Thursday, October 11, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 6: Forbidden World (1982)

Roger Corman never misses a chance to get more money out of a production, and one of the better demonstrations of this is the opening of today's film. According to the director, the opening scene was shot before they even knew what kind of movie it was going to belong to--Corman just wanted to get some use out of the Quest sets from Galaxy of Terror before they were struck.

Which explains why a film that is such a shameless Alien rip-off that it was originally titled Mutant (more on that title later) opens with a space battle patched together from stock footage from Battle Beyond The Stars. Sure, it is a form of world-building, but the real reasoning for it is sheer thriftiness on Corman's part.

It's far from the first time, either. The world would never have gotten the killer plant comedy The Little Shop of Horrors if Corman hadn't wanted to wring another film out of a standing set.

Sadly, no one has yet decided to do a musical version of this film. That's a genuine shame, I tell you.

Anyway, back to that opening. A robot we'll come to know as SAM-104 (Don Olivera) is calmly piloting a glowing saucer-style spaceship when it gets an alert that a pack of space pirates is closing in. SAM immediately puts on some Beethoven and goes to wake the ship's human occupant, Mike Colby (Jesse Vint), from his cryogenic sleep.

In one of the film's odder choices, this triggers a quick montage of rapid cuts from scenes later in the film, presented as though Colby is seeing it. I guess waking from cryogenic sleep makes you unstuck in time?

At any rate, Colby quickly shakes off the grogginess and manages to help SAM repel and destroy the stock footage space pirates. However, Colby barely has a moment to relax before SAM informs him they've been redirected to a planet called Xarbia (pronounced "Ex-Arbia" rather than, you know, "Zarbia") to help them deal with a crisis.

Hilariously, director Allan Holzman suggests he had intended the film that followed this opening to be like Lawrence of Arabia in space. However, Corman did not have that kind of budget in mind, so an Alien rip-off it is!

Xarbia turns out to be a barren desert planet with two suns, inhabited solely by a science station. The science station is headed by Dr. Gordon Hauser (Linden Chiles), with scientific support from Dr. Barbara Glaser (June Chadwick) and Dr. Cal Timbergen (Fox Harris), along with lab assistant Tracy Baxter (Dawn Dunlap). The station's ambiguously assigned technical crew includes communications man Brian Beale (Raymond Oliver), security chief Earl Richards (Scott Paulin), and blond dumbass Jimmy Swift (Michael Bowen).

Colby, being a total dick to SAM, immediately shuts the robot off when it tries to greet the station's crew. Colby is more interested in flirting with Barbara and Tracy, especially since they are interested in flirting back--according to Gordon it's on account of the facility rarely seeing new faces. However, Colby is there to do his job and so Gordon shows him to the facility's genetics lab. There Colby finds a room full of smashed cages and slaughtered lab animals.

(A bit of a warning to sensitive viewers: those dead animals are very real. The production got them from a local pound after they had been euthanized and the set that day apparently smelled horrible as a result)

Colby assumes one of the staff went nuts, but Gordon and Cal explain that actually they created a new hybrid called Subject 20. The resultant creature was a mutant known as a metamorph, meaning it never stops mutating. The metamorph killed all the animals and then set itself up inside an incubator, forming a cocoon.

As a side note, you might think calling the monster a "metamorph" is another way to cash in on how the Alien is often known as a "xenomorph"--except that term wasn't used until Aliens, which came out 4 years after this film was released.

Well, Colby assumes they called him in to kill the monster, but Gordon advises that it is more about protection as the creature is too important to be destroyed. To help Colby understand better, they have Jimmy come in to clean up the dead animals while the rest of the station settles in for dinner and a slideshow. With the help of the slideshow, Gordon and Cal explain that Subject 20 was created by combining a new type of bacteria called "Proto B" and another organism. Proto B self-replicates liek wild, so they felt it was a perfect candidate to base a new food source on in order to combat the galactic food shortage.

However, when Colby asks what Proto B was combined with, everyone gets cagey and Gordon shouts down anyone who even hints at what it could be. Meanwhile, Jimmy proves himself to be the biggest idiot imaginable when he sees the cocoon pulsing and sticks his head into the incubator to look at it. He manages to survive that, removing his head to check in with Earl--but he left the incubator open. A slug-like creature pops out of the cocoon and when Jimmy comes back, it's perching on the edge of the incubator hatch so that when he attempts to close it, the metamorph launches out and attaches to his face.

"Oh God, who could have foreseen this outcome?!"
Jimmy's blood obscured the security camera, so the others don't know anything is up until Tracy goes to check on Jimmy and sounds an alarm upon finding him with half his skull missing. To everyone's horror, the metamorph (or "dingwhopper," as Earl inexplicably calls it) is nowhere to be found, despite there being no way it could have escaped the room. Cal is more concerned with the fact that Jimmy is still alive, despite missing most of his brain, so he hurriedly transports the body to his lab for examination.

Naturally, the metamorph hitched a ride in Jimmy's corpse and it makes its way into the station's vents when Cal leaves the room to get supplies. Earl takes his place at the security station as everyone turns in--which includes Barbara inviting Colby into her room for some casual sex. The sex scene that follows is pretty awkward for a few reasons. One, while Barbara is fully naked, Colby never takes off anything but his shirt--and that results in the reveal of some truly embarrassing "scar" make-up on his torso. Second, it's intercut with Tracy getting undressed and then mourning Jimmy, Gordon wandering the station, and Brian playing a futuristic saxophone. (Thus rendering the bizarre synth score diagetic)

"Dear Intergalactic Penthouse..."
Finally, Earl is watching Barbara and Colby banging while he plays with some kind of spinning yo-yo toy that lights up and squeals. It's uncomfortable enough at face value, but I can't shake the feeling that it's a stand-in for Earl playing with his dingwhopper.

At any rate, a malfunction alarm on Earl's station leads to him searching a particularly dark part of the station for the metamorph. This sequence, hilariously, features subliminal flashes of the sex scene every time Earl's flashlight swings over the camera. Naturally, Earl finds that the metamorph has now grown into something barely glimpsed, with teeth and tentacles that growls. Exit Earl.

The next morning, Tracy goes to take a steam bath in the station's sauna. She's being watched the entire time she changes out of her skimpy nightgown and lies down naked on her towel, but the slimy creature that startles her is just Colby. Bizarrely, she quickly gets over her anger at him walking in on her and is actually putting the moves on him within minutes. However, she is saved from that bad decision when she lies back down to wait for Colby to get undressed and the metamorph alerts her to its presence by drooling on her sunglasses.

The metamorph's attempt to land on her bare ass is thwarted by her quick reflexes and then Colby shoots it a few times. As everyone gathers outside the sauna to decide on the next step--with only a brief commentary from Barbara that Colby and Tracy were clearly interrupted in the midst of "explaining [his] scars"--the metamorph smashes through the skylight and out onto the surface of Xarbia.

Colby delegates responsibility: Gordon, Brian, and SAM will accompany Colby outside to kill or retrieve the metamorph. Tracy will monitor them from the control room while Barbara helps Cal out with his examination of Jimmy's corpse to help find a way to kill the monster.

Well, Jimmy is not Jimmy any longer. He's been transformed into an nondescript organic goop that has begun dividing to reproduce itself. At the moment Cal can't quite figure out why this has happened to what used to be Jimmy, but he knows that it's a result of something the metamorph deliberately did to him.

"For the last time, Cal, we cannot solve the food crisis with aspic!"
Outside, Brian finds what's left of Earl and then the others spot a huge cocoon left by the monster. Despite Gordon's strenuous objections, the order is given to destroy it. In the process of shooting the cocoon, SAM is somehow disabled by a reflected laser blast and the burning cocoon turns out to be empty. Gordon races back to the base ahead of the others and finds the big, fat, toothy metamorph waiting for them. It's starting to look very familiar, but also frankly adorable.

"It followed me home. Can we keep it?"
The metamorph lunges when Colby and Brian arrive, but misses Gordon when it smashes into a vent grate. Gordon helpfully leans over the grate so it can turn around and drag him into the vent with its teeth, however. And then Tracy discovers that vent leads to the control room mere seconds before the metamorph smashes through a glass wall and chases her into the lab with Cal and Barbara. Everyone except Gordon regroups in the common area.

Watching the cameras, the survivors see that the metamorph is in Cal's lab and is using its forelegs to shovel small chunks of the Jimmy-goop into its mouth. Cal finally understands what the creature's game is--it wants to reduce them all to this organic goop to be its food. Worse, it's somehow intelligent enough to station itself in the control room so they cannot radio for help.

So if they don't want to become a mutant alien's tofu dinner, they need to come up with a solution and quick. And unfortunately for Barbara, her decision to try communicating with the fiend after a steam/laser-shower with Tracy will end very badly...

"This is my boyfriend. He has a podcast!"
When Forbidden World had its premiere under the title Mutant, Roger Corman was apparently aghast at the result. I've always thought Corman had a pretty healthy sense of humor, but by all accounts he was not happy that the film had ended up as essentially a dark comedy. The story goes that he even smacked some people in the audience for laughing, who then retaliated by pouring soda onto his head from the theater balcony.

Whatever the true story is, the film that was released under the title Forbidden World had a few significant changes. The biggest change was that SAM's voice was changed from a monotone computer voice to that of a child, and two diagetic uses of "The Beautiful Blue Danube" were replaced by a generic synth track that is almost indistinguishable from the film's soundtrack. The only other changes were a few brief dialogue scenes that were cut out.

Yet, minor as these changes are, it is clear that they were done to make the film more "serious."

Those changes were, however, a total failure because you cannot take the silly out of this film. There is not a decision or revelation in this film that is not clearly motivated by taking the piss. I mean, just look at the ridiculous sex scene I mentioned in my synopsis!

Then you have the fact that every death in the film (save one) follows someone making a dumb decision. I don't just mean your typical "let's split up when there's a killer mutant around" horror movie idiocy. I mean people sticking their heads in places they shouldn't or attempting something blatantly unsafe.

Poor Barbara and Brian manage to get the most undignified and tasteless deaths in the film, too. Barbara gets fatally impaled on the metamorph's tentacle after it apparently tries for a, uh, "close encounter." (Which seems to be a blatant attempt to sex up Lambert's death in the original Alien) Brian attempts to repair the radio by climbing under another cocoon and gets electrocuted when the cocoon leaks goop, which makes it look like it is urinating on him. And even the origin of the metamorph itself, once revealed, only makes sense if the scientists are morons!

Then there's the delightfully macabre way that metamorph itself goes out. You haven't lived until you've seen a man trying desperately to feed a rubber monster a cancerous liver so it will vomit its guts out.

When Shout Factory put this film out on DVD and Blu-ray, they were able to include the Mutant cut as a bonus, though sadly in VHS quality. Comparing the two, I would say that Mutant is the better version of the film, but I love both versions. No matter which one you watch, you will have a sleazy good time.

For both good and bad, movies like this don't really get made any more. On the one hand, dreck like Alien: Covenant wishes it could riff on the original Alien in as entertaining a manner as this film does. On the other, I am glad that the average modern genre film treats its women characters with somewhat more respect than this.

Not because I object to the copious female nudity, mind. I mean more that Tracy is played as a total idiot with nothing to offer but her naked body and a lot of screaming, while Barbara the supposed scientist is just there to have sex with the hero and then get tossed aside for the other girl before being killed in a brutal (and unquestionably sexual) manner after she does something the hero told her not to.

Still, if you can look past that, this is very entertaining flick. It's definitely my favorite shameless Alien rip-off, and at 77 minutes it breezes past with very little drag. Plus, how many movies can you think of that rely on the hero having to feed the monster a tumor like he's trying to give it heartworm medicine?

This has concluded Day 6 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for F, click the banner above!

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