A distress signal from deep space. A blue-collar crew of astronauts discover a derelict space craft. A star beast of unknown origin chases them through dark pipe-lined corridors until there's only a few (if one) left. After the blockbuster success of Ridley Scott's sci-fi tinged haunted house movie "Alien" busted some blocks in 1979, it was only a matter of time before the low-budget copycats followed suit.
Not only were many of these knockoff movies kinda cool, but they turned out to be a proving ground of ideas and talent for future entries in the "Alien" franchise, including "Aliens," "Alien 3" and "Prometheus" … for realsimo. The first "Alien" was in itself a shameless "homage" to classic B-movies "Planet of the Vampires" and "It! The Terror from Beyond Space," so it's only fair that flicks like this week's Vin Diesel monster mash "Riddick" should take a page or seven from its playbook.
1. 'Inseminoid' (1980)
How's that for a suggestive title? Rather than beat around the bush of the whole impregnation aspect of "Alien," the producers of this sleazy British gore flick met the sexual connotations of the facehugger head-on. It's reproductive horror at its "best" as a crew lands on a desolate planet to survey the ruins of an ancient civilization, only to have one of their own named Sandy (Judy Geeson) brutally violated by some perverted sex beast. Freshly knocked up and millions of miles from a Planned Parenthood, Sandy begins an accelerated pregnancy that turns her into a homicidal blood-drinking zombie. Things don't get better when her ghastly twins are born. As they say in the Snickers commercials, "There's a hunger inside me, there's a hunger inside you!"
2. 'Galaxy of Terror' (1981)
Schlockmeister producer Roger Corman ushered many brilliant filmmakers into the world, including James Cameron. That young buck Canadian would one day conquer the world with "Avatar" and "Titanic," but first he had to figure out how to have a KY Jelly-oozing alien worm artfully rape a spacewoman. Cameron worked as production designer and second unit director on this exploitation flick, and his facehugger-esque creatures owe a debt to H.R. Giger's iconic creations, as do the pyramidal spacecraft covered with vaginal openings. Freddy Kruger himself, Robert England, plays one of the crewmembers taunted by creatures manifested from their psyche … sound familiar, "Elm Street" aficionados?
3. 'Forbidden World' (1982)
Sensing déjà vu? That's because those are the same egg-crate-lined walls from "Galaxy of Terror." Another Corman quickie chopped together from recycled sets/footage, "Forbidden World" adheres far closer to the "Alien" formula, right down to the phallic black creature who chows down on the yummy human smörgåsbord laid out for him. A scientific outpost on a desert planet plays host to the carnage, where space stud Mike (Jesse Vint) beds both beautiful scientist chicks on board before killing the monster with a cancer grenade (!). Nudity buffs and vocal feminists will find much to love of a scene that accidentally adheres to the Bechdel rule using two naked women. Not surprisingly, Ridley Scott (or his screenwriters) seem to have stolen this movie's "robot reading a crew member's dreams in stasis" scene for the opening of "Prometheus."
4. 'Creature' (1985)
"Wherever this thing came from it wasn't bred for looks!" You got that straight, space cowboy. Originally titled "Titan Find," William Malone's on-the-cheap "Alien" knockoff is actually two-thirds of the way to being a half-decent movie, with its excellent (if sparse) model work and fog-shrouded/lightning-heavy gothic horror atmosphere. Also, Klaus Kinski. Notable character actor Lyman Ward (best known as the dad from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") plays the corporate toolbag who puts the crew at risk in interest of financial gain, not unlike Burke in "Aliens" the following year. The finale has the gumption to verbally shout out its reference to Howard Hawks' "The Thing From Another World" in how it ultimately does in the really really "Alien"-like alien. David Fincher's "Alien 3" would use similarly distorted first-person "monster POV" shots for its corridor chase scenes.
5. 'DeepStar Six' (1989)
"DeepStar Six" might sound like the name of some '70s supergroup, but it's actually the first of a wave (pun!) of ocean-bound horror films released in 1989, including "Leviathan," "The Rift" and "Lords of the Deep." All of them were trying to beat James Cameron's "The Abyss" to the punch, little knowing what an underwater alien cuddlefest that would turn out to be. This one is the brainchild of director Sean S. Cunningham of "Friday the 13th" fame and writer Lewis Abernathy, who would play Bodine in "Titanic" … the Cameron connections continue! Their big nasty is a super-sized crustacean and ain't bad as far as big insectoid crab thingies that can cleave a man in half. While "Creature" boasted Ferris Bueller's dad, this one's got his mom Cindy Pickett, although the standout lunchmeat … er, crew member is Miguel Ferrer, who perpetually acts as if he either just got back from and/or is on his way to his trailer for a bump.
6. 'Leviathan' (1989)
From the director of "Rambo II," the writer of "Blade Runner" and the star of "RoboCop" comes a tale of unimaginable dramatic tepidness! Peter Weller and his crew of underwater blue-collar mining schlubs discover a scuttled Russian sub, which unleashes an alien virus that forms (grossly) with human DNA. The low point of the movie is a misused Daniel Stern as Sixpack, whose constant stream of creepy off-color commentary to the female crewmembers plays like a sexual harassment checklist. Appropriately, it's his arm that mutates into the lamprey-like giant fish monster (made by "Aliens" creature maker Stan Winston; how incestuous are all these movies?) that does in the rest of the crew until Weller shouts his immortal line, "Say 'Ahh,' motherf**ker!"
7. 'Species' (1995)
"Hey, here's a boss idea: Let's do one 'a dem alien movies like Ridley whatsisname did, only in ours da alien's got boobs!" That was the notion behind MGM's big budget alien sexploitation movie where human scientists (played by Oscar winners Ben Kingsley and Forrest Whitaker) splice extraterrestrial DNA with human, ultimately creating a hot babe (Natasha Henstridge) hellbent on mating in order to rapidly reproduce. If you think that sounds like the plot of a crappy mid-'90s Skinemax movie, that's because it is, although the pedigree of the cast — including future three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams as a young alien — elevates it to mere dreck. In a clear-cut case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," this film finally found the original designer of the Alien H.R. Gigercopying his own iconic work, and the look for sexualized Sil is highly derivative but beautiful nonetheless.
8. 'Pitch Black' (2000)
Director David Twohy gave a game Vin Diesel his first shot at the big time by crafting the role of anti-heroic Furyan, Richard B. Riddick, specifically for our favorite baldy. Riddick is a prisoner en route to be executed for numerous intergalactic crimes when his ship crash-lands on a planet filled with angry nocturnal creatures. Did we mention the planet is JUST about to begin a month-long eclipse? Whoops. Crew gets picked off one by one, etc., you know the drill. Diesel is extraordinary at simultaneously projecting threat and latent heroism, which is why audiences seem to love the character so much, not unlike Ripley before him. As for the big bads, they're reminiscent of Giger's design in that the creatures lack recognizable eyes but have something the xenomorph never had in any of its on-screen iterations: wings. These pointy-headed Pegasuses can do serious damage, and are possibly the best-looking horror creatures since 1979.
9. 'Aliens' (1986)
Although this is one of the greatest sequels of all time, it owes a debt to Ridley Scott's original both in story beats (another one bites the dust via airlock) and design. Director James Cameron took more than a few cues from his work on "Galaxy of Terror," as well as Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers," for this high-octane roller coaster ride from hell that sends Sigourney Weaver's Ripley back to LV-426 with a squad of heavily armed grunts to fight off an exponential plurality of the same big bad she nearly died defeating last time out. The Vietnam allegories and intense military combat of this "bug hunt" would serve as its own kind of bellwether for future sci-fi actioners from "Predator" to "Halo," proving you can change the formula while still honoring it. It's the last word on how to do a sequel right … "Game over, man, game over!"