A few years ago I noticed that MAD magazine was still around, and that they were skewering the big release of the summer, The Dark Knight (I am assuming their parody was entitled “The Fart Knight”). The thing that got to me was this particular issue was coming out pretty much the same week as Christopher Nolan’s film. Knowing how deadlines work and how long it takes to write, ink and edit the piece, it occurred to me that this MAD piece was probably generated based on previews and other marketing tactics, whereas I know that in 1989, because I bought the issue, that their parody of Tim Burton’s film Batman (which I seem to recall was entitled “Blecchman”) came out in September, meaning, it was more likely the writers and artists actually had the opportunity to see the finish product that were satirizing beforehand, thus making their work more a response to the product than to the marketing. Now obviously the way information is disseminated these days requires a quick turnaround, and even a monster hit like The Dark Knight is probably gone from most cinemas three months’ after its release date, and is far enough removed from public consciousness that a MAD parody will feel stale, well more stale than usual for a MAD parody. Another example, and one that actually relates to the film being discussed today (yes, I’ll eventually provide some reviewing in this review) is the modern churner of direct to DVD rip-off releases of big blockbusters, Asylum Pictures. I should mention that I’ve never actually have seen one of their works in its entirety, but knowing what I know of their quality, I am going to take a stab that things like the Transmorphers series, and their hope that illiterate people grab this thinking that somehow they found a DVD of a film just released theatrically, aren’t exactly grand artistic achievements, or even try to be.
From the 1960’s to the 1980’s producer Roger Corman was the king of capitalizing on successful films of the day. Of course, back then successful films were not the manifest destinies they are today, so Corman and the filmmakers that worked for him had to wait to see which film audiences enjoyed. Thus, his “rip-offs” (for better lack of a word) were a response to their actual content and entailed a study of the film to see what made them work, a process that would take a few years generally. So Bonnie and Clyde (1967) begat Bloody Mama (1970), Jaws (1975) begat Piranha (1979), Star Wars (1977) begat Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), and yes, Alien (1979) begat Galaxy of Terror (1981).
Galaxy of Terror is basically Alien for those without an attention span, in fact the deliberate pacing of Ridley Scott’s film seem to be practically mocked when our captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie) kicks off their crews mission to discover the whereabouts of a missing ship by kicking their shuttle into speeds so fast, it can only be visually implied with the actual film speeding up. The film packs as much disgusting space horrors: tentacles ripping off faces, body parts being torn off, faces exploding, even death via rape from a giant worm, as it can in its brief 81 minute running time, perhaps enough to equal the entire Alien series.
That’s of course not to say it’s anywhere in the class of Scott’s film, but unlike the previously mentioned Asylum production films, there was care put into making it a quality film. Even though it’s low budget surfaces during certain special effect sequences, a lot of attention was paid to the fine set design and matte paintings. The world created by the designers, which interestingly enough included future director of Aliens, James Cameron (another in the long tradition of Corman protégés that went on to bigger things), is a fog enshrouded, cavernous one, with a pyramid as the central force, and a very MC Escher vibe to the style. The practical effects of the tentacles can be very effectively skin crawling, especially when provided a good angle and darkness to hide the relative cheapness of them.
While the direction can be a little stiff at time, Bruce D. Clark is able to move things along at the breakneck pace clearly. The screenplay by Clark and Marc Siegler is a little heady and full of big announcements and platitudes for what is essentially a body count in space film, but I did love this one exchange: “Aren’t you afraid?” “No, I’m too scared to be” which enters the pantheon for ridiculous lines delivered with conviction along with such favorites as Road House’s “Pain don’t hurt”. A game cast includes Happy Days’ Joanie, Erin Moran, whose passing resemblance to Sigourney Weaver is actually subverted with her character’s fate, genre favorite Sid Haig, future Freddy Krueger Robert England, future softcore director Zalman King, and as the cook, Ray Walston, whose career would get a shot in the arm one year later, as Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Galaxy of Terror is not a great film, but it’s a fun and obviously lovingly made B-movie, something that’s becoming more and more of a rarity these days.