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 ALIENS.
Other famous folk who worked on this film include Robert 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