Leave it to Roger Corman to make an outrageously obvious 'Alien' rip-off into a bizarrely entertaining mix of moody sci-fi and shockingly gory horror. Though the plots are drastically different and stray into dissimilar themes, the atmosphere and design is near identical. It's no wonder years later James Cameron, the original production designer of this low-budget feature, later penned and directed the excellent follow-up to Ridley Scott's masterwork. Even the script about a space crew on a rescue mission tries to appeal to a viewer's more intellectual side by slowly turning into a psychological thriller. All things considered, 'Galaxy of Terror' is surprisingly amusing drive-in material, seen as Corman at his most grand and ambitious.
Sorry to say, when it comes to some of the worst of the worst, the movie tends to be listed in the top quarter for many. Often ranked in the same echelon with such disasters as 'The Crippled Masters,' 'Troll 2,' 'TNT Jackson,' 'The Sorceress,' and 'Great White' — another dupe of a horror classic, 'Jaws' — being graded so lowly is actually more like a badge of honor. It gives those with a curiosity for bad movies more of a reason to see it. Remembered not only for how funnily awful the movie is, it's garnered such a large cult following that it refuses to be forgotten, especially for one particular scene involving an overgrown worm and a curvaceous crewmember. Adding to the film's oddity is a cast and crew that later gained familiarity — some more notable than others.
Other than Cameron, Bill Paxton also played a small part in the set production and coincidentally worked with the "King of the World" on 'The Terminator' and 'Aliens.' Robert Englund is, of course, a prominent name in the horror genre as the immortal Freddy Krueger, and Grace Zabriskie eventually became the memorable Sarah Palmer on David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks.' As for Sid Haig, his role as Quuhod with the crystal throwing-stars is arguably his standout performance. His recognizable character-actor face of 70s television and other B-movies, like 'Spider Baby,' 'Foxy Brown,' and 'Coffy,' is easy to point out for contemporary audiences as the energetic personality of the Rob Zombie movies.
Two cast members, however, arrived onto the set with a more respectable acting record, allowing for a bit of gravity to the movie's low-budget basis. Ray Walston, of 'My Favorite Martian' fame and eventually 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High,' plays the ship's cook with crooked intentions wonderfully. There's something about his soothing voice and elderly characteristics that always makes him so believable and trustworthy. Part of the reason for even doing the role was his attempt to break free from being typecast as an alien. Erin Moran also took part in this strange movie as a drastic change to her famous Joanie Cunningham. Only, Chachi couldn't tag along for this adventure. Interestingly, Corman also produced Ron Howard's directorial debut, 'Grand Theft Auto,' three years earlier.
Trivia aside, 'Galaxy of Terror' is, in all seriousness, a really bad movie. On the other hand, Roger Corman's atmospheric classic is also a delightfully schlocky cesspool of cheesy gore and hilarious dialogue, particularly in the final confrontation. I like to think there's an art to knowing and appreciating bad cult films. And this less-than-modest sci-fi/horror flick is one which can weirdly be appreciated outside its trivial history. While the attempt to cash in on the popularity of Ridley Scott's 'Alien' is unmistakable, 'Galaxy' comes with a unique and elaborate style that reaches far beyond its limited budget, thanks in large part, if not all due, to James Cameron's technical input and set design. And with a script that actually tries to be smarter than its uglier parts, the film is strangely well-polished and loads of fun to watch.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Blu-ray edition of Roger Corman's 'Galaxy of Terror' comes courtesy of Shout! Factory on a Region A locked BD50 disc. It's housed in a standard blue keepcase and accompanied by an 11-page booklet, which features an interesting essay by Jovanka Vuckovic entitled "Marooned on the Planet of Horrors." There are no trailers to skip over at startup, and the disc goes straight to normal menu options while full motion clips play in the background.
'Galaxy of Terror' is another cult movie with a sad, shoddy history in the home video market. For many years, it was only available on VHS and LaserDisc with little effort made to give this B-picture a nice scrub down to remove some of its uglier parts. (The 2004 DVD in Italy looked pretty bad as well.) But for this Blu-ray edition, releasing day-and-date with its DVD counterpart, it appears Shout! Factory has taken the time to dust off and clean up the film, because this really is the best the Roger Corman classic has ever looked.
Don't get me wrong, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) won't compare to better catalog titles with higher production value, but for a low-budget feature, the movie looks surprisingly good and free of compression artifacts. I did notice, once or twice, minor specks of dirt, but they're hardly a disruption to the video's enjoyment. The heavy grain structure remains intact, but it's consistent from beginning to end. Contrast is on the lower end of the grayscale although whites are clean and crisp. Blacks are about average, not that I expected any better, and shadow details range from decent to good for this type of movie. The color scheme isn't overly vibrant or dramatic, focused more on secondary hues, but the palette is cleanly rendered and stable. Flesh tones are healthy for the most part, yet they tend to be redder than normal. Considering its origins, the transfer is fairly sharp with appreciable fine object and textural details throughout. It may not look like much, but overall, 'Galaxy of Terror' makes a very nice Blu-ray debut, a strong improvement over previous versions.
As with the video, it appears Shout! Factory has also remastered the audio, because this 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is pretty darn impressive. While it has zero to offer in terms of rear activity, imaging exhibits plenty of action that spreads evenly across the soundstage. It may not be some of the cleanest dynamics I've heard from an older soundtrack, but the mid-range is surprisingly sharp and extensive. Everything is pretty much centered in the middle of the screen, yet strong fidelity details give the lossless mix an enjoyable presence that's somewhat spacious and welcoming. The center channel delivers clear, precise vocals so that fans can take pleasure in every cheese-infested line and the over-the-top acting of the cast. Previous versions may have been poor, but 'Galaxy of Terror' has never sounded as good as it does on this hi-rez track for Blu-ray.
For this first-time U.S. release on DVD and Blu-ray, Shout! Factory brings 'Galaxy of Terror' with a large and extensive collection of supplements. And best of all . . . the material is all new, which is even more reason for fans to rejoice!
Granted, Roger Corman's 'Galaxy of Terror' is, in all honesty, a bad movie. But, it's also a very well-made and elaborate bad movie, Corman's most ambitious film aimed to capitalize on the popularity of Ridley Scott's 'Alien.' Despite being categorized as one of the worst movies ever made, 'Galaxy' has the privilege of boasting the involvement of "King of the world" James Cameron. Part of its reputation, aside from seeing a woman violated by a maggot, comes from its moody, atmospheric style, unusual for a schlockfest. This Blu-ray edition is not one to show off the equipment, but the audio and video is a marked improvement, especially considering its low-budget origins. The first-time collection of supplements is the real highlight and worthwhile for fans of the movie. Everyone else will want to stick to a rental for a cheesy, gory night of fun.