Galaxy of Terror (1981) — An Alien clone with a few surprises

“I live and die by the crystals.”

Justin’s rating: Ooey gooey squishy icky

Justin’s review: The story behind the creation of Galaxy of Terror is perhaps more interesting than this surprisingly decent scifi/horror flick. Legendary movie ripoff king Roger Corman, ticked that he got booted from producing Alien back in the ’70s, decided that he’d make his own big-budget knock-off with this film. Pulling together an interesting array of acting talent, including My Favorite Martian’s Ray Walston and Freddy Krueger himself (Robert Englund), Corman’s Alien clone ballooned in scope and budget as the studio saw a lot of actual potential here.

What took this project to the next level was the aid of a rising star in the business — a production designer named James Cameron. Cameron quickly worked his way up in the ranks by applying his level of creative genius, eventually assuming some secondary directing duties. It’s hard not to know this and then watch Galaxy of Terror without seeing the prototype of Aliens all over the place, which is kind of cool.

Let’s get into the movie itself, then. Galaxy of Terror begins with a rescue ship named Quest heading out to a mysterious world to search for survivors of a downed craft. The film wastes zero time getting to this, with a captain that only gives her crew 30 seconds (!) to prepare for launch and then proceeds to crash her ship in about the same amount of time after exiting hyperspace. Now stranded on what looks like every post-apocalyptic junkyard ever filmed, the Quest crew find that there are no survivors — but there definitely is something lurking on this planet.

What follows is a lot of standard horror movie protocol of splitting up, exploring dark corners (this whole world is nothing but dark corners, by the way), repelling into the giant Pyramid of Doom, and dying hideously one by one. Eventually the remaining crew members figure out that the planet is making their worst fears manifest — yes, that hoary old idea — but by then it’s pretty much too late. They’ve been slaughtered by fire, tentacles, big bugs, and even a giant maggot. And no, I’m not going to talk about the maggot scene, other than to say that I quickly fast-forwarded through it in the interest of keeping my mind from being sullied.

I’m really of a divided mind on this movie. On one hand, it’s that type of pandering splatterfest schlock that Corman likes and has no redeeming value unless you like your horror basic and bright red. There’s so little time establishing any of the characters early on or letting the tension actually build — two things that Alien did very well, by the way — that it’s far less frightening than the filmmakers probably thought. And since is the planet of the “make your fears real,” there’s no good way to resolve that conflict other than the extreme goofy ending that this movie pulls out of its hat.

Yet it’s not all trash, and that’s because there is some level of unexpected quality here. The set designs (which reportedly used painted McDonald’s containers) and costumes (taken from Battlestar Galactica) look right up there for a really solid late-1970s scifi flick. I was never disappointed with the technology, and we do get a lot of laser gun action and even some giant backpack flashlights that look more cool than practical. And the whole deal is far better done than a lot of lame, low-budget knock-offs that I’ve seen in my day, again thanks to Cameron.

While I found Galaxy of Terror interesting from a historical standpoint, I found the actual experience more distasteful than delightful. There’s a reason that I usually avoid Roger Corman movies, but I couldn’t resist seeing this at least once.

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