Inseminoid Review

Norman Warren’s idea of a big-budget production, Inseminoid was an idea cobbled together by Nick and Gloria Maley who were part of the make-up team on Alien. Indeed, the shadow of Ridley Scott’s film hangs heavy but you have to give Warren credit for taking the sexual subtexts that Scott skirted and placing them right at the centre of an incredibly daft SF-horror romp. In Alien, John Hurt was subjected to a kind of symbolic rape. Needless to say, there is no symbolism required in Inseminoid, where poor old Judy Geeson is graphically assaulted by a bug-eyed alien whose penis resembles a particularly lengthy test-tube. But more, much more, of that later.

The plot rips off Alien with a gusto that renders a little dubious the filmmaker’s claim that it was devised before Scott’s film premiered. A group of archaeologists arrive on a mysterious planet to investigate some ancient ruins. Discovering a secret underground chamber, one of the crew is attacked by a strange creature. When he runs amok, his colleage Sandy (Geeson) goes after him and ends up having an unfortunate encounter with one of the planet’s inhabitants which leaves her, respectively, pregnant and deranged. Gradually, the rest of the crew fall victim to Sandy’s madness, leaving few people left behind to witness the results of her (un)happy event.

This is all very silly and extremely bloody. Warren’s apparent determination to outdo his previous work in terms of sheer tastelessness results in some astonishingly distasteful scenes – and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. Every opportunity for a brutal set-piece is seized with both hands and played out with a gorgeous visual style that belies the relatively small budget. The DP John Metcalfe does wonders with the low-lit interiors of Chislehurst Caves and makes the most of the opportunities afforded by the combination of blue and red filters and an awayday to Gozo to film some exteriors. This surprisingly lush pictorial element contrasts rather nicely with the increasingly garish content. The scene in which Judy Geeson is raped, on a surgical table bathed in white light, is probably the most extreme sequence of its kind in an exploitation film ever passed by the British censor. It’s not especially graphic but its played out for maximum weirdness with mad camera angles and a rather splendid bug eyed alien with a transparent penis. On a domestic note, for those of you who want to try this at home, the inseminatory fluid was created as a combination of raw egg and watered-down Swarfega. Followingh this, Sandy’s going-off-the-deep-end results in plenty of enjoyably low-budget carnage which includes the creative use of the infamous outer-space chainsaws. The rape scene is topped for in-your-face offensiveness by the birth scene which is really harrowing. The rather cute alien babies, incidentally, waste little time in killing their unwilling mother and snacking on the throats of the remaining crew – leading to Warren’s trademark visual moment and a final scene which is so predictable that you can hardly believe it’s been included. Women’s groups protested this film at the time and it’s not hard to see why. But, on the other hand, it’s rather pleasing to see a strong woman knocking off her colleagues in various imaginative ways. I’m also of the opinion that the feminist movement of the early 1980s would have been better to spend their time complaining about serious real issues such as domestic violence and police attitudes to women than spending their time throwing paint at screens where trashy horror films were unspooling. But that’s by the by.

You may recall that, back in the 1950s, it was considered de rigeur for a British film to contain at least one American star in order make it saleable in the vital US market. Generally speaking, this meant that a good collection of British character actors were forced to act alongside the likes of Brian Donlevy or Howard Duff. Inseminoid seems to hark back to this tradition, but in the place of anyone even vaguely recognisable, we have to put up with Jennifer Ashley and Robin Clarke as the team’s American leaders. It’s debatable whether Jennifer Ashley is a very bad actress or giving a very good performance of the type of American woman who behaves like a very bad actress. Whatever, the result is a screen overflowing with tedium. Robin Clarke, on the other hand, is merely mediocre and woefully lacking in anything resembling charisma.

Fortunately, the British leads do all that could be expected of them and more. Stephanie Beacham is very likeable as the journalist documenting the voyage and Barry Houghton is effectively ambivalent as the ship’s doctor. But the laurels should go to Judy Geeson who gives a performance so good that it would have been showered with awards had it appeared in a more mainstream film. She registers the various emotional changes with astounding subtlety and her anguish when she realises how she’s being taken over is genuinely affecting. I don’t think she ever gave a better performance than this and it’s her commitment which anchors this increasingly deranged film in a set of completely credible emotions. This is the work of a very strong actress who should have gone on to bigger and better things. Sadly, now lives as a writer in LA and hasn’t acted for some time.

The cheap but resourceful special effects and the make-up effects by Nick and Gloria Maley are generally very good, which is more than can be said for their script. The first half hour is unbelievably slow and the plot only gets going once Sandy is inseminated. There are interminable scenes where characters sit and talk to each other for no apparent reason. The dialogue is functional at best and banal at worst. Faced with this, Norman Warren responds with both his best and his worst work as director. He can’t make us interested in most of the characters and every time Robin Clarke or Jennifer Ashley lolls in front of the camera, the screen oozes boredom. But his work on the violent action is superb with several well choreographed fight scenes – including one between Stephanie Beacham and Judy Geeson which should, by rights, be a camp classic. This mix of good and bad reflects Inseminoid as a whole. When it works, it’s good, nasty fun with John Scott’s score adding a sense of unearthly menace. When it doesn’t work, it dies on the screen. I think it’s fair to say that fans of trashy horror will probably enjoy it more than fans of Science Fiction.

Doctor Who Connections#4. The film was largely shot at Chislehurst Caves which was also the location for the 1975 “Who” story “Revenge of the Cybermen”. Rosalind Lloyd, who plays a luckless victim of Ms.Geeson, appeared in the 1978 story “The Pirate Planet”. Another cast member, John Segal, appeared in the best-forgotten "Time and the Rani".

The Disc

Inseminoid was first released on an R2 back in 1999 where it looked pretty awful in a non-anamorphic transfer. This new release looks a good deal better although it’s far from perfect. The transfer is anamorphic this time, reflecting the original Scope ratio of 2.35:1. There is quite a lot of artifacting on display in the cave interiors and occasional scenes are grainier than they need to be. But the colours are strong – as they are throughout the whole collection – and there’s a reasonable level of detail throughout. The picture is pleasingly sharp without being over-enhanced. There is some print damage to be seen in the form of small scratches. Overall, despite faults, this is as good as Inseminoid has ever looked for home viewing.

The usual three soundtracks are included. As the effectiveness of these is identical to the other discs, see my comments on these other discs for more details. Suffice to say here that the 2.0 track is 2 channel mono and not stereo and the remixes are a mess.

The extras are very interesting. There’s a frank, detailed commentary from Norman Warren and his assistant director. This is honest and funny without any of the ego-massaging we sometimes get on these tracks. They obviously like the film and remember it with affection but they’re far from blind to its faults. We also get two brief featurettes, one being John Scott commenting on his score and the other featuring a conversation with Judy Geeson. The latter is particularly interesting because I was always under the impression that she refused to talk about the film. She seems quite nostalgically inclined towards it now. Finally, the original trailer is included.

As with the other films in the series, the feature is subtitled in English but the extras are not. The film appears to be uncut and although my review copy was labelled with a '15' certificate, the content is the full '18' rated version.

Inseminoid is the least satisfactory film in Anchor Bay’s set. It’s wildly inconsistent and doesn’t really hang together at all. But it’s rather enjoyable all the same and Judy Geeson’s performance occasionally raises it to levels that it doesn’t deserve to reach.

Film
5 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
7 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

Last updated: 08/06/2018 15:07:22

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