Galaxy of Terror (IT - DVD)
Gabe has nothing to fear but fear itself, especially when it's tryin' to kill him...
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Stop me if you've heard this one before.
A rescue crew is sent into deep space to salvage and save some space folks stuck on a scary planet. The crew finds a no survivors, and a big, ancient alien pyramid. Everyone's initial reaction is to assume hostile aliens killed the endangered space folks, and when a member of the rescue party is found mutilated, the theory seems sound. But as events unfold, it seems that it's not extra terrestrials killing the humans, but their own deepest fears.
Totting Galaxy of Terror as an extra gory Alien rip off is fair. It was produced by exploitation king Roger Corman within a few years of the popular Sci-Fi/horror hybrid, and shares a fair number of basic plot points. What I didn't suspect, and what I'm sure I would've had I actually read the plot synopsis, is that Galaxy of Terror has a lot in common with Paul W.S. Anderson's Event Horizon. Event Horizon isn't the most original motion picture in the world, and was based on a book, that for all I know was also the inspiration for this film, but the inspiration seems genuine.
Visually, and to a lesser extent thematically, Galaxy of Terror seems to predict its inspiration's direct sequel, Aliens. This isn't the pure coincidence it may seem, as Aliens creator James Cameron was actually in charge of the film's visual effects. Cameron's work adds quite a bit of production value to the typically low budget New World production.
Exploitation and horror fans will squeal with delight when they see Rob Zombie's killer clown Sid Haig, and of course, Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund. Haig's character is a nearly mute heavy that prefers throwing crystal throwing-starts to shooting laser guns, and though a small part of the film, he gets one of the better deaths when he's killed by his own severed arm. England on the other hand, is more of a lead, and is probably the best actor in the film. Some viewers may think the actor's been cast against type here, but prior to Freddy Kruger, Englund had always displayed a dramatic range, and an uncanny ability to develop real sympathy (just catch a few episodes of V if you don't believe me).
Though these thematic similarities to other films, and a fine exploitation cast (including soft core porn writer/director Zelman King) are good enough reasons for genre fans to catch this fun little flick, it's the absurd and grisly deaths that make the film a near-must. Though Event Horizon is the scarier film, Galaxy of Terror is the more imaginative. The idea of characters being murdered by there own worst fears is ripe for visual intrigue, as we've seen in the better Nightmare on Elm Street films, and considering the flick's budget the kills are gleefully and bizarrely inspired. This is a film best known for its ‘rape by giant, slimy maggot’ scene, if that's any indication of its quality for you.
On the not-so-good side is the fact that even at eighty-one minutes, the film really drags. The script's attempts at some kind of Star Wars-esque mythology fall pretty flat, and though they add a bit of texture to overall film, an even leaner gore-hound freak show would've been a better film. I also didn't care for any of the characters other than Haig's and Englund's, and though I'm sure this had something to do with the fact that I was already a fan of the actors, I have to give them props. Anytime a character other than Haig or Englund is talking instead of dying horribly, the film loses a large chunk of its appeal.
There are two versions of Galaxy of Terror available for purchase, and which one a consumer picks will be dependant on his or her preference when it comes to video problems. The UK DVD is pan-and-scan, so the viewer will be missing the sides of the image. The Italian DVD, the one I've reviewed here, has a descent anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen presentation, but has forced subtitles during English language playback. So the question is, does the consumer hate pan-and-scan or forced subtitles more?
If you speak Italian, then this disc is the way to go. The overall image quality is soft and dark, but one suspects that this is due to the fact that the original film was supposed to be both dark and ethereal. There are only a few occasions when the image becomes too dark to really tell what's happened, and for the most part the more graphic scenes (the reason you'd ever want to see the film) are clear enough. Grain is prevalent, but not distracting, and compression artefacts are minimal. Headroom does appear a bit cropped, leading me to believe that the original intended ratio was closer to 1.78:1 or 1.66:1.
Again, if you speak Italian, this is the definitive version of Galaxy of Terror. The Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital track is nice and robust, though honestly pretty weak when it comes to surround effects. This is low budget, pre-digital filmmaking, so the 5.1 is actually pretty unnecessary, but if you watch the film with this track playing you avoid the forced subtitles. It may be worth watching the film in English the first time to get the jest of things, and then simply utilize the Italian track for future viewings. It's not as if the dialogue is particularly important here anyway.
The English Mono track is perfectly acceptable, however, and though not particularly dynamic, it is mostly free of distortion. Volume levels could've been a little louder, as I had to crank up my receiver pretty high, but I didn't notice any audio hissing when I did this. Most of the sound is on an even keel, with the notable exception of some of the film's more cartoony sound effects. Some of the slimy alien noises would be right at home on the set of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Here we've got a small case of the nothings. There's a weak image gallery (not nearly enough hand painted posters for this one), and some in Italian only bios.
Galaxy of Terror can really lag, but when it picks itself up, it really gets moving. As a ultra-gory Alien coattail rider I stick it a notch above Contamination and a notch below Inseminoid (which I can't seem to find on DVD anymore). Fans of Sid Haig and Robert Englund will want to scoop the flick right up, and I think I prefer forced Italian subtitles slightly to a cropped frame, though I'm not sure how much of the frame has been cropped on the U.K. release. There aren't any special features here, though maybe someday a studio like Anchor Bay or Blue Underground will get their hands on a print and interview Corman and/or James Cameron for an extra. Until next time, watch out for giant, slimy maggots.
You can purchase this, and many other euro imports from our friends at Xploitedcinema.com.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 11th December 2003
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital Mono Italian, Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: Italian (Forced)
Extras: Still Gallery, Bios (in Italian)
Easter Egg: No
Director: Bruce D. Clark
Cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Bernard Behrens, Zalman King, Robert Englund, Sid Haig
Length: 81 minutes
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