Galaxy of Terror: DVD Review

click to purchase
click to purchase

GALAXY OF TERROR is exploitation, pure and simple – I mean, if you’ve got a giant-maggot-on-naked-woman rape scene in your film it nothin’ but, baby.  And before going any further, it’s only fair to point out that this observer doesn’t normally go in for the likes of it.  Such is generally of the cheap, tawdry, banal, and even sleazy sort, so it’s not really my cup of tea.  GALAXY OF TERROR is all of the above; therefore, it stands to reason that I would find it particularly irritating.  But we’re a strange lot, we humans.  Thus, it is a curious state I find myself in when having to admit to you all that I found a certain degree of fun in watching it – both in 1981 and now via its new Blu-ray DVD release.  I can’t say I really stand behind it, but it does have its pluses.  It’s also perfect fodder for drive-in theaters (ah, the good ol’ days).
Aside from giggles, I remember very little from my first viewing of the film.  In fact, the only solid memories that have stuck with me over the years are:

  1. As a teenage boy I thought that Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran) had grown into something kind of cute.
  2. Something no young boy would likely forget – the maggot rape scene.

Erin Moran
Erin Moran

Joanie had indeed grown up, but I didn’t find her quite as alluring this time around.  I noticed something else about her this time too: her performance wasn’t very interesting.  I saw too many moments in which she seemed to have trouble putting all those years of being on a television stage as Joanie Cunningham behind her.
The maggot scene, however, is still a wild & wacky concept, yet it too seemed tamer and less dramatic than my memory had put it.  Still, it probably remains the most provocative moment in GALAXY OF TERROR, and it is certainly the scene most other folks remember as well.  Without a doubt, the cast and crew find it most interesting to reminisce about.  The commentary (found on the Blu-ray edition) makes that quite clear.  Everyone seems to remember it humorously and even fondly.  Taaffe O’Connell, who played the maggot’s victim, was particularly jocular about it all and seemed to cherish her reflections of it and its cult status.
Aside from Moran and the maggot, however, there wasn’t a single thing about the plot or characters that I could conjure up in my memory.  A testament to the film’s somewhat forgettable nature, no doubt.  The plot itself is an easy-to-see-through rip off of ALIEN, which had made a huge critical and box-office splash just two years earlier.  Oh, sure, one or two crewmembers refer to it as an “homage,” but it’s a rip off.
Galaxy of TerrorWhile on an intended rescue mission to the planet Moganthus, the crew of the starship Quest finds itself being pulled down to the planet by an unknown energy force.  Now, not only must they search for survivors of a lost mission, but they must also find the origin of the energy field that pulled them down and disable it so that their ship may achieve a successful lift off (a la the Death Star’s tractor beam scenario in STAR WARS).  The next thing you know, the crewmembers start getting picked off one by one.
“Inspiration” aside, this much can be said for GALAXY OF TERROR: it does have a fairly intriguing psychological concept at its core.  The Quest’s crewmembers are supposedly attacked and killed by things drummed up from the fears within their own subconscious.  That’s all right as far as it goes; yet the script is sloppy and generally unimaginative, and the direction does little to improve on its weaknesses.  With a budget of only about $1,000,000 one could argue that the filmmakers could only do so much, and to a certain extent that is true.  Nonetheless, there are moments that counter or betray the psychological aspects behind the issues at hand.
Let’s just take two quick examples.  First, there is Taaffe O’Connell’s character.  Roger Corman is the one who actually came up with the concept for her demise (he knew it would generate buzz and help sell the movie both domestically and overseas).  In his mind, she was supposed to have personal psychological issues in connection to sexual intimacy, not to mention a healthy dislike for little slimy worms (based on a line she throws out somewhere in the script), thus the reasoning for her rape by the giant maggot.
Yet no where in the film does her character demonstrate any negative issues regarding sex or men.  In fact, when the ship first launches and a fellow crewmember (played by a pre-Freddy Krueger Robert Englund) doesn’t have a chance to buckle himself in she calls him over, pulls him into her open lap, and wraps her legs around him in a very suggestive manner.  The moment is supposed to be a bit of sexual innuendo joke (something that’s even light-heartedly brought up within the commentary), but it goes solidly against what is supposed to be a key psychological hurdle for O’Connell’s character.  We may just be talking about a B-picture here, but even B-pictures need to remain honest to their intended nature.
We have a similar problem with the conflict at the end of the film.  The late Edward Albert’s character (earnestly played by him, by the way) finally learns that everyone is being destroyed by their own fears and that once this is realized and one’s fears are controlled the plaguing dangers will vanish.  This allows him to “pass the test,” as it is put to him.  Yet, just a few minutes later he is confronted by the creatures conjured up by the minds of his fellow crewmembers who have met with grizzly fates and by the dead crewmembers themselves.  His only defense is to try to physically confront them and ward them off.  Again, this seems in direct conflict with what he just learned and the “test” that he just passed.
If you think I’m spending too much time concerning myself with what I see as weaknesses within a minor exploitation piece (and admittedly, I’m sure I didn’t care about them as a teen), I’ll do you a favor and stop there – except to point out that England’s character is simply forgotten about toward the film’s end, demonstrating more careless lack of concern.  Be assured, however, that there are many other points one could pick away at.  Even director Bruce Clark admits that the script is somewhat poorly fleshed out.
Ray Walston
Ray Walston

But hey, if you can set all that in the closet and if you can get passed a truly awful electronic score by Barry Schrader (he decided he wasn’t cut out for a life as a composer after GALAXY OF TERROR and wisely decided to step away from it), and if you’re in the mood to watch a low-budget sci-fi horror flick in which a crewmember’s head implodes (specifically a sitcom star’s), and in which maggots rape women, then this just may be the right bit of exploitation for you.  Besides, many of the visuals are better (and crisper on Blu-ray) than one would expect from such a small film from its era, so you should be able to have some fun with those as well.  Everybody’s favorite Martian (Ray Walston) is in it, too.  And as a footnote to you James Cameron fans, he served as the film’s production designer.  Word has it that he was quite inventive, intense, and worked day and night on it.
Some may think me a fool to make this final note, but given a smart, psychologically based script (I mean really handled so this time) and a solid studio budget and a good team behind it, the concept for GALAXY OF TERROR, dare I say it, could be well suited for a reimaging.  There, I said it.  Now you can watch it and see what you think.
The Blu-ray edition includes these special features:

  • A rather nice, in-depth making-of doc;
  • PDF version of the script;
  • Fairly extensive photo gallery;
  • Textual pop-up trivia facts on the movie;
  • Commentary by maggot rape victim Taaffe O’Connell, creature & makeup crewmember Alan Apone, creature & makeup crewmember Alec Gillis, and production assistant/commentary moderator David DeCoteau.

All in all, the features are a thoughtful, extensive look at this nearly thirty-year old exploitation picture.  They certainly add some extra welcome fun to this guilty pleasure. … Taaffe O’Connell definitely thinks so on both counts.
GALAXY OF TERROR (New World Pictures; 1981; 81 min.) Directed by Bruce D. (B.D.) Clark.  Screenplay by Marc Siegler and Bruce (B.D.) Clark.  Outline by William Stout (uncredited).  Produced by Roger Corman.  Co-produced by Marc Siegler.  Production Design by James Cameron and Robert Skotak.  Art Direction by Steve Graziani and Alex Hajdu.  Visual Effects Supervision by Tom Campbell.  Cinematography by Jacques Haitkin and Austin McKinney.  Music Composed by Barry Schrader.  Edited By Larry Bock, R.J. Kizer and Barry Zetlin.  Cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Bernard Behrens, Zalman King, Robert Englund, Taaffe O’Connell, Sid Haig, Grace Zabriskie, Jack Blessing, and Mary Ellen O’Neill.  MPAA Rating: R for language, violence, gore, and one hell of an odd rape scene.
Galaxy of Terror Galaxy of Terror Galaxy of Terror: Robert Englund Galaxy of Terror-Picture1

Dee Snider's Strangeland (1998) Film Review

strangeland 1998Dee Snider’s STRANGELAND 2: DISCIPLE is scheduled for production later this year, some eleven years after the first STRANGELAND was released on DVD. Dee Snider has been fighting the courts to claim back his creative rights over the movie, after the original production company Shooting Gallery had all of its material seized by the government. Finally, this year, he won and is promising us a sequel much more shocking and terrifying than the first, but is it really a case of better late than never? I revisited the original to review it, knowing that the release of the sequel would spark a new interest.
Firstly, I have a confession to make, and I may as well just come out with it: I’m the world’s biggest Dee Snider fan. I love the guy. My admiration for him is borderline obsession. So could this film possibly live up to my expectations of it? Well, to be fair, no. That’s not to say it’s all bad, however.
Carleton Henricks [played by Snider] is a glorious and menacing villain, obsessed with tattoos and body modification. He looks intense to say the least, with his flaming red Mohawk, pointed teeth and multiple piercings, not to mention a fantastically muscular and heavily tattooed body; he is a very intimidating character. Carleton, using the name Captain Howdy [the same as the demonic presence in The Exorcist] frequents internet chat rooms under the guise of an ordinary teenage boy. He invites the people he meets to ‘party,’ and once he has them, he tortures them. When he lures Detective Gage [played by Kevin Gage]’s daughter into his insane world, he keeps her with his other ‘party guests’ in his candle-lit basement where he sadistically tortures them whilst he gently explains his reasoning. The detective tracks him down, and he is arrested, prosecuted and declared insane. After four years and now a reformed character he is released with a whole new image and subdued demeanour. [I never want to see Dee Snider as a bespectacled cardigan wearer again; this was the most disturbing image in the whole film for me!]. He is hounded by the unforgiving locals who are hell bent on revenge, and when Jackson Roth [A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund] gets together with a group of friends, Hendricks is lynched and left for dead.
Of course, it couldn’t end there! Surviving the ordeal, Hendricks reverts to his old sinister self and sets out to terrorise those responsible…….
The best thing about Strangeland is Dee Snider’s character. Sinister, perverse, and yet strangely charming, Captain Howdy is brilliant: he looks amazing; he is well acted and thoroughly believable. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast are not so great. In particular Kevin Gage was terrible; the screenplay went some way to excuse his lack of emotion at his daughter being taken, by explaining that he is ‘a man of steel’, but even with this reasoning, his calmness is more down to poor acting than bad writing. Robert Englund, however, is brilliant opposite Snider as the equally evil, but socially more acceptable rough neck, and it is promised that he will also appear in the sequel.
The screenplay is fair. For a first attempt, Snider did a good job, apart from one line that must be the worst line I’ve ever heard: On discovering his daughter trapped – naked in a cage, her lips sewn shut, and having endured agonising torture at the hands of this mad man – Gage puts his gun to Henricks’ throat and says ‘Give me a reason!’ What? There’s the reason right there swinging naked in that cage, you looney! 
The direction was poor and did nothing to build any kind of atmosphere, so I hope there’ll be a different director for the sequel. The soundtrack was good, including tracks from Megadeth, Pantera, Marilyn Manson, and Anthrax.
Strangeland arrived in theatres before torture porn became a recognized sub-genre (post-SAW and HOSTILE), and it may have been a bit ahead of its time to be properly appreciated. With decent actors and a good director, Strangeland could have been brilliant; instead the film is below average. Captain Howdy was every bit as good as I’d expected, however, and I have high hopes for the sequel, if it is well produced with a talented director and a strong supporting cast.
DEE SNIDER’S STRANGELAND (1998). Directed by John Pieplow. Screenplay by Dee Snider. Cast: Dee Snider, Kevin Gage, Elizabeth Pena, Robert Englund.

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Wes Craven’s horror hit took elements of then-current horror films (numerous teens dying in graphic ways) and refashioned them into an imaginative alternative to the stalk-and-slash formula of FRIDAY THE 13TH, et al. The film combines horror with surreal dream sequences, bending our notion of reality and fantasy and creating a truly terrifying villain in the form of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). The dark, shadowy lighting by Jacques Haitkin captures a wonderfully malevolent mood, and the low-budget trappings actually increase the horror–unlike a major studio effort, this feels like a film that won’t play by the rules, that is willing to violate our comfort zone. Slightly marred by a studio-mandated ending (yet another CARRIE-type grab-and-scare scene), the film nevertheless stands as one of the great horror efforts and a worthy successor to the classic monsters of yesteryear.
Although Craven had conceived of Freddy Krueger as a one-shot villain, Robert Shaye saw the potential for turning him into a returning character. Actor Robert Englund returned as Krueger in a series of sequels that, despite their dwindling scares and tongue-in-cheek attitude, showed more imagination than either the HALLOWEEN or FRIDAY THE 13TH franchises. Craven even returned to work on the script for the third ELM STREET, then wrote and directed WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, a 1994 attempt to re-imagine the franchise as a movie within a movie, implying that the Krueger we’ve known all these year’s is a somewhat degraded, Hollywood incarnation of an eternal, undying evil. Despite the intriguing concept, the film failed to revive the Krueger’s box office fortunes. Eventually, the character made a big box office comeback in FREDDY VS. JASON (2003), but the film continued the trend of moving away from serious horror toward a more audience-friendly, “dumb hoot movie” (those are Shaye’s words, from long before the film was produced).
Fortunately, the grim, hard-edged impact of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remains undiminished after all these years. The original film may be a bit rough around the edges, and multiple viewings do tend to expose its low-budget origins, but the strength of the concept endures, and Craven manags to convey it with enough force and conviction to overcome the budgetary limitations. Watching movies has often been likened to dreaming, and horror films often seem like nightmares transcribed on celluloid.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET takes this connection and makes it literal in a way that is hypnotizing and beguiling, exploiting the cinematic medium to its fullest extent.Yes, there are plenty of shocks, but there’s something much more, almost worthy of the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges: an uncomfortably convincing suggestion that the reality around us may not be the firm bedrock we imagine, that it may be plastic and malleable, waking life not all that clearly separated from dreaming.

Watch the film online for $2.99
Watch the film online for $2.99

After walking out of a theatre (or turning off the home video player), you’re likely to find yourself feeling as if you’ve awakened from a dream to a new way of looking at reality, with your sense of wonder re-kindled as you ponder the implications. As with Borges, the concepts may not survive scrutiny in the real world, but that doesn’t lessen their impact upon the imagination — their ability to make us aww things differently and ponder the implications, even if we are not convinced of the premise. A NIGTHMARE ON ELM STREET is the best kind of cinefantastique, the kind that fires your imagination and lingers, long after the curtain has gone down and the lights have gone up.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Written & directed by Wes Craven. Cast: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corn, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund.

Hatchet (2006)

A tour of the swamp turns to terror in the horror homage HATCHET.

Slasher homage exceeds originals

This may be the bucket of blood that splatter fans were eagerly anticipating (those for whom FRIDAY THE 13TH is a fond memory), but it is also an excellent horror film with solid scripting and strong performances that make it appealing to a wider audience.
The movie is an unapologetic throwback to 1980s slasher films, with numerous tips of the hats to its progenitors. Robert Englund (best known as dream demon Freddy Kruger) has a cameo as an early victim; Tony Todd (best known as Candyman) puts in a brief, comical appearance; makeup man John Carl Buechler (FROM BEYOND) provides the carnage and appears on-screen as the obligatory prophet of doom, a drunken old loon warning the tourists that death awaits them in the swamp. Finally, Kane Hodder (best known as masked killer Jason Voorhees) plays the mad, mutant, and possibly supernatural psycho-killer.
Which is completely appropriate because HATCHET, like FRIDAY THE 13TH, is about some teen-agers stalked by a mad killer in the woods. The story follows a group of friends on vacation who decided to take a night-time boat tour; unfortunately, the boat runs aground, stranding them in the middle of territory presided over – or so legend has it – by the deformed off-spring of a lonely cabin-dweller who was killed by a Halloween prank gone wrong.
Set in the Louisiana bayou, the film has atmosphere to spare, and even the obligatory legend explaining the killer’s existence is presented with panache. The suggestion of supernatural overtones (the killer is supposed to have died in the fire that killed his father), along with the creepiness of the location, creates an ambience wherein the existence of an apparently unstoppable killer seems complete convincing – not just an obligatory genre convention.

HATCHET far exceeds its inspiration models, thanks to convincing execution by writer-director Adam Greenberg, who makes the gore scenes really hurt. Working with a convincing cast of characters – none of whom deserves their fate – he creates a wonderfully aggressive horror show filled with equal parts suspense and shock. Viewers won’t find themselves bored between atrocities, eagerly awaiting the next geyser of gore to break the tedium; even jaded gore hounds may find themselves squirming in dreadful anticipation of what will happen next. The film’s violence is unapologetically unrestrained; in fact, the film is almost too effective, becoming frightening rather than fun as the hapless tourists are picked off one by one in hideously graphic fashion: decapitation by shovel, a power saw to the face, and arms ripped out of their sockets, etc.
If there is any obvious flaw to HATCHET, it lies in perhaps too close an adherence to its role models, which inevitably served up obligatory “surprise” endings that left doors open for sequels. After exceeding expectations with its sense of credible story-telling, it’s a bit disappointing to see HATCHET surrender to mechanical genre conventions. The ending plays like a sop thrown to the hard-core horror hounds who don’t give a damn about character or story so long as there’s shock aplenty on view. The shock certainly works, but it yanks you out of the realm of verisimilitude, where you are genuinely frightened, and tosses you back into the movie-movie world, where you hoot and holler like someone enjoying a ride on a roller-coaster. The thrill’s still there, but it lacks the genuinely disturbing touch of something like THE DESCENT.


Victor Crowley confronts a tourist in the bayou.The film earned a reputation as a crowd-pleasing horror fave on the festival circuit in 2006. At its final festival screening, at Screamfest in Hollywood, October 2006, writer-director Adam Green told the eager audience. “Since we first showed it in March, this print has been all around the world, and I’ve been with it. Right now, I feel about like the print looks.” He pumped up the audience by adding, “Our best response has been in London, because those fuckers are crazy, but since this is the end of the tour and we’re back home, I think you can beat them. Let’s rip the roof off this place!” That was the first – but not the last -time that the audience erupted into applause.
The poster art for the film’s festival tour proudly proclaimed that HATCHET is “old school horror” (circa 1980): “It’s not a sequel. It’s not a remake. And it’s not based on a Japanese one.”  Truer words were never spoken.
After is festival run, HATCHET was picked up for home video distribution by Anchor Bay Entertainment, a company known for their excellent limited edition DVDs devoted to cult horror movies. The company opted to schedule for film for a platform theatrical release in 2007. The MPAA is likely to demand some major cuts in exchange for an R-rating. The film is strong enough to withstand the censors scissors without losing too much of its effectiveness.
SPOILER ALRERT: HATCHET drops a few subtle hints that lay the seeds for future sequels. In the flashback of the Halloween trick-or-treat gone wrong, the camera lingers on the masked face of one of the pranksters, without revealing his identity – which will probably be revealed in any follow-up. Most likely, he will turn out to be the alligator hunter, played by Robert Englund, who is an early victim in the film, making his death not one of random violence but of revenge.
HATCHET (2006). Written & directed by Adam Green. Cast: Joel David Moore, Tamara Feldman, Deon Richmond, Mercedes McNab, Kane Hodder, Parry Shen, Joleigh Fioreavanti, Joel Murray, Richard Riehle, Patrika Darbo, Robert Englund, Joshua Leonard, Tony Todd, John Carl Buechler