Even though science-fiction films are predominantly based in the realm of speculative fantasy and work upon the viewer's imagination, there have been moments in them which are more horrific than fantastic.
The mutant worker in This Island Earth, with his arms covered in veins and his brains bulging out ol his swelling head, that's horror. The frightening Id monster in Forbidden Planet burning through two metre thick lead doors, that's horror. And perhaps best of all: the biologically pure life-form of Alien with its slime covered series of interlocking metal teeth, that's real horror.
Although often not recognized as such, Alien (1979) is part classic '50s B-Grade scary-monster and part classic murder-mystery set in a haunted mansion. It looks like a total sci-fi movie, but its thematic essence and structural form belongs more to the horror genre.
Strangely successful in such an off-beat fusion of well-known elements, Alien has spawned many imitations. Director Ridley Scott has come to be recognized as a highly-visual director, considering that not only has Alien begot a few Alien juniors, but his 1983 film Bladerunner has heavily influenced the approach to set-design in films as varied as The Terminator, Brazil and Future Cop. Like so many British directors (Roeg, Anderson, Russell, Parker, et al) Scott comes from a background in television advertising. An old Chanel ad he did still pops up on television now and again.
What should be pointed out, though, is that Swissman H. R. Geiger supervised the production design for Alien and came up with the creature desigr for the monster itself. Geiger also directed two video clips for Debbie Harry, as well as doing album covers for her and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. He is currently working on the production design for Poltergeist II: The Other Side. Geiger's Alien is a monster born of scientific research and expressionists art — horrifyingly unimaginable, yet terrifyingly real.
The orginality and precision of Alien has never been matched by its imitators which range from the slightderivations to the blatant rip-offs. Let's take a look then at some of Alien's progeny.
The cheapest first – and wouldn't you just know it's Italian? It's called Alien Terror (1980). Now, the Italian cinema is probably the world's most confusing cinema, what with its endless stream of rip-offs, pseudonyms and title-changes. I think the English title of this film is Contamination (which was changed somewhere along the line from Aliens Arrive On Earth) and apparently the U.S. release contains extra re-shot gore footage — all of which seems to be on the Australian video copy.
The man responsible for all of this is a certain Lewis Coates. but you and l can just call him Luigi Cozzi. He also directed Starcrash and the remake of Hercules. Oh yes, and the U.S. video release is titled Alien Contamination. Are you with me?
Alien Terror features gooey green eggs which hatch and let loose the appropriate "biologically pure" life-form which proceeds to tear apart space-suited bodies in every possible way. I mean this film is your full anatomy stuff — no bone left unturned. Or limb. Or organ. It's not concerned with sci-fi, but instead is agape with gore. Whereas other Italian films have swiped bits from Alien, Alien Terror goes the whole hog and delivers a bloody photocopy which pleases through its absurd excessiveness.
Never one to be beaten by a bunch of spaghetti twirlers, America's New World Pictures were quick to shove us an Alien clone in a totally over the top film called Mutant (1982). Well, let's put it this way: in America it was called Forbidden World; when it was theatrically released in Australia it was called Mutant; but then the Australian video release was retitled Forbidden World because there's another Oz video release called Mutant, directed by John Carlos, but in the States that was called Dark Shadows . Phew!
Anyway, Forbidden World has an alien so Alien-like, H. R. Geiger could have easily sued for breach of copyright on his creature design. But I guess he didn't bother because you can see that this spider-like alien has black lame legs. Funky! And wait till you see the scenes where a guy — alive and fully conscious — is turned into a living blob of protein off which the alien snacks now and then. We've also got alien-rape (a la Inseminoid); a scientist performing an operation on himself to cut out some of his alien-infected insides; and some brutal face-hugging where a guy looks like he's having his face chewed up by a living liver. New World delivers the hot tamales once again!
The special effects make-up for Forbidden World was handled by John Beuchler and Steve Neil and utilized some leftover sets from another New World film, Galaxy Of Terror (1981) (also known as Mindwarp: A Infinity Of Terror and Planet Of Horrors) which is another gory Alien rip-off with exploding bodies and giant sex-starved worms. Unfortunately it hasn't been released here on video yet, but rest assured that it will be under a new title.
For laughs there's a send-up of the chest-bursting scene in the sci-fi sex spoof Galaxina (1980), with creature designs by Gremlins' Chris Walas, and on the more serious side is The Terror Factor (1980)) produced by Bob Short with creature designs by Bill Malone. This alien is an organic life-form, the result of scientific experimentation which then goes on rampage in an urban setting.
Both Bob Short and Bill Malone have a sizeable background in special-effects make-up. The Terror Factor was Short's first film (co-scripted with Malone) and Malone's latest film is the 1985 son-of-Alien titled Titan Find. More title changes: its Australian video release title is simply Creature. Director Bill Malone also directed Scared To Death; owns the original Robby The Robot; and designed the Hamburgler for McDonalds!
He rebukes accusations of ripping-off Alien, but the plot to Creature is remarkably similar to Alien and his creature designs in both this film and The Terror Factor are heavily influenced by Geiger's designs. However Creature is a very well-made film — so much so that one wonders why they didn't put their energy into a more original film.
Creature features Klaus Kinski with a cast of unknowns, and even though it resembles a European production, it was shot in Burbank, California. Eggs hatch, bodies explode and a creature stalks the space-ship's crew members one by one. While it isn't as suspenseful as Alien, the film looks good and the gore scenes are high-key enough to be gratifyingly repulsive. Dig the scene when a woman peels off half of Kinski's face to reveal the organic brain-control device which allows the creature to use humans as bait for more human food.
And like all good Alien rip-offs, this one loves brains. (Next time you hire out the original Alien, you will find that some slo-mo zapping will reveal the metal teeth crushing through hair and skull to suck up the red and pink globular goo!)
There are many other films which have taken subtle or heavy-handed cues from Alien, but I've only mentioned those that are genuine 100% rip-offs. I mean, even with rip-offs, only the best will do.