[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 23 – [Happy 40th Birthday!] Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Director: Bruce D. Clark
Cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Taafe O’Connell, Robert Englund
Screenplay: Marc Siegler, Bruce D. Clark
81 mins. Rated R.

Okay, so I didn’t intend to cover two different Alien ripoffs this month, but here we are. Unlike Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination, the film we’re talking about today was actually quite important to the legacy of the Alien franchise. Galaxy of Terror had an up-and-coming filmmaker, James Cameron, as its Art Director. Not only that, Cameron hired his pal, Bill Paxton, to work as set dresser for the film. Cameron saw an opportunity for himself on the film and wiggled his way into being second-unit director, and it was his work on this film that got him his first directing gig on Piranha II: The Spawning. A few years later, Cameron would be directing the sequel to Alien, Aliens, with his pal Bill Paxton performing in it. Sometimes ripoffs can be very important, see?

Galaxy of Terror is the story of the spaceship Quest and its crew as they arrive at the planet Morganthus. Their mission is to discover the whereabouts of another ship that disappeared on the surface of the planet some time ago. They quickly discover that Morganthus is not without life, and something horrible is stalking them as they search for answers, picking them off one-by-one.

Galaxy of Terror is the kind of movie that could work. As I mentioned, for a low-budget endeavor, the art direction from Cameron is quite good. There’s an influence from Alien, for certain, but there’s a more colorful and vibrant feeling to this movie that serves its campy tone quite well. The costume design and set work is admirable, and they stretch that thin budget as far as they can.

A few select performances work quite well here. I liked Edward Albert (Butterflies Are Free, Midway) as our main protagonist Cabren, a veteran of space travel who keeps a cool head amidst the teror of the ission. I’m also a fan of Ray Walston (Popeye, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), especially when he appears in genre work, and he’s great as Kore, who carries a very similar arc to an Alien character but comes at it in a different way. Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightworld: Door of Hell) also outperformed my expectations, as I was expecting him to not have much to do, but he is enthusiastically enjoyably throughout.

The problem with thos performances is that, even with the cast and crew trying hard, this script is flimsy at the best of times and director Bruce D. Clark (Naked Angels, Hammer) doesn’t do much to spice up the narrative with his uninspired direction. Even at 81 minutes, Galaxy of Terror feels overly long because, trying as hard as they are, these performers can’t do much with this weak material. Albert’s Cabren would’ve worked if he had anything to do as a lead. Walston is putting everything into his performance, but it seems that Kore, as one of the most interesting characters, is forgotten for large swaths of the narrative, and Englund’s Ranger could’ve really excelled if given better than a paper-thin character dynamic to work with. There’s a lot of people raising the material, but the script and direction doom this movie.

What’s even more frustrating is how close they come to workable, but then Clark and producer Roger Corman elect to force unneeded schlock back into it. The infamous “worm rape” scene is a prime example of this. There’s a way to have a schlocky bit of excitement terror and still use your tools to create suspense and mood. Instead, Corman directed this scene in a neanderthalic way, choosing “boob boob alien sex make fun fun money.” Perhaps I’m being harsh, but when you compare this sequence to another infamous horror scene, the “tree rape” scene from The Evil Dead, you can see a clear separation in purpose. Raimi’s film uses the scene to build upon the horror and tone and mood and also to disturb. Corman, stepping in to direct the scene in Galaxy of Terror, uses it like a kid who discovered his dad’s porno mags and wants to show them to you. I love Roger Corman but this just didn’t work.

Galaxy of Terror has perhaps more promise than one would expect, but it still comes up short. There are bits and pieces of this film that show a better work beneath the surface, but much like the spaceship Quest at the start of this film, Galaxy of Terror comes in for a crash landing.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

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