Friday, December 3, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #84: Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Hi kids. Captain Spaulding here, this time with CRYSTAL NINJA STARS.

This wonderful Gigeresque Alien ripoff is full of familiar faces. I was amazed to see Robert Englund, Ray Walston, someone from Happy Days but not who you're thinking, and Sid Haig, all milling about in a space ship together in a movie that looks and plays out like an issue of Heavy Metal. Here's why:

After a generic scene where a dude somewhere is running away from something scary and dies, the movie proper opens in a way I wasn't expecting. The movie decides to trip the hell out. We get a guy playing some kind of lasery table game with an old witch. He's called The Master, and he has a glowing plasma flame for a head. No face.

The Master, getting it done.

Him and The Oracle are apparently deciding the fate of the planet, and The Master orders a rescue mission, one that apparently needs to happen for reasons of Destiny, to a planet where something awful happened years ago. The dialogue in that scene is grandiose and striking, and I eat that crazy space opera/space fantasy stuff up like alphacentaurigetti.

Though it's mostly rushed thanks to its hour and twenty runtime, the movie works pretty hard to give each character some kind of bizarre distinctness, most fun of which, and most out of the blue, is Sid Haig's character Quuhod. He's an understanding and empathic warrior-type who "lives and dies by the crystal," meaning that as a master of these cool crystal throwing blades he can touch no other weapon. Sid Haig apparently, on reading the script, insisted that Quuhod be played entirely mute. He thought the lines were terrible and didn't suit the character at all, and given most of the dialogue in the film, was probably right. Famed producer Roger Corman heard his pleas and agreed. Quuhod's muteness, coupled with the movie's tendency to give you hints of back story and lore without actually telling you what any of it is, adds a wonderful mystique to the narrative that the movie really needed. I kind of want a movie just with Quuhod, hiking across the galaxy like the man with no name and dealing in blade wounds instead of gunshots. But this is a universe where dreams are shattered. This is a galaxy....of terror! Though it might be a Battle Beyond the Stars, since it uses enough stock footage from that previous Corman sci-fi.

I found myself liking this flick not just for its Corman-infused silliness, but its streaks of seriousness. As I mentioned before, much of the stuff you see seems like it could have come right off the pages of Heavy Metal Magazine. The movie possesses the same kind of weird, dark, and at times sexual space opera that I can't get enough of, though almost did when it came to the maggot rape sequence. Yep.

I wish I could say a maggot was raped when I write "maggot rape sequence," but I'm afraid an enormous maggot rapes a busty blonde in Galaxy of Terror, and that the scene was a big part of the movie's relative success. I'd forgotten up until that point that I was watching a Roger Corman flick. It will only make sense once you find out what an evil pyramid in the movie is all about, but not much sense.

Also, James Cameron was apparently second unit director and production designer. In the special features there's a handful of really interesting anecdotes about a smug and combative Cameron berating people for various silly reasons. The prosthetics department supposedly made a monster partially in the likeness of Cameron, though I couldn't see any similarities apart from the claws and slime. The special features on the disc are great, and Roger Corman's interviews always offer illuminating insight into the filmmaking business and its trends and turns.

So: Fair amounts of gore, a Heavy Metal magazine vibe, and a haunting ending I wasn't expecting. Cool stuff.

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