Galaxy of Terror (1981)

One could be cynical and point to 1981’s Galaxy of Terror as a blatant cash grab, an Alien clone that pushes itself into squeamish territory that its inspiration only hinted at. You could see it as a disgusting piece of exploitation movie making, filled with faded stars. Or you could just realize that life can be a mysterious, amazing, wonderfully rewarding experience and that a movie can start off ripping something off and become its own gloriously weird and magical thing. Obviously, I’m in the latter camp. And if you aren’t, jump off this ride to Morganthus right now, bub!

Written and directed by Bruce D. Clark and produced by Roger Corman for around $700,000, this is no big budget affair. But it’s a film that uses footage from previous Corman efforts, notably Battle Beyond the Stars, to great effect. And it’s also a proving ground for the talent that would lead the science fiction genre throughout the following decade. James Cameron is the art director, providing some intriguing sets and interesting gore replete with maggots. And of all people, the late and oh so lamented Bill Paxton served as the set decorator, previous to his career as an actor.

Galaxy begins by showing the last survivor of a downed ship being tracked down and killed as he tried to run away with what looks to be a car muffler. We learn that this is all part of a game played between Mitri and the Planet Master, who keeps his identity hidden. They speak of plans being set into motion and sending another ship, The Quest, to its doom.

The ship’s crew is led by Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie, Sarah Palmer of Twin Peaks, as well as The Grudge and Child’s Play 2), who has survived an epic disaster which has rendered her unstable and quite possibly a danger to her entire crew. This point is hammered home as the moment the ship is close to Morganthus, it crash lands on the planet’s surface.

Also on board are:

Alluma (Erin Moran of TV’s Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi), a psychic sensitive.

Team leader Baelon (Zalman King, who would go behind the camera to steam up the scream with his Red Shoe Diaries series, as well as production (and at times, direction) duties on films such as Two Moon Junction, Wild Orchid and 9 ½ Weeks), who is a complete dick to one and all.

Quuhod, a mute crewmember and master of the throwing crystal (Sid Haig, who may be my real father. Honestly, if you’re on this site and have no idea who Sid Haig is, life has led you down a dark, dismal path. I’d suggest you stop reading now and go watch Spider Baby or House of 1000 Corpses or Coffy or The Big Bird Cage and so on and so on).

Cabren, the film’s hero, who seems to be the coolest head (and best mustachioed) on the ship (Edward Albert, son of Green Acres star Eddie Albert).

Kore, the ship’s cook (Ray Walston, My Favourite Martian, Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dr. Mnesyne from Popcorn).

Dameia (Taaffe O’Connell, New Year’s Evil), the technical officer.

Commander Ilvar (Bernard Behrens, The Changeling), the overall team leader.

Ranger, a crew member (Robert Englund, again, if you need a lesson on the importance of this fine actor, your priorities need some serious evaluation).

One by one, the team faces their own fears as they explore the planet. Those fears include all manner of gory, horrific deaths. To satisfy the demands of the film’s backers, one of those horrific moments includes a sex scene with the buxom O’Connell, but the results are probably not what any of those backers ever dreamed they wanted. Her fear of sexuality and fantasy of submitting to something more powerful than herself leads to a gigantic maggot having a prolonged, fully nude sex scene complete with simulated intercourse, as she gets covered in slime and enjoys an orgasm so great that it kills her. Seriously — this is either the scene where you wonder aloud about Galaxy of Terror’s sheer lunacy or walk out of the room in disgust. There is no middle ground.

Finally, it’s revealed that this is all a cosmic child’s game and the Master must be replaced by one of the crew. I’ll leave it up to you to watch this film and enjoy the ending for yourself.

It’s worth noting: As Alien gave way to Aliens, an alum of this film, Cameron, would be at the helm. However, there would be no giant maggots or Sid Haig dancing around in a jumpsuit. If you ask me, we’re all the worse for that.

Also known as Planet of Terrors and Mind Warp: An Infinity of Terror, Galaxy demands to be viewed. Be warned – this is exploitation filmmaking at its most exploitative. It’s a scuzzy, scummy film and may not be for all tastes.

You can watch it for free with an Amazon Prime membership or grab it from Shout! Factory.

This review originally appeared on That’s Not Current

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