Review: Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Galaxy of Terror

Directed by Bruce D. Clark
Starring Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Robert Englund, Sid Haig, Grace Zabriskie

Sunday afternoons are the stuff of life. Waking up late and staying home, putting a kettle on and listening your neighbors argue, turning on the TV and stopping on anything that looks mildly interesting – magical little moments squeezed between the hustle and bustle of a workweek. Sundays are the best day to catch a cold and curl up under a heavy blanket accompanied by a steaming mug of hot cocoa. Sundays afternoons are ours to waste. Ours to squander. Ours to spend watching movies like Galaxy of Terror.

This low-budget Roger Corman-produced science fiction adventure was designed to put people to sleep thirty years in the future. Its plot is an uninspired mishmash of Alien and The Empire Strikes Back. Entire scenes are spent discussing plot points that viewers are never convinced to care about. There are some gruesome special effects sequences peppered throughout, but never enough of them to hold sustained interest. A scene of maggot-monster rape provides ample nudity for the pre-teen crowd and a romantic subplot late in the game gives us characters to root for, but it never adds up to anything. “Let’s make a flu movie,” the director must have said. “Let’s give sick people something to relax by.

The players are each vaguely recognizable: Edward Albert previously starred in Butterflies Are Free and Midway. Erin Moran was a regular on Happy Days. Sid Haig went on to appear in films by Rob Zombie and Quentin Tarantino. Robert Englund is Freddy Krueger. I recognized Ray Walston from Billy Wilder’s 1960 film, The ApartmentA few people behind the camera are recognizable as well: Bill Paxton worked as a set decorator and James Cameron worked as a production designer and second unit director. Cameron’s work here on a few key special effects sequences got him his next job.

Although the film borrows quite liberally from Alien, it plays a whole lot like that movie’s sequel, Aliens, which was (interestingly) directed by Cameron. Galaxy of Terror does, however, borrow its look from Ridley Scott‘s sci-fi horror opus – everything looks dusty and a little run-down – but never once do its visuals intrigue or impress. Everything is gray – the spaceship interior, the planet surface, the weapons, and even some of the monsters are the same exact color. It’s as if the production team accidentally ordered two tons of the same shade of paint and needed a way to get rid of it.

The characters are hard to distinguish and set apart. The plot never slows down enough to explain itself. A few sequences might be able to raise a few smirks out of bad movie lovers (a brief exchange between characters: “Aren’t you afraid?” “Too scared to be.“), but more often than not, the movie is competently made. The budget is stretched just enough to provide believable sets and sometimes-convincing special effects. The final 20 minutes of Galaxy of Terror successfully take the movie to another, stranger place. Plot elements of Michael Crichton’s Sphere show up, six years before that book was published. Edward Albert becomes a surrogate for Luke Skywalker as he vanquishes the film’s central antagonist. Robert Englund battles a duplicate of himself in an alien cave.

But it’s too late. Too many times have our eyes wandered to the dust floating through streams of sunlight in our living room. As Galaxy of Terror approaches its end, we will find ourselves asleep, the taste of hot cocoa on our tongues, lost in the middle of another lazy Sunday afternoon.

Links:

Amazon – Galaxy of Terror (Roger Corman’s Cult Classics) Blu-ray
Amazon – Galaxy of Terror (Roger Corman’s Cult Classics) DVD
Amazon – Galaxy of Terror VHS
Amazon Instant – Galaxy of Terror
Netflix – Galaxy of Terror
YouTube – Original Theatrical Trailer
YouTube – Complete Movie

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