Roger Corman was cheap (How cheap was he?). He was so cheap that between the time he'd finished shooting Galaxy of Terror and striking the sets, he allowed editor Allan Holzman one day to put together a movie. That seven minute/94 set-up film is the opening to "Forbidden World". Cobbled together out of special effects footage from Battle Beyond the Stars, and costumes from that film, we're dropped into a less-than-epic space battle between Space Federation Marshal Mike Cody (Jesse Vint) his robot pal SAM, and the special effects shots from Battle Beyond the Stars. This segment runs about 5 minutes, and like contemporary adventure fiction there's almost no worldbuilding, just lasers, explosions, and confusion. Before we can get bored wondering what the hell we're watching, Cody vanquishes his foes and gets his new orders, he must attend to an outbreak of a hostile life form on a distant scientific research space station.
Forbidden World abandons most (if not all) of the special effects — er — wizardry and drops us into a very familiar horror movie. It's sort of three parts Alien, two parts Saturn 3, and two parts confusing episode of Have Gun Will Travel. Once Cody arrives on the station he's informed that "Specimen 20" has begun to develop dangerous tendencies and has escaped his special enclosure within a quarantined bio lab at the heart of the station. See, what the gang here are growing are superfoods to help alleviate hunger among the spacefaring humans. So they are mixing a specific bacterial extract with different types of matter to see how it affects them. Their real success, we learn, is with high protein algae.
Fair enough, so how did Specimen 20 get out of the pen?
See, algae is great and all, but what the universe really needs are super-fast growing animals to slake that galactic hunger for hamburgers and chicken nuggets, so they've mixed this bacterial agent with a living organism. And like all animals, it's hungry. It's also damn near impossibly to kill, intelligent, and equipped with a saliva that turns humans into easy-to-digest protein blobs.
There, now, Cody spends the rest of the film working to contain, identify, and finally kill the monster as it rumbles around the station and eats the other cast members. In that respect it's an alien movie, or the five good minutes of Saturn 3. And it sounds way more kitschy here than it does in the film, and there's a reason, the acting in Forbidden World is almost universally excellent, the script has plenty of punch, and the directing makes fantastic use of small claustrophobic sets that looks way more expensive than they could possibly be (I mean, the walls are made of restaurant to-go boxes). It's a tribute then, to Allan Holzman directing here for the first time, that he gets such a satisfying monster flick out of this material. In less capable hands we'd be left with annoying self-referential humor, but here (and this is party due to Corman's influence) the characters plays this movie dead straight.
Much of the success of this films rests with the cast, and joining long time character actor, and Corman regular, Jesse Vint are June Chadwick (AKA David St. Hubbin's astrology obsessed girlfriend) as Dr. Barbara Glaser, Dawn Dunlap as Tracy Baxter, and Linden Chiles as Dr. Hauser (the requisite "we must study this monster" character), and Fox Harris as the chain-smoking, constantly coughing Dr. Timbergen.
As this is a Corman picture it's chock full of nakedness from the two leading ladies. It's funny, watching this with Mrs. McLargehuge spawned a fun after-movie conversation about nudity in genre films and how back in1982 when this was made it would have been flirting with a PG rating, and how were this made today the MPAA would stuff an NC-17 on it so fast Roger Corman wouldn't even have time to make a film called "MPAA vs The Atomic Boobies" using only stock footage from Battletruck, a close up of Richard Lynch's face, and a monster costume made of carpet samples and ping pong balls.
The other aspect of this film that rises above the usual crop of knock-off B-pictures are the special effects by John Carl Buechler. He manages to make plenty of blood and gore and nastiness look damn good on the cheap. Even the alien, a sort of spidery mouthy, armored, thing, looks pretty damn good. This is the type of film that makes me long for practical effects. I love drippy, nasty, bloody, awful gore stuff when it's done well and in Forbidden World it's fantastic.
Finally, Allan Holzman's skill at framing the scenes means we rarely get tired of the sets. His camera moves among and over his actors and keeps the film moving fluidly between plot elements. Especially effective are the scenes where Cody and some of the crew seek out Subject 20 among the peaks and valleys of Broson Canyon (standing in for the planet Xarbia.)
The Shout Factory BluRay and DVD comes LOADED to the gills with everything you'd ever want to know or have about Forbidden World possible, minus, of course, them actually moving Roger Corman into a spare bedroom of your house (they may be saving that for a special edition). The BluRay contains the theatrical version of the film, know to us all as Forbidden World in a beautiful anamorphic transfer that pops and glows with nary an artifact to be found. The sound is well balanced and crisp too. The special features include an interview with Roger Corman, interviews with Holzman, Vint, and the score composer. John Carl Buechler gives a tour of the monster and special effects, a poster and stills gallery, and the theatrical trailer round out the offerings.
Wow, that's a whole lot of stuff! But wait! There's more!
The box also contains a regular DVD of the directors cut, in 4:3 aspect ratio, of the film, known as Mutant, where 5 or so minutes of footage cut by Corman himself is lovingly restored. The missing footage was sort of comic relief type stuff that jarred the movie out of its horror vibe and because of that I can see why Corman demanded it be removed. I like a little humor with my horror movies sometimes but Forbidden World was already tackling the plots of more than few other films and dropping some broad comedy into it really didn't help clarify matters. The DVD offering also carries a commentary with director Allen Holzman.
Finally, inside the box is a nifty booklet that sort of spoils the plot of the movie but gives an expanded description of how the film came to be and what to expect once the lights go down and the stock footage starts rolling. Overall this is a great presentation of a better than OK film, something you see with decreasing regularity these days.
I know I'll be watching Forbidden World again, and soon, because it's 77 minutes of gory, spacey, fun.