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Roger Corman’s New World Pictures wasn’t always known for its originality, but the company surely knew how to ride on the success of a particular film, especially if it was a natural for exploitation. Known in various times during its development as PLANET OF HORRORS and MINDWARP: AN INFINITY OF TERROR, the film best recognized as GALAXY OF TERROR is a blatant rip-off of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, but at least one with a bit of a dark edge and enough spurting gore and bone-crushing excess to make even Lucio Fulci pleased.
In the future, the crew of the starship Quest journeys to the gloomy, barren planet of Morganthus on a rescue mission. Searching for survivors from another ship that sent a distress call, the Quest’s bickering crew (played by Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Zalman King, Graze Zabriskie, Bernard Behrens, Jack Blessing, etc.) come up empty handed, but encounter one horrifying danger after the other, quickly finding their own numbers diminishing. It seams this deadly planet has a secret which causes the crew members to succumb to their worst fears, bringing on a series of slimy killer creatures and other methods of agonizing demises, all conjured up by their own inner imaginations.
A sometimes confusing and ultimately downbeat and humorless early 1980s outer space/monsters saga, GALAXY OF TERROR benefits from a recognizable eclectic cast, decent special effects (embracing stop motion, mechanical contrivances, matte artwork, puppetry, pyrotechnics and miniatures) and some remarkable production designs by Robert Skotak and James Cameron, still some years before he directed the career-making THE TERMINATOR (Cameron also served as second unit director here). The foggy planet Morganthus, with its enormous craters, two-story pyramids and rocky surfaces, as well as the complex console and monitor-crammed spaceship’s interior are far more impressive than what you’d expect on a tight New World budget. But Corman had to compete with the majors and always had talented crews (with bright futures ahead we might ad) to make these features look the best they could, and the various creatures on display aren't half-bad either.
With its premise of a brave space crew (garbed in tan fatigues, a popular choice of outfit in these types of outings; just look at the previous year’s THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) having their inner fears do them in on distant planet, and that results in some memorable scenes. One character (played by New World Pictures/Corman veteran Sid Haig) has a sharp piece of a crystal weapon (a sort of “ninja star” throwing gadget) thrust underneath the skin of his arm (ouch!), instigating spontaneous self amputation. The talented Robert Englund (as Ranger) plays a guy who freaks out and eventually comes face to face with his wicked knife-wielding doppelganger. Out of all of these bizarre incidents (and positively the film’s most notorious) is a shapely blond female crew member (Taaffe O'Connell) having her clothes torn to shreds, preceded by a brutal inter-species rape by a massive, slimy (and apparently very horny) maggot creature with a row of feelies underneath, perfect for the grabbing and molesting that ensues.
Making its DVD premiere here (as well as being issued on Blu-ray disc), Shout! Factory presents GALAXY OF TERROR in a high definition transfer made from the original interpositive elements. Presented in a befitting 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, colors look quite good and fleshtones appear natural, despite the film’s overall dingy, low budget surface. Aside from some occasional grain, detail is excellent and the film looks a zillion times better than the old Embassy VHS release from the 1980s. The English language mono mix is solid, with dialog and sound effects being clear and no noticeable hiss or distortion.
As you would expect, Shout! has furnished GALAXY OF TERROR with a galaxy of extras. “Tales From The Lumber Yard: The Making of GALAXY OF TERROR” (the title derives from Corman’s studio where they shot much of it, a former lumber yard!) is an extraordinarily produced documentary with a countless amount of interview subjects who were on the original shoot (many of the interviewees are introduced in a specific segment, then subsequently pop up again). Part 1 (16:30) is made up of “New Worlds” and “The Crew of The Quest”. Producer Roger Corman introduces the whole show, talking about the formation of New World Pictures, competing with the major studios and his hiring young talent. Screenwriter Marc Siegler and director Bruce D. Clark (who had previously done NAKED ANGELS and THE SKI BUM together) discuss how they came on to the project, and are joined by Aaron Lipstadt (production manager) and David DeCoteau (production assistant), who originally wanted to call it “Quest” after the spacecraft featured in the film. Actors Robert Englund, Sid Haig, Taaffe O’Connell and Grace Zabriskie discuss their experience on the film; their characters, working with the producer and director, as well as the other performers (including the absent Zalman King).
Part 2: “Planet Of Horrors” (7:52) examines the creation of the film’s sets and planet landscapes, including interviews with Jacques Haitkin (director of photography), Douglas J. White (mechanical effects), Whitney Scott Bain (production assistant), Tom Shouse (prosthetic effects), Dennis Skotak (director of photograpy, visual effects), Robert Skotak (production design and visual fx creator) and others. With the director expressing here that the film had the budget of a cheese commercial, you won’t be surprised that they built sets wherever they could, but you may be staggered at the fact that McDonalds’ Big Mac cartons were used to put finishing touches on the spaceship corridor’s wall décor! Part 3: “Future King” (6:00) focuses on co-production designer James Cameron, who turns out to have had a big say over not only the design of the film, but a lot more (“he had a vision”). Corman mentions how Cameron easily made his way up in the company, and Allan A. Apone (mechanical effects), Tony Randal (visual and optical effects supervisor and director) and others from the previous segments are on hand to discuss there thoughts on the future visionary, and not all of the anecdotes show him in a favorable light.
Part 4: Old School (13:30) concentrates on the mechanical and make-up effects and the various monsters, and includes interviews with R. Christopher Biggs (prosthetic effects), Allec Gillis (prosthetic effects) and others from the previous segments. Biggs talks about doing the oozy things on the set which no one else wanted to handle, and the segment details with a fine toothed comb the shooting of the giant maggot rape scene. Part 5: “Launch Sequence” (10:33) has co-editor R.J. Kizer telling about the snippets and intense sound effects that the MPAA demanded to be excised to avoid an X rating, as well as composer Barry Schrader discussing the long hours he spent creating the film’s electronic-sounding music score. Part 6 “Mission Review” (8:15, including the ending credits for the entire documentary) has some of the interview participants back to give their final thoughts and impressions on GALAXY, with Englund relaying the last of a string of terrific accounts related to his association with the film.
An audio commentary reunites Taaffe O’Connell, Allan Apone, Alec Gillis and David DeCoteau, who also serves as moderator. The four participants have a grand time recalling their experiences on the set, with the energetic discussion having quite a few scene-specific tidbits not covered in the on-camera interviews, and there's no dead space to be heard. A series of extensive photo galleries contain posters, production sketches and designs, production and behind-the-scenes stills, foreign lobby cards and more. Three different trailers for the film (the standard U.S. trailer, a German trailer, and an alternate U.S. trailer under the MIND WARP title) are included, as well two TV spots and trailers for other titles in the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Collection.” A booklet with liner notes by Jovanka Vuckovic, a reversible cover and the original screenplay (available as a PDF download from your computer’s DVD-ROM) round out the extras on another terrific release from the Shout! Factory. (George R. Reis)
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