Friday, April 12, 2013

Galaxy of Terror

Galaxy of Terror
Bruce D. Clark

Out of all the various genre permutations, science-fiction horror is my favorite. At its best, it sets the opposing ideals of both; the triumph of rationality and human ingenuity against an unknown (and possibly unknowable) irrational element. There is a fine line between the sense of awe a science-fictional idea can evoke and the sense of terror or dread that can be evoked by effective horror. It’s a dichotomy that puts both things in contrast and as a result can make them both much more interesting. The down side is that someone occasionally drops a sex-crazed giant maggot in the middle of things.

A guy with a glowing red head who calls himself the Planet Master orders the Quest, a starship, to immediately head toward the storm swept world, Morganthus. Its mission is to search for survivors of a recent crash. The crew of the Quest consists of a Captain (Grace Zabriskie) who suffers from PTSD, an empath (Erin Moran), a dude with a mustache (Edward Albert), a giant bald guy with throwing stars made of crystal (Sid Haig), and other assorted crew members, including a young Robert Englund, and not so young Ray Walston.  The Quest barely manages to land in one piece, and it doesn’t take long for everyone to figure out that the crew of other ship have been killed in varied and unusual ways.  Some distance away loomsw an ominous looking giant pyramid, and once inside they have to face the things that frighten them the most or they will die.

‘Galaxy of Terror’ is often called an ‘Alien’ (1979) rip-off, but aside from the uniforms and the interior of the Quest, there isn’t much in this movie to harken to ‘Alien’ at all. If anything it plays out like some kind of ultra-grim take on 'Forbidden Planet' (1956) with an interplanetary crew discovering technology that turns pure thought against them.

The film itself looks like it was made for a cost well above its tiny budget. This is in no small part to some excellent set design and model work by a young James Cameron. The monster effects and gore are top notch and only let down by some stupid Hanna-Barbera-esque sound effects.

You can’t really discuss this movie without mentioning the giant maggot rape scene.  It’s the most well-known moment from this movie, but the fact of the matter is, the scene doesn’t work.  The MPAA cuts render the whole thing almost incomprehensible, and at the same time it feels out of place in the larger frame of the movie.  It seemingly comes out of nowhere, happens, and aside from the death of a character, has no impact on the narrative and it exemplifies the largest script problem of the movie.

The horrors the characters face are supposedly predicated on their fears, but aside from a few hints here and there we’re never given much insight into what makes each character afraid, or even more importantly why they are afraid of those things. The end result is most deaths don’t carry any resonance; they just sort of happen. On the other hand I did appreciate the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of exposition about the character’s lives, they never launch into lengthy talks about why they worship crystal throwing stars or what it means to be an empath. It does give the crew a sense that they are familiar with each other, but a hint or some kind of lead-up to what each character will face would have helped hold the narrative together much better. The one person who does get a little more background about her fears is the Captain, but then again her death doesn't make any sense at all.

The film is engaging, and moves along at a healthy pace, and even pays enough attention to its own plot to end on a satisfyingly downbeat note.  Depending on your tolerance for a little bit of sleaze in your science-fiction horror, ‘Galaxy of Terror’ is one the most well-made and interesting low budget SF/Horror hybrids to come out in the early eighties

1 comment:

  1. A slimy alien rape-maggot eh. That sounds like it could be Erin Moran's second-least-appealing co-star.