Galaxy of Terror: one planet is hardly a galaxy

Day 21: Judging a book (movie) by its cover (poster)

The following was originally posted ( slightly less wordy version) on Flick Attack, 29 August 2012.

First off; take a gander at that poster to the right. I mean, look at it! Click it to make it bigger! Save it as desktop wallpaper!

Is that not one bloody hell of a poster? Never mind that the menacing skull-bird-thingy makes no appearance in the actual film. That is one awesome piece of pulp movie wonder.

When I was a kid, that image taunted me from the VHS cover sitting on the rental shelf, searing the image into my brain. How could a lonely, northern-Manitoba-trapped teenaged boy not yearn to watch such promised depravity, especially when set in what looked to be a low-rent Star Wars-like scenario?

Fast forward a bunch of decades, to a time when the gruesomely acned teen has evolved to become an older, wiser, but by no means any less geeky adult. I still love that poster so damned much. But once we go beyond that startling image, we have to face a few simple facts; there was no way in the known universe that a movie starring Edward “Stare as Blank as Empty Space” Albert and Joanie minus Chachi (er, Erin Moran) was ever going to be quote-unquote good. But if you know that going in, lower the bar on your expected entertainment value, and you might find the B-movie schlockfest Galaxy of Terror to be a guilty pleasure of modest proportions.

Joanie, after Chachi left to take charge of a housebold of children

Marketed as an Alien rip-off, but thematically far closer to Forbidden Planet, Galaxy (or more accurately, Planet) of Terror is your typical Roger Corman cheapo horror that drops a gaggle of mismatched space personnel onto a world where their every fear is made real. If the movie is at all prescient, people of the future will be primarily afraid of goopy rape-worms and giant leeches, with a modicum of psychological self-doubt thrown in. But only a modicum, as no audience lured in by that poster is paying to watch Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street) do metaphorical battle with himself. Bring on that rape-worm!

The aforementioned scene of invertebrate violation (rather hard not to comment repeatedly on a rape-worm) is disturbing for all the wrong reasons, obviously thrown in to give some unwarranted nudity to undiscerning pervs who don’t mind that the object of their fetishization is GETTING RAPED BY A GIANT WORM! If you think I’m kidding, here’s a post on the scene’s evolution.

“Camelot!” “It’s only a model!” “Shh!”

The real pleasures here are half-inadvertent and half-inspired. Future soft-porn dynamo Zalman King (director of wildly unerotic films such as Wild Orchid) apparently understood the acting process to consist entirely of yelling, and recites his lines accordingly. The sexual dynamics between Albert and Mr. C’s daughter have a brother/sister vibe that throws their every loving exchange into the territory of “enormously creepy.” B-movie icon Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects) is a mute crystal-throwing soldier for no reason except why not.

And as much as I’ve tried, I cannot see the whole of the plot as making any sort of narrative sense. I’ve probably given it more thought than the screenwriter.

Galaxy‘s true actorly pleasures comes from veteran Ray Walston (TV’s My Favorite Martian), who brings his twinkling charm to his role of a cook with a secret and provides the only watchable performance. And speaking of pleasure, substantial kudos go to future Hollywood powerhouse (and Canadian!) James Cameron (The Terminator) for bringing an unexpected sense of style to his work as production designer. The landscapes are suitably dark and brooding (echoing his work just five years later in the superior-on-every-single-level-I-can-think-of-and-a-few-I-can’t Aliens); the sets are bizarrely intriguing; and on the whole, the movie looks a hell of a lot better than it really deserves. Also, actor Bill Paxton (Aliens, Near Dark) was an uncredited set designer and puppeteer for the rape-worm, a role I’m sure is highlighted on his résumé.

And you just have to love Twin Peaks’ Grace Zabriskie as a maverick, disaster-haunted space pilot who has my vote for worst pilot of all time. Her ship loses power mid-flight, she hits some switches for two seconds, and then slouches forlornly into her chair, saying, “Well, I’ve done all I can do.” I haven’t laughed that hard in years. It’s all in the delivery.

As a bonus, here’s Galaxy of Terror‘s trailer, complete with scenes from another film entirely (Battle Beyond the Stars, I think). This is the television trailer, as the full movie version does not hold back on the nudity. Hey, my mom reads this blog!

 During the month of October, this blog is chockablock full of horror. And worms.