One of the most endearing attributes of Roger Corman – from a schlock perspective – was his willingness to recycle any available resources in the filmmaking process. If he could get more than one film out a set, a prop, a costume, a script or even a bit of footage then he’d do it. No other producer in the business could get as much production value bang for his buck as Corman – and that’s why remains the King of the B’s.
One of the finest products of this “if it works, recycle it” philosophy is Forbidden World. It begins with a blast as interstellar “troubleshooter” Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) is awakened from hyperspace to fight off some attacking spaceships in a skillfully-edited prologue. This scene is notable for being shot on a leftover Galaxy Of Terror set and utilizing spaceship dogfight footage leftover from Corman’s Star Wars riff, Battle Beyond The Stars.
This footage was the result of Corman allowing New World editor Allan Holzman write and shoot some test footage over a weekend to see if he was ready to direct his own project. The results passed muster and were subsequently grafted onto a new storyline modeled closely on the plot hooks of Alien. Colby arrives on planet Xarbia, where a group of scientists are engaged in risky experiments designed to create a foodstuff that can reproduce itself. They’ve created a kill-happy mutation in the process and Colby has been brought in to neutralize it so can be studied.
However, Colby’s talents are immediately put to use when the creature emerges from its cocoon and leaps onto the face of a janitor (Michael Bowen) who was dumb enough to leave its cage door open. The little beastie begins shifting its shape into larger, deadlier (and more Giger-esque) variations as it begins picking off the crew in slimy, nasty ways. Colby works in tandem with chain-smoking, terminally-ill scientist Cal (Fox Harris of Repo Man fame) to figure out a way to stop it before it kills them all.
The end results are exactly the kind of sleazy, trashy b-movie fare that bluenose film critics warn you to avoid – and that’s exactly why any self-respecting schlockophile needs to see it. Forbidden World is a textbook example of how to make a trashy knockoff of a hit film.
Everyone involved knew slimy creatures and gore were a big drawing point in Alien so they deliver a double-helping here. A who’s who of makeup-FX up-and-comers worked on this flick (John Carl Buechler, Mark Shostrom, Chris Biggs, etc.) and they deliver the gruesome goods from start to finish. Highlights include one crew member’s half-melted face after an alien encounter and another getting killed in a rather rude fashion by a rogue tentacle. The creature design shamelessly apes the Giger-esque biomechanical approach of Alien (albeit on a dime-store budget) but it’s fun in the plastic-but-endearing style of 1950’s sci-fi – and the climactic demise of said creature is one for the record books.
Better yet, Holzman also works in some noteworthy sleaze – in between alien battles, Colby works in a clothes-free romp with both of the facilty’s female staff members, the hot-to-trot cougar Dr. Glaser (June Chadwick) and the young, doe-eyed beauty Baxter (former nude model Dawn Dunlap). There’s even a delightfully gratuitous scene where the women converse in some kind of weird futuristic disco/planetarium light-show “shower” so we can them in the buff for a second time.
It’s worth noting that actors play the material just right, going through the required paces without condescending to the material yet doing so with a twinkle in the eye that lets you know they’re in on the fun. Vint was a b-movie veteran by this point and his southern accent and easy-going charm fit his “space cowboy” role to a ‘t’. Chadwick intones her lines with a seductive purr as the sexpot scientist and Harris steals every scene he’s in, coughing and spouting off b-movie science gibberish with total conviction (in fact, he might be Your Humble Reviewer’s favorite cinematic mad scientist).
The approach of the actors also highlights the key element of Forbidden World‘s b-movie success formula: total commitment. It might be a retread but no one involved approaches the work in a disdainful manner: from the actors to the below-the-line crew, the film crackles with the energy of everyone involved. Holzman matches the energy of his cast and crew in the director’s chair, giving the proceedings a flashy look and a jittery pace (he was ahead of the curve in his use of fast-cut editing for visceral effect) that puts it across the plate with plenty of cheeky style.
The end result delivers plenty of chaos in a tight, deliriously over-the-top 77-minute package – and it’s all the sweeter for having using recycled props, costumes, sets, footage, etc. in the process. Forbidden World is thus a model of Corman’s recycling aesthetic and a perfect companion piece to Galaxy Of Terror.