashed and foreboding-mat painting riddled planetoid Morganthus, after being caught in a tractor beam emitted from a strange Geiger-esque pyramid (I'm assuming taken from the well known abandon pyramid sequence from "Alien"), after which each astronaut is one by one separated from the rest of the crew and confronted by a violent and slime drenched manifestation of their deepest fears (which range from a plethora of bizarre alien creatures, being attacked by your own severed arms, tentacles sucking your insides out (before it was in fashion!) and the infamous baby Mothra rape scene).

There's so many good acting and dialogue moments in this I don't really know where to start. Sid Haig plays a mute (save for one awesome line) space commando who belongs to some totally kick ass religion that involves a super sweet fist bump/hand shake thing, worshiping/wielding crystal Glave-chinese stars (that he jumps around corner after corner posing with, and often tossing into walls, rubber monsters and bodies that drop from the ceilings) and generally looking like a bad ass space biker. I'm seriously considering joining this sect, as I'm a big fan of futuristic religions, and especially ones where your mantra is that you "live and die by the crystals" and get to constantly carry giant future-Krull ninja stars. I'd get to carry them onto planes and strut around national parks with them if they're part of my religion, right? I think I'll start the "conceal and carry glave" paper work today, as I'm sure it takes a while to get processed.

Robert Englund, Zalman King and even Ray Walston actually play the flick pretty serious and straight, which I think is part of what gives the picture it's moments of actual creepiness (something not often achieved in New World produced horror movies). Actually, the weakest acting comes from the leads, some corny looking dude who's name I can't recall and reality show/Happy Days casualty Erin Moran. You'll quickly notice that Joanie Cunningham constantly does this funny thing with her eyes in every close up she has in the movie that's pretty damn entertaining and makes her look sort of like an Italian grey alien. She's supposed to be a troubled space psychic, and the scenes where she has mystical, troubled flashes allow her to show off some of the corniest acting chops I've seen since the last episode of "True Blood". In the end, as I'd often wished for when watching "Happy Days" when I was a kid, she ends up joining the rest of the cast in a gory demise that involves a great head explosion that spews Stagg chili and slime all over the tunnel her character is trapped in. Is Erin Moran hot? Did people in the 80s think she was attractive? I wasn't sure then and I'm still not sure today... I think she might fall into that "hot mess" category. The skin tight space suit and super cool space backpack/light rig might be part of my confusion, because I'm actually having a hard time thinking of very many girls that wouldn't look good wearing that cool as fuck get up.

Many of the crew's violent splattery ends come from a variety of fantastic monsters that range from creepy stop motion to slime covered rubber puppets, and the infamous Mothra maggot larva rape scene, that is even more hilarious if you view the kick ass scary looking phallic armed worm concept sketches in the bonus features and then see the Sid and Marty Kroft by way of Toho end result that humps it's way across the lovely, naked and slime coated Taaffe O'Connel like a Gwar prop on quaaludes. I guess this scene was originally a lot longer, and combined with the "too gross for the MPAA" sound effects earned the original (and sadly lost) cut of the flick an X rating, but still, even in it's R form, the scene is worth all the attention it's garnered in horror zines and mags over the years.

I won't go into spoiling the cool as fuck "Outer Limits" style ending, but pay attention to the opening scene where the glowing headed "Master" of Earth is playing a video game with a creepy old witch (come on, how can you not want to see this movie?).

Another thing I have to mention is the amazing look of this flick. Not just the monsters and the space ship, but every damn thing in it is just ridiculously cool looking! The sets are dark and creepy, from the space ship bridge to the wind torn planet of ghostly mat paintings, and a lot of it will actually remind you of a welfare "Aliens", which makes sense considering James Cameron, Bill Paxton and several other effects/design artists who went on to work on that flick were involved in everything from set design and second unit directing to special effects and creature concepts (make sure you check those out as well, some great art work in there!). Much like "Death Race 2000" the amount of talent and work that went into the film in spite of it's Roger Corman budget (actually, I think they spent a lot more than most of New World's movies on this one) comes across onto the screen, and the whole thing is just one fucking cool looking set piece after another.

I can remember seeing the trailer at the end of a movie when I was a kid (I think it might have been "Forbidden World") and being freaked from just watching it, and I'd guess the reason for that is the bizarre/wonderful score courtesy of a "Electro-Acoustic" musician I was unfamiliar with named Barry Schrader. The entire score was done with sparse use of a sitar, some kind of strange percussion, and mainly some strange moog instrument I'm not familiar with that doesn't actually have a keyboard, but instead uses a series of early midi programming, a "fantasy pad" and endless amounts of patch cords. Jumping from sparse, creepy and atmospheric passages to sudden bursts of random, frantic electronic mania, you really have to hear it to get how freakin' cool it is. Sadly (of course) the score has never been released, but looking at Barry Schrader's website ( I see he has several cds of experimental electronic music using all kinds of strange process's I've never heard of before. His new release "Monkey King" sounds especially interesting, and I think I'll probably order it and check it out soon (as well as inquire about the possibility of the score to "Galaxy Of Terror" being released at some point). Apparently, there is a genre of this "electro-acoustic" music that involves lots of midi and 70s tech combined with current recording techniques, and this guy is at the fore front of it. Who knew?

As for the dvd itself, Shout Factory has been knocking it out of the park with these "Roger Corman Cult Classics", and this is no exception, it comes packed with awesome concept art, posters, stills, , audio commentary and a great documentary that features interviews with the directors, most of the actors and Corman himself, this disc is well worth the time it takes to rip a copy before sending it back to netflix.

Anyways, in the end, sadly I do have to subtract one Oscar for lack of a fire walk considering that they (inexplicably) with out fail incinerate every dead body they find with neat, fiery blasts from their laser guns, and yet, no fire walk... That minor gripe aside, "Galaxy Of Terror" is a highly enjoyable scifi/horror flick that is more than just the rip off of "Alien" it may seem upfront and is well worth your late night movie viewing time. Also, if I may be so bold, I would highly recommend watching it as a "more than just an Alien rip off" double feature along with the great 1980 Luigi Cozzi directed/Goblin scored scifi/horror/coffee and espresso gone wrong flick "Contamination".

Now, I'm off to practice my new mantra... "Live and die by the crystals. Live and die by the crystals. Live and die by the crystals."...

9 out of 10 fucking Oscars

now playing - Carlo Cordio - "Aenigma" original sountrack


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