Shot fast and cheap on a few of the sets that were originally constructed for Galaxy Of Terror (and which hadn't been torn down yet), Forbidden World begins in the far reaches of space when a bounty hunter named Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) wakes up from a cryogenic deep sleep just in time to help his robot assistant, SAM-104 (Don Olivera), evade destruction in an exciting space battles (using footage left over from Battle Beyond The Stars). He then learns that his help is needed elsewhere. It seems that on the planet Xarbia a group of scientists have created an artificial life form referred to only as Subject 20. Their intent was to use this artificial life form to aid with the footage shortage but as luck would have it, it's had quite the opposite effect as Subject 20 has grown into a vicious people eating monster.
Mike arrives on Xarbia and wastes no time hoping into bed with foxy Dr. Barbara Glaser (June Chadwick) and, shortly after that tryst, fooling around in the sauna with the even foxier lab assistant, Tracy Baxter (Dawn Dunlap). Meanwhile, Dr. Gordon Hauser (Linden Chiles) and Dr. Cal Timbergen (Fox Harris) are trying to figure out how to best stop Subject 20 before it lays waste to all of them.
At seventy seven minutes, Forbidden World moves along at a great pace. It doesn't waste any time getting started and even if the opening space battle has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the film, it looks cool and gets your attention from the start. Vint makes for a decent enough hero, a man who is obviously battle hardened (he seems to enjoy showing off his scars to the two ladies he gets naked with in the film) and while you're never going to remember Mike Colby the same way you remember Han Solo, he does fine with the material. The supporting cast is interesting enough, with Chadwick recognizable from her role in This Is Spinal Tap and Dunlap later appearing in Night Shift and then New Concorde's Barbarian Queen a few years later retiring. Harris, best known for his appearance in Repo Man (among other Alex Cox films), also appeared in Evil Spawn and Alienator and as such is no stranger to sci-fi knock-offs. His screen presence is welcome, as is that of Linden Chiles, who is instantly familiar from his countless TV appearances over the years.
The real star of the show, however, is Subject 20 itself. As the film plays out we get to enjoy the creature's evolution from a facehugger-esque parasitical creature to a large toothed Alien knock off. There's no shortage of gooey gore effects as corpses disintegrate and basically melt and various characters are knocked off during the course of the film. Combine that with the gratuitous nudity and at times surprisingly artistic camerawork and creative set design and even if the film still borrows from Scott's classic, Forbidden World is worth seeing.
Shout! Factory's new two-disc release contains not only the theatrical cut of the film but also the director's preferred cut of the film, which contains some oddball comedy and which runs a few minutes longer. In this cut, you'll also notice that SAM-104 has a different voice as well as other differences though the plot is essentially the same.
Shout! Factory presents Forbidden World on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer taken from original vault elements. The upgrade in quality from the standard definition disc being releases at the same time is pretty noticeable right from the opening sequences. The darker scenes aren't quite as murky as the standard definition presentation and color reproduction has just a little more pop to it that makes the colors a bit more impressive. This isn't an HD presentation that's going to rival the latest and greatest Hollywood blockbuster, but it does show good texture and strong detail. Some minor print damage is noticeable in the form of the odd speck here and there and a coat of film grain is present throughout playback, but neither of these are really detriments and it's probably a pretty safe assumption to say that Forbidden World looks as good on this disc as anyone could realistically expect it to given its age and low budget origins.
The Mutant version of the film is presented on a DVD (as a second disc in the set - it's not on the Blu-ray disc) in a 1.33.1 fullframe transfer that was obviously taken from a tape source. It doesn't look nearly as sharp or quite as colorful as the other version of the film as it's much softer and far less detailed but it's perfectly watchable even if there are periodic audio drop outs and some obvious interlacing issues.
The English language 48kHz 1.5Mbps DTS 2.0 track is pretty decent, though there are a few spots where the sound effects are a fair bit louder in the mix than the dialogue is. For the most part, however, dialogue is pretty clear and well balanced. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and the track sounds clean and clear. No alternate language options or subtitles are offered. There's a bit more punch to this mix than the Dolby Digital mix that was provided on the standard definition release and while it isn't a massively noticeable difference, this track is a bit cleaner and a heavier sounding.
Extras on the first disc start off with a featurette entitled The Making Of Forbidden World that clocks in at over half an hour in length and which features interviews with director Allan Holzman, effects guru Robert Skotak, director of photography Dennis Skotak, make up effects technician R. Christopher Biggs, production manager and second unit director Aaron Lipstadt, optical effects technician Tony Randal, actor Jesse Vint and composer Susan Justin. This is a pretty in-depth piece and with the wealth of participants it does a good job of covering both the technical side of things as well as providing some welcome background information on the film and general trivia. A fair bit of time is spent discussing the effects and about working with producer Roger Corman and all of the interesting things that it can sometimes entail.
Corman himself appears in a six minute interview in which he talks about how and why he bumped Holzman up in the ranks from editor to the film's director and about how he feels about the movie. John Carl Beuchler, who worked on the make-up effects work, is also interviewed in a separate segment where he spends fourteen minutes discussing his work wherein he was responsible for creating many of the notably gooey set pieces that make the film as fun as it is. He's fairly happy about his time spent on the picture even if he does note that he was under a lot of pressure in terms of schedule and budget.
Rounding out the extras on the first disc are The Skotak Gallery (a great collection of behind the scenes stills and preproduction artwork designed for the film), a gallery of promotional artwork, a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Corman/Shout! Factory releases, animated menus and chapter stops. All of the extras on the first disc are presented in high definition.
The second disc, in addition to the alternate Mutant version of the film, features a commentary with Allan Holzman moderated by Nathanial Thompson in which the director goes into quite a bit of detail about what he was trying to accomplish with the film not only in terms of gore and shock value and exploitative content but also in terms of legitimate artistic intent. It's an interesting talk and it moves at a good pace as Holzman talks about his working relationships with the various participants, what he feels works and doesn't work about the picture in hindsight and of course his conflict with Roger Corman over what was done to his preferred cut of the film. Overall this is a rock solid track that's well worth listening to.
Inside the keepcase is a full color booklet of liner notes by Dana MacMillan which serve as a primer to the film and do a fine job of putting it into context. The disc also comes with reversible cover art featuring the Forbidden World art on one side and the Mutant art on the other, which is a nice touch.
As cheap, schlocky and hokey as it may be, Forbidden World is still a really entertaining popcorn movie. The effects work and direction ensure that it's never boring while the gore and gratuitous nudity help to keep things moving along nicely as well. Sure, it's an Alien rip-off, but it's still a lot of fun and Shout! Factory's two-disc set is pretty much the definitive release (even if it would have been nice to see the Mutant version restored as well). Awesome stuff in almost every way, and cult film fans will absolutely eat this right up. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.