Galaxy of Terror (1981)

(aka, Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror

Planet of Horrors, Quest)

This one was Roger Corman’s first attempt to make an Alien rip off.  it would not be his last.

But it is also one of the better ones.

A hand-picked crew is sent on a rescue mission by the Master of their planet.  A spaceship has crashed on a mysterious planet, and when they get there, they find the entire crew either dead or missing.

It has something to do with the sinister alien pyramid on the planet, which is apparently some sort of monstrous machine.  The crew gets killed off one by one in unpleasant ways, but the most dangerous secret may be closer to them than they realize…

A lot of people have been quite critical of this one, often complaining that the film merely showcases one gruesome death after another.  While there is a certain truth to that, the same thing has been said about John Carpenter’s The Thing.  There is actually a lot more going on here than it seems, and we do get hit by a few unexpected plot twists.  The incredible design of the pyramid, inside and out, easily steals the show, although the ship they came in is quite interesting as well, as is what we see of the surface of the alien planet.  There is a deep sense of atmosphere, of gloom and darkness, of mist and looming danger.  The alien architecture is quite impressive and even looks original:  it may have a strong mechanical look, with hints of something more biological but it still looks nothing like the derelict ship in Alien.

It is quite impressive just how many familiar faces are in this film, most (but not all) on the way up: one notes a very young Robert Englund; a nearly wordless performance from Sid Haig; My Favorite Martian‘s Ray Walston;  David Lynch favorite, Grace Zabriskie; and Erin Moran from Happy Days.  But then, Corman did always have a knack for finding new talent — and for finding bargain priced top notch character actors.

However, another big talent worked behind the scenes:  James Cameron was a production designer and second unit director on this one.  While he’d worked on Battle Beyond the Stars, this is the film that put him on the map, earning him a shot at directing yet another Corman epic, Piranha 2.

As was true of many of the Corman films that followed, this one did borrow from Battle Beyond the Stars, although nowhere near as obviously as his later films did.  One recognizes a few props, but neither the footage or effects of the earlier film show up in this one.  The ship is an original, with an intriguing double hulled design, unlike any movie spaceship I can remember (Its interior looks quite good, even though it is supposedly lined with McDonald’s boxes!).

For the record, I will note that I’ve seen this one listed under two of the alternate titles above, but I have never seen it called Quest.  Not anywhere.  It does happen to be the name of the rescue ship, but it really is too bland a title for an exploitation horror film.

And then there’s that worm…

If you’ve heard anything about this film, you know what I mean.  Yes, there is a giant worm, and yes, it does that to a buxom young female crew member.  Frankly, it’s a bit silly, and it really doesn’t add any value to the film.  I guess it was supposed to just eat her, but someone on set had this brilliant idea.  It is a very uncomfortable sequence as it more or less glorifies rape.  And we certainly don’t need that!

Giant worms aside, this is a reasonably good B-Movie, which basically could be described as a post-Alien remake of a classic SF film (I’ll let you figure out which one).  It looks great, and is never dull.  Sure, it could be more complicated; true, it could have avoided the cheesy glowing head effects; and, yeah, the solution of one of the mysteries is fairly obvious, as a certain minor character has a very familiar voice.

But this is a great midnight movie, from that brief moment in the Eighties when Roger Corman’s productions still had that little spark of something unique to them. It is definitely worth a look, for those looking for a few outer space thrills.

After all, it isn’t Alien and it isn’t The Thing, but it does have a certain eerie charm of its own.

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5 thoughts on “Galaxy of Terror (1981)

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