Forbidden World Is Your Weekend Cheesy Movie
by Erik Amaya
Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. And yet others thrive on a tone not easily marketed in Hollywood. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these films for what they get wrong — when they get it wrong — and what they right do in spite of the wishes of the studio or the director.
This week: Forbidden World
To appreciate cheesy movies, one must also enjoy a healthy diet of knock-offs. We’ve definitely entered into that arena with a fair share of would-be Star Wars and Jaws successors. Both contain surface details easy to replicate like space ships and sea monsters. And like those other key 1970s blockbusters, Alien would also find itself xeroxed by quick-buck independent houses, cheapie Italian producers, and our old friend Roger Corman. But it is unlikely any of the others we might find will be as effective as this weekend’s cheesy movie, Forbidden World.
The plot centers on Mike Colby (Jesse Vint), a professional troubleshooter for an interstellar human federation. He and his robot partner are dispatched to the remote world of Xarbia. There, he learns an attempt to end the galaxy-wide food shortage resulted in “Subject 20,” a “metamorph” creature grown from the cells of an aggressively self-replicating DNA strand known as Proto B and an animal project leader Dr. Hauser (Linden Chiles) is unwilling to disclose to Mike. The metamorph has killed all the other test animals in the lab and, unbeknownst to Mike, already cost the life of one of the other human researchers.
When he arrives, the creature is in a cocoon. Mike’s suggestion to just vaporize its incubation chamber is met with resistance from Hauser and some of the other staffers. After it emerges from its chrysalis and kills the lab’s maintenance worker, Security Chief Brian Beale (Raymond Oliver) suggests letting Mike know the full scale of their trouble. The idea is tabled and Mike settles down for the evening with Dr. Barbara Glaser (June Chadwick). This is a Corman movie from the 1980s, after all, so sex is inevitable. While they get down to business, the metamorph moves on to the next stage in its plan.
Come the morning, it begins killing again and moves outside to form a larger cocoon. This time it emerges as a spider-creature with a very familiar phallic-shaped prognathism.
And if the whole thing sounds a lot like Alien, that’s, surprisingly, part of the charm. Where other Alien knock-offs try to be coy with the film its copying, Forbidden World leans in and the result is surprisingly okay. Which is not to say the final creature effect is good. It isn’t. In fact, despite the presence of special effects wizard Robert Skotak (who would work on Aliens a few years later), the creature effects are uniformly terrible and indicative of Corman’s legendary penny-pinching. Nonetheless, director Allan Holzman delivers a stunningly competent film within the Corman strictures. Tension actually mounts just before many of the creature attacks (both in its earlier and final forms) and the research base is lit with a rare moodiness for a film of this scale. Sure, it’s ripping off Alien‘s lighting and production design whole hog throughout — some of the sets are also recycled from ones built by James Cameron for Corman’s earlier Alien knock-off Galaxy of Terror — but it is remarkable Holzman and his team could do it effectively with less than an tenth of Alien‘s budget.
Indeed, Holzman was often over a barrel on this film. When filming began, he had no script and shot an out-of-context space battle between Mike and some unidentified bad guys. It makes up the first six minutes of the film and just looks out of place. The fact Holzman seemed to crib the idea from the early minutes of Starcrash, which features an almost identical dogfight and a hero character shouting “fire!” constantly, may add to sensation that the film is being padded as soon as it begins. His script arrived courtesy of writer Tim Curnen, but Chopping Mall‘s Jim Wynorski and R.J. Roberston received story credit. And considering their involvement, Holzman’s first cut was said to be funnier than Corman wanted. As a result, the theatrically released version of the movie is sternly serious. The producer’s decision actually serves the movie even as it prevent the shallow characters from having the sort of spark Wynorski and Robertson often bring to their scripts. The characters in the version of Forbidden World you’re likely to see may not be as endearing as the ones in Chopping Mall or even The Lost Empire, but none overstay their welcome.
But that may have something to do with the film’s brief 77-minute runtime — a brevity also to the film’s credit.
The actors also serve the characters fairly well. All seem to have a modicum of training — an uncommon thing for Corman in this era — and breathe some life into their characters. Even Dawn Dunlap, who is called upon to do little else but scream and take her clothes off, imbues research assistant Tracy with some character whenever she talks to the others; particularly during a scene in which Dr. Glaser convinces her that they should try to communicate with the metamorph. Sure, both actors are topless in the scene (which presages Star Trek: Enterprise‘s decontamination chamber by a few decades), but they come off as researchers making an hypothesis. Just, y’know, researches doing their best thinking naked because this a 1980s Corman picture. Meanwhile, Vint’s Mike almost manages to be successful as the put upon space adventurer, which is something of a miracle as he should come off a little skeevy thanks to his decision to follow Tracy into a steam room where she’s undressed. His character definitely would’ve benefited from some Wynorski and Robertson witticisms, but his no-nonsense attitude makes him uniquely suited to carry the picture. The only performer verging on the cartoonish is Fox Harris as bacteriologist Cal Timbergen, but a lot of that is due to the actor’s vocal resemblance to animation mainstay Michael Bell. But the rest of the performers commit to their situation and give it a lived-in reality. It’s another thing stolen from Alien as well, but you need a half-way talented cast to make it work.
In the end, the cheese of Forbidden World comes from both its obvious knock-off status (the film was original called “Mutant“) and that obvious Corman cheapness. At times, the film is legitimately good and even kind of tense, but then that silly monster appears and squanders the atmosphere. It’s an interesting push-pull effect which will lead to an uncommon night of cheesy movie watching.
Forbidden World is available on Amazon Video with a Prime subscription. It is also available as Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory with an 82-minute director’s cut included.