Judge Gordon Sullivan's banned on Mars, Venus, and Jupiter, so he's writing from Mercury.
Part Alien…Part Human…All Nightmare.
I'll be the last person to knock low-budget digital filmmaking. Some of my favorite films would only have been possible thanks to the price and mobility of digital. However, sometimes I have a wave of nostalgia for low-budget filmmaking before ubiquitous digital tools. The barrier to entry was pretty high if there was ever any hope of getting past the third feature on a drive-in triple bill, so filmmakers and producers had to get creative to squeeze every penny for beleaguered budgets. The undisputed master of this process was (some might say is) Roger Corman. If there was a way to get cash to make a movie (and have it make money), he would do it: hire talented but unknown directors, rip off other successful movies, and reuse anything he could get his hands on. He tried two out of the those three with his 1982 film Forbidden World. With sets left over from Galaxy of Terror, Corman shot another Alien rip-off. It's not a classic by any stretch, but those with a soft spot for cheesy sci-fi, low-budget filmmaking, or Roger Corman will find something to love in Forbidden World (Blu-ray).
Facts of the Case
As the film opens, Mike Colby (Jesse Vint, I Come in Peace) is awakened from deep sleep by his trusty bot Sam to discover that his spaceship being forcibly rerouted to a remote science station on Xarbia. There, he discovers that the scientists have been doing some dangerous genetic manipulation. The result is Subject 20, an animal whose genetics are unstable and unpredictable. All Mike knows is that he has to kill it before it destroys Xarbia and its inhabitants.
At this late date, Forbidden World is a total nostalgia trip. It hits all the right buttons for a vintage low-budget sci-fi special effects flick. In fact, here's the checklist:
• Special Effects. Man, those laser lights are in full effect. I don't quite know if this was state of the art in 1982 (although I doubt it given Corman's notoriously tight fist), but it all looks like a bad video game mixed with decent model work. The sets are surprisingly good, if a little illogical (like what's up with door shapes in sci-fi movies? Are they designed to be as impractical and/or boring as possible?). Nothing here is terribly impressive, but it'll warm the hearts of those with fondness for the early Eighties.
• Gore. Alien had some great gore effects. Even if Forbidden World is a knockoff, it's still trying to compete. Subject 20 is wonderfully realized in all its guises, from throbbing cocoon to face-ripping, full-on monster. Again, the movie can't compete with its bigger budgeted brethren, but the attempts are done well enough to earn grudging respect rather than the derision that usually accompanies crappy effects.
• Nudity. Nothing sells like sex, and Roger Corman knows what sells. We get bare breasts (albeit in a quick-cut flashback style) in the first 5 minutes of the movie. That's not the end of it. Mike Colby is a bit of an interstellar stud, so he gets frisky with both Dr. Glaser (June Chadwick) and lab assistant Tracy (Dawn Dunlap). It's not an all-out orgy or anything, but there's enough titillation to keep exploitation fans in their seats.
• Veterans. Don't be surprised if you recognize pretty much all the main cast. Jesse Vint had already starred in twenty films before Forbidden World, including a cameo in Chinatown. June Chadwick went on star in V and This is Spinal Tap, while Fox Harris was featured in Repo Men and Sid and Nancy. Viewers can easily make a drinking game out of naming the other films these actors have starred in. As their relatively lengthy careers suggest, this group generally knows how to deliver a line. There's nothing award-worthy here, but this is solid B-movie acting.
• Speedy. Forbidden World is over and done in 77 minutes. Even the longer director's cut (also included here on the second disc) is only 82 minutes long. With that kind of time, the plot doesn't fool around. From the opening battle scene to the credits, the film keeps the plot points coming. Sure, there's no chance to revel in the atmosphere like in Alien, but even if you hate the film, you've only wasted 77 minutes on it.
Somebody must have thought Forbidden World was worth salvaging, because Shout! Factory has given the world a two-disc hi-def release worthy of the best lost cinematic treasures. The first is a Blu-ray disc that houses the theatrical cut in full hi-def glory. The film looks surprisingly good for its age, with appropriate grain and strong detail in textures. There is some print damage, including some specks and what looked like a few dropped frames, but overall this film looks excellent. The DTS stereo track is almost as good, providing listenable dialogue that's generally balanced well with the effects and score. The first disc also includes a roughly 30-minute making-of featurette that mixes interviews with the cast and crew. There's also a featurette on the effects of the film, and a short interview with Corman himself. There's also a poster and still gallery and the film's trailer. The second disc is a standard def DVD includes the longer, Mutant cut of the film (in a full-frame transfer), with a commentary by director Allan Holzman.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Nothing can hide the fact that Forbidden World is a cheesy sci-fi knock off of a much bigger film. The acting, effects, and story have all dated pretty poorly. Fans looking for anything like contemporary science fiction should look elsewhere.
I have a soft spot for cheesy low-budget movies like Forbidden World. If you do too, this Blu-ray release is going to set your heart a flutter. Whatever the movie's merits, this hi-def disc provides an excellent audiovisual presentation and enough extras on the film's production to make fans swoon. This release is obviously not for everyone, but it's a must-own for fans of Corman's brand of exploitation.
Forbidden World may be cheesy, but it's not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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