The second of Roger Corman’s Alien knock-offs, 1982’s Forbidden World (originally titled Mutant, a name that never made it into theaters but was resurrected for the film’s home video release in certain international markets) is more directly —- uhmmmm — inspired by, to be polite about it, Ridley Scott’s soon-to-be-sullied-by-a-completely-unnecessary-prequel “dark science fiction” masterpiece, although you’d never know it by the first few minutes of the film.
That’s because this sequence of garden-variety, none-too-carefully-explained “space chase” nonsense was put together over one weekend by director Allan Holzman to show Corman that he had the chops to tackle a Lawrence Of Arabia-in-space project that our guy Roger had long been cooking up in his head. Corman agreed that the de facto short film was pretty good stuff, hired Holzman to direct the full feature he had in mind, then decided the whole Lawrence Of Arabia thing was gonna be too expensive and said yes when Holzman suggested they just rip Alien off instead. Ever the budget-conscious B-mogul, though, Corman decided to go ahead and keep the five-or-so-minutes of footage Holzman had already shot as the eventual finished product’s pre-opening-credits sequence, even though it would end up having nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the flick apart from introducing the two main characters.
And that, my friends, is how legends (bear with me, it sounds dramatic and I’m in a dramatic mood) are born.
Okay, fair enough — to call Forbidden World a “legendary” movie is one hell of a stretch. But, like 1981’s Corman-produced Galaxy Of Terror, it’s a surprisingly none-too-shabby piece of admittedly throwaway entertainment that’s more concerned with delivering the goods on time and on (hell, let’s be honest, given Roger’s notorious penny-pinching ways under) budget than it is about setting the world on fire with the next great genre “game-changer.” The audience will get it’s money’s worth, New World Pictures will get more than their money’s worth, and everybody walks away happy.
Once we do get into the story proper after all the opening nonsense, we find, none-too-shockingly of course, that the setup is simple enough — intergalactic bounty hunter Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) and his robot sidekick SAM-104 (Don Olivera) are called to the remote planet of Xarbia to help investigate (polite-speak, as we all know, for “come in here and do some killing”) why a genetically-engineered super-creature known as “Subject 20” has gone rogue and started killing when the elite scientific team that developed it were just trying, bless their hearts, to produce an organism that was going to be used to help alleviate a vaguely-alluded-to universal food shortage (go figure that one out). Once there, he discovers that the two main female scientists at the top-secret research lab (June Chadwick and Dawn Dunlap, respectively) are hot to trot and will drop their lab coats for him more or less instantly (when they’re not busy soaping each other up in the communal shower, of course), and that things are a hell of a lot worse than they had let on because the creature is changing its genetic structure constantly for reasons the researchers are loathe to admit (here’s a hint, though : the fact that it not only understands, but can communicate in, English via computer later in the film, largely seen as a laughable and absurd plot hole of the highest order, is actually a pretty clever hint as to the true nature of “Subject 20” — although it seems to have a radically different idea of what it means to “coexist” than its human counterparts do, as evidenced by its actions taken when asked if they can do just that , and I still don’t know how the hell it’s able to type — but I’ve said too much already).
In any case, if your idea of a good time in front of the home-viewing screen is ugly giant monsters going on tear-ass kill sprees interspersed with pretty-nice-looking women getting naked half the time they’re on screen, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Forbidden World. Holzman’s a pretty capable director who uses moody lighting and interesting camera perspectives to cover for the deficiencies in his (largely assembled from styrofoam McDonald’s containers (remember those?) and Carnation milk cartons — really) sets, the creature itself is very nicely realized in all its various permutations, and the story, while dry and straightfoward, delivers all the goods.
But hey — did I just say dry and straightforward? Please forgive me, because that only applies to the 77-minute , theatrically-released Forbidden World cut of the film. Allow me to explain —-
The friendly crew over at Shout! Factory have seen fit to release this flick in both its versions as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” DVD and Blu-Ray series (it’s a double-disc set on DVD, but they jam it all onto one for the Blu-Ray) and the longer, original Mutant cut (preferred by director Holzman), while still only a lean and mean 82 minutes in length, actually has quite a bit of self-deprecating humor and shows that the folks behind the camera knew they were making not just a knock-off, but a send-up here. Unfortunately, Corman hated the humor (he even slapped a patron in the head at a preview showing for laughing at the film, and ended up getting a Coke dumped on him by another unruly customer apparently having too much fun later in the same screening) and had all of it excised from the film, along with redubbing SAM-104’s robotic voice with a more bog-standard human-sounding one.
Anyway, onto the specs — the theatrical version on Shout! Factory’s release is presented in a stunning 1.85:1 high-definition widescreen transfer with full 5.1 surround sound (the Mutant cut is presented 4:3 full frame with mono sound and essentially no remastering done from what I can tell — guess Corman still isn’t too fond of it, but hey, it does include a commentary from Holzman — be warned, he stutters quite a bit, but is obviously a very bright and inisghtful guy and his memories of the production are sharp — and Mondo Digital webmaster/DVD Delirium author Nathaniel Thompson) and, as far as extras go, in addition to the parenthetically-mentioned commentary, we’ve got some great behind-the-scenes featurettes including one on the special effects and set work done on the film, one on the genesis of the project with Corman and Holzman interviews, one on the actors featuring an interview with Jesse Vint, one on the movie’s remarkably atmospheric electronic music score with composer Susan Justin — you get the picture. All are playable as stand-alone segments or in one long interlocked documentary, as is the case on the Galaxy Of Terror disc. Rounding out the whole thing we have an extensive poster and still gallery, the original theatrical trailer for the film, and trailers for some of the other “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” titles. All in all, an exhaustively well-done package that makes for a fine addition to your home viewing library.
In short, then, any way you slice (or edit) it, this is a pretty decent little cash-in-on-a-cinematic-trend-that-was-hot-at-the-time. Forbidden World delivers the goods without much pretense or flair but with a refreshing dose of pride in its workmanship and an eye for quality (as well as on the bottom line, of course), while Mutant does the same with a bit of a twinkle in its eye and a knowing grin towards the audience. Hardly classic stuff, but definitely better than at least a couple of the actual Alien sequels — and probably a hell of a lot better than Prometheus is going to end up being.