Galaxy of Terror
R1 - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (30th July 2010).
The Film

A spaceship and its crew have gone missing. The Master, the mysterious ruler of a futuristic society, who just so happens to have a pixilated face of colorful blobs (‘cause, it's the future, and his horrible face is the only way we can tell that he’s mysterious, I guess), quickly dispatches a new crew and a new ship, called the Quest, to find out what went wrong. The team is lead by an aging commander (Bernard Behrens), the troubled Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie of “Twin Peaks” (1990-1991) fame) who has ties to a seemingly famous disaster, of which she was appearently the only survivor, and finally, the steady protagonist, who looks a bit like Tom Skerritt from his days aboard the Nostromo, veteran space explorer Cabren (Edward Albert). The crew also includes an empath (Erin Moran), a cook (Ray Walston) a mute mechanic named Quuhod (Sid Haig), and the remaining members, Ranger (Robert Englund), Dameia (Taaffe O’Connell) and Cos (Jack Blessing), the last of whom is the resident red-shirt. The team lands on the planet and quickly discovers the original ship; it’s crew all dead and gruesomely torn to shreds. Realizing that they can’t simply leave, many explore the misty, indistinct planet until they find a giant pyramid amongst the ruins, which seemingly they decide needs to be immediately explored, if for no other reason than the script says so. One by one, monsters, demons and all manner of ill-formed creatures kill the crew of the Quest; each of them devoured by their deepest, darkest fears.

At it’s most basic, “Galaxy of Terror” is a crummy “Alien” (1979) rip-off, starring a few actors who would go on to do better, or at least more mainstream, things, and production designed by a man who would do great things – for a while. Despite what people might say, it’s not really any more than that. Sure, the film may be a psychosexual sci-fi horror gore-fest that entertaining as all hell (in it’s own way), but that’s not because it has dense plotting (it doesn’t) or deep characterization (again, not gonna happen); like I said, the film is, truly an unapologetic “Alien” clone, that pales in comparison to Ridley Scott’s bigger budgeted, better made, and all around more subversive picture.

“Galaxy of Terror” doesn’t particularly look good – not in the traditional sense at least, although, it is sort of amazing what they were able to come up with on a scant $4 million budget (side note: “Alien” cost nearly three times that) – and it isn’t expertly directed, masterfully scripted or perfectly acted. It’s really none of those things, and in fact, it’s a pretty terrible movie. Perhaps not one of the fifty worst films ever-made, which it unjustly gets credit for being on more than one list, but still a pretty terrible movie all told. (Let’s just say, I’m not surprised that writer/director Bruce D. Clark never made another movie, or that co-writer/producer Marc Siegler didn’t either.)

Nevertheless, or perhaps because of it’s terribleness, “Galaxy of Terror” has a huge cult following and I’m sure there are legions of fans jumping at the chance to finally own one of the most requested films in the New World Pictures catalog on DVD and Blu-ray. Why? Because “Galaxy of Terror” is simply an infamous film. Infamous because for the last 25 years it was so scarcely available; I don’t know if the film ever reran on television (I doubt it), it’s never been available on DVD in the US; at least not officially (until now), and the VHS before that was there and gone before you could utter the words out-of-print. “Galaxy of Terror” is also infamous because one mister Roger Corman, a man loved by so many, produced it. Infamous because it stars Robert Englund, before he put on the red and green striped sweater and began killing people in their dreams. Infamous because James Cameron, yes James “King of the World” Cameron, served as a production designer on this film, and also shot most of it’s second unit (coincidently, his frequent collaborator Bill(y) “The Extreme” Paxton worked on the film too, as a set decorator). In short it’s a notorious film for many reasons; but “Galaxy of Terror” is mostly remembered for it’s gratuitous violence, gruesome death scenes and, most of all, because in the final act, a totally nude, busty blonde (that’d be Taaffe O’Connell) is raped to death by a gigantic maggot.

Still reading? Good, because if you haven’t clicked back yet that means you have an appreciation for the “art of watching, accepting, understanding and even liking bad movies. I have to admit that I kind of enjoy terrible films, at least to a point, and it’s because of that, that I sort of found “Galaxy of Terror” appealing. It’s definitely not a good film, not by a long shot for a laundry list of reason I spouted off earlier in this review, but “Galaxy of Terror” is so unhinged, so cheap looking, so ridiculously bad, that it becomes, in a way, good again, or perhaps it’s better to say that it becomes “entertaining” somehow. I think, for one, it’s gleefully amusing to see just how shoddy some of the set decoration is; the MacDonald Big Mac containers, toilet-paper roll remnants and milk crates disguised as futuristic bits of a space ship, or used as ground cover on an alien planet, or the fact that the peculiar pyramid was very obviously made out of Styrofoam. I mean you kind of have to like a movie in which actor Sid Haig decided his character was mute, and only says one line (he was forced to by the director) after he read the terrible, terrible dialogue in the final draft. That’s just awesome stuff.

(Addendum: I will say one thing of actual praise for "Galaxy of Terror", and it's one of the additions to the script by Roger Corman himself. The fact that the numerous creatures that attack the crew are actually the same monster, which just takes the shape of whatever it's victim fears most, is actually pretty neat, if not totally original.)

Video

Derived from a remastered high definition source from the 35mm interpositive film elements, it’s definitely surprising just how good “Galaxy of Terror”, with it's all-new 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, looks. There are no doubts of the film's meager beginnings and cut corners, but still, for a standard definition rendering of a 30 year old film shot for on a (for the genre) less-than-shoe-string budget, it really looks quite good. The image is a bit flat, colors are drab and there is a bit of a softness present, but contrast (and black level) is rock solid, grain is accurately persevered, there’s little (if any) damage present, detail isn’t half-bad either and it looks like Shout! Factory has resisted the temptation to use any form of image processing like digital noise reduction, edge enhancement or contrast boosting. I imagine the film looks pretty good on Blu-ray – probably replicating the look of a new 35mm print (and maybe better), but if you don’t want to shell out the extra five bucks or aren’t Blu-ray enabled, this DVD is more than worth your time and money (assuming, of course, you’re a fan).

Audio

“Galaxy of Terror” includes a simple, effective, but mostly dated English Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono mix. It’s a bit loud, and the dialogue is mixed a tad low (and soft) for my liking, and there are long gaps where the film has little activity, and many short one’s where perhaps too much material which has been layered on top (quirky, early 80's score, dialogue and effects all compete in action heavy scenes, and none win out). Overall, however, the elements seem to be in acceptable shape with no bothersome hiss, nor noticeable pops or crackle. Is the track going to make any waves? No, but it really doesn’t sound too bad considering the films extremely low budget and age.
Not subtitles are included.

Extras

Shout! Factory sure loves their Roger Corman films. In the year or so that the distributor has had access to the New World Pictures library they’ve debuted numerous films from the catalog in elaborate, often 2-disc, Special Editions which are literally packed with extra content. “Galaxy of Terror” includes an excellent 6-part making-of documentary, audio commentary, 5 photo galleries, and a series of theatrical trailers and TV spots. As if that weren’t already enough, Shout! has even included the film’s original screenplay (in PDF format), accessible via DVD-Rom. A majority of the video based extras are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, unless otherwise noted.

First up is an audio commentary with actor Taaffe O’Connell, creature and effects duo Allan Apone and Alec Gillis and production assistant David Decoteau, who also serves as moderator of the discussion. This commentary track is not listed in the special features and must be accessed via the audio set up menu, which gives you the option to toggle it on or off. You can also use the audio button on your remote to switch between the standard production audio and cast & crew commentary on the fly. The track is worth a listen, if only because it’s sort of amazing how much detail the participants are able to recall for a film essentially lost for over two-and-a-half decades. There’s some overlap with the documentary, which is to be expected given the length and scope of the latter, however plenty of new talking points, including more talk about a young James Cameron, is still to be found.

First up is the surprisingly taught, ultimately revealing, and totally engrossing 6-part documentary “Tales from the Lumber Yard: The Making of ‘Galaxy of Terror”, which features interviews from many of the original cast and crew, including Roger Corman, screenwriter Marc Siegler, director Bruce D. Clark, actors Robert Englund, Sid Haig, Taaffe O’Connell and Grace Zabriskie, production assistant David Decoteau and more. The six parts, running a collective 1 hour 2 minutes and 36 seconds, include:

- “Part One: New Worlds.” Producer Roger Corman, Marc Siegler, and “Galaxy of Terror” director Bruce D. Clark discuss the origins of the production, writing the script and the inner workings of New World Pictures at the time.
- “Part Two: Planet of Horrors” is an in-depth look into the creation of the films sets and alien landscapes.
- “Part Three: Future King.” It’s a well-known fact, or at least it’s well known to cult collectors, and especially Roger Corman fans, that James Cameron, after leaving his job as a truck driver, started his career in film at New World Pictures under the leadership of Roger Corman. The cast and crew reminisce about the visionary director who served as co-production designer and second-unit director on “Galaxy of Terror.”
- “Part Four: Old School” looks at the creature and make up effects, with effects guys Allan Apone, Douglas White and Alec Gillis.
- “Part Five: Launch Sequence.” Co-editor R.J. Kizer talks about the complicated post-production that the film faced after United Artist executives we’re unhappy with the final results; a profile of composer Barry Schrader is also included.
- “Part Six: Mission Review.” The cast and crew share their closing thoughts on “Galaxy of Terror”, reflect on what the film means in their overall careers and the cult status it has subsequently had bestowed upon it.

An extensive series of photo galleries also reside on the disc. These photographs provide even further detail into the making and marketing of “Galaxy of Terror,” broken up into five self explanatory parts:

- "Behind-the-Scenes" (39 images)
- "Background Plates" (14 images)
- "Storyboards & Sketches" (35 images)
- "Lobby Cards & Posters" (35 images)
- "Scrapbook Pictures" (54 images)

The disc also includes trailers for many of the other recently released Roger Corman Cult Classics, as well as 3 theatrical trailers for the feature film. These include:

- English theatrical trailer for “Galaxy of Terror” (1 minute 54 seconds, in 1.33:1).
- An übertastic, and much darker, German theatrical trailer for the film dubbed “Planet Des Schreckens” (1 minute 59 seconds, in 1.33:1).
- A theatrical trailer for the film under it’s alternate title, “Mind Warp” (2 minutes 5 seconds).

A montage of “Galaxy of Terror” TV spots (1 minute 4 seconds, in 1.33:1) is also included.

Delving deeper into the New World catalog we get a collection of bonus trailers, we find:

- Original theatrical trailer for “Humanoids from the Deep” (1980) which runs 1 minute 48 seconds.
- “Piranha” (1978) promo spot which runs for 33 seconds.
- “Piranha” (1978) a longer theatrical trailer running 2 minutes 17 seconds.
- Finally a tattered red band theatrical trailer for “Forbidden World” (1982) closes out the disc, at 2 minutes 31 seconds.

Packaging

“Galaxy of Terror” arrives on DVD (the same day as a Blu-ray edition) from Shout! Factory under the distributor’s “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line. The single disc release is packaged inside a clear Amaray keepcase, and includes a 12-page paper booklet filled with an essay on making the film by Jovanka Vuckovic titled “Marooned on the Planet of Horrors”, additional photos and disc production credits. The cover art is reversible with alternate artwork featuring the films alternate title “Mind Warp.”

Overall

After having been out of print on home video for nearly 25 years, Shout! Factory has released “Galaxy of Terror”, a certifiable cult classic, on both DVD and Blu-ray. I can’t actually say much for the latter, as I’ve only seen the standard definition version, but by all accounts it is quite strong – which I don’t doubt given the solid SD DVD transfer. Fans, buy away; with a remastered widescreen video presentation and a mountain of excellent supplements, this disc is an easy recommendation, at least for those who will appreciate it.

The Film: C Video: C+ Audio: C- Extras: A Overall: C+

 


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