Galaxy Of Terror (1981)

JUNE 18, 2011


Not too many Corman flicks can be described as “psychological” horror, but that’s what Galaxy Of Terror is – a sort of Solaris/Event Horizon type space horror in which the protagonists’ fears are manifested and used against them. It’s an ambitious, fairly interesting story, with one of the better blends of sci-fi and horror (the villain’s motives would have been at home in an old Star Trek episode, but I’m guessing Uhura wouldn’t have been raped by a giant worm). Unfortunately ambition + low budget = incomprehensibility, at least for the most part.

I mean, I got the basic gist of the movie, but it takes a lot of mentally filling in the blanks to follow along, which is not what I was expecting from another of Corman’s Alien knockoffs. Character shifts (and deaths) often occur out of nowhere, or there will be entire action scenes that more or less occur off-screen, such as a bit around the halfway point or so in which 3-4 of our guys begin firing at something we can’t see and then explain what they were shooting at to each other. It’s also hard to follow in a more visual sense, because while the sets aren’t too bad, they also look a lot alike, so it’s hard to get a firm grasp on the ship’s layout, where people are in relation to each other, etc. There’s a scene where Robert Englund (!) searches through the corridors, and I swear at one point they just flip a shot to make it look like he’s moved further along.

But it makes up for it in variety! There’s a giant alien monster of some sort, but he’s only responsible for a death or two. Most are very different, as they are based on the character’s own fears (or at least something about their character). So the claustrophobic girl gets trapped/crushed by a bunch of wires (the resulting head explosion is A+), and the aforementioned worm rape happens to a girl with sexual hang-ups who is also afraid of worms, etc. Some are a little less clear, such as Englund, who fights himself, “wins”, and then just gets sort of left behind as the hero moves on toward the villain, but either way it’s a lot more interesting than just seeing a dozen people get killed one by one by the same monster.

And that’s another issue – it’s too damn crowded. I guess it’s more realistic that a spaceship would have more than 6-7 people on board, but it just stretched the budget to have this many folks; a few less people to introduce would have allowed some more screen time for quieter moments with the others, and fewer deaths would have allowed to maximize the moments on the others. Grace Zabriskie’s character literally just runs out of a room and dies seconds later, which is a nice minor shock since she had been sort of a main character (she’s the captain), but it’s so quick I wasn’t even quite sure what happened. Drop the vague blond guy, the commander (why do we have a commander AND a captain?), and maybe the Zalman King character and use their time/resources on everyone else – movie goes up a letter grade.

However, I dug that it appealed to sci-fi fans as well as horror. Again, the plot/villain are more or less right out of Star Trek, and the sets evoke the same sort of feel as a Dune or even Star Wars (albeit not as exquisite, obviously). But it’s not full blown sci-fi; there are still a lot of gore effects and monsters and such (it’s very much like Event Horizon in that regard – a double feature of the two films would be pretty interesting, I think). In fact the FX hold up quite well – they’re not exactly mindblowing, but it’s telling/sad that they look a lot better than the ones in his later Alien ripoffs (Terror Within and Dead Space), even though conventional wisdom would suggest that those newer films would have more impressive visuals. James Cameron was actually responsible for a lot of the sets and FX here, and proves once again (for the first time!) that his technical skills are a blessing to any production. Hell, even the things that you’d expect to look cheesy, such as Englund facing off against himself, are fairly well done.

The DVD features are actually more entertaining than the film. There’s an hour and change doc that features a number of the principals, including Englund, Corman, Sid Haig (who has one of the movie’s wackier deaths), etc. No Cameron, sadly/obviously, but that just means they can talk freely about him; there’s a great story about how some of the carpenters played a prank on a PA and how he freaked out on the poor bastard, telling him he was not allowed on “his” set. Englund tells some of his typically overlong but funny anecdotes (he can’t just say “a nicely dressed man came up and told me...”, he has to describe the guy’s beard, tie, the area where the encounter took place... but the punchline is great), and everyone seems to be having a good time talking about the movie again, sans pretension but not outright dismissing it either. The commentary follows suit; it doesn’t have as many participants, but everyone has a lot of funny memories/stories to share, such as David DeCoteau (a PA on the film) being asked to go to Westwood and poll the folks standing in line as to who they’d like to see in the movie based on a few headshots, including Keith Carradine, but he never went because he (a gay man) knew that Eddie Albert would look hot in his tight spacesuit and thus just came back and said they all picked him over the others. I don’t know what part of the story I like more: that Corman used folks standing in line in Westwood to cast his films, or that a PA on his first Hollywood job was already getting lazy/thinking with his dick. Either way: awesome. There are a couple of trailers as well, including one with the original title of Mindwarp: An Invasion Of Terror, which makes slightly more sense. The script is also included, and I wish I had time to read it but alas, I am backed up on work and thus will have to save it (to my desktop) for another time.

Phil showed this one at the New Beverly All Nighter in 2009, but that’s the one I missed due to being back east for a wedding (believe me, I was not happy about it). Hopefully there will be a chance to see it on the big screen again; I think a crowd experience would be a lot of fun during its less coherent moments, not to mention the oft-awesome deaths (hell I cheered for the head ‘splosion even though I was by myself), and I think it’s the kind of movie that probably improves with multiple viewings, as things start to fall in place more and more. It’s the Usual Suspects of giant worm rape movies.

What say you?


  1. Glad you liked it, BC! "Galaxy Of Terror" was always one of my favourite SF/horror movies since I was a little kid (I first saw it in 1988 maybe). I agree it was a very ambitious project for Corman, with the psychology and all, however the result is a bit flawed. The ambiguos fate of Englund's character always bugged me too, but since he won the "psycho duel" I guess THEY just let him go free (to do what?!). It looks like there is a scene missing or something (any word on the subject by Englund himself on the commentary?). I think it should have been dealt with more carefully. Like the whole movie.
    I still love it, though. Can't beat those raped-by-a-monster scenes in Corman films.
    And now you have to see the semi-sequel "Mutant aka Forbidden World", which is also much-better-than-expected "Alien" rip off. The monster in it seems to smile all the time, which is just hilarious.
    Look for yourself:
    Goofy fun guaranteed.

  2. just watched this movie on YouTube (bless it)....oookaaayyy, that's an hour and twenty-something minutes I'm never getting back again. um, I know this sounds wacky, but generally in movies you have to something called narrative. yes, I know, I'm the silly one. this movie is a D-list Alien knock-off.


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