Galaxy of Terror

Geoff Harris

Galaxy of Terror (aka Mindwarp) (1981) is a seven-layer dip of science fiction/horror goodness. From Roger Corman’s extensive catalog (and featuring Art Direction by an up and coming James Cameron), the movie follows a crew’s attempt at a rescue mission of another ship on a remote planet somewhere in the backwaters of the Universe.  They encounter a mysterious pyramid that seems to be the source of strange happenings which begin to plague their efforts to discover what happened to the other ship. One by one they are confronted by horrors dredged up from Hell itself…or, is it their own fears which torment and eventually kill them off?

Sometimes simple is best. The plot of Galaxy of Terror has the tensile strength of tissue paper. I’ve seen porn that has more depth. But, when you’re eleven years old and your mother won’t let you watch something, that is EXACTLY what you want to see. There is an almost non-stop fun fest of gore and spine-rattling fright to make up for the lack of narrative structure. The visuals are sharp and the sound effects seem to be a what’s what of trope-tastic joy, including a couple from VERY familiar sources. (Hint: rhymes with Bar Drek) Half of my brain was “This would be a great remake!” and the other half went “Touch this and I’ll kill you! It’s perfect as it is!” Horror in the 80’s used light and shadow heavily to mask the rather low budget effects. Inspired by Alien, Galaxy uses the environment as a character. It’s a play on the Haunted House trope; let’s all go inside the big death machine, crowd together until we wander apart, and die like screaming hogs in a slaughterhouse. Cameron pulls out damn near every visual gag you could think of and pulls off some really skin-crawling moments. Honestly, there’s a scene in which a piece of a blade burrows itself under the skin of a crewman’s arm that still gives me a pause. Not to mention a woman being raped by what has to be the mother of all Freudian projections. (A giant worm creature that causes her to <literally> orgasm so hard she dies.)

<Fun Fact: The scene was originally so explicit it earned the movie an X rating and despite small edits is still removed from most overseas release copies. The film crew nicknamed the worm puppet “Maggie the Maggot”>

Cameron would go on the make his own films and become an A-List director in his own right, but you have to admire a guy who milked a 700,000 dollar budget to create some of the most iconic visual effects in movie history. It’s a testament to gorilla film making. With heart and sweat, you can make something which looks and feels amazing with little or no money. If you watch Aliens you’ll notice a few similarities between it and Galaxy of Terror. If it works, reuse it.

Galaxy of Terror holds a place of honor in the hearts of geeks everywhere. It’s a rite of passage movie. You’re just not quite 100% unless you’ve seen it at least once. Come on. It has a young Robert “Freddy Kruger” England, and Erin Moran (Joanie from Happy Days) getting offed in a way that will give most people claustrophobia if you didn’t already have it. I find myself reflecting on how influential this movie has been, not just on my desire to make my own low-budget films but in rewatching it for this review I couldn’t help but see how movies like Event Horizon could be said to have DNA from Galaxy of Terror, If only an echo in the back of the mind. Give it a watch. The gore is pretty tame compared to today’s ultra-realism, but we don’t watch movies like this for their resemblance to real life. We watch them to escape the doldrums of life. Pop some corn, grab a friend, and take the ride.

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