6. Forbidden World (1982)
Director Allan Holzman wanted to make a picture. Roger Corman had a robot prop and spaceship set left over from a previous film, and told Holzman that if he could write and shoot an opening scene for a set amount of money, he could have his picture. Holzman did so, and in record time. Impressed, and still miffed at the success of Alien, Roger Corman told him he could have his picture, and instructed him “rip-off Alien”.
Using spaceship sets fresh off of Galaxy of Terror (built with cardboard and polystyrene burger boxes), space battle footage recycled from the earlier Star Wars cash-in Battle Beyond the Stars, and a slapped together script, Holzman did just that. The shoot was fast and relatively untroubled, although actress Dawn Dunlap tells of arriving on set one day to discover a nude shower scene had been written into the script.
On a research station on a distant planet scientists are playing god, manipulating life in an attempt to create a food source for an overpopulated and starving galaxy. Unfortunately, their new miracle food animal has begun to eat them, mutating into a slimy black beast with sharp teeth and a familiar long, phallic head.
It is said that during its first screening a man in the audience was howling with laughter. Roger Corman, enraged, bound up the isle, found the man and punched him as hard as he could in the face, shouting “Stop laughing! This is a serious science fiction movie!”
7. Creature (1985)
Creature is perhaps the most blatant of Alien cash-ins: from its simple one-word title, its allusion to corporate intrigue, its very familiar looking alien creature.
A team of explorers working for an American company have discovered an ancient ruin on Saturn’s moon Titan, whereupon they inadvertently awaken and are attacked by the titular “creature”. Shortly after, their ship crashes into a space station near earth.
A mission is sent to investigate, during which the new crew encounter the only survivor of a doomed expedition from a rival German company and its only survivor, who has gone mad. The creature that attacked the first expedition stalks them one by one, applying its mind-controlling parasitic spawn to its victims.
Directed by William Malone (House on Haunted Hill) the film has impressive set design and cinematography for its restrictive budget. The creature itself is revealed to be an awkward and flaccid version of HR Giger’s phallic monster from Alien.
The real monster on set wasn’t the creature, but the guest star brought in to play the German survivor. William Malone was to share in something of the torments of master film-maker Werner Herzog when European backers insisted that he cast the talented but notoriously volatile German actor Klaus Kinski in the role.
Kinski, true to his reputation, made each scene he worked on a living hell, alienating and creeping-out the cast and crew throughout. Malone recalled Kinski arriving on set one day arm-in-arm with a girl who didn’t look a day over 16. When Malone asked him where he met her Kinski answered, nonchalantly, “Oh, I hang around the school yards.”
William Malone would go on to work directly with Alien designer H.R. Giger, his idol, on an ambitious science fiction horror film titled Dead Star. Sadly, it was never produced, but the remarkable design art remains, and elements from its story (described as “Hellraiser meets Alien)” were incorporated into later films Supernova, and Event Horizon.
8. Alien from the Deep (1989)
Common to B-grade films of the 80s were awkward and simplistic environmental messages. In the Italian B-movie Alien from the Deep, a corrupt chemical company is dumping its waste into a volcano. Two Greenpeace activists discover the illicit activity and investigate just in time to bear witness to the attack of an alien being spawned from an asteroid that has fallen into the contaminated waters near the volcano.
Owing as much to Godzilla as to Alien, its monster is impressive despite the limited budget. Opting for a large animatronic instead of a rubber suit, the creature has a genuinely extraterrestrial look to it, even if its movements are awkward and robot-like.
Veteran actor Charles Napier (Superman, The Manchurian Candidate) chews the scenery with his gruff performance as a corporate heavy, leaving with no doubt that humanity is the real monster here.
9. Leviathan (1989)
When news raced through Hollywood that James Cameron, golden boy director of the hugely successful Aliens was working on a thriller set deep in the ocean, the ocean became the place to set a new wave of creature features. Films like Lords of the Deep, Endless Descent, Deep Star Six, and Leviathan swapped the dark expanse of deep space for the darkness and pressure of the deep sea.
In Leviathan, the crew of a deep sea mining vessel are forced to investigate a sunken Russian submarine. As reluctant as the crew of the Nostromo, they do what they have to do, and fall prey to a secret genetic experiment gone wrong, as a shape-changing horror lurks the claustrophobic bowels of their vessel, picking them off.
The creature in Leviathan owes much to the design of John Carpenter’s The Thing, featuring a shape-changing hybrid of human and various sea creatures. This is no coincidence, since the same team, under the direction of special effects wizard Stan Winston, worked on both films. Tom Woodruff Jr. operated the monster suit, and would go on to design and play the adult aliens in Alien 3 and all of the following incarnations of the famous creature on film.
To save money on giant water tanks, a method called “dry for wet” was employed. They shot the underwater scenes in a studio, and filled the air with smoke effects lit darkly with deep blues. Tiny particles normally used as snow were blown about the stage giving the illusion of floating matter. Completed by under-cranking the camera to make movements slow and heavy, the effect is impressive, and stands up to this day.
Despite A-grade performances by Peter Weller (Robocop, Naked Lunch), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), and veteran actor Richard Crenna (Rambo: First Blood), Leviathan was not well received upon release, finding itself lost among too many similar but inferior films of its kind. To this day it remains a dark horse favourite for lovers of the genre.
10. Xtro II: The Second Encounter (1990)
Four years after the release of James Cameron’s successful sequel Aliens, Xtro II: The Second Encounter was released strait-to-video as an unconnected sequel to the 1983 art-house horror Xtro.
Some might argue that the original Xtro belongs on this list also, as it contains a scene in which an alien is born from a human woman. However, beyond that single element, Xtro is in fact formidable film in its own right: quite original, and a notably psychedelic artefact of its time. On the other hand, Xtro II draws inspiration directly from both Alien and Aliens.
In a secret base a shady agency has created a portal into another dimension. Three explorers are sent through the portal and are quickly attacked. When the single survivor is brought back, she is carrying a familiar intruder within her. After the alien bursts from her in a bloody explosion strait out of Alien, a rag-tag team of soldiers strait out of Aliens are sent in to deal with the adult creature.
Fans of Aliens will recognise the “smart-guns” wielded by the soldiers in Xtro II, among other details lifted from its superior progenitor.
The third instalment in the Xtro series, Xtro 3: Watch the Skies, would go on to imitate elements from the Predator franchise.
Author Bio: Benjamin Pahl Robinson is a film-maker based in Australia and Argentina. He works in both drama and documentary.