Blu-ray Review: Galaxy of Terror & Forbidden World

The stunningly prolific Roger Corman has produced well over 300 films since he started in the indie film business back in 1954, so it only stands to reason that generations of hardcore movie geeks love the man for different reasons. Given the era in which I grew up, for example, I find myself partial to Mr. Corman's late 1970s to mid-'80s output -- which is why I was so thrilled to learn that the producer's best catalog titles were going over to the exceedingly fan-friendly distributor known as Shout! Factory. Champions and curators of great stuff like Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared, the Shout! Factory team is now diving into full-bore Corman catalog releases like Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World with much enthusiasm.

I speak for all hardcore fans of genre-style B-movie entertainment when I say thanks to Shout! Factory for treating these films like the Criterion Collection would take care of Citizen Kane.

That may be the first time Citizen Kane has been used in a review of Galaxy of Terror (1981) or Forbidden World (1982), but it's just very satisfying to see a film distributor who knows what the fans want: "great" old genre favorites presented in top-quality audio-visual fashion, with perhaps a few new supplemental features and a few nifty surprises. As a lifelong horror freak who once had to track down these cheesy old "space monster" movies wherever I could, it makes me smile to look at the shiny new blu-ray of something as weird as Galaxy of Terror.

Both films are unapologetic Alien rip-offs, so logically you'd assume that I hate both movies. Wrong. When you have a very popular and influential genre film like Alien, rip-offs are pretty much inevitable. I've seen virtually all of the Alien wannabes, and I'd call Galaxy of Terror the best rip-off of the bunch. (Sort of like how the Corman-produced Piranha is the best Jaws rip-off you're likely to come across.) In Galaxy we're introduced to an obvious-yet-colorful collection of space travelers who find themselves stuck on a weird planet full of ravenous monsters and a life-force that somehow knows how to tap into their greatest (not to mention ickiest) fears.

Among the cast you'll notice (depending on your age) the late Edward Albert as our hero, Erin Moran (that's Joanie from Happy Days) as his leading lady, and genre greats Robert Englund, Sid Haig, Grace Zabriskie, and Ray Walston chattering about through the non-horror "talky" scenes. But really, the "plot" and the "characters" are just an excuse for us to wallow in low-grade but enjoyable A) creature effects, B) garish gore scenes, C) scrappily effective FX and production design, and D) just enough energy and (yes) quality to keep the whole affair from becoming tiresome. Provided, of course, that you're the sort of movie fan who adores grisly Alien ripoffs in which, for example, a young woman is raped to death by a giant maggot, then there's little chance you'll be disappointed by the likes of Galaxy of Terror.

Cynical types beware, but open-minded movie nerds will probably find a little bit to appreciate in a movie that James Cameron learned a ton of his future tricks on. (Yep, Cameron was credited as the production designer, but based on the supplemental features, he sure sounded more like a producer on Galaxy of Terror.) I'm sure a good portion of my kindness towards this shameless Alien copycat is based on nostalgia value, but as a guy who watches lots of indie genre films, both new and old, I actually found some impressive little nuggets in Galaxy of Terror. The rest of it is just good, dumb, gory fun.

And since the combination of { horror + sci-fi } is one of my very favorite sub-genres, we can segue right into Forbidden World, which arrives on dvd and blu-ray right alongside its big brother Galaxy of Terror. (Galaxy, also known as (get this) Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terrors came out in 1981, while Forbidden World (aka Mutant) was 1982, and yes you'll notice some of the same sets and props in both films. Corman is nothing if not a clever recycler.) The lesser film in almost every regard, but not without its own cheesy charms, Forbidden World takes place on a space station ... that has a vile, genetically-engineered monster running rampant inside. Really, that's pretty much it. The cast is not nearly as memorable, the kills are not quite as creepy, the creatures are just a little less charmingly gross ... but, again, my affinity for the sub-genre and a bit of nostalgia prevent me from being too harsh to Forbidden World. Plus I'm simply a fan of how Corman could make movies (cheap and obvious movies, but movies all the same) out of virtually nothing, and a perspective like that helps make Forbidden World a little more impressive.

Neither of the films have scintillating dialogue, nor are they awash in Shakespearean performances, but Corman knows what he's doing: if you're looking for a nastier, sillier, cheaper version of Alien, simply because you dig movies about space monsters, you'll get your money's worth with these two flicks.

And it gets so much better. Back in the early '80s, Corman was just hoping to give you a fun, forgettable matinee for your $3.50, but the Shout! Factory team knows that us fancy, modern movie freaks need a little more incentive to drop $20+ on a cheesy ol' horror flick. As such, and I can't believe I'm about to type this, both Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World are now available in high-definition Blu-Ray! Yes, these two non-classics that are beloved only by the staunchest of genre fans have been gussied up and made to look prettier than they ever have before. (And I do mean ever.) NOT overscrubbed so as to remove the "grain," but simply and basically remastered to make these B-level horror flicks look and sound terrific. Fans will not be disappointed with the A/V presentation, especially considering the source(s).

Then the fun stuff hits: both DVDs come with brand-new retrospective featurettes that bring together an impressive number of cast and crew members, all of whom share both candid war stories and fond memories of these goofy movies. If the extra features seem a bit heavy on the effects technicians, there's a reason for that: they were the stars of the films. (Effects wizards who got a start on these films include Alec Gillis, Phil Tippett, John Carl Buechler, Tony Randel, and the Skotak brothers. And that Cameron fella.) Plus these are the guys you want to hear from: the sharp, proud, professional geeks who worked for peanuts and were on the set (or under it) every single minute. I'll leave some of the movie geek minutiae to discover for yourself, but both DVDs are loaded with production stills, old-school trailers, and extended interview segments.

Ooh, and commentaries. The good stuff. The Galaxy track offers actress Taffee O'Connell, effects artists Allen Apone and Alec Gillis, and production assistant/moderator David DeCoteau. And if you're so into Galaxy of Terror that you want an audio commentary, then you may as well flip on the textual "fast track" that's also included at no extra charge. (Icing on top: a cool reversible DVD cover and a slick booklet with a fine essay by genre genius Jovanka Vuckovic. As for Forbidden World, there's an audio commentary by director Allan Holzman, but you won't find it on the theatrical cut. Instead it's been included on the director's cut, which runs five minutes longer and resides on disc 2. (Yep, disc 2.) This release also features a reversible cover and a booklet with a cool essay, this one by Dana McMillan.

Seemingly tailor-made for a movie geek of my specific age and genre disposition, these two releases are a huge treat -- although they're almost certainly intended for those of us who've either seen the films or ones just like them. It's hard to say if a younger generation will be able to get what us old horror fans enjoy about the kitsch and corn of Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World, but these excellent new blu-rays just might do the trick.