Thursday, January 20, 2011

FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982) - a cheap Alien ripoff rendered in crud deco pop sludge

Roger Corman had a problem. There was a relatively expensive set built for his sci-fi epic Galaxy of Terror, but it was only going to be used for six days out of the week. Never one to chuck coin out of the window (besides, you could kill an innocent passerby), Corman told an aspiring director (Allan Holzman) to go ahead and shoot an opening scene for a sci-fi movie that had yet to be written. The scene involved badass intergalactic marshall Jesse Vint ordering his robot sidekick to blow the shit out of some Battle Beyond the Stars stock footage. Did you think I was fucking with you in the Turkish Star Wars review when I quipped about Corman space movies continually reusing Battle Beyond the Stars stock footage? I was not fucking with you.

This opening doesn't have much to do with anything, as you might expect. Vint quickly ditches his epic space battle to investigate a genetic engineering experiment gone extremely awry, as these things are wont to do. Throwing random genes together may seem like an exciting scientific venture on the surface, and may in fact lead to all sorts of important discoveries or what have you. However, if this experiment occurs within a sci-fi movie, whatever results from said gene splicing will probably start eating people. See recent example Splice, or indeed any aci-fi movie where a genetic mutation/splicing takes place. Nobody ever goes through a genetic mutation and gains a useful skill, unless it's the origin story for a superhero. In that case, it's really just some bullshit thrown out there to justify why some spandex wearing freak has magical powers.

So, here we have a group of ragtag misfits in an enclosed spaceship set being stalked by some Alien-esque monster, but with some interesting twists. For starters, the monster is an interior creation instead of an exterior force, created when a dead crew member's DNA is spliced with some sort of bacteria that causes rapid genetic growth. The result, as resident mad scientist Fox Harris explains, is a "metamorph", a genetic mutant that continually alters it's genetic structure as it rapidly grows. While some may dismiss this as typical faux-science movie speak, I do find it conceptually interesting. Also, it helps that Fox is delivering these lines. Let me put it this way: would I buy a used car from Fox Harris? Yes I fucking would. There's room to MOVE in a Chevy Malibu.

While Alien famously featured spaceship sets that were grimy and industrial, here we have sort of a cheaper, pop arty version of that, with the fluorescent and colored lighting and odd touches (like an aquarium). There is also a consistent contrast between sensuality and gross out horror. While the floors of the lab room are covered in blood and organs and god knows what, and victims are rendered as bloody piles of goo, crew members June Chadwick (This is Spinal Tap, of course) and Dawn Dunlap, in white and pink jumpsuits respectively, strut around within their respective styles. They're not really there for their scientific contributions (despite lip service to the contrary), but rather, an erotic counterpoint to the "human organism reduced to genetic slop" aesthetic. June vamps using limited physical movement, a confident British lass strutting in robotic strides, while Dawn is equally alluring in her gentle sadness. After all, the first victim is her boyfriend, Tommy from Valley Girl, and she's under a hopelessly fashionable pall the rest of the film. To get her mind off of her one true love being eaten by a monster, she slips into a baby doll (thank god) before eventually doing some cosmic sunbathing completely in the buff (that'll get her mind off of things).

Is it in 3-d? No, but your face is! OH SNAP! Like, for sure. Totally for sure.

Yeah, Dawn may be on a space mission, but she needs to get some tanning done. DEAL WITH IT.

This eroticism/horror contrast most blatantly comes into play during the scene where Vint has some interstellar nookie with June while another crew member looks on, using his futuristic VHS surveillance equipment while playing with his space yo-yo (no perverted double entendre here; he is LITERALLY playing with a space yo-yo, thank you). The sex scene is rendered in an awesome pop art montage, set to a rad synth theme. When the peeping tom has had enough, he decides to explore the ship alone in the dark, and is promptly eaten by the monster. This is intercut with flash cuts of the sex scene, as if he is pining for images of June Chadwick's grinding ass during his final moments. This constant tension between eroticism and bloody slop creates an odd dynamic that is difficult to put into words, but makes this movie maybe the most unique of the blatant Alien ripoffs.

After being devoured, the peeping tom's body metamorphosizes into a self-reproducing pile of protein, basically a replicating food source for the monster. The astute viewer may be struck with the crushing fist of irony if they had paid attention during the scene where it was explained that the original experiments with this bacteria was an attempt to create a self-reproducing food source. You know, to fight world hunger and shit. You end world hunger and people are gonna shower you with awards and money and fame and maybe even one of those singing telegram hookers (if such a thing exists).


The lovely Dawn Dunlap only had a few movie roles, and never quite became the B-movie starlet one might've anticipated from this film, but she did star in Heartbreaker, one of the few lowrider-sploitation movies (the most famous one being Boulevard Nights). She is most famous, I guess, for her role in David Hamilton's Laura, as the underage Ballet student (although I think she was 17 or 18 at the time) who falls in love with an erotic sculptor.

Forbidden World was director Allan Holzman's first film, and he curiously begins and ends the film with a quick cut montage of images from the entire movie, further lending to the idea of a pop art take on b-grade pulp material, while never standing outside of the genre. He also began his second film, Out of Control, with an awesome five minute pop arty music video montage, including quick cuts of Sherilyn Fenn licking a lollipop while riding a motorcycle for no discernible reason, not that you need an excuse to show Sherilyn licking a lollipop. It's set to the tune of the fairly catchy Out of Control theme song, but I think the movie would have been better served if they went ahead and licensed Warlock's song "Out of Control" instead. Perhaps the movie wouldn't have descended into obscurity if it had begun with a slick, partially sexy montage married to a fist pumping adrenaline rush, rather than some honky attempt at funky dance pop. Then again, maybe the kids like something they can tap their feet to. Perhaps someone like myself, he who is perpetually out of step with the times, should stop judging current tastes and trends.

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