Friday, June 26, 2020

Space 1979: The one where a starship crew is wiped out by a pregnant lady

Title: Inseminoid/ Horror Planet
What Year?: 1979 (pre production/ 1981 (release)
Classification: Runnerup/ Evil Twin
Rating: Dear God WHY??!!

Last time, I introduced this feature as an overview of "ripoffs" and runnerups of 1970s-1980s science fiction, and I'm following up with the movie that did more than any other to give me the idea. If one movie drew more knockoffs, ripoffs and less classifiable runnerups than Star Wars, it was Alien. The present selection is easily the most egregious example of them all, and in a further hallmark of the "runnerup", it was less like a direct imitation than an evil twin. Its title (not withstanding the poster) is Inseminoid, and the first clue we're in for a rough ride is that the title is... You know what, I'm not repeating it if I don't have to, even for a joke.

The story opens with a crew of space explorers landing on a planet to investigate the mysterious ruins of a vanished alien civilization. After a madness-inducing crystal triggers the deaths of two crew members in an impressively grisly opening sequence, a man and a woman named Sandy go back to the ruins without supervision. A mysterious figure suddenly attacks (and then disappears for the rest of the movie), leaving the man dead and Sandy traumatized by visions of a gruesome alien and a giant glass pipette of unpleasant fluids and solids. A doctor's examination reveals that she is pregnant with an unknown organism, and she soon becomes protective of her unborn offspring and homicidal toward the surviving crew. After the captain gives an offensively sensible order for everyone to remain locked in their quarters, the expedition members venture out to engage and contain the hostile and increasingly ravenous expectant mother before she can give birth. It will not be a spoiler to say things go downhill from there.

There are really just two things that make this movie of interest. First, the film makers credibly maintained the script was created months before Alien reached theatres, though various developments delayed its release until 1981. Second, for all the notoriety and debate, the two films really have very little in common outside of a shared pool of Freudian subtexts, which Inseminoid (funghh) turns into a giant neon sign.  It is worth further note that the level of gore is remarkably tame, even allowing for significant censorship, to the point that the movie might conceivably have been rated PG if not for certain scenes of nudity. Several of most bizarre and brutal moments are advertised by little more than the image of Sandy getting ready to chow down.

Something else I will mention is that this movie has been like a black hole in my memory. Usually, my ability to remember movies is like the world's worst super power, but this one has (probably mercifully) eluded me. I watched it, not for the first time, no more than a few months before I went through it again for this review, but still went in with fewer recollections than for movies I had seen on TV in the 1990s (ironically including The Black Hole). It has also escaped my usual preference for physical media. Purists will say that movies can only be appreciated in theatres, but I maintain Inseminoid was made to be viewed as a sketchy video streamed on an outdated laptop

With all that out of the way, there isn't much left to be said of the actual movie. Its individual parts are generally unremarkable and still in many ways better than the whole. Early exposition about the alien culture is particularly tone deaf, with a quite common mythological theme being mentioned dramatically just to foreshadow it as a plot point. Once Sandy's rampage starts, most of the characters quickly prove cowardly as well as incompetent. The one well-executed sequence has her facing off with a male crewmate in a spacesuit, who trying to evade her by retreating out an air lock. Naturally, she adapts to the alien atmosphere, and the following rout is the most violent (and explicitly sexualized) of her assaults. The inevitable birth scene follows shortly after, and it is effective enough to be painful to watch and hear. Unfortunately, the plot becomes even more predictable with the alien progeny in play, down to the arrival of a rescue party to clean up the scene.

Then there is one more thing that has really kept this particular movie in my mind. Fast forward to 2013, Ripley Scott makes Prometheus. In itself, it was an unremarkable if especially convoluted prequel, which I personally didn't even bother to watch when I bought it as part of a DVD multipack. But when I did get to it, my first and foremost thought was that it had more story points in common with Inseminoid than either ever did with Alien. Here, we see ruins of a civilization instead of a derelict ship, a scientific expedition rather than passing space truckers, and an explicit impregnation of a woman as opposed to a man. Then it all builds to my foremost piece of evidence, the "birth" of the trilobite-creature by a frantic C-section. This is the full circle of pop culture, when a prequel to a good movie comes closer to remaking a bad one.

For links, here's an Introduction to this series.

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