So again we dip into The Box Of Movie Titles–okay at this point it’s really become The Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Coffee Can Of Movie Titles, but let’s don’t split hairs. And out comes…Galaxy Of Terror. Very exciting cuz wowzers what a flick!
You don’t even have to start the movie to know this is gonna be a topshelf cinematic experience. Just look at that poster art! This is one of those many early 80s titles I brought home on VHS based solely on the cover even though that cover had absolutely zero to do with anything that happened in the movie.
Second, there’s lotsa familiar faces. Ray Walston, Erin “Joanie Cunningham” Moran, Grace Zabriskie (trust me, you’ve seen her around), pre-Freddy Robert Englund, and (wait for it)…Sid Haig! It’s produced by B-movie king Roger Corman and boasts James Cameron as Production Designer/Second Unit Director. Nothing unusual there. Lots of folks worked with Corman on their way to the big leagues.
After a bit of klunky prologue, the crew of the spaceship Quest is dispatched to and subsequently crash lands on planet Morganthus where, in short order, their individual phobias begin to manifest themselves to lethal effect.
In other words, your worst fear pretty much dictates how you die. It’s a great concept that doesn’t come off as successfully as it might have, plagued as it is by a not so big budget, some not so great acting, and one not very easy to get through scene.
Still, there’s some genuinely unnerving stuff here. And why shouldn’t there be? We’re dealing with people being dispatched by or in connection with their innermost fears. Highlights include tight spaces, isolation, dismemberment, dark holes, fire, and, to put it mildly, maggots (in particular a slimy 12-foot one. Yeah, read on).
It’s lamentable that the movie’s biggest weakness was, in 1981, considered one of its major strengths. I really don’t want to take up much space describing a rape scene that features a 12-foot maggot. Sadly that’s the scene Galaxy Of Terror is remembered for.
Google the title, and you’ll find an overwhelming amount of video and discussion about the scene in question. Even the Wikipedia article devotes a big ol’ bothersome chunk of text to it. Sure, it’s a big set piece, possibly the big set piece, but as such, it depressingly overshadows everything else.
I take issue as well with the ready comparison made between Galaxy Of Terror and Alien. Sure there are similarities. Who wouldn’t wanna capitalize on the groundbreaking success of Ridley Scott? And yet, the similarities such as they are don’t warrant labeling Galaxy Of Terror as “the best of the low-budget Alien ripoffs.” Ultimately it has more in common with Forbidden World, Forbidden Planet, and in some ways even First Spaceship On Venus.
And yet, I still love this movie. I generally skip that scene now, but the fates of the colorfully-named crewmembers are otherwise legitimately creepy (stop here if spoilers frighten you). Ilvar (Bernard Behrens) is attacked by tentacle-like things that emerge from a cave. Alluma (Moran) is squeezed to death in a vine-filled tunnel. Quuhod (Haig) loses his arm to one of his own weapons. Captain Trantor (Zabriskie) spontaneously combusts. And that’s just to name a few.
The ending comes almost full circle in the sense that we learn this is all a game. In this respect, it’s worth comparing Galaxy Of Terror to the “Squire Of Gothos” episode of Star Trek. Overall, one of the better descriptions I’ve seen is from The Loft: “an awesomely schlock-filled outer space freakshow.” If I hadn’t already seen it a number of times, “outer space freakshow” woulda sold me.
BODIES- 9 onscreen
Stream- Prime, Shout! Factory, Tubi
Rent- Apple TV, Vudu