The Seventies saw a revolution in cinema with the emergence of young filmmakers expanding the limits of the medium with films like The Godfather, The French Connection, and Taxi Driver. Towards the end of the decade, a revolution of a different sort was taking place. Jaws and Star Wars hit theaters to gigantic success and gave birth to the modern summer blockbuster. While Star Wars was a throwback to the adventurous movie serials that George Lucas enjoyed as a kid, Alien (released two years later) would take science fiction to horrific new levels.
Never one to shy away from knockoffs; Roger Corman was always ready to capitalize on the fortunes of others. Corman’s New World Pictures pumped out numerous low-budget films that have gone on to become cult classics. When Jaws hit it big, Corman produced the spoof/copy Piranha, featuring the first credited work by filmmakers Joe Dante and John Sayles. After Star Wars, New World was there with the space Western, Battle Beyond the Stars. But, horror was what Corman and company did best. New World jumped on the bandwagon and produced Galaxy of Terror in 1981 and Forbidden World in 1982.
Set in some far off section of space, Galaxy of Terror begins with the powerful and enigmatic Planet Master receiving news that one of his ships, the Remus, has crash landed on the planet of Morganthus. The Planet Master tasks Commander Ilvar (Bernard Behrens) lead a rescue mission onboard the spaceship Quest. Piloting the Quest is Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie), a hard-nosed officer who carries survivor’s guilt over a disastrous mission she once undertook. The crew’s second-in-command is the abrasive Baelon (Zalman King) who frequently clashes with fellow crewman Cabren (Edward Albert). Their animosity likely stems from both men harboring feelings for the ship’s psychic, Alluma (Erin Moran). There’s also the taciturn Quuhod (Sid Haig) whose weapon of choice isn’t a laser, but a three-pronged throwing star made out of crystal. Rounding out the crew are: the ship’s cook, Kore (Ray Walston); beautiful science officer Dameia (Taaffe O’Connell); Ranger (Robert Englund); and the rookie Cos (Jack Blessing).
Arriving at Morganthus, our protagonists find some of the Remus crew already dead and the rest missing. While exploring the planet surface, they discover a massive pyramid and enter hoping to locate any survivors. Only too late does the Quest crew discover that the pyramid creates physical manifestations of each individual’s worst fears. One by one, they are killed off in terrible fashion. The captain is roasted alive by laser fire while poor Alluma is crushed to death by tentacles.
Galaxy of Terror is the type of no-brained schlock that exemplifies the work of B-movie guru Roger Corman. The dialogue is corny so much so that Sid Haig requested his character be mute. Corman acquiesced on the condition that Haig’s one line of dialogue be, ”I live and die by the crystals.” The death scenes are grisly, but repetitive. Most of them involve arms or tentacles coming out of nowhere to attack the hapless space explorers. Perhaps, the most well known sequence of Galaxy involves poor Dameia being raped by a giant, one-ton maggot. The blonde bombshell’s clothing is torn into tatters as the creature mounts here and covers her in its slime. The scene is pure Corman and dripping with Freudian overtones, not to mention other fluids. Corman insisted the film include a rape scene to titillate audiences, but it was director Bruce D. Clark and co-writer Marc Siegler who decided to add the worm in order to make it as ludicrous as possible.
The acting is a few levels above what you’d expect from drive-in detritus. That’s mainly due to the film having a surprisingly talented collection of actors. The cast is an excellent mix of established thespians and future stars. There’s B-movie mainstay Sid Haig as the silent and brutish enforcer. Joanie Cunningham herself, Erin Moray, moonlights from Happy Days for a role similar to Counselor Troi from Star Trek: TNG. You’ve also got veteran character actors Ray Walston and Edward Albert Jr. In the Before They Were Stars department, you have Grace Zabriskie, who would go on to star in Twin Peaks and Big Love; Zalman King, who would later work as a writer and producer on 9 1/2 Weeks and the softcore Showtime series Red Shoe Diaries; and a fresh-faced Robert Englund just a few years before his career defining role as Freddie Krueger.
The actors weren’t the only ones to go on to bigger and better things. One of the film’s production designers was the king of the world, James Cameron. Genre fans will easily identify Cameron’s work on Galaxy of Terror. The look and feel of the picture draws immediate comparison with that of Aliens. The Aliens connection doesn’t end there as a young Bill Paxton did set construction on Galaxy of Terror. Cameron’s work was so well respected by Corman that on his rare visits to the set, he would always go straight to Cameron.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture quality looks good at most points. However, most of the film was shot very dark and hazy and the quality takes a hit there. Still, there’s very little in the way of scratches or blemishes.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. Galaxy of Terror doesn’t possess the most dynamic audio track, but overall, the sound comes in clearly.
The DVD includes an audio commentary with actress Taaffe O’Connell, effects artists Allan Apone & Alec Gillis, and production assistant David DeCoteau. This is a very lively and light-hearted track as the participants share stories about the making of the film. In particular, O’Connell takes the infamous rape scene with great humor.
Tales from the Lumber Yard: The Making of Galaxy of Terror (62:42) is an in-depth look at not just the making of the film, but what it was like to work with Roger Corman. This documentary is split into five chapters: “The Crew of the Quest,” “Planet of Horrors,” “Future King,” “Old School,” and “Launch Sequence.” Interviewees have some great stories about what it was like to work with Cameron who seemed to take his job a little too seriously.
The DVD also includes trailers, still galleries, and a downloadable version of the script.
Film Value: 5
Galaxy of Terror is definitely a product of a bygone era. The special effects are actually quite good and everything was done either practically or in camera. No green screen and certainly no CGI. However, the film is mostly forgettable with a final plot twist that makes no sense. Galaxy of Terror is really only talked about in cult classic circles due to the infamous sequence of wormy love.