I think most people went to see Prometheus, whether they liked it or disliked it, because of a little film from 1979. The cultural impact of Ridley Scott’s Alien cannot be overstated. It basically single-filmedly created the sci-fi/horror mash-up we’re all so familiar with now. In the early 80s, following its release, Alien inspired some wonderfully low-budget knockoffs that try their damnedest to copy the look and feel of it, hoping to also copy its success. Here are five of my favorite schlocky Alien-sploitation films for your enjoyment.
FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982)
This one I’ve seen only very recently and, boy howdy, does it try to be edgy. The original title for this movie was Mutant, which is much more appropriate, but it was changed to the more enticing, yet totally nonsensical, Forbidden World, I guess so it could sound like a Cinemax porn film. There is a great deal of nudity in this movie for basically no reason and the monster in question looks like it was made of papier mache and garbage bags. It was produced by exploitation mastermind Roger Corman and contains an unrelated space battle sequence from Corman’s earlier Battle Beyond the Stars. Though entirely in English, the only trailer I could find is the German one, which makes it even more funny.
GALAXY OF TERROR (1981)
Alternately known as Mind Warp, this is another Corman production done a year earlier and it definitely had the bigger pull. On top of featuring genre staples Sid Haig and Robert Englund, My Favorite Martian‘s Ray Walston, Happy Days‘ Erin Moran, and the mustachioed Edward Albert, the art direction was done by none other than future Aliens helmer, James Cameron. The story sees another hapless, blue collar space crew as they travel to a planet on which is a strange creature that can become whatever you fear most. These people have really weird fears, I guess; the crew’s token nymphomaniac’s greatest fear must have been having gooey slime sex with a giant spider. The beginning of this trailer also features footage from Battle Beyond the Stars, though it doesn’t use any within the film. As usual, the trailer shows most of the horrific bits. (Sorry for the poor quality, but it’s an old trailer).
In keeping with the ripoff nature of these films, William Malone’s 1985 movie, Creature, used sets and props from Forbidden World and space suits and model shots that look like they belong in 2001: A Space Odyssey. You could probably guess the story at this point, with a group of travelers finding a nasty alien somewhere in outer space, but this one has the distinction of featuring renowned German actor and crazy person Klaus Kinski in one of his least terrifying roles. That’s saying something for sure. For some reason, people don’t like the titles of these movies and so Creature was also released as The Titan Find, which is certainly less interesting. The special effects are a lot better in this one, done by some of the people who worked on The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s definitely not as “good” as the other two.
It wasn’t only American companies that decided to cash-in on the Alien crazy; it also went European! One of the first films to come out in response to Scott’s film was the 1980 Italian gore-fest, Contamination, directed by Luigi Cozzi (pseudonym “Lewis Coates”), who also directed the amazingly ridiculous Starcrash, itself a Star Wars knockoff. Though it doesn’t take place in outer space, the imagery is right out of Alien, with rows of creature eggs, chest-bursting, and shadowy caves. Like most Italian genre films, Contamination features prolonged “terror” scenes where the actors can really scream like the dickens. What’s cool about this is they really play up the government conspiracy angle, which was likely the initial idea, prior to the Alien craze. If the music sounds sort of familiar, it’s because it was done by none other than The Goblins (aka The Goblin aka Goblin), who did the funky electro scores for Dario Argento’s Suspiria and George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
Who’d have thought the sleaziest one of these movies would be the British one? Alternately known by the much less interesting title, Horror Planet, Inseminoid takes all the subtlety and metaphor behind Alien‘s central conceit and throws it out the window. This tells you right up front that this is about an alien that gets human women pregnant to propagate its species. We all know it’s about a hostile entity taking over our bodies and forcing us to do things, but where Alien does it with a bit of class, Inseminoid gets all rapey about it. It also uses this more salacious concept to get away with having a woman act as the malevolent force through most of the movie, saving on creature-building and makeup-applying. I love all the bad maternity puns in the trailer, especially the final line: “It is NOT a blessed event.” Just ridiculous. Also notable, this film was presented by prolific Chinese producer Sir Run Run Shaw famous for many of the great martial arts films of the 70s and 80s, and who also executive-produced Blade Runner.
There are literally dozens of other such movies, but these are the ones I think are most worth a look, even if just at which to chuckle derisively.