The Roger Corman produced GALAXY OF TERROR isn’t the best of the many
ALIEN wannabes that appeared in the wake of that classic, but it is
easily the most outrageous of the bunch--and, hence, the most fun.
GALAXY OF TERROR (1981) remains the most infamous of
Corman’s eighties productions due to its scenes of a blonde woman raped
by a giant maggot and HAPPY DAYS’ Erin Moran squeezed to death. Equally
iconic is the poster art depicting a scantily clad babe getting menaced
by H.R. Giger-esque
creatures and the unforgettable tagline “YOUR COUNTDOWN TO HELL IS ABOUT
TO BEGIN!” The original title, FYI, was MIND WARP: AN INFINITY OF
TERROR, but that moniker was wisely jettisoned in favor of the more
lurid and suggestive GALAXY OF TERROR.
The film is also famous as an early credit for James
Cameron. He’s credited as production designer and second unit director,
but according to many who worked on the film he directed much of it
himself. Certainly the elaborate production design harkens back to
Cameron’s early short film XENOGENESIS (1978), and looks forward to
Other famous folk who worked on this film include
Englund, future RED SHOE DIARIES impresario Zalman King, and
TWIN PEAKS’ Grace Zabriskie, who all appear in supporting roles. Also on
hand were future HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II director Tony Randel (here
credited as an optical effects supervisor), ANDROID helmer Aaron
Lippstadt (this film’s production manager), Donald G. Jackson of HELL
COMES TO FROGTOWN (here a special effects camera assistant), B-movie
impresario David DeCoteau (a production assistant), and Bill Paxton (who
reportedly worked on the film as a carpenter).
A harried man runs through a crashed spaceship on the
planet Morganthus, pursued by some unseen something that kills him. An
imposing individual with a glowing red head called the Planet Master is
informed of the killing, and dispatches an underling to commandeer
another spaceship to the planet.
Leading this new mission are the freaked-out Captain
Trantor, traumatized in a space disaster years earlier, and the shady
Commander Ilvar. Trantor’s bad piloting ensures a mighty bumpy landing,
after which she and her fellow crewmembers search for survivors of the
earlier crash. Their investigation of the crashed ship uncovers a host
of mutilated bodies, suggesting that the crew was massacred.
What follows is an exploration of the planet’s surface,
upon which the astronauts discover a giant pyramid. They unwisely enter
the structure, and are assailed by psychical manifestations of their
deepest fears. First a man is suffocated by a beastie with blood sucking
pods, and then a spiritually minded warrior is mutilated by his own
throwing stars, which sever one of his arms. The arm is quickly suffused
with maggots, one of which, when spotted by a bug-phobic woman tech
officer, grows to giant size and rapes the gal. Another lady officer
gets her stomach ventilated and her head blown up by tentacles, and an
engineer literally fights himself to the death.
In the end the only survivor is Cabren, the crew’s
hunky senior officer. He climbs to the top of the pyramid and comes face
to face with the Planet Master (our bright-headed friend from the early
scenes), whose identity is finally revealed.
In a 1990s interview James Cameron mentioned working on
a film early on in his career whose director, he observed, was “blowing
it.” I think it’s a safe bet that the film was GALAXY OF TERROR, whose
helmer Bruce D. Clark already demonstrated his directorial ineptitude in
HAMMER back in 1972. GALAXY OF TERROR, Clark’s final effort as director,
gives adequate evidence that his skills hadn’t improved much in the near
10-year lull between the two films. To be fair, the untested James
Cameron probably deserves some of the blame, as he evidently had a
sizeable influence on the finished product.
The acting is uniformly lousy, with the strongest
performances turned in by the supporting players (Robert Englund and Sid
Haig in particular), as Edward Albert and Erin Moran make
little-to-no-impression in the lead roles. The script is nothing to
shout about either, being silly, ponderous and (as the undisguised ALIEN
rip-off it is) painfully derivative.
The reasons to the see this film are the imaginative
production design, where Mr. Cameron’s input really shines, and the
spectacularly gory special effects. The head bursting, intestine
spilling and arm lopping are all surprisingly well carried off, as is
the maggot rape (even if it is poorly photographed), lending this
otherwise ludicrous film a definite vile charm.
GALAXY OF TERROR
New World Productions
Director: Bruce Clark
Producer: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Marc Siegler, Bruce Clark
Cinematography: Jacques Haitkin
Editing: Larry Bock, R.J. Kizer, Barry Zetlin
Cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Robert Englund, Zalman
King, Sid Haig, Taafe O’Connell, Grace Zabriskie, Bernard Behrens