Forbidden World (1982) a.k.a Mutant Retrospective

In the distant future, at a genetic research station located on the remote desert planet of Xarbia, a research team has created an experimental lifeform they have designated “Subject 20”. This lifeform was built out of the synthetic DNA strain, “Proto B”, and was intended to stave off a galaxy-wide food crisis. However, Subject 20 mutates rapidly and uncontrollably and kills all of the laboratory subject animals before cocooning itself within an examination booth. After Subject 20 hatches from its cocoon, it begins killing the personnel at the station, starting with the lab tech charged with cleansing the subject lab of the dead animal test subjects.

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Professional troubleshooter Mike Colby, accompanied by his robot assistant SAM-104, is called in to investigate the problem. After Colby settles in, his decision to terminate Subject 20 to prevent further deaths is met with research-minded secrecy and resistance. The staff of the station includes the head of research, Gordon Hauser, his assistant Barbara Glaser, lab assistant Tracy Baxter, the station head of security and Cal Timbergen, the chief of bacteriology.

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As Subject 20 continues to kill most of the station crew, the reason for the deception is revealed. Subject 20’s genetic design incorporates human DNA, and its method of killing is to inject its prey with the Proto B DNA strain which then proceeds to remove all genetic differences within specific cells. The result is that the victim’s living body slowly erodes into gelatinous pile of pure protein which Subject 20 consumes for sustenance. After its final mutation, where the creature evolves into a huge insect-like being with a large mouth full of sharp teeth, the creature is slain when it eats Cal’s cancer-ridden liver, its body genetically self-destructing from within. Mike and Tracy are the only survivors.

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FORBIDDEN WORLD is the proving ground for first-time director Alan Holzman, another in a long line of Corman’s protégés (including Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese). Holzman put together Corman’s theatrical trailers for the last couple of years, and like Joe Dante, another Corman promoted editor, asked for a chance to direct. Sets used in filming GALAXY OF TERROR were still standing and camera equipment was not due back at the rental outlet till the end of the week, so Corman agreed. “Show me what you can do in one day,” he said. Frantically, Holzman convinced character actor Jesse Vint to don a mothballed uniform, came up with a make-shift script overnight, incorporating left-over footage of dog-fight effects from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and enthusiastically completed an incredible 94 set-ups in one day. With his trailer experience, Holzman then edited the footage into an action sequence which Corman adjudged so accomplished that he not only gave Holzman his chance to direct. A few months later, using a screenplay by Tim Curnen based loosely on a story by New World marketing whiz Jim Wynorski, Holzman went to work on FORBIDDEN WORLD, using the space battle as the film’s exciting pre-credit sequence. The film was shot on a break-neck 20-day schedule for under $1 million, and it displays every penny of its budget right up on the screen.

Tim Curnen’s screenplay of a constantly evolving mutant on the prowl in a remote scientific outpost on the planet Zarbia is from a story by New World publicist Jim Wynorski and R.J. Robertson. Both acknowledge ALIEN and THE THING as “inspiration.”

The project actually began about 3 years ago when the motion picture ALIEN was making so many bucks at the boxoffice. Jim Wynoroski was approached by a producer who wanted to make another picture just like ALIEN so Wynoroski & his friend Robertson cooked up a 10 page treatment that Wynoroski titled MUTANT.

“My first concern,” said Robertson, “was getting our plot as far away from ALIEN as possible while maintaining the elements which had made it popular in the first place.”

The essential elements, as Robertson saw it, were an isolated group of people who were being murdered by a particularly unappealing monster. Wynoroski & Robertson’s original story was set on a lunar base near the end of the century. A group of scientists are working on an experiment to speed up the evolutionary process with the ultimate goal of allowing humanity to function in alien environments without the need of life support systems. (This proved to be a good idea since in the movie the monster attaches itself to the base’s life support system at one point in the story. That way the humans couldn’t kill the monster without killing themselves.)

A beautiful view of the model showing the outside of the research station.
A beautiful view of the model showing the outside of the research station.

One of the experimental subjects, a laboratory mouse, succeeds in adapting to various atmospheres. A little too successful for after the little critter consumes all of the other test animals in the lab it not only is able to absorb the minds & memories of its victims but also takes on whatever physical characteristics it needs to survive. After eating a cat the mouse can see in the dark. After digesting a dog it has acquired a keen sense of smell. A monkey gives it agility. The scientists are unable to capture the thing and eventually it consumes one of the technicians. From that point on, the remaining scientists battle the creature for control of the lunar base & their lives.

Unfortunately, the producer who asked for the treatment lost interest in the project, “You get used to that sort of thing.” Robertson said with a wry grin. “I guess producers work on the assumption that you’re so grateful to get a chance to break into the motion picture industry that you’ll put up with treatment that you’d never accept in any other line of endeavor.” So MUTANT met a quick death, or so Robertson & Wynoroski thought.

Building the cocoon for the Mutant in FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982
Building the cocoon for the Mutant in FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982

Two years later Roger Corman, president of New World Pictures, was looking around for another outer space type movie. Jim Wynoroski in the meantime has become the advertising director for New World Pictures. So he dusts off the old MUTANT treatment and hands it to Corman, who appreciates the commercial potential. Another writer was brought in to finish a script.

When Robertson saw the completed motion picture at a sneak preview he was surprised that the ending of the film was neither the one from the original treatment nor the clever ending of the screenplay in which the creature was treated like a bacteria, was given an injection of penicillin and blew up & burst like a balloon. It was completely different and we won’t spoil anything by revealing it here.

The film is now about a group of scientists working on developing a new source of synthetic food on an outpost on planet Xarbia. One of the scientists decides to try a little experiment of his own. He takes a new type of protein that grows wild on the planet and splices it together with human sperm which he then injects into a female volunteer who must have also short-circuited for a few minutes. They don’t have long to wait for the results. In 2 weeks the offspring is born. It immediately kills its mother and then goes into hiding inside a cocoon. Everyone concludes that since the new life form is inside a shell, it is therefore harmless. It is quite obvious that these scientists are completely ignorant of sci-fi literature or motion pictures for no sooner have they ceased to concern themselves with the creature than it emerges from its shell, stronger & more deadly than before. One by one the scientists fall prey to the clever creature.

Draft of the 2nd stage of the MUTANT monster by Jim Shaw
Draft of the 2nd stage of the MUTANT monster by Jim Shaw

Most of FORBIDDEN WORLD’s live-action filming was done right at the Venice Studio, which meant that as the camera was rolling on one setup, another area of the stage was being struck, repainted and or redressed. Hammering stopped only long enough for rehearsals and takes. Actors and technical crew had to be careful where they stepped and leaned during production-many of the sets still had wet paint even as they were being filmed. Administration offices, hallways and various lab areas were pressed into service. A corrugated metal storage shelter served as a not-so-soundproof soundstage; an entire wall of New World’s main building was dressed and painted to provide a massive two-story space station exterior as a backdrop for one of the mutant’s killings, and a nearby vacant lot was converted into a sandy alien desert.

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The sets for FORBIDDEN WORLD incorporate a lot of ordinary components in unusual ways. A standing joke during production, as volunteers went to pick up fast-food, was the effects men saying, “See if you can grab an extra handful of food trays!” A few thousand trays from McDonald’s can look impressive when spray painted and strapped to walls, augmented by such “high-tech” bricabrac as PVC piping, sheets of plastic “packing bubbles,” cut and formed upholstery foam, and cannibalized radio and TV parts.

Cinefantastique v12n02-03 (1981)

In FORBIDDEN WORLD, you were the pilot of the first spaceship constructed entirely out of Big Mac containers and egg cartons.
Vint: Oh yeah. I was pretty amazed when I walked through that set. “These are egg cartons!” They said. “Yup. that’s what they are.”as they were tacking them to the wall and spray-painting them silver. And whenever we turned a comer and went through another portion of the ship, we just walked down the hall again and all the egg cartons would be spray-painted gold. – Jesse Vint

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FORBIDDEN WORLD’s special effects are provided by a talented in house” effects team supervised by Bill Conway and headed by Bob and Dennis Skotak. Effects newcomer Steve Neill was given less than five weeks to come up with four major, fully operational embodiments of the evolving, rampaging life form. Neill and his constantly growing staff (which came to include Michael F. Hoover, Rick Lazzarini, Michael LaValley, Mark Shostrom, Anthony Showe and Gene Barsamian) found themselves saddled with some unworkable concepts from a previous production designer. Subsequently they agonized over several major changes from upstairs” with no easing of deadlines.

Though Neill’s delivered fourth stage design failed to operate properly, it was filmed anyway, over his objections. Since the “monster” proved so difficult to wrangle, it was decided to go heavy on the monster’s wrath. John Carl Buechler, was tapped to whip up some “death scenes” for assorted crew members.

The design and execution of the carnage fell to Buechler and a hastily assembled staff, including Stephan Czerkas, Chris Biggs and Don Olivera (who also played, in his own home-made robot suit, SAM-104, the hero’s robot sidekick). The on-screen result is a series of escalating Mutant murders, the style of which Buechler sardonically calls punk rock horror.”

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When the hectic shoot was wrapped, Holzman locked himself into the editing room and fashioned a quick first cut. It soon became apparent that, in his time-pressed decision to “Do it anyway” on some of the Mutant effects, Holzman had shorted himself on footage of his title-star. An urgent call went out to Buechler to come back and re-do some of the third-stage Mutant work, of which there was critically insufficient footage. Within a week, Buechler delivered a Mutant head which blinked, snarled and opened wide its ravenous jaws.

Then, it was back to the editing room for Holzman, the place where many New World pictures are eventually saved. That just may be the reason Corman promotes his directors from the ranks of trailer editors. Preliminary word from insiders who have seen Holzman’s final cut of FORBIDDEN WORLD is that despite the production’s hurried pace and budget limitations, the film races.

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Susan Justin on her “Forbidden World” Score

Forbidden World AKA Mutant (1982) Complete Soundtrack Composed by Susan Justin

Track listing

  1. Theme From “Forbidden World” (02:35)
  2. Titles (02:36)
  3. Birth And Death (01:27)
  4. Mourning (01:26)
  5. Alone (03:24)
  6. Steam Room (01:23)
  7. Mutation (02:31)
  8. Xarbia (02:29)
  9. The Hole (02:43)
  10. The Doctor Returns (01:27)
  11. Laser Shower (01:16)
  12. Communication (01:43)
  13. The End (03:58)
  14. End Title Theme From “Forbidden World” (02:13)

Total Duration: 00:31:11


Jesse Vint as Mike Colby
Dawn Dunlap as Tracy Baxter
June Chadwick as Dr. Barbara Glaser
Linden Chiles as Dr. Gordon Hauser
Fox Harris as Dr. Cal Timbergen
Raymond Oliver as Brian Beale
Scott Paulin as Earl Richards
Michael Bowen as Jimmy Swift
Don Olivera as SAM-104

 Makeup Department
John Carl Buechler  special makeup effects (as J.C. Buechler)
Sue Dolph     …   makeup artist
Karen Kubeck       .makeup effects artist: assistant makeup artist
Steve Neill    …  prosthetic fabricator
Don Olivera   …   special makeup effects
Jim Shaw      …   prosthetic designer
Christopher Biggs …special makeup effects artist (uncredited)
Bart Mixon    …    special makeup effects artist (uncredited)
Mark Shostrom       .special makeup effects artist (uncredited)

Shock Cinema 18 (2001)
Cinefantastique v12 n02
Famous Monsters 185

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