Drive-In Dust Offs: GALAXY OF TERROR

2016/01/09 17:29:16 +00:00 | Scott Drebit


By the early ‘80s, Roger Corman was firmly entrenched in the public’s eye as THE low budget wizard, always cranking out movies like a reliable sausagemeister. However, to the more discerning trash hound, his films were fertile ground for up and coming filmmakers, a place to learn the craft and hopefully develop one’s own style. And while Galaxy of Terror (1981), a crossbreed of Alien with a strand of Forbidden Planet DNA, does boast one James Cameron among the crew, its most notable feat is being highly entertaining regardless of a decimated budget and convoluted plot.

Released in October of ’81 Stateside by New World Pictures/United Artists, and alternately known as Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror AND Planet of Horrors (Hey Rog – pick one!), GoT cost $700,000 US, and of course made its money back (Corman almost always saw a return). This was right in the middle of Corman’s space mining – before this, Battle Beyond the Stars, after, Forbidden World. And while BBtS aimed for a Star Wars meets The Magnificent Seven vibe (and hit it), this and FW mined the darker vein of Sci Fi. Of course, with a fraction of the budget concessions must be made, but it has to be said – taken on its own, Galaxy of Terror delivers gory, goofy outta space fun. It’s a 14 year old with no attention span’s dream (yes, that is always me).

Our film opens with a terrified man aboard a spaceship (marooned on the planet Morganthus) being attacked by an unknown being. We then cut to another place, another planet, where we see an Oracle playing a funky game of futuristic checkers with a man known only as The Master, whose face is covered by a glowing red light (but if you’re at all familiar with actors from this era, one look at the credits should tip you off as to his identity). Upon hearing of the distress signal, The Master has the Oracle send out a rescue mission to Morganthus, but The Master hand picks the rescue team. He then proclaims to the Oracle that ‘the game’ will begin (cryptic, yes?). The crew is gathered and heads off for the planet to begin their rescue mission. Of course, when they arrive, everyone is dead, and after separating (naturally), the crew encounters untold horrors, which feeds off of and manifests as their darkest fears…

Okay, that’s an intriguing premise – one that the screenwriters (Marc Siegler and director B.D. Clark – The Ski Bum) never get to see fully played out. The choppy editing suggests that there was probably more story here than Corman wanted, so I would like to think the more existential moments are gathering dust in MGM’s vaults. Corman’s mantra was always “don’t bore us, get to the chorus”, which Clark happily obliges, with little time in between whittling down the cast. As it plays out, only a few members are killed according to their fears, because only a few are outright mentioned. And unless you have an unnatural phobia of giant maggot rape, being killed by crystal boomerangs, or being trapped in an enclosed space while you’re strangled by a cord until your head explodes – this shouldn’t prey on your fears too much.

But what Galaxy of Terror does so well is deliver the splattery goods in a way that ‘80s Corman embraced. From Humanoids from the Deep (1980) to The Nest (1988) he went with the times and gave horror audiences what they wanted – a simple story, good production values, and enthusiastic grue. As the King of Exploitation, he had an uncanny ability to gauge what audiences hungered for (and make no mistake, he had no pretense towards Art – he knew exactly the quality of film he produced). If SW was unavailable at the video store, you rented BBtS. Alien checked out again? You grabbed this.

It’s quite interesting – Galaxy has a way more ambitious storyline than Alien, but doesn’t have the resources (or talent) to fully see it through. But this reach is what gives it some of its ‘can do’ charm, as well as the surprisingly good effects, from the makeup to the mattes, landscapes and set design, right down to the Styrofoam Big Mac boxes lining the walls of the ship (thanks Mr. Cameron – I think the kid has a future in the biz), all giving the film a much bigger look (and feel) than the budget belies. And of course, with latter day Corman, one must expect some sleaze. This of course comes in the form of the previously mentioned giant maggot rape scene, which sure turned a lot of heads back in the day.  Both Clark and Cameron thought the scene was too much, so Corman rolled up his sleeves and shot it himself. How does it play today? Tamer, of course – it’s fairly short, it’s very slimy, extremely goofy, and then it’s over. It wasn’t erotic back then, and isn’t now. It is fascinating though how insistent Corman was (really, since the early ‘70s) in adhering to his exploitation roots, in this case shoehorning in some larva lust, as it were.

Shopping the B and C list aisles, Corman put together an impressive array of onscreen talent. Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, a young Robert Englund and a practically mute Sid Haig bring presence and likeability (well, except for one – let’s just say I don’t love his/her performance *wink*) to stock characters. Grace Zabriskie (Seinfeld’s Mrs. Ross), as the Captain, brings all that and a bucketful of paranoid bluster to her role – she plays it weird, and I’d like to thank her for that.

So here’s our Galaxy of Terror Corman Report Card: Ambitious beyond its means. An unwavering dedication to ‘80s space splatter. A reliance on underpaid ingénues to toil, sweat, and dream worlds into existence. And above all, a commitment to entertain – regardless of budget or boundaries. This 14 year old couldn’t be happier with the grade.

Galaxy of Terror is available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Collection.

Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: BLACULA
  • Scott Drebit
    About the Author - Scott Drebit

    Scott Drebit lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is happily married (back off ladies) with 2 grown kids. He has had a life-long, torrid, love affair with Horror films. He grew up watching Horror on VHS, and still tries to rewind his Blu-rays. Some of his favourite horror films include Phantasm, Alien, Burnt Offerings, Phantasm, Zombie, Halloween, and Black Christmas. Oh, and Phantasm.