Forbidden World ... it's made to make you go blechhh!
Roger Corman's non-stop assembly-line of B-flicks, trailer-trash, rip-offs, cash-ins and other assorted quickies, pap and tripe is legendary, and the fact that he actually produced some very fine chillers and thrillers along the way tends to get forgotten about. But the days of his extravagant and stylish Edgar Allan Poe adaptations are light years away from his early 80's SF/horror regurgitations, so, rest assured, schlock-fans, this is not one of them. Things like Humanoids From The Deep and Battle Beyond The Stars have a rogue, knockabout charm to them which we can nearly all appreciate. But it takes a special breed indeed to fully embrace the likes of Galaxy Of Terror, Android, Sorceress and this, his 1982 hybrid of Alien and The Thing, Forbidden World (aka Mutant) - so we're pretty lucky that I count myself amongst their jaded, exploitation-loving (and probably easily pleased) number, otherwise this would be a very short and doubtlessly negative review indeed.
“I think we should try to communicate with it. I know it's far-fetched, but it just might work.”
You just gotta love a film with this kind of reasoning, haven't you? Maybe they should offer this particular gastro-intestinal super-beast a Chew It!
During this period there were numerous rip-offs of Ridley Scott's seminal space-shocker. Norman J. Warren delivered the fabulously nasty Inseminoid, all shot in the labyrinthine Chislehurst cave complex, and boasting the sick rape-by-monster of Judy Geeson and an early appearance from Stephanie Beacham (and one that she'd like us all to forget). Luigi Cozzi just loved the chest-bursting sequence so much that he made an entire film based around it with the Spaghetti-splatter of Contamination (see DVD review). Bill Malone's backyard-made genetic nightmare was clearly enamoured with Giger's design-work in Scared To Death, although the director would improve on this almost exponentially with the surprisingly effective Klaus Kinski-starring creature-feature, Titan Find (and I cannot wait for that one to appear on Blu-ray, folks!). A bigger budget found its way into George Pan Cosmatos' undersea variation in Leviathan which, to be perfectly blunt, is actually more of a rip-off of Forbidden World! And Corman, himself, had already had a go on the xenomorphic merry-go-round. Just the year before, he had unleashed Galaxy Of Terror on audiences (there will a super-duper BD review for that one coming soon), and indeed a fair number of the plastic sets that James Cameron designed for that sprightly little shocker would be modified to fit in to this soft-filtered opus, proving that he was determined to catch some of Ridley Scott's lightning-in-a-bottle ... only on the cheap.
Bringing on-board Allan Holzman, his editor from Crazy Mama and Battle Beyond The Stars, to direct what would be his first feature, Corman famously gave him the task of shooting enough rough stuff in one day to impress him. This he dutifully did and, given the nature of Corman's cost-effective, waste-not-want-not approach to filmmaking, he even found that the material ended up being used in the finished film! This would explain the rather wild and bewildering opening sequence in which Jesse Vint's maverick interstellar trouble-shooter, Colby, is hastily awakened from his hyper-slumber by his robot sidekick to steer their Christmas bauble-shaped spacecraft out of the path of blobby laser-bolts fired by swiftly forgotten enemy raiders of undetermined origin. But before the laconic space-jock can rest up, his shadowy overlords issue him with new orders to proceed to the planet Xarbia in order to help some assorted boffins and babes take control of a weird situation that has begun to threaten the harmony of their isolated research outpost. Quicker than you can say Soylent Green, Colby has learned that the base has been attempting to solve the “galaxy-wide” food shortage by genetically modifying test subjects and creating a new protein source ... a protein source that has now, ahem, developed a taste for ... well ... them.
With a trigger-happy security chief (who is an absolute deadringer for District 9's Sharlto Copley) who spends most of his time engaged in savouring the voyeuristic delights he can observe via his banks of video monitors, a mad scientist who can't stop retching and coughing all over the supposedly super-sterile facility, a project commander who knows the secret of those few “special” ingredients that they foolishly stirred into the pot, and a couple of uber-gorgeous laboratory minxes who perpetually shed their clothes, Colby is about the only person with his head properly screwed on - and even he can't resist the temptation to get naked whenever the chance arises. Pretty soon, cast members are being chewed-up, digested, assimilated and mutated, and ravenous critters of all shapes and sizes are springing up around the flimsy warren of cardboard corridors and plastic labs, the frequently used alien-ish locale of LA's Vasquez Sands and even the New World Studios' backlot car park just outside. Characters typically “do the Alien” and wander off on their own down dark passageways, or stick their faces much too close to slimy, pulsating things that are obviously hungry. Blood and offal splash the walls, bums 'n' boobs bobble about. The script makes no sense whatsoever and the budget wouldn't stretch to a Happy Meal. But who the hell cares? This is just a riot of garish, self-indulgent fun from madcap start to stomach-turning finish, every minute filled with something to make you giggle, gasp or gag. It is great stuff provided you know what you're letting yourself in for, and just enjoy the ride.
Corman wanted a poverty-row Alien, but he and Holzman actually came up with something that belied such a superficial tag. Not by much, I'll grant you that, but Forbidden World has that finite and nigh-on intangible quality that somehow makes it cool, and certainly allows it to stick in the mind.
English-born June Chadwick was a newcomer to the genre, bringing a “bit of posh” to the ravishing Dr. Barbara Glaser as she shimmies sexily around the outpost in skin-tight uniforms that Col. Wilma Deering would no doubt have approved of. Such figure-hugging space-attire obviously appealed to her as, a couple of years later, she would appear in a similarly snug crimson variation as the rodent-swallowing alien, Lydia, in the successful original series of V, but here the seductive blonde would go a couple of stages further than television would allow. Getting down and dirty with Vint's valiant space-hobo is one thing, but she would also have to get to grips with her female co-star, the delectable model-turned-actress, Dawn Dunlap. The screenplay from Tim Curnan (based on a story by Jim Wynorski and R. J. Robertson) seems to embody a more hedonistic, anything-goes attitude to social mores and the bed-hopping antics of this crowd would definitely have a few more people signing up for a tour of duty on Xarbia, flesh-guzzling monster-mutant on the loose or not! Dunlap delivers some of her lines with all the personality of a used-sock, but she was most certainly not recruited into the film to enunciate Shakespearean quotation. Unsurprisingly hailing from a soft-core background (commenced at the tender age of 16!), she is one of the hottest little solar flares in this, or any, galaxy.
Looking at Jesse Vint, you really wouldn't reckon on him getting off with either of these space-babes ... but he actually succeeds with both of them, and the thing is that in this crazy universe you totally buy into it. Prancing around in his natty knock-off Luke/Bespin outfit and hefting a very phallic looking blaster, he comes strutting down corridors fabricated out of fast-food packaging with a galactic twinkle in his roguish eye and a penchant for showing off his hot-butter smeared battle-scars. His “new face” in the facility is quick to catch the attention of the scientific nymphs, who are seemingly so sex-starved that they probably even contemplated lubricating the working parts of the stranger's robotic buddy Sam-104. And none of the other souls in this lost outpost are in the least bit perturbed by his quick-to-please behaviour at shacking-up with their ladies.
“Showing her your scars too, were you?”
But speaking of the rest of the cast, we find that they are utterly disposable, although there is a likable loopiness to Fox Harris as Professor Cal, and being as he is responsible for one of the genre's most ingenious solutions to a monster infestation, we just have to give him some credit. But frankly, Linden Childs as Dr. Hauser, the egomaniacal boss of the establishment stinks ... and only really becomes tolerable once the mutant has fried off half his noggin, Harvey Two-Face-style, to leave him convulsing on the deck.
Ahhh, yes ... the gory stuff.
1982 had already become a profound year for state-of-the-art prosthetic makeup-FX. Two aliens had ripped the whole SF schematic apart. We'd had the cute variety, with Carlo Rambaldi's waddling glow-fingered turd, ET, for Steven Spielberg, and we'd had the big nasty cousin, in the gelatinous, amorphous grotesquerie of Rob Bottin's shape-shifting Thing for John Carpenter. Rick Baker had pushed gore and transformations into uncharted new territory the year before with American Werewolf and then that crazy Sam Raimi and Robert Tappert had broken taboos with The Evil Dead. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be special makeup artists and to gruesome create monsters. John Carl Beuchler was set to become one of Fangoria Magazine's biggest crowd-pleasers. He was to give birth to some spectacularly queasy mutations and manglings for Corman's Forbidden World. When a production actually forks-out for a menagerie of real dead animals from a veterinary lab to decorate the set, you just know that they aren't going to hold back on the fake viscera. To wit, we have bodily melt-downs, partially animated cadavers composed of what appears to be little more than mucus, a massive skull-invasion that makes the cranial crevice in Starship Troopers look positively anaemic and the impromptu and decidedly amateur removal of a cancerous tumour via box-cutter. The monsters, though, aren't things that bear close examination. The face-hugger-like entity is pretty cool, especially when stretched out like a spider with its vaginal undercarriage seen in horrible close-up, and the big black toothy Daddy version provides a couple of nice jolts when it suddenly appears, but there is an agreeably abstract quality to some of the mutated manifestations that seem to have been liberally “glooped” so as to mask some stitches and air-bladders. Aiding him with his creations was Evil Dead II's Mark Shostrom, who handled puppetry and creature-control, and even the guy inside the suit for the child-voiced Sam-104, Don Olivera, would also help provide some of the monstrously messy fx. Buechler would go on to gain fame and gorehound adoration with Stuart Gordon and Empire Pictures when he undertook the bloody classics of Re-Animator 1 and 2, From Beyond and the grisly 1989 version of Phantom Of The Opera. And, taking to his heart the old Corman ethos of branching-out and having a go in other roles, he even took up directing reins himself.
“No, I don't think you're evil ... I think you're mad! This place is a nut-house!”
Roger Corman had tackled satire and socio-political shenanigans already with Death Race 2000. He'd bounced from one genre to another and stamped his ramshackle mark on them all, yet his most threadbare and zaniest efforts had always been with Sci-Fi. Although he had the talents of many creative superstars to come at his disposal - Robert and Dennis Skotak, James Cameron, Hellraiser II and III's Tony Randel, Gale Ann Hurd etc - his off-world adventures all seemed to swirl out of the tackiest vortex imaginable. Never mind that these people were honing their skills in the sets, studios and workshops of New World, Joe Public could spot rubbery monster suits, egg-box walls, paint-chipped computer consoles with bugaboo blinking lights, and Star Trek-style polystyrene rocks a mile away. It is the fact that audiences were ready, willing and able to ignore such shortcomings and suspend their disbelief that empowered such designers and technicians to advance and to become even more ambitious and creative. Without the Corman scrimp 'n' save/make-do ethos, Jim Cameron would never have had the balls to make The Terminator and Aliens, the two films that would truly enable him to proceed with the hunger for technological know-how in order to mount the epic productions of Titanic and Avatar. And if these last two examples seem about as far removed from the cheap and tatty excesses of Forbidden World then you need to remember how Cameron toiled away on miniatures and spacecraft-design, animatronics and rudimentary visual FX for Corman - experience without which there would be no Pandora and no deep-sea submersibles. Beyond the sheer entertainment that Roger Corman's pictures offered in abundance, you just have to sit back and marvel at the how productive his cottage-industry seedbed has been to the advancement of cinematic spectacle.
Forbidden World even offers a few hints of previous SF outings like Silent Running and Saturn 3 with regards to the genetic experimentation and far flung eco-research themes, even if these elements are merely the reason that we find ourselves in this under-staffed, poorly equipped and under-lit establishment. The off-the-peg costumes are a hoot. When our heroes don outdoor gear to help combat the harsh desert environment they end up looking like a bunch of cut-price Tusken Raiders who hail from the Ceti Alpha V branch of the clan. And we can gape at the technology that allows Dunlap's Tracy to view the action of a mutant hunt outside the facility with TV monitors that can zoom, switch angle, reverse view and track individuals over rough mountainous terrain via red-eyed cameras mounted on the patrol's shoulders, pre-empting Aliens and even the laser-canon on the Predator. Mind you, even Star Trek seems to have deep-space cameras that can capture images both inside and outside starships across the galaxy with equally multitudinous viewing angles, so we shouldn't be so quick to point the finger of ridicule. But what is beautifully subversive and a tad sly on the film's behalf is the way that the screenplay takes the mickey out of the vogue for female characters to actually be the most responsible, resourceful and cunning. From Halloween's Laurie Strode to Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley, the genre was fond of crafting heroines in the face of adversity. And, here, on Xarbia, our two adorable chicks are the ones who choose to sidestep the more macho approach of simply killing the mutant with the more intelligent plan of simply trying to communicate with it. Of course, the great thing about a Corman flick adhering to such a non-discriminatory trend is that it won't adhere to it for long. So don't be surprised when the ladies' novel approach ends in merry disaster.
We can't fail to discuss the film's way-out score from Susan Justin. With John Carpenter bestowing ultra-stylish synth-beats and catchy electronic themes to his movies, and keyboard pop-bands dominating the charts throughout the era that spawned the movie, it would have been almost unthinkable not to have embraced the future of Forbidden World with something push-button. More realistically, and also taking the adage from Carpenter - it was quicker and cheaper, too, than hiring an orchestra. It is worth mentioning the haunting little piano phrase that we occasionally hear which has clearly been inspired by some of the more gentle passages in Jerry Goldsmith's score for The Omen, which does, inadvertently, deliver a little bit of class. But the thing about this majestically evocative and, at times, downright weird score is that it also has one of the sexiest main themes ever produced. And Corman knows this too, as it actually serenades a couple of gratuitously soft-core scenes as well. Jam-packed with orgasmic sighs and moans, composed of a completely warm and “organic” sound and driven by a softened, juicy beat, this theme is quite, quite awesome for all the wrong, as well as many of the right reasons. Honestly, there is a wacky, sleazed-up junk addictive quality to this that just demands repeat playings. Apart from a deliberately wonky high-pitched mock-saxophone bridge in the middle - that you just know Susan and Corman imagined porn-star John Holmes' making “f*ck-faces” to - this is a shameless 80's synth-ballad that I make no excuses for loving. Alien hisses and a spooky SF parody of Friday The 13th's famous chee-chee-chee-ah-ha-haaa notwithstanding, this is just musical erotica of the most primal kind. And, yep, I'm playing it as I write this. Nice!
And if the music and the gloopy FX remind of John Carpenter's The Thing, then the atmospheric camerawork from Tim Suhrstedt ( Android and The House On Sorority Row for Corman, as well as the smash hit Mannequin a few years later) seals the deal. A Steadicam follows characters down corridors and tunnels, forming a more claustrophobic parallel to Dean Cundey's celebrated visual dexterity. Strobe-lighting excites in some scenes too, which sort of recall some of the playful visuals in Carpenter's own Dark Star. With Holzman editing his own film as well, we get the distinctly odd use of flash-forwards during the opening moments of Colby awakening, which are then neatly replied-to by flashbacks at the end of the film. It is a curious device that he expands upon with a few almost subliminal shots interspersed elsewhere. All this adds up to a film that never betrays its lowly origins, but equally never quits trying to elevate itself.
And yet, when the finished film was shown to a test audience, with Corman and his crew in attendance, the film's comic moments elicited such laughter from the punters that the maverick producer is reputed to have thrown quite a tantrum. He didn't believe that a horror film could also be funny - obviously not having learned anything from his old apprentices of John Landis or Joe Dante, who would both create the perfect examples of the form in, respectively, American Werewolf and Gremlins. Whatever his misgivings, Corman contrived to remove six minutes of this offending material from the release print and even changed the film's title from its original “Mutant” to the now accepted “Forbidden World”. This was something of a blow to Holzman who had much preferred his own longer cut and truly believed that it worked much better than the more serious and leaner version that fans are familiar with. Thankfully for both Holzman and ourselves, we can now see this original version in all its comical glory over on the second disc in this package from Shout! Factory in a DVD Director's Cut. Now, one thing that must be said about this version, is that the infamous “penetration” by mutant tentacle that occurs to one character - something that has been commented on by fans until it has gained an almost mythical stature - is not much different. But the extra lines and other subtle variations do make for a slightly different experience. Personally, I found the movie hilarious to begin with, even in its supposedly non-funny Corman cut, the mock-serious tone almost spoof-like. So, to have some of these comedic elements brought out a little bit more to the fore just seems a touch too obvious now. And although I get the joke, I much prefer the synth track that the monster puts on during one pivotal moment, as opposed to The Blue Danube that Holzman initially had it play. That said, it is great to have both versions, even if only one of them is on Blu-ray.
Forbidden World, then. It sure ain't no Forbidden Planet, but Roger Corman's mutant-mash-up offers plenty that will delight schlock-shock fans no end.
Our Review Ethos