There are three Roger Cormans. The first Corman is the director Corman. Working primarily at American International Pictures, young Corman was famous for being able to crank out competent, successful films on time and under budget with a surprising consistency. Although Corman’s name is often associated with drive-in schlock, in my opinion most of what he made was, at the worst, adequate for the intended purpose of entertaining the teenagers. And on occasion, Corman directed some genuine classics of genre cinema. His Poe films with Vincent Price, for example, are some of the best Gothic horror films you’ll find.
The second Corman is the producer Corman. It was inevitable that Roger would eventually move into the role of producer. In that role, he trained and guided an impressive legion of young film makers, including directors like James Cameron and that fat guy who makes wine out of his daughter. Corman handled it old school, making them learn the ropes before they ever got to direct their own movie. Editing, screenwriting, second unit director — you had to do it all before Corman let you take the helm, and you had to show that you understood the value of a dollar. Corman would give you the money if you could justify needing it, but he wasn’t one to throw endless dollars around just for the hell of it. James Cameron maybe forgot that later in life. Corman was also a hands on producer — inspiring, guiding, in some cases strong arming the movie in the direction he wanted it to move. Roger Corman the producer signed his name to more bad films than Roger Corman the director, but once again, if Corman was producing and actually interested in the project, chances were that it would be an entertaining movie, at the very least.
Then there’s the third, and current, incarnation of Roger Corman — the executive producer. This Corman has been responsible for more bad than good, and his involvement as nothing more than a money man is evident in the laziness of many of these productions. Still, some of them are pretty hilariously bad, so even Corman the executive producer is giving us something with some sort of entertainment value.
Forbidden World sees us graced with the presence of the second Roger Corman, the hands-on producer, and Corman’s personal interest in this, his Alien rip-off, means that while Forbidden World is cheap and derivative, it still delivers exactly what undiscerning viewers like myself hope for from such a film: some goofy sci-fi trappings, a silly monster, gore, and pretty girls who have no interest in staying clothed. On top of all that, the story of the making of the movie is classic Corman. He was producing another sci-fi movie, Galaxy of Terror, which filmed Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of the week (Corman has some convoluted but ultimate logical system to the days on which he would shoot a film, that precluded filming on Monday and Tuesday). The spaceship bridge set of that film was scheduled to be struck over the weekend, but when Corman showed up to poke around and see how things were going, he decided that there was no reason to strike the set over the weekend when he could use it to film another movie.
Anyone familiar with the production history of Corman’s nonsensical but oddly hypnotic The Terror knows this is familiar territory. Legend has it that Roger Corman finished directing The Raven and found that he still has a couple days left on the lease for the location and on Boris Karloff’s contract. So Corman had everyone stick around, dashed off a bizarre script in a matter of hours, and in something like three days, shot an entire second film with his leftover time. Similarly, with Forbidden World, Corman thought the spaceship set for Galaxy of Terror was too nice not to squeeze a little more use out of. He approached one of the cogs in his production machine, a young man named Allan Holzman, and hit him with the following proposition. Allan had been working with Corman for a little while, and Corman knew the guy was eager to direct a film. So the deal went like this: Allan had a couple days to write an eight minute or so opening scene to an as yet unplotted, unnamed movie, with the scene to be filmed over the weekend before the Galaxy of Terror set was broken down. Holzman jumped at the chance, dashed off eight minutes worth of movie, and thus was born the opening that would become Forbidden World.
With the crisis of a perfectly good set going to waste averted, Holzmann was given time to come up with a script proper, working with Tim Curnen and a few other new faces at the production house, including future one-man exploitation film factory Jim Wynorski (who was also working on Sorceress for Corman around the same time). Corman’s primary input in the screen writing process was, “I want to rip off Alien.” Pretty much everyone was trying to rip off Alien in one way another back then. While Star Wars is the film everyone knows changed science fiction and became a cultural touchstone, so on and so forth, Alien probably produced far more direct copies, single-handedly ushering in the era of science fiction horror that would give us movies like Forbidden World, Lifeforce, Split Second, Event Horizon, and more recently, film like Pandorum — to say nothing of the countless dozens, maybe even hundreds, of films that just stole Alien‘s plot wholesale.
Not everyone was happy with the blend of bloody horror and science fiction that came in Alien‘s wake, but for me, as a kid who loves both genres and thought of the transformation as little more than a gorier revival of the sort of scifi-horror films that were popular int he 1950s, I rolled with it pretty well. It’s especially easy with Forbidden World, a movie where gore is sillier than it is disturbing and the screenwriters were so obviously delighted with every gag, melted face, and gratuitous nude shot they could cram into the film. It really is the perfect little B movie — silly but oddly competent, cheap but determined to look fancy, dumb but also clever, and of course, full of nudity, monsters, and gore. Also, as was required by law in the early 1980s, there are special effects scenes stolen from Battle Beyond the Stars.
Battle Beyond the Stars is probably the best investment writer/director/producer/cult movie legend Roger Corman every made. Sure, he had to spend a lot, at least by Corman standards, to pull off all those special effects shots and cool spaceship models, but once that initial expenditure was done, he was able to take those special effects shots and use them over and over, in just about every movie he produced in the 1980s. Hell, somewhere right now, someone is probably splicing a random shot of a Battle Beyond the Stars spaceship into a romantic comedy, just because they can. The opening space battle sequence in Forbidden World, which incidentally has pretty much nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie, features both special effects sequences lifted from Battle Beyond the Stars and the set borrowed from Galaxy Terror, the existence of which is the sole reason Forbidden World was even made. There’s something positively sustainable about it.
Under-appreciated Jesse Vint (Macon County Line, Deathsport) stars as Mike Colby, a space marshal with a vaguely defined job description that mostly seems to consist of flying around in spaceship scenes lifted from Battle Beyond the Stars while chatting up an adult size robot with a little kid’s voice, making Mike Colby the first wisecracking space ranger type to design his robot sidekick after the Omnibot 2000 instead of a Playboy bunny. After dispatching of some of Roger Corman’s stock footage, Colby is assigned an actual mission. Some remote research lab is sending a distress call, and only one man can get to the bottom of whatever those pesky eggheads are up to: Mike Colby. Well, Mike Colby and his creepy little kid voice robot.
Seriously, it’d be way less disturbing for a grown man to have a robot that looks like a porno model, like that awesome robot chick from Spacehunter. But a plastic robot with a kid’s voice — ick. And it’s not even like they’re pulling some Ghost in the Shell tachikoma shtick where the robot is an artificial intelligence that has grow and learn, and thus starts off with the voice of a child. It says and does perfectly normal adult things, but then speaks in the voice of a kindergartner. Why would a robot designer do that? I guess for the same reason they’d design a robot with a receding hair line, like the one in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
Anyway, answering a distress call from a mysterious research colony in a movie called Forbidden World should conjure up memories not just of the crew from Alien answering a mysterious distress call, but also of the granddaddy of all “space guys answer a mysterious distress call” movies — Forbidden Planet. Hey, at least that movie’s robot had a grown up voice and could make whiskey. Speaking of which, wasn’t the Omnibot 2000 supposed to be all bringing me whiskey and Budweiser and pigs in a blanket? Don’t think I’ve forgotten your promises, Omnibot 2000. I’ll take a Yamazaki 1984 with my pigs in a blanket.
Wait! Did you…did you put my Yamazaki 1984… on the rocks? Damn you, Omnibot! DAMN YOU!!!!
Anyway, Colby shows up at the research lab, which is staffed by a couple old guys, a couple buff guys, and a couple hot chicks in spandex who like to scrub one another down in the shower, as will be the style once we get to the future. Also, a black guy who, as is often the case, seems the most reasonable of the bunch, thus dooming him immediately. Although everyone seems happy to have Colby on hand, no one seems particularly keen on letting him do his job. It seems the ruckus has been caused by one of the lab’s bio-organisms, which escaped its incubator and went on a killing spree — amongst the other lab animals. That seems like precious little cause to send in the galaxy’s “number one troubleshooter,” but then, when you see how ineffective Colby is at pretty much everything related to his job, perhaps this is one of those cases where his superiors telling him how awesome he is and how important his mission is, when in fact everyone knows he’s a total screw-up, so they send him out on the worst and dumbest missions.
Colby is supposed to decide what to do with the now seemingly docile beastie, and what he decides to do is put off his decision in favor of dinner. While everyone is busy eating sponge cake with jam, the creature does its best to get some attention (it’s like a little, gooey North Korea) by killing some surfer dude (Michael Bowen). Actually, it doesn’t kill him so much as it melts his face and skull and starts transforming his DNA into something hideous and covered in blood and mucous. Resident mad scientist Dr. Gordon Hauser (Linden Chiles) doesn’t think this justifies killing what he keeps vaguely referring to as this remarkable life form. Resident mad scientist Dr. Cal Timbergen (Fox Harris) is simply overjoyed to have this gooey new specimen to poke at while he chain smokes and jabs syringes into his own belly.
Colby, however, is determined to react with swift action to the murder. I mean, now that the beast ate a guy’s face — come on! But everyone seems pretty mellow about the whole monster eating a kid’s face thing, so Colby puts off any sort of substantial action once again, this time in favor of bedding sexy Abba looking scientist Barbara Glaser (June Chadwick, later a regular on V and Riptide). At least this decision, I can get behind. While their busy getting it on, the facility’s head of security is busy watching them and playing with his yo-yo of sexual frustration. I can only assume that he’s as anxious to get a little of tha sweet Colby action as both of the women seem to be. The mostly dead guy’s girlfriend, Tracy (stunning Dawn Dunlap, Barbarian Queen) expresses her grief by wandering around in her space nightie, taking a steam bath while wearing sunglasses for no particular reason, and eventually also fooling around with Colby.
By and by, it turns out that the creature is endlessly mutating and evolving into something that looks like a cross between the monster from Alien and a big fat guy who can’t move around very much, with some spider legs attached to him. The research center was working on inventing some sort of self-replicating food to solve the galaxy’s hunger problem, or something like that, and I guess they created a giant man-eating Venus Fly Trap instead. Even with this thing scurrying around and ripping off faces, the scientists are still loathe to let Colby kill the damn thing. You know how Poindexters are. Luckily, Colby eventually decides that maybe it’s time to stop taking their advice on things.
As originally shot, and under the title Mutant, the movie ran a bit longer than the cut we know as Forbidden World. As the story goes, Corman and crew held an advanced screening for the movie, and it got a lot of laughs — which is not what Corman wanted at all. The screenwriters, however, had seen fit to pop some jokes and satire into the mix (I mean, one of them was Jim Wynorski, after all), but Corman wanted what he defined as a straight sci-fi horror movie. Furious, Corman stormed off to the editing suite and chopped all the jokes out of the movie, leaving it at a lean, mean 77 minutes. The crew was sort of bummed, but in the end, I think I prefer the “unfunny” version, which is still pretty funny in its own way.
Forbidden World comes to us from a time when low budget films still aspired to look big budget, and while no one will mistake Corman’s movie for any of the other sci-fi films that came out in 1982 (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, ET: The Extra Terrestrial, and Blade Runner being just a few of the smaller scale examples in a year that also saw the release of TRON, Creepshow, The Thing, and, umm, Megaforce), but it doesn’t look nearly as cheap as it was. I guess the Galaxy of Terror set that serves as Jesse Vint’s spaceship is a fair enough set to justify wringing a little extra work out of it (that set must have felt like Boris Karloff on the set of The Terror), but the entire research lab is actually pretty convincing in a claustrophobic sort of way. Sure, there was only the one hallway everyone had to walk down, and the walls were covered with painted containers pilfered from the McDonald’s down the street, but parts of it really are somewhat convincing as a cramped space research lab. Now, exactly why a remote research lab would have it’s own sexy sauna room is…well, that’s no mystery, is it?
The gore and make-up is pretty convincing, and the monster, for the most part, is a pretty good special effect as well. It can’t really get around, but when it’s just smashing its head through glass and bearing its fangs, it’s pretty good stuff. Again, in a year that saw the release of a Steven Spielberg film, Blade Runner, and TRON, the lo-fi practical effects of Forbidden World might not stand up tot he test. No, you know what? Scratch that. Forbidden World‘s special effects are not as good as TRON or Blade Runner, but I’d pit them against ET any day of the week. Come on. ET looks like more of a puppet than the mutant in this movie, and that flying bicycle scene? Sure it was magical and inspired all us kids to ride our Huffys off a cliff, but that’s some shoddy special effects work right there. I’d take Forbidden World‘s foam-spewing mutant any day of the week, and Corman and his crew built that thing for less than Spielberg probably spent on those bicycles.
The acting is on par with the budget — it ain’t great, but it gets the job done. I like Jesse Vint, even though I always feel like he’s about to either kill me or offer me a bong. It’s fun to see him dress up and play space cowboy, and even if it’s just a paycheck to him, he’s old school enough to give it his all regardless. The rest of the cast are mostly forgettable, with the exception of Fox Harris as the twitchy, nicotine gobbling doctor with the crazy hair. He seems to really be relishing his role. I might add him to my movie starring Kyle MacLachlan, Jeffrey Combs, and Crispen Glover. It’s a romantic comedy, a sequel to my romantic comedy starring Danny Trejo, Al Leong, and Billy Drago.
The ladies are there mostly to scream and get naked, and both do so with much appreciated gusto. Neither of them are exactly what you might called accomplished actors, but neither are they stiff and artificial. They’re both bad in a way that is sort of natural seeming and ultimately winning. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that they seem to hate their clothes. It’s a shame Dawn Dunlap didn’t do more. By all accounts, she was a bit of accidental casting, someone’s girlfriend who showed up after a long day of the casting director not being able to find any suitable actresses who were also OK with doing nudity and yelling at a giant monster puppet. Jesse Vint certainly seems to remember her fortuitous casting with fondness.
At 77 minutes, this movie rarely takes time out from cheap exploitation, and while the “creepin’ around looking for a monster” scenes are more tedious than tense, Forbidden World makes up for it in grand fashion by delivering bucket loads of exploding faces, vomiting aliens, naked women, and the most ludicrous/offensive way to kill a monster that I think has ever been dreamed up. Forbidden World delivers pretty much everything I could hope for from a Roger Corman film. He knew what we kids wanted, and in the 1980s, what we kids wanted was stuff we kids probably shouldn’t be seeing. And bless him, Corman gave us that in spades with this movie.
Release Date: 1982 | Country: United States | Starring: Jesse Vint, Dawn Dunlap, June Chadwick, Linden Chiles, Fox Harris, Raymond Oliver, Scott Paulin, Michael Bowen, Don Olivera, Victor Warren | Screenplay: Tim Curnen, Jim Wynorski | Director: Allan Holzman | Cinematography: Tim Suhrstedt | Music: Susan Justin | Producer: Roger Corman | Alternate Title: Mutant