As mentioned below, I was thrilled to get my first DVDs in this new series from SHOUT! Entertainment. Roger Corman’s Cult Classics aren’t exactly on par with Fellini or even Spielberg for that matter, and are far from prime examples of their genre. They’re more like Cliff’s Notes for a proper film, being either truncated by editing (Corman didn’t like his movies to run longer than 84 minutes, since that would require a second traveling case for the reels of film) or by scripts (more like plot summaries in some cases) which were often rewritten during shooting (usually to satisfy budget concerns).
What they are is warped fun. Long before the Syfy Channel Movie of the Week or the latest direct-to-DVD dribble were these films, which — unlike the aforementioned subjects — were often done with remarkable wit and creativity. What is now left to shoddy computer graphics was the work of future vanguards like James Cameron (who did everything from production and set design to matte painting), and usually done right down to the last minute. Sure, the movies were low-budget, and it shows — but what also shows is a great deal of chutzpah. Everyone involved seemed to have a blast making these films, and it comes out in every frame. Never mind that the movie would never make it to blockbuster status (as you’ll see below they often rode on the coattails of such successful films), Corman and his teams cranked out some of the best of the B’s in the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s. Now to the specifics:
Galaxy of Terror. Originally named Quest (after the errant spaceship in the film) and Planet of Horrors, this film will be remembered in the annals of history for two things: it was the starting point for director James Cameron (who by this time was production designer, visual effects supervisor and assistant director), and for being “the one where the girl (Taaffee O’Connell) gets raped by the giant worm”. In any case, the film is a deserved cult classic.
The single-disc boasts a slew of extras, from interviews with cast members including Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger himself) and Sid Haig (best known currently as Rob Zombie’s Captain Spaulding) and a number of short subjects going deep into the film’s production history and providing many anecdotes (like how one makeup effects guy covered in fake blood was treated by paramedics after ending up in an actual car accident). Also included is a commentary with O’Connell (the Worm Girl) and the film’s effects crew, as well as production sketches and designs, and even the original screenplay (on PDF). Whoa, talk about attention to detail.
Galaxy of Terror is actually a forerunner of sorts, being the same tale played out in later, more successful films like Sphere and Event Horizon (in my book one of the true inheritors of the Corman legacy — and I mean that in a good way). The crew of the Quest are called to a small planet on the edge of the solar system, which is of course shrouded in mystery. It becomes apparent after a while that this mystery planet seems to feed on the very fears of its inhabitants, and nearly all are in the end scared to death (yes, including the Worm Girl). I won’t give away any more, but it is somewhat unique among Corman movies in asserting a more philosophical tone to its ending — one that I think is successful, and rather creepy. Galaxy of Terror also in many ways mirrors Cameron’s later production of Aliens — due mainly to the fact that nearly the same behind-the-scenes crew worked on both productions.
In total it’s a great package for a mostly-forgotten gem, one especially for Cameron fans who think he pulled Titanic out of mid-air, and for any like myself who really enjoy a good piece of “budget cinema”.
Forbidden World (Mutant). The reason for the two titles is for two slightly different versions of the film, with Mutant being director Allen Holzman’s original cut and Forbidden World being the cut released in U.S. theatres. Apparently, the main difference between them is Corman’s call for taking the comedic edge off the film (which I found odd, but according to Holzman the producer was so upset about people laughing during an early test showing he slapped one of the audience members). I found them both to be rather humorous, really — it’s not like everyone isn’t playing over the top to begin with (except for leading man Jesse Vint, who has this creepy low-key leering thing going on in some shots), but think that such a stink had been made over the years by fans that the Mutant cut was added. The only other differences are the transfers, with Forbidden World getting the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen treatment while Mutant makes do with a 4:3 full-frame transfer. While the better quality of picture certainly rests with Forbidden World, neither cut was as darkly lit as I have read about on the internet — so I’m guessing some minor miracles had taken place in that department as well. The package includes a commentary from Holzman during Mutant (which I thought was funny and informative, and was heartened that a man with a stuttering disorder had come so far in the movie biz — apparently it’s not as bad when he directs ;D) , an interview with Roger Corman about the film, and several short subjects dealing with the production and those who worked in front and behind the scenes.
Both versions concern one Mike Colby (Vint, mentioned above), who apparently is like some intergalactic version of Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction. He is sent to the exotic planet Xarbia (pronounced “EX-arbia”, supposedly the last dregs of Corman’s initial idea of shooting Lawrence of Arabia in space — and then settling for an Alien rip-off, which this film truly is), where the scientists stationed there seem to be having a problem with one of their experiments. If Aliens‘ Hudson were riding co-pilot, he’d tell Colby straight off: “Yup — it’s a bug hunt.”
But these scientists don’t want their bug killed, just contained. They see their mutant as important research — that is, when the men aren’t arguing or the women (June Chadwick and Dawn Dunlap) aren’t foisting themselves at Colby. But hey, it’s a job, right? Needless to say, the scientists and their helpers start dropping like flies, and the Little Mutant Who Could does, and gets bigger all the while. After a consoling shower together, June and Dawn decide to communicate with the monster, who seems to have a problem interpreting the term “co-exist”. I will leave the scene to you imagination, but really — it’s even better in the movie. The whole thing wraps up when one altruistic scientist sacrifices himself to slay the beast, leaving Vint and Dunlap standing in a massive pile of metamorphic goo. Yeah, you don’t want to be watching this one at dinnertime.
All in all it’s huge fun — watching the actors trying to keep straight and serious faces walking down corridors decorated with egg cartons and take-out containers (yes, I am serious — and it actually looks kinda cool), and saying stuff like “Let’s go bag ourselves a dingwhopper.” This movie really has to be seen to be believed.