Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Were you put off by all the high-brow stuff Alien forced you to endure such as deliberating building up suspense and rationing out the monster attacks? Did it annoy you that the story was pretty simple to follow? And were you disgusted by how a strong woman was featured when all you were wanting was to see women killed and violated in a parade of sleazy misogynistic scenes? Don’t sweat it, dude, because producer Roger Corman has got you covered with a Man’s edition of Alien, the superbly scummy and undeservedly entertaining Galaxy of Terror!

A rescue mission is sent to the planet Morganthus to find out what happened to the crew of another spaceship. The planet the rescue mission is sent from is ruled by a mysterious being named the Master who sports a glowing red special effect for a head. He makes cryptic comments about Morganthus and picks the rescue team himself. One thing’s for sure, he’ll need to pick the dumbest astronauts this side of the Horsehead Nebula because any moron two weeks out of space camp could tell you that rescue/salvage mission to a far corner of space is usually a death sentence coated in copious amounts of alien slime.

And what a crew it is! Captain Tantor is suffering from a crippling bout of PTSD, such that she drives the spaceship to Morganthus so fast they get there in about five minutes. Quuhod is a scary-looking dude with crystal throwing stars who hardly speaks. Baelon is the surly commander of the mission who constantly reminds everyone he’s in charge. Alluma is that chick who played Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days (that wasn’t distracting!) while Ranger is Freddy Krueger before he played Freddy Krueger (that really wasn’t distracting!). There’s also the woman who gets raped to death by a space worm. (If that’s not how she’s listed in the credits, she should be because that’s all anyone remembers her as.)

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But what about the ship’s cook? Sure, with a crew of six people, one of them just has to be a cook. After all, everyone else is too busy getting raped and killed by sticky aliens to make grilled cheese for lunch. That the cook is played by Ray Walston immediately tips you off that the ship’s cook is just as much a cook as Steven Seagal was in Under Siege.

It’s established fairly quickly that rescuing the crew of the other ship is a lost cause and most of the rest of the film details the crew’s exploration of a strange alien structure they find on the planet’s surface. This allows the characters to split up and get killed in various nifty ways by the aliens. Joanie even points this out as she compares what’s happening to them to a sniper picking them off one by one. Naturally, she follows up this insight by getting separated from everyone else and having her head imploded by a bunch of constricting tentacles.

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Galaxy of Terror is really that kind of film all the way through – characters acting dumb and the audience not minding much because we’re rewarded with some over the top gore. For instance a lot of movies might be satisfied with just having a guy chop his own arm off. That would probably would be the end of it in a galaxy that wasn’t full of terror. But in a galaxy where the terror is slopping all over the place? Arm full of writhing maggots within minutes of amputation and still moving and throwing crystal blades into its former body! Definitely a galaxy more bad ass than one named after a freaking candy bar!

But why is all this happening? What is this place where icky space annelids have strange magical powers to strip a woman naked even though she was wearing a multi-layer spacesuit and the monster was suffering a dearth of hands?

It’s all quite painfully obvious to anyone who’s ever watched Star Trek or any other science fiction movie. The alien structure is your basic turning-your-fears-into-dangerous-reality gizmo. Galaxy of Terror does try to go the extra mile by tying it all in to the Master, but it comes off as quite forced, a letdown, and results in a surprise ending that you don’t care all that much about.

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Movies like this though are never expected to end well. It’s all about atmosphere and setting up the predictably lame payoff. Lots of creepy sets reminiscent of Alien and H.R Giger with appropriately unsettling music help build up the mystery about what’s happening, even if most of the characters and their traits are pointlessly irritating. (What is with Baelon’s attitude? What is with the hero Cabren’s total lack of personality? Why would a character with claustrophobia became a spaceman?)

Most importantly though, at 81 minutes with loads of violence involving people getting burned, stabbed, exploded and slimed the movie never slows down enough to annoy you until the very end.

Galaxy of Terror is exactly the sort of unrepentant hard-charging copycat flick that strips away the artistry, subtlety and depth of the original for the action, blood and sex that define the best of what’s come to be known as grindhouse cinema. I mean, they killed Richie Cunningham’s little sister! You don’t get much more grindhouse than that!

© 2015 MonsterHunter

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