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The Terror Within (1989)
Once upon a time, a fella named Ridley Scott made a little film called Alien. It is universally agreed (or it should be if it isn't) that Alien is only like the most awesome movie in the history of history, and a wee bonny horror fan like myself had her brain broken on brown shag carpeting in a living room in the Midwest many moons ago whilst watching it. That little girl horror fan grew up into a full-grown horror nerd, but I have never stopped loving Alien.
And then along came The Terror Within. This Roger Corman-produced Alien wannabe has about twice the sleaze and half the scares, and while the mostly educated, judgmental little feminist in me might have a problem with that, I can't help but say the movie is a damn good time-despite its many faults. Of course, if you're going to enjoy it, you have to view it with the right attitude.
A manmade plague has ravaged Earth and left scant survivors. Those that are left are holed up in underground stations hiding from the disease. Two members of the small crew at the Mojave Station go on a scouting expedition only to be slaughtered by "Gargoyles." When a survivor is found, she's taken down into the station to recover. It's soon discovered, however, that she's carrying a Gargoyle fetus. When the fetus bursts forth from her body during a cesarean (in a scene that is surely the most fun one can have in an operating room), it escapes and roams the station, growing rapidly and raping human women to reproduce yet again. As the creature grows, it destroys all in its path, murdering as many crew members as it can.
As can be expected with a movie of this kind, it is a little dirtier than its classy 1979 counterpart. While it may not make you take a shower like, say, Maniac or Day of the Woman, it is a downright nasty little flick. It's quick to resort to sordid creature rape for its only real thrill. While some people may look forward to a little interspecies sexual violence, I do not number myself among them. The individual scene wherein the violence takes place is surprisingly tame, but the implication remains, and therein lies the sleaze factor.
Of course, if we came to The Terror Within looking for Grindhouse fare, then we'd be incredibly disappointed in the offerings. The patina of sleaze only goes so far, and the rest of the film lies firmly in the B-movie schlock realm. As such, it has certain limitations. All the components that make up the film are subpar at best. The script moves in such fits and starts that the pacing is just dreadful. For every moment of action the film contains, there are at least three others of people sitting behind a control desk simply waiting for something to happen. For every shot of the monster, there is one of crew members aimlessly wandering around the station's hallways. Had director Thierry Notz edited his film down to say a good seventy-five minutes, we may have had an underrated gem on our hands, but as such, we're stuck with a relative dud. And what a shame that is. I mean, I used to think you could do no wrong with George Kennedy on your cast list, but even he cannot save this movie from the boringness of its scenes.
Kennedy is poorly utilized. No one on the screen interacts with him particularly well, and it makes it seem as though he's the problem member of an otherwise serviceable cast. Closer inspection will show you that he's trying to elevate material that should not be elevated. He tries terribly hard to make Hal a compassionate father figure for the crew, but the script leaves no room for characterization. As such, Kennedy seems to fail where others succeed. They are reveling in their single dimension while Kennedy struggles to break Hal out of those constraints. Everyone else is signed on for a stinker, and he wants to make it... well, he wants to make it Alien. Someone should have sent him the memo.
But still, he's George Kennedy. And who wouldn't be grateful for him? He and fellow Dallas alum Andrew Stevens are the best the film has to offer. The rest of the cast falls so flat that it's hard to even remember them once you've completed your viewing. From the requisite comedic black guy to your traumatized female survivors, these are all types we've seen before. If you're going to write characters this empty, then you should at least try to hire actresses who will give them definition. As such, one can't help but wonder why Notz and his casting director chose the most ordinary women possible to play the three female leads. They're impossible to connect with in any real way, so we can't help but not care when the Gargoyle rapes one and stalks the other. And not caring about creature rape is kind of a problem, if you ask this humble philosopher. (Yes, I philosophize about interspecies rape. What? You don't? I mean, isn't this what that whole Geneva Convention thing was about?)
While it might seem that no one involved in the making of this film cares even a wee bit about these interspecies rapes (one of which happens mostly on screen and one of which is implied), I am not as bothered by this as I would have expected. I mean, when I saw the interspecies rape in Splice, I nearly punched the movie screen, right? But in The Terror Within, our creatures never look like anything more than a dude in a suit. As such, the mystery is given away pretty much instantly, and the conceit of the scene falls apart about as quickly. You never believe you are seeing anything other than a man in a rubber suit.
The Dude-in-a-Suit approach to the effects would be problematic in almost any film, but I can't help but fall in love with it in this one. It's a fun little rubbery burn victim look the suit provides. It's a blast, but it's not believable, so you should come to the film with this in mind. The experience is not unlike the original Invaders From Mars, wherein you could actually see the zipper running down the Martians' backs. As such, I find it incredibly charming. To see the burn victim look on a rubber suit could be horrifying, but the dryness of skinless arms and legs render it so unbelievable that you have to laugh. Whether that laughter excites you or disappoints you is a matter of taste.
In fact, your like or dislike of this film is a matter of taste, as well. If you're a person who sits down to enjoy a steaming cup of crapola, then you'll probably get a kick out of The Terror Within (as I did and do), but if you think of yourself as one of the classier horror fans, someone who likes their horror with a little more meat on its bones, then you should just watch Alien again.