This isn’t a film I would normally have considered watching.
Blame it on the exploitative title it generally seems to go by, and on the fact that it is yet another girl-impregnated-by-alien film. Nor was there anything about it that suggested that it might have some redeeming qualities. In fact, I actually had some vague idea that it was an Italian film, which is generally far from reassuring.
However, once I saw an article at Cultured Vultures, by Eric Bartsch, which listed this one as one of the best Alien copies ever made I knew I would have to see it sooner or later.
Not that I agreed with all of his choices, mind you (William Malone’s Scared to Death? Seriously?) but several of the films on his list were quite good and it had never occurred to me to include the incredible Death Machine on such a list.
And the surprise here is that Horror Planet is reasonably good. In a bloody, low-budget exploitation sort of way, that is.
The first surprise is that this isn’t as simple a film as it is often portrayed. It is half an hour into the film before that alien shows up, and by then three of the crew of the tiny scientific outpost researching what appears to be an alien mausoleum on an incredibly hostile planet are dead. In fact, until the creature makes its sole appearance, it is far from clear just where things are going as the film starts with the discovery of a cave full of mysterious crystals, which radiate some sort of mysterious energy, which explode, killing one crew member, and which seem to be able to take people over.
Even when it does show up, we only get a clear look at it in a sequence which appears to be a dream or hallucination. The implication, though, is that it seems to be conducting a scientific experiment on its victim, as it apparently sedates her, and she remembers being naked on what appears to be a brightly lit operating table.
Now that isn’t your typical xenomorph.
And, again, it is a major change that the remainder of the film deals with the results of that experiment, while the alien itself never shows up again.
Another factor which I find admirable here is that the film never bothers to explain a lot of what’s going on. We get random bits of information dropped here and there, and most of the film’s implications are hinted at, or left for the audience to puzzle out. For most of the film, the crew are at a loss, as events happen so quickly, and several of them end up dead because they haven’t figured out what has happened to their former colleague. Most of the pieces are there, even if we are never given any sort of explanation of all the facts.
Which already gives it a huge advantage over most of these sorts of films.
Supposedly, the original plan was to have the action take place aboard a spaceship, but they decided it would be cheaper to set it on an alien planet (and film part of the movie in a real cave system to save money. However, that caused so many technical problems one does wonder whether that actually worked). I think this turned out for the best as the harsh setting and the physical dangers of trying to work on the planet’s surface give the film a decidedly claustrophobic feeling that a spaceship wouldn’t have had.
And I really can’t do justice to how bizarre it is to find that the space pilot with the Cowboy hat has a strong British accent (more noticeable, in fact, than those of most of the British cast).
Supposedly the director, Norman J. Warren, had backers but no script so he churned one out in four days — and ended up filming it in four weeks. If so, it is hard to believe that it turned out as well as it did under the circumstances. Warren also turned out the interesting — if equally cheap and exploitative — Prey (aka, Alien Prey), so I’ll admit I have to wonder whether he was more talented than he’s generally considered.
Sir Run Run Shaw, who founded the legendary Shaw Brothers Martial arts studio in Hong Kong, “Presented” the film: this sounds stranger than it actually is, as he backed a few Western films of the era, including Meteor and Blade Runner.
So there you have it, a cheap British Alien copy, slapped together in a hurry which manages to rise above its doubtful origins.
Don’t expect a great classic, and don’t expect it to be anything more than an entertaining B-Movie. If you remember that, then you should have fun with this one.
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