Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Inseminoid (1981)

Written by: Nick Maley, Gloria Maley
Directed by: Norman J. Warren
Robin Clarke as Mark
Stephanie Beacham as Kate
Judy Geeson as Sandy

In space, no one can hear you get raped by a giant, phallus-headed bug monster! Well, at least that should have been the tag line for tonight's movie. If you can think of a better one I'll eat my hat. No I won't, it's old and full of sweat and face oil. Just don't tell the Maleys or Mr. Warren, because according to them, this is in no way meant to be a cash-in on a certain space monster movie that was a massive critical and box office success just the year before. Nope. Not at all. Purely a coincidence. And corporations don't have human rights while we're at it.

The Xeno Corporation's health care plan is a hell of a lot better than Hobby Lobby's, as they provide injections of prophylactic drugs on every offworld mission, but the crew of the outpost on the distant planet we're about to visit never gets to find out whether or not they cover space bug abortions. Presumably they wouldn't, though, because if it's a legitimate space monster rape, a woman's body has ways of shutting things down, so clearly she was asking for it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A team of archaeologists has set up shop on this barren, inhospitable dump of a planet to figure out what caused the extinction of the ancient and advanced civilization that once populated it. Some kind of citadel or tomb covered in hieroglyphics has been uncovered underneath a looming cliff face, and no sooner is a cavern full of glowing crystals opened up by two of the team – Dean and Ricky – than an explosion puts Dean in a coma and badly injures Ricky.

The team manages to get their two wounded members back to their makeshift base dug into a series of caverns in the opposing cliff face across the valley, and discover that Ricky has some of the strange crystals still clenched in his fist. In a nice little bit of attention to detail, Ricky is clutching the crystals so tight they've cut through his space suit glove and into the flesh of his hand. Not relevant to the plot, mind, just one of those unexpected signs of thought put into an otherwise cheap sleazefest that throw you for a loop and stick with you. It's too bad they couldn't given that much attention to what happens in the next fifteen minutes or so of the movie, because I have no fucking idea, but I'm game to take a crack at it.

Shortly after chemist Mitch and medical officer Karl determine that the crystals give off some kind of bio-electric radiation, Ricky wakes up and goes on a rampage. He grabs a space suit and runs off into the caverns, and several of the crew suit up to go after him and bring him back. He leads them a merry chase around the cave system, during which a brief scuffle knocks a woman named Gwen into some rubble in which her foot gets trapped. Instead of calmly waiting for someone else from the base to suit up and come help her out, she has a spaz attack and rips some of the wiring out of her life support system. Now the situation is a little more pressing, but not insurmountable. All she has to do is listen to the instructions given to her over her radio explaining to her how to hotwire the thing and keep it running until help arrives. Instead of following the directions, she decides to chop her damn leg off with some kind of outer space chainsaw thing, and dies of blood loss and exposure. Eventually Ricky returns to base and traps team reporter Kate in the airlock, where she has to shoot him dead before he depressurizes the whole base.

I imagine what's going on here is that the bio-electric field given off by the strange crystals are driving people mad. It's a very selective madness, though. I would have guessed at first that physical contact had something to do with it since Ricky had the things dug into the palm of his hand, but Mitch and Karl are both unaffected even though they're the ones who've been handling the things, and Gwen hasn't had any contact with them at all that we've seen, so it eventually just comes down to plot convenience I guess. It's time for a gory death but we need Mitch and Karl for the story a little longer so it's up to one of the disposable characters. Still, it's a pretty tense and memorable scene. It's certainly one of the things that stuck with me most in the intervening years between the first time I saw this movie on the Sci-Fi Channel and when I finally found my own copy.

During further exploration of the tomb (which had in the previous scene been said to be off limits until they could figure out what went wrong with Ricky and those crystals, but since it would be a pretty dull movie if they all just sat around safely in the break room until the evac ship arrived, just never you mind about that), Mitch and Sandy are attacked by something. In a sequence creatively edited to not require any special effects, Mitch is torn limb from limb, and Sandy is carried off and raped by the creature, which looks rather like a big, pink, slimy wiener with bug eyes.

Well, I say rape, I more mean artificially inseminated. At least, I think so. It's a very oddly handled sequence, which leaves us with some things to wonder about that the movie never bothers to resolve beyond a couple of hints. Sandy is lying on a table, with the wiener bug sitting between her legs. Karl is present, too, giving her an injection of some kind before the wiener bug shoves a tube into her vagina and starts pumping wiener bug eggs into her. It's possible the whole thing with Karl and the weird medical setting was just something her traumatized brain cooked up to soften the horror of being railed by a six-foot dick insect on the floor of a cave. It's also possible that Karl really was in on the whole thing from the get-go. Once Sandy is safely back with the crew, they do indeed discover a puncture on her arm where Karl gave her a shot in the insemination sequence. When they find out she's pregnant and everyone objects that it's impossible because all the women were given birth control drugs before the mission, we could take that to mean the drugs were simply ineffective against alien biology, or we could take her vision for reality and that Karl gave her some sort of counter-drug before the wiener bug shot her full of space monster jizz. Did the Xeno Corporation send Karl along with something like Special Order 937 to bring back a wiener bug for study?

While we're asking questions, what is the relationship between the crystals and the wiener bug? Is the wiener bug what killed off the ancient civilization, or is it a final surviving member trying to pass on its genetic material in a last ditch attempt to restart its race? The movie doesn't care that you want to know, because now that we've got the inseminating out of the way, the movie switches gears to become a particularly claustrophobic and unpleasant slasher for the remaining run time. Sandy's maternal instinct kicks into murder mode as she starts picking off the remaining crew, and it's a race for survival until the evacuation team arrives. Of course, all there is to pick up when they arrive is a couple of slimy sock puppet wiener bug babies.

Whether you take it for better or worse, this flick is an odd duck in that it's a low-budget Alien ripoff that shows the monster even less than Alien did! In fact, I think the only Alien ripoff with less monster than this is, oddly enough, the in-name-only direct sequel Alien 2: Sulla Terra – a flick so impoverished that not only do you see the monster almost solely through a POV shot from inside its fucking mouth, but that they couldn't even afford to shoot in an abandoned factory so the climax takes place behind the pin setters at a bowling alley! But that's a review for another time. We're here to talk about Inseminoid, after all. So does the lack of monster work like it did for its inspiration? I think so. When there's no silly wiener bug to shake your head at, this thing is a solid little horror flick that packs a pretty nasty punch, especially for something that came out of England right during the beginning of the censorial backlash that led to them banning everything fun in movies for years to follow. It's gritty and sleazy and gory where it can afford it, and the birthing sequence which consists of nothing but Sandy screaming for what must be close to 90 solid seconds somehow manages to start off unnerving, shoot past annoying, slingshot around laughable and come right back around to unnerving again by the time it's over.

What little money they did have was spent very wisely. The movie was originally set on a space ship (just to make it extra hard to deny what they were ripping off), but there was so little money for FX that the production moved to Chiselhurst Caves in Kent, England. With pieces of the set build right into the real rock walls of the caves, and with all those non-styrofoam corridors and caverns to run around in, the movie gains hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of production value at the cost of what a giant pain in the ass it is to shoot a movie in a cave. This is also one of the few movies I've seen where being drastically under-lit wound up being a strike in the movie's favor, as it covers up a lot of the cheapness and adds to the sense of claustrophobic horror.

If it weren't for Creature, this would be hands-down my favorite Alien ripoff. As it is, there's a two-way tie. Creature is more fun and watchable overall, but Inseminoid wins by an intergalactic mile in being unrelentingly vicious and mean-spirited. If you want some wacky fun and Klaus Kinski being an utter sleazeball, Creature is your flick. If you want a movie whose only goal is to hurt your feelings and make you squirm, Inseminoid is where it's at.

 Joining me in paying homage to some of our favorite cinematic plagiarism (but we didn't plagiarize the reviews, we promise), the usual suspects sailing these seas of cheese:

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