Posts Tagged ‘forbidden world’

Let me know if the following setup sounds at all familiar to you —

Somewhere in deep space, Commander (of what we’re not exactly sure) Steve Krieger (the always-trying-too-hard-but-still-never-quite-understanding-that-he’s-just-not-leading-man-material Beastmaster himself, Marc Singer) is involved in a pointless shoot-out with a couple of other ships that won’t have anything to do with the rest of the story and is cribbed together from footage borrowed/swiped from an earlier production (in this case Battle Beyond The Stars). He and his robot buddy, Tinpan, survive the “ordeal,” but their craft is damaged in the process, so when they make an emergency landing in response to a distress signal issued from a top-secret scientific research lab on the isolated and remote planet of Phaebon, they’re pretty much gonna be stuck there until they can get the parts or whatever to get up and running and go “command” outer space again.

Once they’ve arrived at the lab, they find the assembled brainpower there is seeking a cure for the deadly Delta 5 virus that’s currently the scourge of the galaxy/universe (take your pick), but the eggheads start playing coy and insisting that everything’s under control and gosh they just didn’t really mean to send that distress signal after all. It’s not like they’re doing anything that could be potentially dangerous here, no sir — they just figured that they’d combat the virus by genetically engineering an even more destructive counter-virus (is that what they’re called? I honestly have no idea) and then maybe these two super-viruses can, I dunno, battle it out for viral supremacy or something. Basic logic might dictate to the average viewer at this point that any virus strong enough to kill another virus that’s already in the business of decimating the galactic (or, again, maybe it’s universal) population might pose not just a threat, but an even greater threat to us pesky humans than  the original Delta-5 bug itself, but hey, you’re thinking a little too hard there, friend.

In any case, that’s not really the problem here at all — the problem is that the new virus has mutated into an honest-to-goodness alien life form (hey, shit happens),and it’s escaped (rather forcefully, I might add) from one of the dumb suckers —- err, test subjects — it was implanted into, and now it’s changing its shape, growing in size, and stalking the humans at the base as its prey from its new home in the ventilation ducts.

Oh, and a few of the scientists are women who seem to have the hots for Krieger to one degree or another, and one is a youthful Bryan Cranston, who would of course go on to huge television success with Breaking Bad.

I’m not sure what we’re supposed to call a rip-off of a rip-off, folks, but this (admittedly snarky) synposis for first-time director Fred Gallo’s 1991 straight-to-video , Roger Corman-produced (okay, executive-produced — and to be perfectly fair, calling this film an SOV job isn’t technically accurate, as Corman still pulled together nominal theatrical runs (think one theater for one week in six or eight cities) for most of his Concorde releases, including this one, at this point — but he knew that home video was where the action was gonna be, so to speak, for this type of project, and put the whole thing together with an eye toward that market) shot-on- one-set, super-low-budgeter, Dead Space (no relation to the apparently-quite-popular video game or anime thing or whatever it is that came about quite a bit later) sure sounds a lot like another, admittedly much better, Corman production, namely Forbidden World, doesn’t it? And Forbidden World was pretty much just a straight cash-in attempt on the success of Alien. So what we’ve got here is, to put it kindly, pretty damn derivative in the extreme.

Of course, around these parts being derivative — hell, even being doubly-derivative — is hardly a cinematic crime. Some of my favorite films are obvious rip-off jobs. But let’s be honest — when you take Forbidden World and remove about 75% of the gore, 99% of the nudity, replace the hot women in the base with average-looking middle-aged ladies (no offense to any who may be reading this, I’m an average-looking middle-aged guy, after all), swap out Jesse Vint for Marc fucking Singer fer chrissakes!, and take the talented-and-inventive-on-a-budget Allan Holzman out from behind the camera and insert a kid right out of film school who you’re paying $7,000 (by Gallo’s own recollection, according to the commentary track on the DVD that we’ll get to in a second here — he also didn’t get to see the script until the morning they started shooting!) who’s just going with a strict “point-and-shoot” approach, the results are going to be both a)short (let’s not forget that Forbidden World itself was only 77 minutes long — this flick clocks in at a merciful 71) and b)anemic, because you’re taking out pretty much all the cool shit. The fact that the monster itself isn’t all that terrifically impressive doesn’t help matters much, either, given that this is supposed to be, ya know, a monster movie.

These days, with this production far in the past, Corman and company aren’t at all shy about admitting where this whole project originated from, although I still think the terminology they use is letting themselves off the hook a bit too easily — the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” DVD from Shout! Factory that I caught this on (told you I’d get back to it in a second — it’s double-billed with another early-90s Corman DTV feature, the somewhat better The Terror Within, features the above-mentioned commentary with director Gallo that’s actually pretty interesting and some other Corman trailers as extras, and is presented full-frame with 2.0 stereo sound for serviceable if unspectacular visual and audio quality) even says right on the back-cover blurb that it’s “a loose remake of Forbidden World,” and I’ve seen it referenced on IMDB and elsewhere as “an uncredited remake of Forbidden World.”

Well, piss on that. I know it’s hardly the most rigidly-definable line to draw, but I’m sorry — there’s a big difference (although, frankly, I’m not entirely sure what the difference is — I just know it when I see it) between a “loose remake,” or even an “uncredited remake,” and Roger Corman saying “look, I’ve got this old script laying around, we can just tinker with it at the margins, re-shoot it with a different cast, put it out right on video under another title, and presto, we’ve got ourselves a whole new movie that won’t even cost us $100,000.”  I think calling it a “remake” of any sort is frankly being a little too generous — it’s more a recycling.

Look, the late 80s and early 90s probably weren’t the easiest time to be Roger Corman. The kind of stuff he cranked out was too cheap for then-contemporary theatrical audiences, but it was a little too expensive, for the most part, for the then-nascent straight-to-video market,  and Saturday night SyFy network movies were still well over a decade away. I’ll give the man credit for figuring out some angle, any angle, by which he could still survive financially in Hollywood. But when you’ve hit the point when you can’t even come up with a new idea for a blatant rip-off anymore and just start re-shooting scripts you’ve done previously and done better, then you’ve really hit rock bottom in the creativity department, not that creativity in anything apart from marketing was ever a Corman strong suit. In short, Roger should have to stuck to stealing other people’s ideas, rather than his own. Even if they weren’t his own to begin with. Does that make sense?

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.