As much as I dig his takes and tales of Poe from the ‘60s, my favorite era of Roger Corman is the New World years: you know, pulpy pictures like Death Race 2000 (1975) and Humanoids from the Deep (1980). At the turn of the ‘80s he decided to cash in on the Star Wars and Alien craze with Battle Beyond the Stars (’80) and Galaxy of Terror (’81). His follow up to that last one, Forbidden World (1982), carries on the low-minded tradition of boobs and bloodshed in glorious, goofy fashion.
Made for around a million dollars and released in early May, Forbidden World (AKA Mutant), received mostly poor notices as it made the rounds of the drive-in circuit, but became a staple on home video for those looking for cheap thrills as only Corman could provide; which is to say, with confidence, competence, and a twisted sensibility.
Our film opens in outer space (duh), as corporate fixer/loverboy/Han Solo proxy Mike Colby (Jesse Vint – Bug) is dreaming in his hyper sleep of events that haven’t yet happened in the film; quick cuts show death, mayhem, and nakedness like a coke-fueled New World trailer. He’s awoken by his android sidekick (Corman loved these) Sam (Don Olivera) as a) their ship is under attack, and b) they’ve received a distress signal from the planet Xarbia, a research center. After Mike and Sam evade footage from Battle Beyond the Stars, they land on Xarbia and check in with the crew: Dr. Barbara Glaser (June Chadwick – This is Spinal Tap), Dr. Gordon Hauser (Linden Chiles – Eye of the Cat), Tracy Baxter (Dawn Dunlap – Barbarian Queen), gratuitous crazy scientist Dr. Cal Timbergen (Fox Harris – Repo Man), and a few other people placed as alien fodder/red shirts, if you will.
The problem with Xarbia is their little lab creation, Subject 20, has gotten too big for its britches and has started killing off the crew. (I mean, if you’re trying to whip up a solution for galactic hunger you should expect some ironic blowback, right?) It’s up to Mike and Sam to help thwart Audrey 3.0 before the whole cast is turned into extraterrestrial trail mix…
Coming in at a brisk 77 minutes, Forbidden World has no time for such silly motifs as character development and plot; Mike and Sam arrive, people start dying. That’s it, that’s the tweet, as the kids say. Sure there’s lots of chat about chromosomes and morph this and morph that, but it’s really just shoddy plywood in between the gooey creature effects supplied by a young John Carl Buechler (Hatchet), a steamy sex scene for Mike and Dr. Glaser, and a literal steam between our female characters. Like I said, it’s 77 minutes – what do you want, a dining room scene? (Er, actually it has one of those too.)
Yes, the shadow of Alien looms large over the sets of Forbidden World, as did its precursor Galaxy of Terror; except unlike Galaxy and its heady trips into weird ville and dime store philosophizing, Forbidden has no pretense towards being about anything. It’s the Cliff Notes version of Alien without female empowerment and corporate paranoia. Not that the King of the B’s doesn’t like women; it’s just that in his films he prefers most of them naked, or at least partially so. The other prevalent feature is of course the splatter, and Buechler and company’s work is indeed exemplary; for here there be crotch impalements, lab slab meltdowns, and other sundry delights. It gets messy, is what I’m saying.
Director Allan Holzman has long since left the soda-caked marquee of Corman Town behind, carving himself a nice career as a documentary filmmaker and editor, even snagging a couple of Emmys in the process. But he started as a cutter for Corman, editing the likes of Candy Stripe Nurses (’74), Crazy Mama (’75), and Battle Beyond the Stars (’80) before he was thrown some money for this and given a ridiculous turnaround to shoot and edit a feature with preexisting sets. And this thing is edited within an inch of its life; but that may have to do more with Corman going back in and removing the humor that Holzman and screenwriter Tim Curnen (Ghost Warrior) had put in. (Don’t worry, there’s other cuts available.) Regardless of Corman’s extra trims, Forbidden is still very amusing; the characters are mostly idiots saying silly things, and Subject 20 does not compare favorably terror-wise to our beloved xenomorph.
Having said that, Holzman manages to wring a few genuine moments of suspense from the proceedings even with James Cameron’s leftover Whopper box-lined sets practically daring him to; there is something to be said for the timing of a good editor.
As for the cast, they give it their all, with Harris’ loopy doc coming out of the wash with the best fit; when words fail, mug, and the best thesps here reach the appropriate wavelength.
Knock-offs really are the sincerest form of flattery. Sure, it may have been conjured with dollar signs in mind, but Forbidden World distills a thoughtful and terrifying classic through the goofy and lascivious mind of a 14 year old, and comes out the other side not purer, but certainly clear and in line with The Corman Manifesto: Borrow from the best, always leave them smiling, and display breasts every 11.5 minutes. There are much worse creeds to cling to.
Forbidden World is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
NSFW trailer:Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: THIRST (1979)