Long before Event Horizon (but, perhaps more importantly, shortly after the original Alien), there was 1981’s Galaxy of Terror!
Produced by Roger Corman and featuring production design and second unit work from James Cameron, Galaxy of Terror tells the story of what happens when, in the future, the crew of the Quest are dispatched to a mysterious planet. They’re on a rescue mission but what they don’t realize is that they’re heading into a trap!
The crew of the Quest is virtually a who’s who of cult actors.
The youngest member of the crew is Cos. Cos is scared of everything and, from the minute you see him, you can tell that he’ll probably be the first to die. Cos is played by Jack Blessing, who subsequently became a very in-demand voice over artist. You may not recognize the name or the face but you’ve probably heard the voice.
Captain Trainor, who is still troubled by a disastrous mission in the past, is played by Grace Zabriskie, who is rumored to have inspired Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” and who subsequently became a regular member of David Lynch’s stock company.
The fearsome Quuhod is played by one of the patron saints of exploitation filmmaking, the one and only SID HAIG! Quuhod doesn’t say much but Sid Haig doesn’t have to say much to make an impression.
Technical officer Dameia is played by Taaffe O’Connell. She suffers through the film’s most infamous and distasteful scenes, in which she’s assaulted by a gigantic space worm. That scene was apparently insisted upon by Roger Corman and it’s not easy to watch. At the same time, since the film takes place on a planet that is ruled by pure evil, the scene somehow works. It’s that scene that tells you that Galaxy of Terror is not going to be your typical B-movie. That is the scene that says, “This movie is going to give you nightmares!”
Ranger is played by Robert Englund! That’s right — the original Freddy Krueger himself. It’s interesting to see Englund in this role because Ranger is actually one of the only likable characters in the film. It’s strange to see the future Freddy Krueger being menaced by the same type of threats that he unleashed on Elm Street. But Englund does a good job in the role. In fact, he does so well that you wonder what would have happened in his career if he hadn’t been forever typecast as the man of your nightmares.
The arrogant and cocky Baelon is played by future director, Zalman King. It says something about King’s acting career that Galaxy of Terror is not the strangest film that he ever appeared in.
Burned-out Commander Ilvar is played by Bernard Behrens, who is one of those character actors who has a very familiar face. If you watch any movie from the 80s or 90s that features a weary homicide detective or an unsympathetic bureaucrat, it’s entirely possible that he was played by Bernard Behrens.
Kore, the ship’s cook, is played by Ray Waltson, who is another one of those very familiar character actors. Over the course of his long career, Waltson appeared in everything from The Apartment to The Sting to Fast Times At Ridgemont High to a countless number of TV shows and TV movies. Waltson was usually cast in comedic roles so it’s interesting to see him here, playing a role that is very much not comedic.
Alluma, an empath, is played by Erin Moran, who was best known for playing Ron Howard’s bratty sister on the somewhat terrible (but apparently popular and deathless) sitcom, Happy Days. Moran’s explosive death scene is another reason why Galaxy of Terror has a cult following.
And finally, the “star” of the film is Edward Albert, who plays Cabren. To return to my earlier comparison to Event Horizon, Edward Albert has the Laurence Fishburne role.
Anyway, our crew is sent on a rescue mission but, when they crash land on the planet Morganthus, they find themselves outside of a desolate pyramid. They make the mistake of exploring the pyramid and end up being confronted by their greatest fears. (They also eventually discover that one of their crewmates is a traitor.) It’s pretty much a typical sci-fi slasher film but it makes an impression because, thematically, it’s just so dark. The fears that attack the crew members are so ruthless and brutal that they will take even the most jaded of horror fans by surprise. Galaxy of Terror is relentless and merciless in its effort to scare the audience.
What especially distinguishes Galaxy of Terror is that, despite the obviously low budget, the entire film feels sickeningly real. A lot of credit for that has to go to James Cameron, who creates a lived-in future that actually feels a lot more plausible than anything to be found in Avatar.
So, if you have the chance, turn off the lights, watch the film in the dark, and prepare for a perfect Halloween nightmare!