[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

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 9 – [Happy 40th Birthday!] Full Moon High (1981)

Director: Larry Cohen
Cast: Adam Arkin, Roz Kelly, Ed McMahon, Elizabeth Hartman, Bill Kirchenbauer, Joanne Nail, Demond Wilson, Louis Nye, JM Bullock, James Dixon, Kenneth Mars
Screenplay: Larry Cohen
93 mins. Rated PG.

Up until seeing Full Moon High, my only experience with a Larry Cohen (God Told Me To, It’s Alive) film is watching Q: The Winged Serpent a few years back. I own a number of his films but just haven’t gotten time, but I’ve been told by great many colleagues that he’s got that Grindhouse flavor but he’s cleverer than he’s given credit for. Well, if you’ve seen Full Moon High, you can perhaps imagine my shock when the film turned out to be a cheesy satirical comedy about werewolves. Then, the question must be asked: how does Larry Cohen deal with parody?

High school student Tony (Adam Arkin, A Serious Man, Pig), while on a trip to Transylvania with his father, is bitten by a werewolf. With his new affliction, Tony cannot age, and he is forced to disappear when the curse becomes too much to deal with, only to return decades later to fix his high school status.

Full Moon High appeared near the beginning of a long line of werewolf movies. The 80s were oversaturated with werewolves, with 3 Howling films, 2 Teen Wolf films, Wolfen, The Company of Wolves, and of course An American Werewolf in London. The latter of these films featured the makeup effects of Rick Baker. His protégé, Steve Neill, did the effects for Full Moon High. With all that werewolf mania, Full Moon High actually kind of stands out from the crowd, or at least it should have. This movie is delightful and I’m surprised it isn’t discussed more, even among Cohen’s works. Far from flawless, I found the satirical edge of Cohen’s writing and the likable Adam Arkin leading the cast, Full Moon High mostly worked for me.

That being said, this is a movie that, very early on, makes it clear what you are about to see, and it presents its tone very capably, almost like an episode of Saturday Night Live dedicated to making werewolf jokes for 90 minutes, and that comparison is apt because, like SNL, this movie has some bits that are uproarious and others that are…not so much.

Still, there are enough funny bits scattered through the movie that really work, and there are some surprises for fans of classic comedy as well. Is that Bob Saget playing two different roles? Yes. Is that 3 Arkins in the movie (Adam, father Alan, and brother Anthony)? Yes. We even get a healthy dose of Kenneth Mars (Young Frankenstein, The Producers) as both the coach and principal of the school, and he gets some very Mel Brooks-inspired scenes throughout.

Full Moon High is quite a funny little comedy that has sadly been buried by time. I had to do some heavy searching for a copy only to come across an embarrassingly low quality version on Paramount+. This is a style of comedy very akin to Mel Brooks and Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, and it that’s your thing, I think you’ll get a kick out of this one…if you can find it.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 6 – Shock Treatment (1981)

 

Director: Jim Sharman

Cast: Jessica Harper, Cliff DeYoung, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Charles Gray, Barry Humphries

Screenplay: Richard O’Brien, Jim Sharman

94 mins. Rated PG.

 

Okay, so technically, I’m not sure you can call Shock Treatment a horror film. But it is a little unnerving, and I do always watch it in October right after Rocky Horror Picture Show, so screw you, I’m doing it.

Newlyweds Janet (Jessica Harper, Suspiria, Minority Report) and Brad (Cliff DeYoung, Flight of the Navigator, Wild) are not in a great place in their relationship. Janet yearns for freedom and excitement and Brad is, well, boring, and in the town of Denton, where all the townspeople gather to watch TV shows on a giant set all hours of the day, boring is a death sentence. Brad is imprisoned on the reality soap Dentonvale, where hosts Dr. Cosmo (Richard O’Brien, Dark City, The Stolen) and Nation (Patricia Quinn, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, The Lords of Salem) McKinley seek to help fix the nervous wreck. All the while, Janet is being seduced by her newfound stardom and the attention of the rich fast food mogul Farley Flavors who wishes to take Janet for his very own.

Shock Treatment is…weird. Even by Rocky Horror standards. Rather than make a straight sequel to RHPS, director Jim Sharman (The Night, The Prowler, Summer of Secrets) elected to create a wholly new musical alongside original scribe Richard O’Brien. And while I would have preferred a more traditional sequel, this follow-up does have its own merits.

First of all, I need to address that Shock Treatment actually has its own underground fan base, comparatively-sized to its predecessor, and they live for the film. Many of the elements of the satirical story do mirror events currently going on in present day America. Our addiction to likes, shares, and reality TV is something that Shock Treatment does a tremendous job playing to. And many, but not all, of the songs are quite catchy in their own way.

Overall, this film does meander quite a bit without finding footing. Characters and plotlines are introduced without much care, but the themes stand tall enough not to take away. I was also disappointed by the recasting of Brad and Janet, as I feel their chemistry wasn’t strong enough to reflect the strain on their marriage. They seem at times to really hate one another, and that doesn’t work.

Shock Treatment is a rarity in the business, a film that is indescribably strange but pulls you in very capably. I always enjoy watching it, but it is flawed indeed and I personally find it to be a step down from Rocky Horror Picture Show. But that’s just me? So which fan club are you in?

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, click here.

[Happy 35th Birthday!] Heavy Metal (1981)

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Director: Gerald Potterton

Cast: Harvey Atkin, Jackie Burroughs, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Marilyn Lightstone, Harold Ramis, Richard Romanus, Alice Playten, Roger Bumpass, Joe Flaherty

Screenplay: Daniel Goldberg, Len Blum

86 mins. Rated R.

 

Well, folks, 35 years ago today, a little animated film came out. No, it wasn’t a Disney film. Not even a little. No, I’m talking about 1981’s Heavy Metal.

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Heavy Metal is a collection of stories based on those from the original source comic book. Each of these stories is connected through a mystical object, a green glowing orb called the Loc-Nar. There is the story of Harry Canyon (Richard Romanus, Mean Streets, Point of No Return), a taxi driver in 2031 New York who gets in too deep with a beautiful woman on the hunt from the gangster Rudnick. The story of Den (John Candy, TV’s SCTV, Spaceballs), a nerdy teen who is transported by the Loc-Nar to Neverwhere and becomes muscled hero bent on defeating a villainous cult. On an orbiting space station, Captain Lincoln F. Sternn (Eugene Levy, Best in Show, Finding Dory) is on trial when the Loc-Nar intervenes. The stories are each interesting in their own and contribute to an overall mythos by which the film is centered. To go in depth would ruin the fun of watching.

The film starts with a Loc-Nar monologue and immediately jumps into Soft Landing, a hell of a way to open a movie and further proof that opening titles work when done right.

The movie is crass and misogynistic and gory and erotic, and through all that, I love it. Heavy Metal has eye-popping imagery and gorgeous visuals (however dated) combined with a kick-ass soundtrack featuring hard rock music from the era. It is a time capsule of teenage boys in the 1980s, and it is epic.

I would have liked to have seen more connections between the different stories. It felt like they were shoehorned together some (and I know full well that this was the case as the Loc-Nar didn’t appear in most of the comic book stories depicted).

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I love Heavy Metal (the sequel, Heavy Metal 2000, not so much) and I hope for the long-awaited third film to show up one day down the road. This is a film like no other, only barely similar in tone to some of Ralph Bakshi’s work, but don’t let its uniqueness take you out of it. This is a tremendous feat in filmmaking that has been all but forgotten.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

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Director: George Miller

Cast: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence

Screenplay: Terry Hayes, George Miller, Brian Hannant

95 mins. Rated R.

 

Back when Ozploitation was making its way to America, a property known as Mad Max went with it, but many Americans hadn’t seen the original film. So the American distributors decided to drop the Mad Max 2 title and go with an original title, The Road Warrior. It helped to create a modern day post-apocalyptic classic.

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Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson, Braveheart, The Expendables 3) has been drifting across the wasteland of the remnants of the Earth for five years since the loss of his family. When he comes across a Gyrocopter Captain (Bruce Spence, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, I, Frankenstein) and meets a group of survivors being terrorized by the villainous Humungus and his team of gas-hunting murderers. Now, its up to Max to help the survivors get to refuge and protect their gasoline.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior takes the best parts of the original film and elevates them to a new level while simultaneously fixing the flaws of the first film. Mel Gibson absolutely kills it at this role in his second film of the series. We also get the terrific inclusion of character actor Bruce Spence.

The best parts of the film are the tonal shifts and the mood of the film. The sparingly used dialogue allows for the carnage to be fully realized and displayed.

Now apparently some have questioned the real identity of Humungus that was originally a large part of the story. I’ll let you know about it some time.

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is one of the greatest post-apocalyptic spectacles of all time. The notable chase sequence with the gas truck is a fantastic sequence that left me breathless. It would be nearly impossible to top this film (although Mad Max: Fury Road was able to accomplish the feat decades later). You don’t have to see The Road Warrior to fully appreciate this year’s reboot to the Mad Max franchise, but it is a film that demands respect.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of George Miller’s Mad Max, click here.

 

[Friday the 13th] Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

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Director: Steve Miner

Cast: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Kirsten Baker, Stuart Charno, Marta Kober, Tom McBride, Bill Randolph, Lauren-Marie Taylor, Russell Todd

Screenplay: Ron Kurz

87 mins. Rated R.

 

Films like Friday the 13th don’t ever really get sequels. It is a horror film, so nothing is truly out of the question, but rarely does a sequel happen when the killer is [SPOILER ALERT] beheaded at the end. That didn’t happen for the Friday the 13th franchise, when a small tie at the end of the film involving Mrs. Voohees’ deceased son attacking a frail and fatigued Alice (Adrienne King, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming) led to the first sequel in this highly-successful horror franchise.

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It has been five long years since Alice survived that fateful Friday and now, the camp is to be opened again and a group of new men and women have gathered to learn the trade of the camp counselor. What is required of camp counselors? Drugs, sex, and death, obviously. Plain and simple. But who is killing these teens? Mrs. Voorhees is long dead, and no one has ever found the body of her son, Jason.

The problem with Friday the 13th Part 2 is the fact that it is essentially Friday the 13th all over again. The film provides very little in terms of really progressing the plot, other than the introduction of a new killer. Pulling off the killer switcheroo isn’t an easy thing to accomplish. Several other franchises have tried and failed to complete the change, but Friday is lucky enough to have completed this change very early in the franchise. This is a transitional period for the series and it happens to transition nicely, in part due to its simplicity.

The strengths of this sequel come from the colorful group of likable leads who provide slightly cookie-cutter characters though still enjoyable ones. Ginny (Amy Steel, TV’s All My Children, April Fool’s Day) and Paul (John Furey, The Galinez File, Flight 93) have a solid amount of chemistry if somewhat underused. It is interesting to note the level of danger who two leads carry in the film is less than sufficient, but is a stylistic choice popular to the 1970s and 80s. Director Steve Miner (Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Day of the Dead) utilized the style of several Italian horror films to influence the rainbow of deaths in the film. I’m not one to discuss how interesting the death is in horror films. That was younger Kyle. I prefer to believe that the way the person dies bears little when compared to the emotions I feel for him or her. In that way, the ways our killer dispenses with them is disturbing with a sizable amount of cheese (not exactly a bad thing in this way).

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Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2 has enough potential to keep the series alive past what already seemed like a death knell. Likable characters in disturbing danger and an unknown assassin keep the tension high enough to enjoy this sequel all the through the 14th. Happy Holidays.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

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