Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Galaxy of Terror

1981 ***1/2

That's right, it's another Horrorthon review!

As a teenager I sought out Galaxy of Terror when it first came around on cable because I had read the following fact in an issue of Playboy: a woman has sex with a giant maggot.

But this movie is so much more -- as of this viewing I've decided it's the best 80's sci-fi/horror B-movie there is. That may sound like a ridiculously narrow category of achievement, but consider...

Roger Corman produced it, and unlike the huge volumes of his work that predate the 80's you can actually see tits in this movie. The production design is by some first-time hack named James Cameron, and check out the fun faces in the cast:

Freddy Kreuger, Laura Palmer's mom, and Mr. Hand!

and Joanie! In spaaaace!

This movie hits "bad enough to be good" on a lofty zen-like level. It makes it look easy while doing it, too, drawing from any number of its sci-fi betters but actually pulling off some original stuff on the way. You will see the label "Alien clone" slapped on this flick, but it doesn't really apply. Where, for instance, does Alien hint at anything like the following?

We open with narration from this witchy lady, who states her name and space-witchy stature and talks about how she and the Planet Master, who's head glows constantly, sit around and play the "eternal cosmic game," which appears to be a tabletop Ms. Pac-Man the Planet Master boosted from a nearby bar.

"Holy FUCK when is that pizza getting here?"

Ignoring the fact that someone stuck them in an undisturbed corner of a mid-level hotel lobby, the two great beings stab at their buttons with tense determination, possibly altering the destinies of thousands of lives with each stroke.

It's hard to say. The cosmos only has four buttons

Fortunately a colonel so-and-so crashes the party and gets the plot rolling, announcing that a ship of the realm has gone missing on the mysterious planet Morganthus. Citing some ominous signifigance to that particular planet, the Planet Master orders a hand-picked rescue operation. The space witch and her narration disappear from the movie forever.

Horrorthon Public Service Announcement: Not one thing from this poster is in the movie

There follows an admirably quick introduction to our crew of players, who before you can say whoop de whoop have zipped into space and crash landed on Morganthus themselves. At this point the terror rolls up its sleeves and gets to work, and the picking-off process can get going. In this sense it is a very Alienesque movie, but as the cast members go down it's soon obvious that it isn't just one kind of critter getting its claws dirty.

Actually it becomes clear pretty quickly that the characters' own fears have something to do with the monsters they face. Knowing this in advance, during this viewing I couldn't help noticing the hand-picked crew is pretty much a bunch of unstable, whiny ninnies. Take Captain Laura Palmer's Mom for instance:

"I'll never stop hearing the skurgbloks' screams..."

She's the lone survivor of some long ago Space Viet Nam thingie, and so she masks her inner damage with a rough and tumble exterior. Except she doesn't mask diddly, as any mention of the historic battle drops her straight into haunted vet flashback mode. Which can only lead to...

"Hahaha! Die, Space Santa!"

Yep. Full-blown flashback mode, tripping balls while manning a big laser cannon. Take note: these are the kind of personnel decisions that happen when your planet is ruled by a video game addict with a glowing head.

Uh-oh, looks like Willie's "just" again.

Galaxy of Terror charms my socks off every time because it's got that Ed Wood-like gumption to just tell a story, dammit, and it's got enough skill among its cast and crew to fake it like the best. There's one monster in particular that you can tell is just the worst puppet monsta ever, but they knew enough to keep it in the shadows as much as possible.

And look at the spaceship corridor above; total ripoff of Aliens and Star Wars, but it's still so sincere in its way. (I'm think one benefit of old, crappy sci-fi flicks is, cheap or not, they still had big sets because you couldn't throw it all in front of a greenscreen.)

The result is a scrappy, not terribly bright movie that has just the right slapped-together mix of stupid and clever to be thoroughly enjoyable and occasionally kind of visionary. Sort of. Maybe.

At least it's better than being raped by a giant maggot


50PageMcGee said...

this sounds pretty delightful, and that opening screen grab looks promising -- although none of the others live up to its awesomeness.

also, major nerd-cred for pulling "i am just" out of your ass.

Catfreeek said...

I don't believe I've ever seen this one but your reviews makes me want to watch it right now.

JPX said...

Love this review! I've never seen it but you had me at Joannie! What an awesome cast, Freddy Kreuger, Laura Palmer's mom, and Mr. Hand? This has must-see all over it. I don't believe I've seen Mrs. Palmer in anything else ever. She looks so young there. Great summary, Octo, I will most definitely watch it this October!

Catfreeek said...

JPX~ Laura Palmer's Mom is one of the stars in HBO's Big Love series. She plays Bill Paxton's crazy Mom.

AC said...

looks delicious! great review, octopunk.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I don't think I can wait until October. It's just a shame that the awesome cover art isn't featured.

Best 80's sci-fi horror B-movie, eh? Currently I would award that distinction to Night of the Comet but damn this looks good.