Released in 1981, this film includes many names who were either already famous in their own right or would go on to become famous. Roger Corman, who either produced or directed every b-horror film the average person can name, is the producer of this film. The actors include Erin Moran (Joannie from Happy Days), Ray Walston (Glen Batemen from The Stand), Robert Englund (Freddy Kruger from A Nightmare on Elm Street), and Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding from The Devil's Rejects). James Cameron was a unit director for the film. Bill Paxton worked as a set-dresser. David DeCoteau's first job in Hollywood was as a production assistant for this film.
Despite having all that talent on-hand, this film is awful.
Some have likened this film to Ridley Scott's Alien, and much of the environment is reminiscent of the planet where the crew of the Nostromo encounter the beast that would chase Sigourney Weaver through 4 films. Beyond that, the two films have very little in common. The interior set designs reminded my of the old Battlestar Galactica sets, and the music (for some reason) reminded me of the video-game Doom.
The weakness of the film is its screenplay. Conceptually, it is an interesting idea. On a distant planet, perhaps well in the future, a society of technologically advanced humans is ruled peacefully by a "Planet Master". When a mission to another planet goes bad, the Planet Master secretly hand-picks a rescue team. What becomes clear as the film proceeds is that every member of the crew except for the hero, Cabren (Edward Albert), is neurotic in one manner or another. One by one, the crew is picked-off by weird alien creatures on the planet's surface, which each crew-member succumbing to a different threat. Each victim's demise is somehow related to their fears. When it is only Cabren who has not succumbed to his fear, he enters the heart of a giant, alien pyramid to face the truth and discover his fate.
Despite having a talented pool of actors with a good mix of experience, the characters come-off as wooden and shallow. The film's focus is not on the characters, although the story is character-driven. It instead is focused on the demise of each victim. This means that while you get to see each death, you, as a member of the audience, have little-to-no reason to care. The mystery behind their deaths is also hardly explored, so there is no real satisfaction with the reveal at the end of the film.
The special effects are old-school across the board; lots of rubber-and-latex, stop-motion animation, film-reversal, and the like... all very well done although a bit behind the times for 1981. The scenery is superb and grandiose in scope. A 2-hour virtual tour of the crash-site and the pyramid would have been far more interesting than the film itself.
Except for the maggot-rape scene.
After Quuhod (Sid Haig) is killed, Dameia discovers his body just outside the entrance to the pyramid. It is covered with maggots. Earlier, she mentioned how she loathes worms, and is fearful of them. She is totally revolted by the maggots, and uses her blaster to incinerate Quuhod and the little beasts. One, unbeknownst to her, survives, and begins to grow at an alarming rate. While she fumbles about, trying to call the ship or whatever, the maggot, which is now the size of a bus, sneaks up behind and over her. Sensing something is not right, Dameia backs right into the thing. She is quickly disrobed, forced to the ground, and appears to die of fright while the thing rapes her.
Did you see how fast her clothes were not only removed, but vanished completely? While I applaud just about anything as over-the-top as this scene, the ridiculousness of it is just another example of what I mentioned earlier. O'Connell has since claimed that a body-double was used for some of the shots in this sequence, but odds are it was not because of the nudity. She appears again topless later in the film. No, O'Connell had trouble spending hours covered in cold slime while shooting this scene, so a double may have been used to simply give the actress a break. This is also the "R" version of the scene, as some of it had to be cut to get the "R" rating.
I'd like to see what ended up on the cutting-room floor.As I said in the beginning of this post, the above scene is the only real reason to see this film. Thankfully, everyone involved with this film managed to move on to bigger and better things. Galaxy of Terror is definitely one film you can skip.