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Retro Review: INSEMINOID (1981)

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INSEMINOID
aka HORROR PLANET
(UK - 1981; US release 1982)

Directed by Norman J. Warren. Written by Nick Maley and Gloria Maley. Cast: Judy Geeson, Robin Clarke, Jennifer Ashley, Stephanie Beacham, Steven Grives, Barry Houghton, Rosalind Lloyd, Victoria Tennant, Trevor Thomas, Heather Wright, David Baxt, Dominic Jephcott, John Segal, Kevin O'Shea, Robert Pugh. (R, 92 mins)

A trashy cult horror classic from the glory days of '80s late-night cable, 1981's INSEMINOID (aka HORROR PLANET) is probably the best-known work of British exploitation auteur Norman J. Warren (SATAN'S SLAVE, PREY, TERROR). A blatant ALIEN knockoff that would make a great triple feature with GALAXY OF TERROR and XTRO, INSEMINOID revels in its sleaze, gore, and general grossness, which is really key to its nostalgic charm from a bygone era but would probably result in instant cancellation were it made today. Just out on Blu-ray from Scream Factory (because physical media is dead), INSEMINOID doesn't waste any time letting you know that it's an ALIEN ripoff, after an archaeological expedition finds evidence of past life in tombs on an unnamed planet with two suns and an average temperature of 89 below zero.






Two crew members, Ricky (David Baxt, who had a tiny role as a forest ranger in THE SHINING) and Dean (Dominic Jephcott) are exploring a cave and witness a rock formation exploding. Dean is injured and dies, while Ricky seems to be under the psychological hold of some crystals that were expelled during the blast. After busting out of quarantine, a seemingly possessed Ricky tries to sabotage the installation's oxygen supply and is killed by documentation officer Kate (Stephanie Beacham). Two other crew members--Sandy (Judy Geeson) and Mitch (Trevor Thomas)--venture into the caves only to have an alien creature appear out of nowhere and tear Mitch to shreds before raping Sandy. Another explosion and subsequent cave-in leaves them stranded in the facility until a rescue team can make the long journey to save them. In the meantime, the team's doctor Karl (Barry Houghton) discovers that the traumatized Sandy is in the midst of an accelerated twin pregnancy that doesn't seem to be the result of her relationship with mission commander Mark (Robin Clarke). Sandy then develops an insatiable thirst for blood, stalking and killing the crew one by one in graphic fashion to nourish her growing alien fetuses.


Warren dives right into the horrific mayhem, allowing almost nothing in the way of character development or even getting a handle on who's who on the crew, which consists of about a dozen people for Geeson's Sandy to work her way through. INSEMINOID has a larger-than-normal body count as far as these ALIEN ripoffs go (a young Victoria Tennant, years before marrying Steve Martin and starring with him in L.A. STORY, makes an early exit). It's to Warren's credit that he keeps the film trucking along with all manner of sexual violence and grindhouse gore (there's even a scene where someone has to chainsaw off their own foot), with Geeson, by that point a veteran actress best known for co-starring with Sidney Poitier in 1967's TO SIR WITH LOVE, literally sinking her teeth into it with an intense and fearless performance, giving no visible indication that the whole project is maybe a little beneath her. Likewise for Beacham, a few years away from American TV fame on DYNASTY, THE COLBYS, and SISTER KATE, who reportedly turned down a role in a prestigious London play because this paid more and she needed the money.


The Scream Factory Blu-ray includes a feature-length documentary on Warren, with a focus on the production of INSEMINOID. He cast two Americans for export value--Clarke, who had just co-starred in the Tim Conway/Don Knotts comedy THE PRIZE FIGHTER and had a small role in the George C. Scott/Marlon Brando thriller THE FORMULA, and Jennifer Ashley, who established her drive-in exploitation bona fides in 1976's THE POM POM GIRLS, 1977's TINTORERA, and 1980's GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED on her way to 1983's immortal CHAINED HEAT. Ashley straight-up admits she was out of her league working opposite Geeson and Beacham, but Warren praises her professionalism. That's more than he or Ashley can say about Clarke, described by all involved parties as an arrogant, uncooperative pain in the ass who alienated the entire cast and kept behaving as if having "a Brando movie" on his resume gave him bragging rights, even frequently second-guessing and arguing with the director (Warren: "Robin was in THE FORMULA and he had one scene, where he gets shot in the pre-credits sequence...his scene wasn't even with Brando," adding that Clarke was "the only actor I ever had to yell at").


INSEMINOID is a nasty time capsule from that grimy New Wave of British Horror scene going back to the early '70s that gave us cult figures like Warren, XTRO director Harry Bromley Davenport, and the movement's most famous figure, Pete Walker, the director of gems like 1971's DIE SCREAMING MARIANNE, 1974's HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, and 1976's SCHIZO. These films took a decidedly scuzzier and often sexploitative approach that went further than stalwart UK horror houses Hammer and Amicus. It probably wouldn't play well for more sensitive audiences today, though its alien rape scene is surprisingly less offensive than a similar sequence in the Roger Corman-produced GALAXY OF TERROR, that was made around the same time. Released in a few cities in the US in the spring of 1982 under its original title before being rechristened HORROR PLANET for a relaunch the following fall, INSEMINOID enjoyed a long life in video stores and on cable (under the HORROR PLANET title), and even after the dawn of the DVD era gave some of his older films their first signifcant exposure on these shores, it remains Warren's most widely-seen film in America. Now 78, he's only made two features since--the 1986 spy actioner GUNPOWDER with FELLINI SATYRICON star Martin Potter, and the 1987 slasher film BLOODY NEW YEAR, after which he essentially retired, aside from a few music videos, though he's been an active participant on DVD and Blu-ray bonus features and makes occasional appearances on the UK convention circuit.



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