Tuesday, April 18, 2006

INSEMINOID injects itself into my mind!

A group of archaeologists on a mysterious planet are investigating some kind of ancient ruins. They discover a secret underground chamber in which one of the crew is attacked by a strange but barely seen creature. This fellow later runs amok leaving the safety of the group’s cave-built compound until he’s finally subdued violently. Crystal rock samples taken from the secret chamber puzzle the group’s chemist so the next day he and Sandy (Judy Geeson) go outside to retrieve some more rock samples. As they are leaving the dig Mitch the chemist is ripped apart by the mysterious creature and Sandy has an unfortunate encounter with the beastie, which leaves her pregnant and deranged. The movie then slides into slasher territory as the rest of the crew fall victim to Sandy’s homicidal madness, leaving only a couple of people behind to see what she gives birth to.

Slightly daft, sloppily written and (for the most part) acted as if the paychecks were late INSEMINOID a.k.a HORROR PLANET (1981) is one of the worst pieces of science fiction/horror trash I’ve ever seen. Less a story than an idea thrown up onto the screen it at least has the virtue of aiming low. Very low. A small budget rip off of ALIEN the film takes the sub-textual concept of horrid creatures raping humans to implant their seed and places it front and center. In a better film this nastiness would be a plus but here it just barley keeps things moving along. Luckily ample amounts of bloody violence is scattered around to keep things interesting.

I’m sure there was a script (i.e. pieces of paper with dialog and scene direction typed on them) but they might have made the same film if the cast & crew merely huddled each day and said “What sequence can we cobble together today?” The characters are cardboard cut-outs, the dialog is banal when its not being idiotic and the sets are dull. Some of my favorite moments are when a line of dialog comes out of nowhere to make some point that feels plot related. This is a hallmark of bad scripts and in science fiction these bits of technobabble usually stand out beautifully. So when Mitch the chemist proclaims that the strange crystals ‘seem to have some kind of chemical intelligence’ you’re stunned by the non-sequiter craziness, but you just know that it provides a clue to defeating the nasty evil thing that shows up later. Except in this damned film you’d be wrong to think that! This silly-ass line has nothing to do with anything that happens later! Nothing! I’m not sure if this is genius slight-of-hand writing or plain ineptitude.

The cast is a mixed bag of slumming pros (most of the women) and folks that really needed some acting lessons (pretty much all the men). It’s fun in a sick way to watch some good actors flail away with this material. Geeson does as good a job as could honestly be expected I think. She musters up some believable homicidal rage when dispatching the rest of the cast and her banshee screams during the birthing scene are unnerving. As a plus you get to see the lovely Victoria Tennant stabbed to death with scissors- surely a first in cinema.

Now, to step back for a moment I must give the movie some praise. The film is well shot with the opening scenes colorfully showing the alien planet’s landscape. This generates some nice, creepy atmosphere that the rest of the movie’s claustrophobic cave sets slowly dissipate. The direction, while never outstanding is capable, moving the story along at a nice clip and hiding some of the sloppier moments. Before the film sinks to its eventual sad level I felt a measure of hope in the bustling activity of the little group of archeologists. But when the killing started the terribly choreographed fight sequences finished off my willing suspension of disbelief. I do give the film points for the overly gory murders but the effects are hit or miss with at least one death scene descending into unintended humor.

I picked this film up as part of the Norman J. Warren Collection. This is a 5 DVD set from Anchor Bay UK. I’d not seen any of the 4 films represented here and thought I’d start with INSEMINOID as it was highest budget feature the director ever made. If this movie is any indicator I’ve got my work cut out for me. Strangely, I find myself wanting to watch this sucker again, perhaps with the director’s commentary track. Norman J. Warren film experts being fairly thin on the ground maybe I could become one by delving deeply into his other films. Who knows? SATAN’S SLAVES may be a lost classic! PREY might stand with the greats of 1970’s horror cinema! Could TERROR be the missing movie link between the gothic Hammer films and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT?

Only time and my Region free DVD player will tell.

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