Amazon must’ve cut a deal with whoever owns the Roger Corman New World Pictures catalog because I found a trove of early ’80s Corman stuff. I hesitate to call it a “treasure trove” because all of the movies are cheap, tacky, and only some reach gleeful heights of trippy gonzo greatness. This week’s Bizarre Torture is another infamous Cult Classic. This is a low-budget space horror movie with a lot of recognizable faces that maximizes it’s low-budget to create disgusting imagery that sticks in your brain like a cocklebur. This one literally has it all: space ships, laser guns, gloppy aliens, impalings, dismemberments, and most notoriously Giant Slimy Space Caterpillar rape. Let’s check it out, shall we?
Galaxy of Terror (1981)
Galaxy of Terror is a faintly remembered space horror thing starring an eclectic cast for movie buffs including Ray Walston, Sid Haig, a pre-Freddy Krueger Robert Englund, renowned character actress and David Lynch favorite Grace Zabriskie, an on-screen role for soon to be King of the Cable Softcore Sex Movie Zalman King, and Erin Moran, AKA Joanie from Happy Days.
Two things immediately leaped out at me while watching this notorious Drive-In gross-out. First is fresh off the Mutant Fish-Monster rape scenes last week in Humanoids From The Deep comes an even more infamous rape sequence by Giant Slimy Space Caterpillar. What is it with Corman and monster-rapes in the ’80s? I’m glad I only saw this now as a grown adult and not as an impressionable pre-teen catching it on late night Skinemax like most people probably saw it. I would likely have been scarred for life. As an adult I can laugh at the filmmaking incompetence, tasteless exploitation, and sheer over-the-top gratuitousness of the whole sequence. The scene goes on forever, doesn’t make any goddamn sense, and never pays off except to get some more mileage from a nude, be-slimed corpse later on. The scene serves absolutely no purpose other than to follow the Roger Corman edict of “get more blood and boobs into an otherwise spacesuit-only film.” And once again, it’s the only reason I’m talking about this movie 40 years later. Horrible mission accomplished, Roger Corman.
The second thing that occurred to me after I scoured my eyeballs after that scene is that this movie is damned influential on a whole generation of filmmakers. Whether intentional homage or subliminal inspiration, I can tell that this movie inspired many horror-sci-fi movies for decades to come. And sure, Alien is the primary influence of this and the others, but the set design by a young James Cameron, creature effects by monster make-up master Rob Bottin, the minimalist space-oddity score and sound effects, the aimless wandering through dark space corridors, and an abandoned alien pyramid on a barren planet. Even the stupid flashlights on a backpack costuming is imitated in many movies. I guarantee the directors of Alien vs. Predator, Event Horizon, Cloverfield Paradox,and uncountable low-budget space slashers and the makers of the entire Hentai genre caught this on late night cable and it seeped into their brains. If you swap out the alien abortion scene for the alien rape, Prometheus is practically the same goddamn movie. A lot of slimy penis-tentacles killing people, is what I’m saying.
Plot-wise, character-wise, and thrills-wise, there’s not much going on here. A spaceship crash lands on a planet (off-camera of course, as miniature spaceship crashes cost money.) The crew wanders alone down dark hallways and encounter the alien beings sort of reading their minds and forcing them to confront their worst fears kind of thing. Sort of. It’s never clear what the hell is going on and why we should care about these cardboard cut-outs. Nearly all the dialogue is the characters fruitlessly shouting each other’s names. What is their stupid mission? How does wandering aimlessly through the space pyramid accomplish anything? What do the aliens want? Why are the aliens killing them one by one? Why does every single damn character wander into a room backwards with their backpack-flashlights facing the wrong direction while the slime monsters unfurl behind them? How could you possibly avoid seeing the eight foot tall Rape-Caterpillar until you are standing within penis-tentacle range of it?
There are a few goofy highlights. The funniest scene has the tough space pilot Grace Zabriskie struggling to land the ship then giving up in the middle. “There’s nothing I can do,” she pouts. Well, you should figure something out before you crash and die, but I guess you’d rather pitch a hissy fit. A young, studly Sid Haig is a welcome presence. Too bad he doesn’t do anything interesting in this movie like, you know, fight hostile aliens with his dual Krulls. Instead, his death is memorably stupid as he’s attacked by his own Krull Glaive which chops off his arm, then he’s killed by his own dismembered arm. Robert Englund has a “so bad it’s good” scene where he encounters his evil mirror image and has the wussiest knife fight with himself I’ve ever seen. Erin Moran is pretty good here doing as much as she can with a minimally written character. Her death scene by penis-tentacle ripping is well done. Better yet, she comes back later, spoiler alert, as a doppelganger and is clearly evil but the block of wood hero doesn’t know it yet. Erin Moran should’ve been in more space horror movies as her large eyes, and vaguely other-worldly features make her perfect for the over-sized reactions and emotions required for these things. She should’ve had a better career playing off her All-American wholesomeness as Joanie, but filmmakers didn’t know what to do with her post-Happy Days.
So 99% of the characters get killed in horrible ways, as that is the point of this movie, leaving the virile, non-acting mustachioed guy that is allegedly our main character to reach the top of the pyramid. He goes head to head with, surprise, Ray Walston, who sometimes gets a glowing red effect on his face, and who’s some sort of all-knowing space entity that’s been the mastermind behind the “game” they’ve all been playing. What the hell? None of the characters ever had any idea this was a game. I’m guessing the filmmakers didn’t really know it was a game either until all the Redshirts were horribly murdered, and they needed to wrap this thing up.
The Bottom Line
That was an odd movie-watching experience as I felt deja vu having seen a lot of the movies that came after this, but never seeing this one or really knowing it existed. I guess it’s worth checking out to see these recognizable character actors wandering aimlessly through dark, abandoned corridors and twiddling their thumbs while waiting for their turns to die. Just don’t expect them to say or do anything interesting. There is more tedium than Terror going on here. It’s definitely one of those movies where the filmmakers spent far more time thinking of creative ways to kill characters than on story, world-building, or plot.