Galaxy of Terror (1981) Review: Nightmares Made Flesh

We look back at Roger Corman's Galaxy of Terror.

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Galaxy of Terror - Movie Review

What is Galaxy of Terror about?

Far in the future a hastily-assembled crew aboard the spaceship Quest heads into deep space on a rescue mission, dispatched to the dark, barren world of Morganthus by The Master. The spaceship Rebus lies stricken on the planet’s desolate surface, pinned there by a powerful force-field which the crew discover is emanating from a vast alien pyramid. Strange and menacing things begin to occur. The rescue team finds the remains of the previous crew and is inexorably drawn toward, up and into the massive ancient monolithic structure. Their numbers begin to dwindle, as one by one they fall prey to nightmarish deaths. The survivors eventually succumb to their destiny, and the awesome secret of the pyramid.

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Galaxy of Terror – Movie Trailer

Galaxy of Terror Review

Legendary producer Roger Corman had already made over 130 low-budget movies by the time he produced Galaxy of Terror. Originally titled Mind Warp: An Infinity of Terror, a truly schlocky title if ever there was one, Corman re-titled it Planet of Horrors, and then, rather oddly considering the setting and lack of actual scares, Galaxy of Terror.

Not just a Forbidden Planet (1956) rip-off, Galaxy of Terror borrows liberally from the premise and design of Alien (1979); essentially a small motley crew responding to a distress call, landing on a dark, barren planet, a spy in their midst, trekking across the surface to a giant pyramid, and being terrorised by alien creatures. A giant pyramid was in Alien’s original screenplay, but was dropped by Ridley Scott as too expensive to shoot, and Alien itself was a high-end throwback to 50s sci-fi monster movies, but I digress…

The screenplay, by Marc Siegler and director Bruce Clark (credited as B.D. Clark), has its characters quibbling with each other as they battle ferocious nasties, traverse weird architecture and landscape, and deal with all manner of probing physical and psychological torment. The ending is a metaphysical loop which refers the audience back to its obscure opening scene featuring The Master. To call the whole thing silly would be an understatement.

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Galaxy of Terror - Movie Still
Galaxy of Terror – Movie Still

While the acting is uniformly terrible – the dialogue does them no favours, “I live and die by the crystals” – the cardboard, paper mâché and polystyrene sets make the movie look an episode of Doctor Who, albeit a spectacular one. Rumour has it that director Bruce Clark was deemed incompetent and a young James Cameron, who had been hired as production designer, ended up directing a lot of the second unit himself, uncredited, and even staging some of the special effects.

It’s like a slow-motion train wreck; you just can’t help but keep watching. It’s so awful, yet it manages to mesmerise, in that cheap, garish, exploitative, sleazy, but curiously effective fashion. Part of the cult appeal is James Cameron’s involvement, and the mélange of charismatic B actors, some going on to do much bigger things (hello, Robert Englund), others that lingered on the sidelines, capable of better work, but never actually rising to the occasion, and some that slid into total obscurity.

Galaxy of Terror was Corman attempting to capitalize on the success of Battle Beyond the Stars, which his New World company had released the year before and had been one of his most expensive productions at $US2m. Corman nearly always made a profit, but Galaxy of Terror’s release ultimately spelled the end of New World, which Corman sold a few years later, as the rise of home video forced him to change his business model.

So, throw intellect to the terrestrial wind, grab the cheeziest pizza you can find, a case of beer, and a few goofy mates, Galaxy of Terror is a deep trash lure floating amidst the cosmic debris.

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Galaxy of Terror - Movie Still

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