After the groundbreaking horror-sci-fi hybrid success of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), several low budget filmmakers decided to add their goo-covered two cents to the discourse; hell, Roger Corman himself cranked out a couple skeezy sci-fi winners in Galaxy of Terror (1981) and Forbidden World (’82). But there’s a nasty little number out of Britain funded with some Hong Kong coin that shouldn’t be dismissed: Inseminoid (1981) decides that Alien should be a straight up slasher in space and we’re all the better for it.
Released in the UK in March, Inseminoid (AKA Horror Planet most everywhere else) had a slow rollout worldwide, with the U.S. not taking it in until November of ’82. Critics mostly hated it of course; the exception across the board being Judy Geeson’s performance. Audiences were more receptive and the film did quite well in the Alien knockoff wars. But after an initial setup that screams “Nostromo”, Inseminoid becomes its own demented thing.
It’s the future (natch), and a group of space archeologists are digging up crystals on a faraway planet and studying the ancient alien civilization that lived (or lives?) there. An unforeseen explosion in the mines leaves one explorer comatose and another not feeling so hot. When the sick one goes nuts and starts running around the caves, others give chase, including Sandy (Geeson – The Lords of Salem), who ends up being taken down by…something.
Before she awakens in the lab, Sandy has a surreal dream in which she is administered a shot by one of the doctors and then impregnated on a tanning bed by a bug-eyed alien with a giant plastic tube for a penis. The same doctor notifies the others that Sandy is somehow two months pregnant. Normal cravings of meatball subs and chocolate-dipped pickles will not suffice for poor Sandy, who finds herself on the giving end of the slaughter of her shipmates. And she doesn’t get any friendlier once she gives birth…
Inseminoid starts off this close to Alien that you settle in for what’s sure to be a twice faded Xerox; a headstrong female captain (Jennifer Ashley – Chained Heat), a dining room scene or two, decisions on whether to leave or stay, etc. But as soon as Sandy is impregnated and starts hunting the crew, it changes into a relentless stalk and slash until the bloody finale.
This is a good thing, because that first act is pretty weak, what with setting up the characters and inane conversations and walking around caves. Since we know we’re not in the hands of Ridley Scott and Twentieth Century Fox money (Run Run Shaw put up half of the million pound budget), a hastening of events is necessary to suspend disbelief. (You’re not going to care about this crew like Scott’s, trust me.) Just keep it going, so we can ignore some sketchy performances and dodgy dialogue and get down to what this knockoff is really about: a body count is space.
While it is hinted at (confusingly, to boot) that there is a shadow move to impregnate the women on board, we’re given no idea why, by whom, or if the aliens are willful procreators or mere pawns. (I can promise you that Sandy is unwilling, in yet another unfortunate attempt to sell rape as titillation.) To be fair, there isn’t much in Inseminoid that makes a lick of sense; character motivations change on a whim, the laws of science seem to work at the writers’ folly, and the film lacks proper placement for such limited surroundings.
This is the inherent danger with riding the coattails of a juggernaut; the audience is forced to compare, and usually quite unfavorably. This would be Inseminoid’s first act. But, once it sets itself free and focuses just on Sandy’s rampage, it turns into a giddy B blast with no pretensions whatsoever. While Corman was busy trying to get philosophical (Galaxy of Terror) and/or exploitative (Forbidden World), director Norman J. Warren (Satan’s Slave) stripped everything down to a madwoman’s hunt.
If that sounds a little too straightforward, don’t worry because Warren peppers the film with numerous gross out gags, courtesy of writers Nick and Gloria Maley (who wrote the script to showcase their effects work – also check out some indie films like The Empire Strikes Back, Superman, and Krull that they worked on); they can’t match the impact of poor John Hurt’s chest bursting scene, but they present fun carnage anyhow.
But the real reason that Inseminoid works comes down to a single performance, that of Judy Geeson. Her Sandy is given a lot of screen time, and she takes advantage of every second; as she oscillates between genuine terror at what is happening to her and the overwhelming alien urge to destroy, Geeson provides a horrifying energy that the rest of the cast simply can’t match. She has some truly chilling moments. I wouldn’t meet her in a fully staffed police station, let alone a darkened labyrinth.
So it is a bit of a misnomer to call Inseminoid an Alien rip off; while it certainly starts out that way, by the end you’re more apt to think this should be set at a summer camp instead of outer space. I think Sandy’s flesh-eating twins would enjoy the fresh air.
Inseminoid is currently available on DVD from Elite Entertainment, but it will be released as part of a Blu-ray boxed set from Indicator in July.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: HELP ME… I’M POSSESSED (1974)