I’m sure this will come as a shock to everyone, but Ridley Scott’s Alien was a huge hit when it came out. Oh yeah, it made beaucoup bucks back in 1979. Rightfully so! It was atmospheric, had a great cast, and (most importantly) a unique monster that was as terrifying as it was sexual…you know it, I know it, I could fill an entire article talking about it. That’s for some other time, though. Mostly because we’re not actually talking about Alien.
You see, whenever a movie (or anything) does really well, you can bet brains to guts there’s someone who wants to cash in on that success. Now, I know that sounds like a bad thing, but that’s not always the case. On several occasions, creators took the idea of “horror in isolation” and made their own thing out of it…other times, they just copied the whole “alien pops out of person and kills people” angle, and tried to make it as close to Alien as possible without incurring a lawsuit. It’s a double-edged sword, really.
We’re going to talk about the former today! The ones that wanted to feel like Alien, but opted to used other types of monsters. Are they good? Are they bad? Well, that’s subjective, but I do believe knowing what you’re getting into helps with this particular experience. Let’s get to it!
1. The Terror Within
(1989; Directed by Thierry Notz; Starring Andrew Stevens, Terri Treas, George Kennedy)
“It’s the post-apocalypse, and the world has been changed by “the accident”, a chemical warfare experiment gone awry. At an isolated subterranean complex, a group of people survived because they were able to get the antidote for the illness. They rescue a surface survivor from the gargoyles, who unfortunately had time to impregnate her, and when the “baby” is born and escapes into the ventilation ducts, they begin experiencing an attrition problem.” – via IMDB.
So, let’s talk about B-movie mogul Roger Corman. He REALLY liked Alien. I didn’t look up any proof to back that up, but going by his track record in the ‘80s, I think it’s a pretty safe guess.
Okay, I must be honest. This movie holds a special place in my heart. It used to come on late-night TV, and I remember staying up to watch it despite having school the next morning because, you know, priorities. So if you expect me to have a bias…you’d be absolutely right. I’d fully recommend this movie purely on nostalgia, even though it only pertains to me!
On a more serious note, this film is basically a low-budget Alien with a change of setting. Instead of space truckers, it’s post-apocalyptic survivors. No John Hurt getting alien wing-wang to the face this time; instead, it’s a beautiful woman who was… ahem… violated by an unsightly monster, which is par the course for Corman. Also, remember the chestburster scene? The movie doesn’t copy it. Oh no, no no no… instead it copies the belly bursting scene from Humanoids of the Deep. This would be more egregious if Corman hadn’t also produced that film, which was copying the chestbursting scene, but it is what it is.
In my opinion, this is an entertaining watch. I like the look of the monster, and apparently so did Corman because I’m pretty sure it was re-used in Watchers 2. I’m not completely positive…just 99% positive. George Kennedy does his job well, and the acting overall isn’t that bad. It’s not a groundbreaking film or anything, just a cash-in of one. But that’s okay…to me, anyway.
2. Galaxy of Terror
(1981; Directed by Bruce D. Clark; Starring Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston)
“When spaceship Remus crash-lands on planet Morganthus, the Planet Master of Xerces sends the spacecraft Quest to rescue them, but it crash-lands, too. Baelon leads the away team, comprising himself, his rival Cabren, psi-sensitive Alluma, medic Dameia, martial arts fighter Quuhod and jittery rookie Cos. Finding only brutally murdered bodies aboard the Remus, Quest personnel start getting brutally slaughtered, one-by-one, themselves. With their ship still damaged, the team investigates a nearby, lifeless alien pyramid…” via IMDB.
Arguably the best movie on the list. Roger Corman’s (yes, again) first foray into riding the success of Alien, this one less overt about it than the others. For the most part, the only real similarities are spaceships, mysterious planets, and monsters. To be fair, there’s a lot of sci-fi movies with all those things. However, it’s more horror than sci-fi, making it stand out as a product of Alien.
First things first, Sid Haig and Robert Englund are part of the main cast. I don’t need to say any more about that, I’m sure. Second, James Cameron was one of the production designers. Third, there’s a variety of monsters in this film (not aliens, though I don’t want to spoil the plot of this 40-year-old movie), and they all look great. Fourth, a giant maggot violates a woman. Again, some of that Corman “charm”… or whatever you want to call it.
I love this film. It’s incredibly atmospheric, has a great cast, good (over)acting, and a lot of spooky creatures, making it perfect to watch late at night with the lights off. If only there was a movie to pair it with for a double-feature… that’s what people in showbiz call “foreshadowing”, so I’m told.
3. Forbidden World
(1982; Directed by Allan Holzman; Starring Jesse Vint, Dawn Dunlap, June Chadwick)
“On planet Xarbia, an experimental life form, Subject 20, has been created by an elite group of researchers in hopes of preventing a galactic food crisis. However, when Subject 20 becomes deadly, the best troubleshooter in the Galaxy is called in to investigate.” – via IMDB.
Take a wild guess who produced this. Come on, it’s on the tip on your tongue… that’s right, Roger Corman again! Yes, this is “secretly” a Corman list, too. If I have a chance to talk about the man, I’m going to take it.
He produced this one just a year after Galaxy of Terror, and you can tell because he uses the same sets. Why waste them on only one movie, you know? I can’t blame him for wanting the most bang for his buck.
Forbidden World is a fun movie… I could just leave it there, but I feel like I should explain a bit. It’s not as atmospheric as Galaxy of Terror, but it hits the marks on everything else, especially the monster (Subject 20). It’s this mutant genetic experiment that turns people into simple proteins (looks as delicious as it sounds) so it can have snacks later, which, I mean… I can relate. Anyway, it’s a neat concept. Also, the main character has a robot sidekick, so you know it can’t be bad.
Last note, the music. It’s great, some sort of synth jazz that feels like it should clash with the film’s tone, but ends up fitting in a weird way. They actually sell the soundtrack on vinyl, for those who want to liven up their collection.
4. Carnosaur 2
(1995; Directed by Louis Morneau; Starring John Savage, Cliff De Young, Rick Dean)
“A team of scientists go to a nuclear mining facility to investigate a possible meltdown and instead find a large amount of cloned dinosaurs.” – via IMDB.
Roger Corman wasn’t only a huge fan of Alien. Oh no, not at all. He was also a fan of Aliens! AND Jurassic Park! In fact, he loved both so much, he decided to produce a movie that mashed them together. Enter Carnosaur 2… also known by its more obscure title, Literally James Cameron’s Aliens but with Dinosaurs.
I don’t know what else to say about this flick. John Savage’s in it, that’s pretty cool. There are goofy looking Velociraptors, a pretty alright T-Rex, a cool scene where a character gets an arm torn off and their guts eaten out. I watch this film more often than I should because I rented it all the time as a kid (along with Tremors 2: Aftershocks). So, my viewing experience is hopelessly rose-tinted. Honestly, I feel you have to already be a fan of the Carnosaur franchise to really appreciate this flick. Even then, it’s less of an appreciation and more of a… fondness. I like it. I can’t say anyone else will.
I’d love to say where to watch it or pick it up, but there isn’t a consistent place to do so. You’re on your own for this one!
We made it! Sure, it ended up also being a Corman tier list, but the point still got across! That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. I’m sure we’ll revisit the derelict ship that is the “Alien Cash-in” library in the future. There are tons more waiting to pop from hapless victims and claustrophobic sets. Until next time. Ciao, friends!