by Mel Valentin
Roger Corman ("House of Usher," "Little Shop of Horrors," "The Trip," "The Wild Angels," "The Masque of the Red Death," "Pit and the Pendulum") rarely began genre trends, but was always among the first to exploit them. The commercial success of "Star Wars" in 1977 spawned a slew of mediocre imitators, including "Battle Beyond the Stars," a remake of "The Magnificent Seven" set in outer space that proved to be a modest hit for Corman back in 1980. After taking a look at Ridley Scott’s "Alien," Corman decided it was time to combine his low-budget approach with science fiction and horror. The result, "Galaxy of Terror" (a.k.a. :Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror," "Planet of Horrors," "Quest"), is a muddled, incoherent mess, notable primarily visual effects influenced by "Alien," B-movie and television veterans, and a production designed by James Cameron ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day," "The Abyss," "Aliens," "The Terminator").The distant future. An alien world. The so-called Planet Master, a ruthless dictator with psychic powers, learns that one of the ships in his fleet, the Remus, has crashed on a distant, forbidden planet. Despite the advice of one of his counselors, Mitri (Mary Ellen O'Neill), the Planet Master orders a rescue of the downed ship. The Planet Master entrusts the mission to commander Ilvar (Bernard Behrens), and fill’s out Ivar’s crew with Baelon (Zalman King), Ivar’s second-in-command, Trantor (Grace Zabriskie), the ship’s captain, Cabren (Edward Albert), a second-level officer, “psi-sensitive” Alluma (Erin Moran), Dameia (Taaffe O'Connell), the ship’s communications officer, Quuhod (Sid Haig), the muscle, Ranger (Robert Englund), Cos (Jack Blessing), a crewman on his first mission, and Kore (Ray Walston), the ship’s cook.
"Look, it's James Cameron, production designer. What...?"
After a rough landing on the mystery planet, a rescue party heads for the Remus. The Remus' is either dead or missing. With their ship in need of repairs, Ilvar decides to investigate a nearby pyramid for clues as to the fate of the Remus. Trantor, Ranger, and Kore stay behind on the ship. Inside the pyramid, the crew learns that the planet or the pyramid can make their deepest fears real. One by one, the crew is picked off in gruesomely effective ways until the remaining survivors are forced to discover who or what caused the Remus to crash land on the planet and is determined to kill them off. The mystery ties in to the prologue and the Planet Master.
Writer and director Bruce D. Clark (Hammer, The Ski Bum, Naked Angels), and his co-writer, Marc Siegler, put little effort into coming up with an original, let alone engaging, storyline. The alien planet or pyramid making the characters’ fears “real” can be traced back to 1956’s Forbidden Planet and its central conceit, the “monsters from the Id.” Clark pays direct homage to Forbidden Planet via an overhead shot depicting the pyramid’s multi-level power source, but the closer analog, at least structurally, is from Alien and from Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (itself an acknowledged influence on Alien). From the rescue mission to the dead planet covered in blue fog, from the mysterious alien ship or structure to the monsters jumping out of the pyramid’s shadows, Galaxy of Terror is an exploitation-level riff on Alien.
Clark and Siegler’s screenplay is as clumsily incoherent as it is derivatively exploitative. Character backgrounds aren’t properly established, relationships are hinted at, but never fully explored, motivations are left for the audience to guess at, likewise with major and minor plot points, and when the major revelations are looked at closely, it falls apart, and that’s setting aside one of the most disturbing scenes put on film, the rape-murder of a female character by a giant worm (yes, you read that correctly). It’s as tasteless and exploitative as you can imagine, the kind of scene that will give even the most diehard of genre fans pause and make them question their dedication to a genre that’s practically defined by the social and cultural taboos it breaks with regularity.If "Galaxy of Terror" is worth checking out, it’s for the slimmest of reasons, none of them compelling. Genre fans will get a kick out of seeing Robert Englund three years before he appeared in "Nightmare on Elm Street" as “Freddy,” a nightmarish serial killer, Erin Moran ("Happy Days," "Joannie Loves Chachi," Ray Walston ("My Favorite Martian") in a supporting role, and Grace Zabriskie ("Twin Peaks"). There’s also pre-"Terminator" James Cameron handling production design chores on "Galaxy of Terror." The organic look and feel of the planet-side sets was obviously influenced by "Alien," but Cameron would reuse the pyramid idea for the sequel to "Alien," "Aliens," five years later. For most genre fans, these reasons might be enough. For everyone else, probably not.
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originally posted: 08/06/08 10:33:40