When you want to watch a haunted house in space film, but you want Freddy Kruger and Captain Spaulding in it, then Galaxy of Terror is for you.
Director Roger Corman is synonymous with knock-offs of famous films, so an Alien rip off was inevitable. He made several, but I think Galaxy of Terror is probably the best.
In the future, the galaxy is controlled by a man with a red blob instead of a face called ‘The Master’.
He sends a team to Morganthus, a spookily sleeping planet to rescue the crew of The Remus, but the team soon encounter an evil force at work in the form of eldritch situations, hallucinations and hellish manifestations — namely a skyline of barren rocks scattered with the remains of previous astronauts who have been lured there, and the vast pyramid drawing them in as their base.
A skyline of barren rocks scattered with the remains of previous astronauts who have been lured there, and the vast pyramid drawing them in as their base.
The classic horror trope of an area repeating its history again and again with different characters is done with a colourful gusto.
Marc Seigler and Bruce Clark and their Freudian treatment of this bare-bones story was good on-premise but thwart on message clarity. We start with a confusing opening scene, and we are not given much screen time to understand the protagonists.
Galaxy of Terror has an impressive and exciting cast with Edward Albert as the spirited porno-moustached hero Cabren and his girlfriend Alluma played by Erin Moran as a whiny empath, with the more than passing resembles a schoolgirl every time her “sensing” is questioned.
Alluma’s empathy mixing with the hidden powers on the planet could have been a perfect vessel to move the film forward, but the way Moran plays the part destroys that.
Her simple reaction to the horror and the awkward kiss between her and Albert means that she is invisible, even when she is on the screen. Albert plays Cabren better, but his share of over-the-top dramatic reactions, and the out-of-nowhere acrobatics won’t distract us from the fact that he is pretty much useless in terms of the plot.
There is also Ray Walston as the odd cook Kore, Zalman King (who is better remembered as a director rather than an actor – and you can see why after watching this) is trigger-happy team leader Baelon, Bernard Behren’s as brought-out-of-retirement Commander Ilvar, who is clearly not suited for this mission.
The age range of the crew is unusual in this type of horror film, but I think it’s probably inspired by the fact that Alien‘s ‘Nostromo’ had similar. Both Walston and Behren’s seem uncomfortable in their role, neither being able to talk the talk (ill at ease with the dialogue) or walk the walk (appearing nervous in their astronaut’s costume).
A young Robert Englund, playing amiable navigator Ranger, is the best performer in this film. Mainly because he reacts the most human when he appears to be losing his mind, which leads to a remarkable ‘dual role’ of sorts.
As a result, I wish he had a better conclusion in the film. His character sort of “disappears”, although we are given enough clues to guess his fate in the climax of the film.
In terms of other horror legends, having Sid Haig as semi-mute alien Quuhod, who “lives and dies by the crystals” (which resemble throwing stars) is a great treat. Haig’s portrayal of a simple hard-bitten guy is heart-warming.
His role here is a welcome one, and it appears that it was Haig’s choice to play the role semi-mute — with the exception of the above catchphrase. Like Engluand, this character has a touch of the unusual about him, and while there is a dark element to him, it was clear that no-one knows what to do with him.
Lastly, we have Grace Zabriskie as an unorthodox pilot Trantor, whose bold approach nearly ends the mission before it even begins. I imagine the cast was given some sort of specific structure when the film was planned, but it seemingly all went to dust as soon as the cameras started to roll.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter, as the whole production is glittered with Corman magic, proving that, apparently, you can polish a turd. The concept of the film penned by Corman himself is Freudian mumbo-jumbo, and the scene at the end is certainly memorable enough to give the audience something to talk about.
Also known as Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror, there’s a chance that Galaxy of Terror got the green light due to the brilliant conceptual artwork: a scantily-clad damsel lying, chained, before the advancement of two hideous alien monsters, with a backdrop of remote mountains and City Spires.
The poster was the type of artwork more associated with Michael Moorcock books, but it became the official poster for Galaxy of Terror.
It was no surprise, really, as it grabs the audience. But ironically, no scene in the film even remotely resembles this one. It may be inaccurate, but the loud and shocking style of the poster does help convey the type of film that lies in store.
Galaxy of Terror is a good film in terms of cast, theme, effects and visual scope, especially compared to Forbidden World, another Corman film that came before, and is often twinned with, Galaxy of Terror.
Corman is well-known for his ‘creativity’ with a budget, but this art direction and special effects are gorgeously realised. And the set design is sensationally helped by a young production designer called James Cameron.
You can see Cameron’s touch on Galaxy of Terror because it is used again in both The Terminator and Aliens.
Even the space flight sequences are skilled despite the budget limits. The miniatures are marvellous and detailed.
While more money could have tightened up the style of Galaxy of Terror, the thin walls, wobbly set and dated colour scheme gives the ship a harsh reality to them.
I will be the first to admit that the “big launch sequence”, with everyone desperately getting strapped down before lift-off is unintentionally hilarious.
The tiny seat with useless looking safety belt does not look like it is much of protection to those heading into space.
And those backpacks that the crew wear must be the most awkward and half-baked things ever. Creatures bedevil the crew as they search among the hulks of the spaceship; the menacing shafts marred into the side of the temple and the labyrinth beyond it.
As mentioned we do not see anything that comes close to the power of the beast in the posters. The closest we get is the ‘water cooler’ moment of the movie — the alien rape of Damiea by a slobbering super-larva in one of the dank caves, which is again inspired by Alien’s human violation themes.
However, in Galaxy of Terror, this is just a frolicking moment rather than a social commentary, where O’Connell’s clothes are sucked off her squirming body by this swollen beast that is straddling her.
The sex and gore in Galaxy of Terror is nothing compared to today’s film-makers look at pointless nudity, but still it could have been handled better.
When it comes to sex and violence, the appearances in Galaxy of Terror are handled with a ham-fist, and Corman’s natural passion for merely being rude. Corman will give you sex and gore but nothing that will offend — those days were far behind Corman.
While Alien is dandified and refined, Galaxy of Terror is an inexpensive and brassy version, who uses gore instead of suspense to move the film. It is also influenced by Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampire and Fred McLeod Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet. The theme of an alien ability allowing man to make and unleash the monster from his mind was a perfect re-interpretation of Alien.
Galaxy of Terror homage is done with talent and vision. The scene with some of the crew travelling across a thin beam lit by geometrical lights is impressive and moves in a way that means the gore is always in the forefront.
It may have a threadbare plot, lacklustre performances which only emphasise the character’s lack of depth, but it is compelling. It is magical the way it mirrors, right down to the ulterior motives of one of the crew members.
Alien is a film that takes what was seen as a “b-movie” concept and turns it into a blockbuster. Galaxy of Terror does the opposite. It’s a masterpiece of alien dirt, blood and tackiness.
Let this film take you to outerspace.
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