Last post (which feels like eons ago) I talked about the ways that expectation and screening conditions can color one’s enjoyment of a film, now I’m going to avoid the cheap Rocky Horror reference and talk about anticipation. Anticipation is quite different than expectation, as in my experience you can high (or great, if you prefer) expectations for a film while not brimming with anticipation to see it. For Galaxy of Terror (1981) I had both high expectations and I’ve been waiting years to finally see it, leading to fervent anticipation for Shout Factory’s high def retooling of the film.
This edition is the first time that this film’s been available on DVD legitimately in the US. Part of Galaxy of Terror‘s allure is, in fact, its scarcity. VHS dupes and questionable gray-market releases only helped to fuel the film’s underground reputation. Before I had been bitten by the coveting bug I had seen the film’s gaudy (but awesome) poster but thought little of it. It wasn’t until a few years ago when Jovanka Vuckovic (then the editor in chief) had written an essay about the film in Rue Morgue. Well here we are (it has to be 4 or 5 years later) and Ms. Vuckovic is writing the liner notes to this new edition, we’ve come full circle and finally I get to see what all the hubub is about.
I was not let down, although the real film is quite different than the one that’s been playing in my head for the better part of a decade. Galaxy (originally titled Planet of Horrors and then Mind Warp: An Infinity of Terror) concerns the crew of the spaceship Qyest, who are charged with the task of rescuing ship that has disappeared on a mysterious planet. When they crash land on the planet’s surface they find that their worst fears are coming to life and picking off the crew in grisly fashion. It’s a hybrid of creature horror with light psychological elements that never gets boring because each crew member’s fear manifests itself as a unique monster.
Whenever you read anything positive about Galaxy of Terror, the author with preface their love for the film with the caveat that they recognize it is indeed a “cheap Alien (1979) ripoff/cash-in.” It’s true, we are dealing with Roger Corman’s New World Pictures here, they are going to have to liberally borrow to maximize economic viability. What many people don’t acknowledge was that Corman had set up a system by which young filmmakers were given small enough budgets and exploitable enough premises that they were afforded an unprecedented amount of creative freedom. Corman was the still the boss, but New World was a dream come true for fresh talent.
If the special features are to be believed, the biggest talent behind the camera on Galaxy of Terror was a young James Cameron. Cameron served as production designer on the film, and in a lot of the look you can see visual shades that will later inform his official take on Alien. Talent in front of the camera is no different, the crew of the Quest is comprised of genre superstars who were big then (Ray Walston, My Favorite Martian!) and who would soon be big (Robert Englund, Sid Haig, Grace Zabriskie).
The film slows down towards the end of the crew’s stay in the evil pyramid, but there is more than enough cool practical effects and original ideas to justify more than one viewing.
The bonus features are some of the best ever produced for a film like Galaxy of Terror. Shout Factory deserves all the praise in the world for these new editions of the Corman catalog. The highlight of the features is an exhaustive 6-part documentary that’s over an hour in length when watched using the “Play-all” function. Marc Siegler, screenwriter, and Bruce Clark, director, try to distance themselves from the film, protesting that they’ve moved on and up, but the rest of the cast and crew interviewed (including Englund and Haig) seems to have fond memories of the rigorous shoot. The most fascinating part are the segments on the props and effects, there are simply so many of such high quality that you get the feeling that without the guys interviewed here: Galaxy would have never earned its cult status. Other featurette highlights include the revelation that Corman himself directed the infamous “maggot rape” sequence, and also (not surprisingly) that the scene came under heavy fire by the MPAA.
At a time when it was looking like the glory days of the disc format was behind us, it’s so refreshing to see releases that go above and beyond like this. Having a definitive edition may destroy the feeling among those “in the know” that Galaxy of Terror is a lost gem, but to those people I can only say that: movies were meant to be watched. I can’t recommend this whole series enough. Vote with your dollars, people.