As exploita­tion fans know well, Roger Corman nev­er allowed a suc­cess­ful main­stream gen­re film to pass by with­out attach­ing at least one imi­ta­tion of his own to its coat­tails.  For exam­ple, Alien was inspi­ra­tional enough to earn two Corman-hatched knock­offs, the meta­phys­i­cal space-schlock­er Galaxy Of Terror and the slime & sex-a-thon Forbidden World.  Thus, it was no sur­prise that when Aliens revived inter­est in astro­naut-attack­ing space mon­sters that Corman would churn out a clone of his own.  The result was The Terror Within, a solid lit­tle pro­gram­mer that iron­i­cal­ly owes more to Alien than it does to Aliens.

The plot keeps the sci-fi sim­ple: after a chem­i­cal­ly-spawned plague wipes out much of the world, a group of gov­ern­ment types work in a Mojave Desert-based lab on a cure that will allow what remains of the human race to sur­vive.  Hal (George Kennedy) is the tough-mind­ed lead­er of the skele­ton crew, with the brave David (Andrew Stevens) serv­ing as his right-hand man and Linda (Terri Treas) as the main sci­en­tist. Things are pret­ty grim for this group: not only are they work­ing under prim­i­tive con­di­tions, they also have to con­tend with mur­der­ous mutants they call “gar­goyles.”

Things momen­tar­i­ly seem hope­ful when they find a sur­vivor named Karen (Yvonne Saa) who not only has man­aged to live but has become preg­nant.  Unfortunately, her “baby” turns out to be the spawn of a gar­goyle that bursts out of her stom­ach (a messy scene that quotes Humanoids From The Deep) and escapes into the cor­ners of the facil­i­ty.  This rapid­ly-grow­ing beast wastes no time in attack­ing the crew and they find they must find a way to stop it with the prac­ti­cal means at hands (their weapons were used up long ago) before it slaugh­ters them all.

The end result harkens back to Alien’s uncred­it­ed but much-acknowl­edged inspi­ra­tion, It! The Terror From Beyond Space, right down to hav­ing a man-in-a-suit mon­ster chas­ing the cast around the facility’s hall­ways.  Thomas Cleaver’s script keeps things from get­ting too claus­tro­pho­bic by set­ting the first act in the scenic desert locales for a bit of atmos­pher­ic sus­pense before the mon­ster-mash hijinks kick in.  Dean Jones’ crea­ture design is pret­ty decent given the bud­get and his effects for the “mutant birth” sequence deliv­er the grue­some goods.

However, what real­ly makes The Terror Within tick is Thierry Notz’s care­ful direc­tion of this sce­nar­io.  He plays the mate­ri­al straight and gets appro­pri­ate per­for­mances to fit this approach: Stevens makes a good square-jawed hero, Kennedy lends typ­i­cal­ly pro­fes­sion­al sup­port and Treas offers a nice, low-key turn as the like­ably intel­li­gent and resource­ful hero­ine.  Starr Andreeff, a reg­u­lar in Katt Shea’s flicks from this era, gets the most emo­tive role as Stevens’ cowork­er-turned-lover and she deliv­ers the required inten­si­ty to make those moments work.

Better yet, Notz engi­neers the film to make the most of its premise: he takes the time to build a sus­pense­ful atmos­phere and milks that aspect of the set­pieces for all they are worth.  The results are suit­ably grim and intense, par­tic­u­lar­ly the final bat­tle between man and mon­ster, and the film as a whole man­ages to side­step its poten­tial for campi­ness thanks to its no-non­sense approach.

In short, The Terror Within isn’t as crazy or wild as Corman’s ear­lier Alien knock­offs but its focus on crafts­man­ship pays off hand­some­ly.  The fin­ished pro­duct plays like a 50’s sci-fi/horror hybrid updat­ed with a bit of 1980’s gore — and that’s a com­bi­na­tion that is like­ly to please cult flick fans with a taste for space-schlock.

The Terror Within / Dead Space [Double Feature]

The Terror Within / Dead Space [Double Feature]

Two tales of alien mon­ster may­hem for one low price!The Terror Within: It’s the post-apoc­a­lypse, and the world has been changed by a chem­i­cal war­fare exper­i­ment gone awry leav­ing only a few rem­nants of the human race. Eight lab stu­dents work to cre­ate a vac­cine before they are forced out­side in search for food. It is then that they dis­cov­er crea­tures mutat­ed by the plague.Director: Thierry NotzStars: George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Andrew Stevens (The Fury, The Seduction)Bonus Features:Theatrical TrailerDead Space: A space sol­der and a sci­en­tific com­mu­ni­ty on anoth­er plan­et try to destroy an alien mon­ster cre­at­ed by a series of out-of-con­trol genet­ic experiments.Director: Fred GalloStars: Marc Singer (V: The Original Miniseries, The Beastmaster), Laura Mae TateBonus Features:Commentary With Director Fred GalloTheatrical Trailer