A slasher movie set in space contains its fair share of sexism, but this doesn’t seem too out of place in a scenario where human victory is deemed impossible. Mark Fraser revisits a film in which gender issues are sacrificed for science fiction’s greater good.
Norman J Warren’s intergalactic horror opus Inseminoid (1981) is kind of like Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien, but without a Ripley.
None of the six women in the movie – which is set in a cavernous space camp on a freezing planet where some scientists are investigating the not-so-benign remains of an ancient civilisation – properly fulfils the role of heroine, although one of them (Sandy, played by Judy Geeson) eventually dominates proceedings by virtue of the fact she becomes impregnated by a subterranean extra-terrestrial and goes on a murderous rampage.
While some of the other five females (Jennifer Ashley, Stephanie Beacham, Rosalind Lloyd, Victoria Tennant and Heather Wright) end up, like Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the Scott film, wearing nothing but a singlet and panties, they all fall victim in one way or another to alien-induced carnage.
In this day and age a few may regard all of this as being a bit sexist – aside from the fact Inseminoid at times comes across as a kind of misogynistic slasher movie in space (which, at one point, includes an oddly painful rape scene), its perverse depiction of motherhood isn’t exactly imbued with wholesome feminine values.
But as the film doesn’t pretend to be anything but unapologetic exploitation, serious gender politics don’t really come into play, especially when all of the men in the film are ultimately rendered useless.
Having said this, there is one moment of complete female stupidity when medical assistant Sharon (Wright) chooses to nurse the just-born alien babies instead of trying to immediately dispose of them – something which is quite inexplicable given their mother has turned into a cannibalistic psycho hell-bent on eradicating (and eating) as much of the team as possible.
This, however, is countered by the suggestion that one of the males, Dr Karl (Barry Houghton), actually assists with Sandy’s insemination, giving the movie a kind of Rosemary’s Baby touch.
Why this ambiguity is thrown into the plot (concocted by Nick and Gloria Maley) is anyone’s guess. But in the end it doesn’t really matter – not after Sandy starts unequivocally proving to the other crew members that they are no match for the rampant space bride as she successfully wreaks havoc and disembowels corpses (with the latter development providing a weaker substitute for the stomach bursting littered throughout the Alien franchise).
While the slayings in this movie are pretty grim, they are not as bad as they could be. Sure, there are some genuinely schlocky moments in Inseminoid, but it must be remembered that by the time it arrived in the early 1980s, zombie meisters like George A Romero and Tom Savini had already gone a long way towards taking gory disembowelments to their logical conclusion. Compared to these guys, Warren actually shows a little restraint.
And though the film has its moments of undeniable cruelty, they still sometimes pale against modern standards.
Take the demise of Gail (Lloyd) for instance. After getting her leg stuck in some camp junk (of which there seems to be an awful lot lying around) in an airlock, she tries to escape by amputating her foot with a mini-chainsaw. Unfortunately the ploy doesn’t work and she ends up running out of oxygen and freezing to death.
Although Warren’s depiction of this event is reasonably brutal, one can only wonder how it would have been handled by someone like Fede Alvarez, whose electric knife self-decapitation in the 2013 version of Evil Dead really leaves nothing to the imagination.
Then there’s the head bashing and stabbing of Barbara (Tennant), who gets slaughtered by Sandy in the camp’s bathroom.
Had this scene been directed by either Alvarez or Franck Khalfourn, whose 2012 reboot of Maniac couldn’t have been more graphic when it comes to gruesome blade-inflicted murders, it too would have been way nastier.
While these comparisons are not meant as a defence for the exploitative and misogynistic violence found in Inseminoid, they do highlight the fact the movie is definitely a product of its time, and indeed could be considered something of a precursor to the trashy science fiction works produced by the Americans (like Cannon and Vestron) during the 1980s.
Thus the film, which admittedly moves along at a good pace, doesn’t really have much to apologise for, even if it is derivative of the Scott film.*
The sets (by Hayden Pearce) are as unashamedly cheap as one will ever see in a science fiction movie, while the sparse special/visual effects (by Philip Sharpe and Gary Shaw) and – to a lesser extent – John Scott’s electronic score are also pretty cheesy.
Even the performances are perfunctory, with the exception of Geeson who, to her credit, never really overacts despite the material she has to work with.
Ultimately, this means the entire cast – with its noticeable lack of heroes and heroines – ends up being totally disposable. In effect, once it becomes obvious where the whole thing is heading, there is really no one to root for, even when it comes down to the last man standing. Ultimately, viewers are not left guessing who will die, but rather how they will.
If anything it’s fair to say Inseminoid should not be approached with high expectations – even if it does contain a slight fatalistic twist at the end which was not entirely commonplace at the time it was made.
A final point worth making about the movie is the fact it not only shares some common traits with the original Alien, but inadvertently finds itself entwined with two other instalments from its franchise.
The most obvious one is, of course, the David Fincher-directed Alien3 (1992), in which Ripley finds herself carrying the titular beast’s spawn in a space camp on a hostile planet (this time it’s a penal colony).
Meanwhile, the second is Prometheus (2012), when Scott resumed command of the series after a 33 year break. At the start of this peculiar instalment, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover an intergalactic map in a Scottish cave which leads them on their quest to discover the origins of humanity.
Inseminoid begins with a similar premise – the team finds some hieroglyphics on a subterranean wall which suggest the civilisation that once inhabited the planet had an obsession with pairs.
While this little doo-dad of information helps explain why Sandy ends up giving birth to twins, it doesn’t give the narrative any greater sense of purpose outside of the immediate mayhem.
Given Prometheus turns into something of a philosophical train wreck, though, this is not such a bad thing.
*It seems the film’s producer Richard Gordon would beg to differ. In the extras that appear on the Powerhouse Films Ltd Blu-ray release of the movie, he says: “When the picture was completed, somehow a rumour got started that we had done a sort of rip off of … Alien, which was completely wrong because in fact when we started shooting Inseminoid none of us had even heard of Alien, which had not yet been in release and had not yet been shown by 20th Century Fox.”
Words by Mark Fraser
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Inseminoid was released as part of the limited edition Norman J Warren box set in the UK on August 9, 2019.