Galaxy of Terror (1981)
By: Stuart Giesel on December 23, 2012 | Comments
Shout! Factory | Region A | 1.78:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 2.0 | 81 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Bruce D. Clark
Starring: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Zalman King, Robert Englund, Sid Haig
Screenplay: Marc Siegler, Bruce D. Clark
Country: USA
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The crew of spaceship Quest land on a planet in a bid to find the missing crew of another ship, who it seems have fallen foul of a strange entity hidden in an immense alien pyramid. It turns out that the pyramid houses some sort of force that causes each crew member to confront their greatest fear, and the crew of the Quest must learn to conquer that fear or die a horrible death if they hope to unlock the secret of the pyramid.

At first I thought this Roger Corman-produced cult film was going to be an obvious and very cheap rip-off of Alien. I was wrong on both counts; it is no more an Alien clone than The Terminator is, and though the film was still made on the cheap by Hollywood standards, by Corman standards the budget was quite high. The production design is quite the stand out considering the budget, and it comes as no surprise to learn that the head of production design for this was one James Cameron. Sets are ominous and alien without getting too outlandish, and you really get a sense of scope even though you might only be looking at a matte painting or a model.

The better-than-average-for-this-sort-of-thing cast also helps to sell the concept and the authenticity of the alien planet; amongst others we get Sid Haig as a mostly mute mercenary named Quuhod who uses crystal throwing stars, Happy Days star Erin Moran who plays a fairly useless empath who's scared of confined spaces, soft-core porn magnate Zalman King as a humourless creep, Robert Englund as repairman Ranger, Grace Zabriskie as an unhinged captain and Ray Walston of My Favourite Martian fame as the cook with something to hide.

The film does plod along in the first half, with only a sporadic death here or there to maintain interest, but I must say that the scenario coupled with the eerie score actually began to unsettle me. However this creepy atmosphere is soon jettisoned for some outrageous and gruesome deaths. Without wanting to give too much away, we witness some pretty nasty demises including rape by alien space worm (which, of course, proves to be a dab hand at removing the female crew member's clothes) and a spectacularly icky head explosion. And the gore effects for the most part are effective, even if they were done on the cheap. If there's one thing Roger Corman excels at, it's finding and harnessing young talent and making them work creatively - a good portion of the Quest's interior corridors was made up out of discarded McDonald's packages!

I have to admit that Galaxy of Terror is an odd and uneven film. It can jump from intense to silly and back again with no consideration for flow or story. The tension cranks up before being diffused by a single terrible line that Sid Haig is forced to say, before we are presented with a particularly icky death. The instigator of the plot is a weird alien with a glowing red head called Planet Master. The aliens range from daft (sucking alien worms that make ridiculous cartoon sound effects) to even dafter (the space slug that looks like a giant turd) to functional (the glowing eye creature that stalks Zalman King). But to be honest, as uneven as the film is, I believe its shortcomings are far outweighed by the impressive production design and gore, as well as the overall unnerving atmosphere. There are moments of humour that undercut the sleaze, so it's not a completely humourless affair, and Englund gives us a likeable character to latch on to, even more essential considering the supposed lead - Edward Albert as Cabren - proves to be underwhelming. The ending doesn't quite satisfy, but you'll walk away thinking more about some of the deaths and the overall tone of the film rather than its denouement.

Galaxy of Terror won't be for everyone, but I for one believe it to be an under-appreciated gem that, like its alien hostiles, truly gets under your skin at times. The cast is comprised of a terrific collection of oddballs and there are enough nasty shocks to satisfy most exploitation fans.
Like Shout! Factory's other Roger Corman Blu-Ray presentations Forbidden World and Humanoids from the Deep, Galaxy of Terror boasts a fine presentation - in fact, better than you might expect for an early 80's low budget schlock-fest. Detail is good, colours are strong and there is still enough grain to maintain that grungy outer-world vibe.
The stereo track will never win any awards but it's serviceable, providing clear dialogue even if the mostly-synth score tends to overwhelm at times. There's not much presence to the audio - it's pitched pretty loudly, but it's not really immersive or expansive.
Extra Features
Shout! Factory have come up with a fair collection of extras, including a reversible cover and booklet. There are an assortment of trailers and photo galleries, as well as the original screenplay in PDF format and a pop-up trivia track if you particularly care for those things.

The feature-length audio commentary is an entertaining listen for fans, as production assistant David DeCoteau moderates with Taaffe O'Connell (who plays Dameia, the unfortunate crew member who is at the receiving end of a space slug's erotic advances), prosthetics maker Alec Gillis and makeup artist Allan Apone talk about the making of Galaxy of Terror and the technical limitations faced by a low budget production (which was sizeable by Corman standards). It's an interesting and informative commentary that's well worth spending time on if you're a fan.

But the main extra is an absorbing hour-long feature Tales from the Lumberyard: The Making of Planet of Terror. This documentary features interviews with Corman, director Bruce D. Clark, screenwriter Marc Siegler, actors Englund, Haig, O'Connell and Zabriskie and other crew members including effects artists and editors. The feature covers the film's conception, shooting and budgetary challenges, the design work and impact (both good and bad) of James Cameron, the effects work and score and box office and critical reception. This is a fantastic documentary that's informative and entertaining, well worth a watch even if you weren't such a big fan of the movie.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Chalk this one up as another Corman cult classic. It's got nudity and gore and sleaze like its counterpart Forbidden World (though not as much as that film) but also a true sense of dread and some interesting concepts and creative deaths to match. Good production design and a solid cast really help sell this one.

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