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February 3, 2011

Movie Review: The Terror Within/Dead Space (1989/1991)

I grew up on the early sci-fi and horror pictures produced by Roger Corman for American International Pictures in the 1950s and 1960s. At their best, they had a sleazy creepiness that really resonated with the young people of their generation. And they have stayed with me my whole life as touchstones to a time long past.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Corman produced another batch of exploitation films under the banners of his companies New World and Concorde Pictures. Many of them were made by people who, like me, grew up on the Corman AIP movies. And like those films, they spoke to another generation of youngsters; becoming touchstones in their lives.

Now Shout Factory is bringing back many of those movies in crisp new transfers. Some of them are being released separately, some in double features bridged by trailers for that total "grindhouse" experience. This is a reason to rejoice!

The disk I watched was a double feature of two ALIEN-inspired science fiction films: THE TERROR WITHIN and DEAD SPACE. Corman made a lot of ALIEN-inspired movies in the 80s. The best of them were the terrific GALAXY OF TERROR and FORBIDDEN WORLD; the trailers for which are both included on this disk. Sadly, neither of these two come close to them, but DEAD SPACE is by far the better of the two.

THE TERROR WITHIN from 1988 stars Andrew Stevens, Starr Andreeff, and the great George Kennedy for star appeal. It is set in a post apocalyptic future in which mutants called Gargoyles rule the wasteland. The stars all live in an underground facility. They find a woman running loose, take her inside, and find she is pregnant. She has been gargoyle-schtupped. The neophyte monster bursts out Alien-style and heads straight for the ventilation shafts. The rest of the movie is a by-the-books cat-and-mouse as the humans are picked off one-by-one until only two are left for the final showdown. It all looks pretty flat and plays like a TV movie. The exteriors are all shot in Bronson canyon, like most of Corman's 50s movies, and that at least adds some nostalgia appeal. The rubber suit monster is serviceable but nothing to write home about. The sets are cheap, cobbled together and flatly lit.

DEAD SPACE is one of the later movies in the series, and is pretty much a remake of the superior FORBIDDEN WORLD. Marc Singer and BREAKING BAD's Bryan Cranston star. Again, it takes place in an underground facility, and the creature (a runaway mutant virus) again escapes directly to the ventilation shafts. But this one has much more interesting characters and more complex interaction. A lot of smoke is used to add atmosphere and to bscure the cheesiness of the sets. The actors seem to care a little more about what they are doing than in TERROR WITHIN, and some suspense is generated along the way. The creature is a pretty interesting giant dragon puppet, which I thought was impressive for its budget. A little stiff perhaps, but never dwelled on long enough to get ridiculous.
All in all, I did have a good time watching these movies, and I am glad to have the disc. But it really made me hungry to see FORBIDDEN WORLD and GALAXY OF TERROR again.

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