Galaxy of Terror – 1981
Galaxy of Terror seems to be one of the more famous Roger Corman produced films from the early 80s. It was one of those movies that my friends with cable always raved about, and I remember liking it when I finally saw it one late night at one of their houses.
The story begins on a stormy and dark planet called Morganthus. The last survivor from a crashed spaceship is violently killed by some unseen beastie, and somewhere on a distant planet, two people are playing a weird board game. One of these individuals is a kind of cosmic fortune teller, and the other is identified as the “Planet Master”, an all powerful being with a red glowing light obscuring his features. They talk vaguely about events being put into motion, and then Mr. Glowing Light Orb For a Head commands his military to send a ship to Morganthus immediately.
So off speeds the “Quest” piloted by Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie, – Many viewers will recognize her from lots of other films) who is mentally disturbed and reckless due to a traumatic space disaster she’d survived in the distant past. The rest of the crew is a colorful bunch, and includes such improbable members as an “Empath” (Played by Erin Moran from “Happy Days”) and a “Crystal Master”… Whatever that is… Played by Sid Haig. Other familiar faces are the ship’s cook, played by “My Favorite Martian” star Ray Walston, and the crew’s “Ranger” played by Robert Englund.
Once the ship nears Morganthus, it goes out of control and crash lands. The crew slowly makes it’s way across the surface of the planet to the other ship, where they discover the aftermath of a terrible massacre. They also find that something on the planet caused the crash, and upon further investigation, they stumble across a huge pyramid structure, and decide to explore it.
It is at this point that the real purpose of the movie unfolds – Specifically, the crew members are murdered one by one by horrible monsters within the pyramid. These are all set pieces, and what the film is generally remembered for – There is a nasty scene where the generic blonde crew member is stripped naked and raped by a really slimy giant worm… That’s the scene that seems to stick in people’s minds the most, followed in notoriety by the scene where the Empath is torn to pieces by tentacles…. Joanie from “Happy Days” meeting that horrible end sticks with you.
Almost everyone is dispatched in gruesome ways within the pyramid, until only the main protagonist “Cabren” is left. At that point, he encounters “The Cook”, who reveals that he’s really the “Planet Master”, and that the pyramid was essentially a game created by a long extinct race to allow them to manifest their worst fears, and to gain mastery over them. Cabren kills the Master, and replaces him – Becoming the new “Planet Master” himself. The End.
So, “Galaxy of Terror” has a few things going on. It’s deeply corny in a lot of ways – there is extensive use of very dated looking “laser affects”, and the characters are also silly -The Empath and “Master of Crystals” in particular. I dig Sid Haig in most things, but his character is pretty hard to like in this film. He basically throws around a couple of cheesy looking crystal throwing stars, and looks angry, up until he’s killed by those same throwing stars.
Ray Walston as the Cook was also hard to take seriously – There was no way I could shake the feeling that I was looking at “My Favorite Martian” anytime he appeared on screen. That goes double for Erin Moran – I kept thinking of “Happy Days” anytime she showed up. Robert Englund was problematic for the same reason, but I’ll give him a pass, since “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was still a couple of years in his future.
The movie is also completely derivative of both “Alien” and “Forbidden Planet”, borrowing plot devices and production design from both. About the only original ideas in the film are it’s worst ones – The cornball “Planet Master” being the main one.
A lot of low budget movies came out during this time period that ripped off Alien. It was one of those landmark films that changed the way people thought a movie in space could look. And honestly, I’ve seen the atmosphere from Alien ripped off and done worse in lots of other bad movies. Sure, it’s not done REALLY well – The distant shot of the Pyramid looks like a painting on canvass, and some of the sets look as cheap as they undoubtably were. Others manage to look convincing and atmospheric enough though – So no originality at all on that front, but it’s effective enough for an exploitation film like “Galaxy of Terror”.
As to the plot… Well, the plot is really just there to get the silly characters into that Pyramid so they can be raped and slaughtered. The killings are really the reason this film is remembered – I can’t imagine that anyone would still care about this film if the violent set pieces had been toned down. I’ve met people that still remember Galaxy of Terror because of the infamous, and still horrible to watch worm rape scene… Lots of slime in that one. And there are several other graphic scenes in the film, so it’s not surprising that Galaxy of Terror has garnered a cult following over the years. The special effects range from very dated and laughable, to moderately well done. I’ve definitely seen a lot worse in Corman movies over the years.
It’s all distasteful and pretty goofy, and a person that over thinks things will be wondering why they combined so many stupid plot elements with the things that work for this film. Did they really need that silly “Planet Master” character at all? Was Ray Walston a wise choice to use? Was Mr. Walston forced into this film because he owed someone money? Did they think that a guy throwing crystal throwing stars was really a good idea? So many questions.
But if you go in with low enough expectations, and like blatant Alien rip offs, Galaxy of Terror is not the absolute worst way you can spend an hour and a half.