Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #222
Number of Views: Infinite
Release Date: October 1981
Sub-Genre: Horror Sci-Fi
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $4,000,000
Running Time: 81 minutes
Director: Bruce D. Clark
Producer: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Marc Siegler, Bruce D. Clark
Special Effects: Allan A. Apone, Steve Neill, Rick Stratton, Douglas J. White
Visual Effects: Tom Campbell
Cinematography: Jacques Haitkin
Score: Barry Schrader
Editing: Larry Bock, R.J. Kizer, Barry Zetlin
Studio: New World Pictures
Distributor: United Artists, Shout! Factory (DVD)
Stars: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Bernard Behrens, Zalman King, Robert Englund, Taaffe O’Connell, Sid Haig, Grace Zabriskie, Jack Blessing, Mary Ellen O’Neill
Suggested Audio Candy
“Doubt is demon brother to despair; The demon’s tale outwithers those who dare not dare.”
Certain films need no introduction with me. Movies which hold a place in my heart so totally exclusive that I cannot mention the mere name without breaking into a huge shit-eating grin and going all squishy inside. I make no secret that Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro is one enigmatic work that I hold in such lofty regard and, whilst entirely fathomless and ridiculous, it is still my all-time favorite horror flick. A very close second is Bruce D. Clark’s Galaxy of Terror, a film equally preposterous and every bit as iconic. It is a piece of B-grade spam of the highest order and the reason rose-tinted spectacles were invented.
Regarded by many as low-rent trash upon its release, it has gone on to amass a rabid following over the past thirty years and there are few films more deserving of adulation. Harking from Roger Corman’s unstoppable hit machine, it also marked the beginning of the meteoric rise of a certain James Cameron who served as Production Designer and Second Unit Director for the movie. Cameron’s resourcefulness endeared him to Corman no end, in particular his solution to a maggot-infested arm which he designed a metal plate for which conducted an electrical current kinetic enough to cause the maggots to writhe. It is worth noting that the walls of the spaceship consisted of McDonald’s cartons. Galaxy of Terror was inestimable in getting him the gig on Aliens and the rest is history of course.
I have always been partial to Corman’s work, particularly late seventies and early eighties as it was my era. His films were unashamed cheap rip-offs of more luxurious movies and he showed that you could do this on a far smaller budget. Take Piranha for example, outside of Steven Spielberg’s mighty Jaws there is no movie which makes me less likely to want to take a midnight swim. By the same token, Galaxy of Terror makes space exploration similarly less than appealing. I’m a fan of another from the lucrative Corman production line Allan Holzman’s Forbidden World, William Malone’s Titan Find, Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination and Norman J. Warren’s Inseminoid to name but a few and they all get my motor running despite any flaws or, indeed, because they embrace their foibles. Clark’s film is at the very apex of said pyramid, gleaming like a lambent red orb.
The cast alone makes my heart smile. Ray Walston, Zalman King, Edward Albert, Bernard Behrens, Jack Blessing, Grace Zabriskie; these character actors may not be recognizable by name but you’ll know exactly who they are when they’re onscreen. Throw in Erin Moran (Joanie Cunningham from Happy Days), a fresh-faced Robert Englund and near mute Sid Haig (who utters one line of dialogue at entirely his request) and then endow them with glorious mantles such as Quuhod, Cabren and Alluma and you’re on easy street. The dialogue is vintage Stilton but none of them camp it up even when they exhibit questionable logic, particularly the burn first, ask questions never Baelon (King).
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Too scared to be”
Taaffe O’Connell gets a raw deal as wormophobe Dameia and takes the full bishop of a one ton space larva. Just like Susan George with David Warner banging away at her paddock, she gets caught up in that moment and the girthy grub grabs its ominous oats while she writhes around nude in ectoplasm. Nicknamed Maggie the Maggot, this very hungry caterpillar was originally meant to consume Dameia but eleventh hour changes by Clark led to one of the most quintessential B-Movie moments in eighties folklore. The typically pernickety MPAA demanded several frames be trimmed but the wonderfully tasteless scene still packs a penetrating punch.
The schlocky grue and creature effects are magnanimous given the skimpy budget and accompanied by a sumptuous synchronized score by Barry Schrader the likes of which we just don’t hear anymore. From an audio-video standpoint, it doesn’t put a foot wrong. Make no mistake; this isn’t a simple case of so bad it’s good, more so good it’s scary. Even the metaphysical conclusion, which attracted unfair criticism from some quarters, works brilliantly and leaves an eerie glow of despair which perfectly compliments everything that preceded it. Don’t get me started about the poster artwork. If there were such a thing as Galaxy of Terror themed butter then I would spread it on my toast daily.
One film which this calls to mind is Event Horizon, not only for the haunted house premise of a recon mission gone awry but also because of provocative subtext on confronting one’s own most darkened fears. Whether or not you find it scary depends largely on your suspension of disbelief but it moves at a snappy clip and bathes in its own ridiculousness so, even if it doesn’t give you a vague sense of creeps, then at least entertainment is an absolute given. In my opinion it stands alongside the great B-Movie flicks from the 50’s and 60’s and never once looks out-of-place in their fine company.
They really don’t make ’em like Galaxy of Terror anymore. It’s crass and noisy one minute but when the din dies down it has a foreboding atmosphere which serves it well. Sure, it shamelessly rips off the classics but that was always the intention. How can you possibly be mealy-mouthed about a piece of art which wears its heart so proudly on its sleeve? Fire me off into space in an insular capsule and be sure to slide a copy of Clark’s masterpiece into my pod before lift off. That’s all I shall need, this and Xtro. There I will gladly spend my perpetual darkness as the master.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The sight of O’Connell’s well-greased naked shell squirming in a pool of grub jism is one which will be forever emblazoned into my psyche. Libidinous space maggot and intergalactic doinking aside, the grue is ladled on liberally. Moran’s happy days come to an end in a suitably sickening manner and the audio actually had to be toned down to ensure classification. Limbs are removed and, in true Evil Dead 2 fashion, return to wreak havoc, faces are peeled, tendrils feed, folk disintegrate and all manner of crazed debauchery awaits our ill-fated tourists in the Galaxy of Terror.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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