Imagine Alien: taut corridors, an overworked crew, a horrifying creature that uses ventilation shafts to quickly maneuver around a claustrophobic interior. There’s fear there too, the fear that you’ll be maimed, killed, or worse, bred.
Now take that, set it on a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by a terrible plague, stuck down in a bunker with a crew running low on food and water, and make the monsters look bad. Really bad. Keep the impregnation angle but make it way more rape-forward. Add in George Kennedy and a lower budget, and make sure Roger Corman is producing it. Yeah, that’s The Terror Within.
On the surface, it’s not necessarily a bad idea for a way to copy Alien. There is a lot of running around with an overworked and underfed crew forced to use makeshift weaponry in relatively claustrophobic corridors. Setting it on Earth doesn’t really hinder things, because plague and mutation has forced the last survivors into bunkers, with only limited radio contact with other facilities. The trouble is where you start getting into the general lack of atmosphere; this movie just doesn’t have it. It does have characters I like, the kinds of folk that have openly turned to distilling their own liquor and will turn surgical lasers into cannons with the right motivation and a couple of hours to work. There’s even a bad throwaway reference to Star Trek from the team’s doctor, and I do so love my bad throwaway references. The real problem is that the monsters are just so goofy looking.
Picture this: a seven-foot-tall rubber muscle suit with protruding teeth, exposed ribs, and almost no ability to bend in any natural way. I feel bad for the guy inside of it, because that thing could not have been comfortable. Yeah, the monster looks tough; it also looks like they took a bad Halloween costume and distressed it a little, and that’s what is roaming the halls. The first time I saw it crawling through the ventilation system, I admit I laughed. That’s not something you want to happen, especially when the film was actually doing ok for not showing any of the monsters for the first 30 minutes. That monster had to show up sometime though, and when he did, the crew decided I needed an eye fill. And another. And another. Hell, the creature gets enough camera time to qualify for an Academy Award. It won’t win one, but it could.
This is all a distraction from what this film is really about: rape. Yes, Roger Corman once again produced a movie with rape. It’s like we keep going back to that one scene with the worm in Galaxy of Terror. But this movie is completely about it: the monsters literally murder men and rape women, leading to a massively quickened gestation cycle that will result in the birth of another little monster and the death of the mother. You could potentially save the woman by performing an abortion, and now we’ve discovered an ethics quandary about abortion for rape victims. Thanks, Corman. You’ve given me something new.
Not that ethics is the focus here; it’s on using dog whistles to stop cheesy monsters. But it’s there just under the surface, and now I’m forced to face a serious issue through the silliest of ways. Damn it, I’m finding deeper meaning in schlock films again!