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.