Galaxy of Terror (1981)
What hath Alien wrought? Legendary producer Roger Corman was one of the first to jump on the sci-fi train once Ridley Scott's 1979 film became something of a phenomenon. But, being Corman, the best knock-off is a cheap knock-off, and in the early 80's, he delivered not one, but two, such alien/horror opuses. First out of the gate was 1981's Galaxy of Terror, with the second being the far inferior Forbidden World a year later.
If you took the basic plot of Alien, sprinkled in a bit of Tarkovsky's Solaris and a touch of Zardoz and then cut the budget by two-thirds the result might look something like Galaxy of Terror. Set in the distant future, a group of space travelers receive a distress signal from a ship which has crashed on an unexplored planet. Once they get there they find the ship but no sign of the crew...and, hey! What's that giant pyramid structure plunked down in the middle of this seemingly uninhabited planet?
As expected, the crew start getting picked off one by one. Whereas Alien only has the one creature, Galaxy of Terror has several....or wait....does it really not have any? The horrors here seem to be manifested from the deep rooted fears of the characters by the planet itself...or is it by the pyramid? Coherence and lucidity are not exactly this film's strong points. To make matters even more muddied, this main story begins and ends with bookends that seem to involve a universal god playing a game and that the events on the planet represent a game board? Maybe? And the characters are pawns? Or something? Who knows. In any case, all of this is beside the point. The important questions are: Is the film scary? Are the creatures cool? Is there any fun to be had? No, it's not scary, but the creatures are interesting and there is definitely fun to be had. There is a bit of a kick trying to figure out the demise of each character based on what information we are given about them. We get death by icky leeches, disembodied arms, phantom clones and one buxom blonde is even ravaged to death my a monster-sized maggot that naturally rips all of her clothes off and coats her with oily slime before she is killed.
The makeup, special effects and sets aren't exactly top of the line. For every one that works, like the makeup on a character that is burnt to a crisp or the famous 'head explosion' scene, there are several that don't, such as the lousy spaceship models, the laughably cheap looking (and impractical) set designs and some pretty poor creature effects.
Another point of interest is the cast which is comprised of stars of yesterday, today (circa 1981), and tomorrow. We have Edward Albert (the son of Eddie Albert, who went on to a lengthy film and television career), Robert Englund (before his reign as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street), veteran actor Ray Walston (Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Grace Zabriskie (favorite character actress of David Lynch) , Erin Moran (Joanie from TV's Happy Days), Zalman King (future director of soft-core junk Two-Moon Junction, Wild Orchid and Red Shoe Diaries) and Sid Haig (whose career has recently been resurrected by Rob Zombie).
And let us not forget Oscar-winning director James Cameron who cut his teeth as a 2nd Unit Director here and was responsible for making the maggots squirm by using jolts of electricity. We've all got to start somewhere, don't we?