The Duality of Aliens and Pregnancy:
The Natal Terror
Andy Roberts dives head-first into the schlock-and-gore of Norman J. Warren's alleged 'Alien knock-off', 1981's Inseminoid...
Even for casual viewers, the Freudian subtext and sexual metaphors of Ridley Scott’s seminal classic Alien are pretty evident.
Released in 1979 to almost universal acclaim, the sci-fi neo-noir thriller focuses on a commercial spaceship’s crew encountering a distress signal on a derelict planet, only for one of the investigating members, Kane, to stumble upon a cache of extraterrestrial eggs. Attacked by a spider-like life-form which attaches itself to Kane’s face, the rest of the crew are horrified when another snake-like creature bursts from Kane’s chest after he awakens from his stupor. This soon develops into the now-iconic Xenomorph, a terrifying construction of biomechanical nightmares with a Lovecraftian aura and a plethora of phallic and vulval symbolism.
Though Alien’s sexual connotations and embodiment of artist H. R. Giger’s psychosexual concepts are well known, Scott’s film notably explores the terror of pregnancy from a male victim’s perspective; Kane is effectively orally violated by the equally iconic Facehugger, and finds his torso violently punctured open by a long extraterrestrial phallus at the moment of ‘birth’. Apart from the extremely penile appearance of the Xenomorph’s head and the implied sexualised violence of Lambert’s demise at the creature’s hands, android Ash terms the creature “Kane’s son“; Kane is in fact deemed the maternal mother of the creature, despite being male.
In the wake of Alien, countless rip-offs went into production, hoping for a piece of the lucrative profits that the film was racking up for 20th Century Fox. Apart from fun, Italian takes like Contamination and Alien 2: On Earth, the Americans also spent their penny on renditions – Galaxy of Terror or Parasite. One of the most interesting, however, was birthed here in the U.K. by Norman J. Warren: 1981’s Inseminoid, in which an interstellar crew of geologists and archaeologists are stationed on a chilly derelict planetoid, which orbits a pair of suns.
Finding evidence of an alien civilisation who once dwelt on the planet, their operation is frequently interrupted by accidents and signs of life in the caves. After a few crew members begin to act strangely, one of them (Sandy, played by Judy Geeson) is accosted by a bizarre alien creature and raped. Upon waking, Sandy discovers that she is with child and undergoes rapid changes in her personality, temperament and even bodily physiology as she becomes an increasingly unstable danger to her former colleagues.
It would be wholly unfair to categorise Inseminoid as a pure cash-in on Ridley Scott’s source material, mainly because the script was written before Alien’s release and only modified slightly in the wake of the classic’s money-making venture at the box office. Obviously operating on a comparatively lesser budget of just £1 million and fewer technical resources overall, Norman J. Warren’s version is surprisingly well-accomplished and while it starts off a little confusingly, it soon finds a decent pace to advance the sci-fi mayhem.
Apparently written in just four days under the working title of Doomseeds, the majority of the film was shot in Kent, specifically the impressive Chislehurst Caves which caused a number of issues due to both the naturally awkward formations and often algid temperatures. As a trade-off, however, the claustrophobic conditions of the shooting locations, the numerous contingencies that the crew had to deal with and apparent tensions on the set between director Warren and actor Robin Clarke (who played Mark) result in an oftentimes tense yet hysterical range of performances.
For such a low budget film, it’s also not particularly shy when it comes to the sanguine stuff, boasting a visual catalogue of gore, including explosions; feet being chainsawed off; an alien pulverising someone to death; a woman has her face smashed into a wall and stabbed with nail scissors; body parts are seared with laser tools, or shot with harpoon guns; legs are charred with incendiary grenades and there are even some moments of cannibalism. It’s a wildly impressive feat for such an under-the-radar movie, and these effects by Nick ‘Yoda Guy’ Haley are one feature of the film that will appeal enormously to the genre audience.
Considering the film has a fairly big cast, much more than the Nostromo’s scant seven crew members, the characters are all fairly unmemorable, for various reasons. Not many of them are developed significantly, with the exception of ‘antagonist’ Sandy. Her lover Mark is seemingly gentle and kinder than his fellow men, but apart from a brief scene of lovemaking, he’s almost entirely uncharacterised apart from some basic heroism at the film’s conclusion. He barely registers an emotion as he ends the life of someone he loves, which is a little troublesome when he is meant to be the one the audience roots for.
Mitch is a generic token black guy who is killed off fairly quickly, while the doctor Karl is subtly creepy but otherwise offers nothing substantial to the film’s plot. The first two male characters we meet (Ricky and Dean) are as perfunctory as Jones the cat, simply serving a single function in the plot. The last male character Gary is an iota more memorable, simply for an array of misogynistic actions towards his female colleagues.
This leads nicely onto the predominantly female cast, who unfortunately do not enjoy the feminist empowerment that Sigourney Weaver embodied in the Alien series. The team’s leader Holly is prone to snapping, barking instructions and otherwise being indecisive despite her position of power. Not only that but during the various instances of imminent threats to herself and her fellow crew, she becomes haplessly clumsy, ineffective and crippled by the immense pressure, usually resulting in someone’s death. Sharon too is easily disengaged by Sandy and simply lies there, leaving Holly to be killed and, once she has fled, stereotypically falls to the floor helplessly, inviting the men to assist her.
Barbara only exists to be homesick and to be killed, while the first crew member to die, Gail, succumbs to intense hysteria when trapped outside an airlock, resigning herself to cutting off her foot to free herself, only to die anyway. Even one of the more confident female characters, Stephanie Beacham’s Kate, is reduced to tears and unfairly criticised for killing Ricky in self-defence, though she also is reduced to a screaming wreck when she discovers Holly’s body later in the film. Gary’s character especially emphasises this gulf between the two genders with his verbal attacks on Gail and Kate, using sexist slurs such as “Damn you, woman!”
It’s ultimately only Sandy who gives the viewer their only focal point of interest, which is actually a fairly effective choice since her character undergoes the most change. Initially portrayed as a capable and passionate worker, Sandy is attacked by a native alien creature after it brutalises Mitch in front of her. The rape and impregnation are surprisingly clinical in this depiction; whilst in reality, Sandy is being violated whilst unconscious and suffering from oxygen deprivation, in her mind the act is portrayed in an equally terrifying fashion. The crew’s doctor Karl menacingly smirks on the sidelines and injects her with a drug, causing her vision to spiral rapidly out of control. She lies atop a chilled altar of sorts, almost like a cadaver or medical specimen to be preserved and displayed to inquisitive students.
When the hamfistedly phallic alien makes his appearance, it appears between Sandy’s raised knees, the same position as in childbirth, reducing her to a mere incubator for the alien offspring. The moment of penetration is also strange, with the alien’s member resembling a glass proboscis or test tube, carefully extended as though during a laboratory test. While absolutely horrifying in nature, this violent act is reduced to an experiment; a cold and clinical act of necessity rather than an emotive, abusive attack of violence. When the act concludes, one of her eyes is rendered in shadow, symbolising that like the planet she swells upon, one has become two, and she is with child.
There’s some confusion as to how exactly the alien species works since the crew explore the idea of a ‘chemical intelligence’, specifically in relation to the crystals they find in the caves. The opening of the film, in which Dean and Ricky are injured by an explosion in a natural crystal formation seems to imply that the intelligence has passed into them. During Sandy and Mark’s brief moment of love in the laboratory, the crystals that the crew have gathered begin to glow with an eerie light. Ricky seems to be completely taken over at this critical point and hurriedly runs into the caves, feverishly looking for something. No explanation is offered for this, but considering the next event is Sandy’s attack, it may be possible that Ricky was in fact looking for the alien, alerted to Sandy’s fertility by her proximity to the crystals. This in fact fits with the other findings of the crew; that the planet’s civilisation believed in the prospect of duality since their planet featured two suns.
Duality is referenced almost constantly throughout the running of the film: a pair of men (Ricky and Dean) are the first trigger of the film’s events. The alien civilisation exists in dual forms; a chemical intelligence that can infiltrate the natural rock formations, crystal and even other lifeforms via infection. It also exists in corporeal form as a physical alien creature, though it is suggested by the film’s marketing that the creature which rapes Sandy is one of the last surviving specimens.
Many of the characters, despite being a little two-dimensional, seem to have almost a double in the crew who looks like them. Gary and Mark are almost interchangeable, as are Gail and Barbara. Characters almost always travel in pairs and of course, Sandy’s eventual offspring are revealed to be twins. Arguably the biggest embodiment of dualism is Sandy herself, with her previously sweet self being completely transformed into a maniacal, mad murderer. Even her physiology itself begins to change, being suddenly able to breathe in the native atmosphere, gain incredible strength and develops a taste for human flesh. Her pregnancy also effectively converts her into a literal pair of people, at least until the final reveal of the twin alien babies.
The depiction of pregnancy and birth is arguably as important as it is in Ridley Scott’s film, only here it is a female pregnancy. While it is contemporaneous with the different era of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, post-violation Sandy is depicted as the most negative stereotypes of pregnant women. She gets frequent morning sickness, undergoes rapid mood swings and frequently employs emotional manipulation to lure her colleagues towards her. She switches from hysteria to remorse in a nanosecond, becomes increasingly sensitive on her abdomen to the extent that she unbuttons her trousers and she even engages in sporadic cannibalism in a not-so-subtle indictment of women’s cravings.
Even when the penultimate hour arrives, Sandy’s labour is far from the miraculous vision fostered by contemporary standards; it’s incredibly painful and harrowing. She’s clearly in a lot of distress, bellowing out animalistic roars of pain and surrounded by crimson womb-like cave walls. She has no aid, no relief and her offspring simply force their way out of her. It’s a considerably deromanticised image of the usually joyous process of pregnancy, and the depiction of Sandy as an amalgamation of all the negative tropes of female pregnancy seems to suggest a masculine viewpoint. It’s no surprise therefore that Gary is on hand to punch her in the face in one scene and in another, cruelly stamp on her stomach with a sadistic grimace on his face. This theme only continues in the final scene, in which her lover Mark kidnaps her offspring and hides them away from her, painting the old picture of ‘using the kids to hurt a parent’ but made grotesquely real.
Judy Geeson’s performance as Sandy is the real treat of the movie here; she has an incredible range of chops to effectively portray a pregnant woman in distress one moment and a conniving, scheming killer the next without it seeming comical or hyperbolic. She also manages the dual purpose of not only fooling her victims with her genuine remorse, but she even manages to fool us as viewers. We are frequently tempted to empathise with her as we feel her fear and sorrow as the extraterrestrial pregnancy begins to expand its catastrophic change within her. Even after she succumbs to Mark’s strangling, she seems to symbolically win; the rescue turns up 28 days later, allowing her carnage to undergo a symbolic menstrual cycle before her alien children escape to futures unknown.
Inseminoid (retitled as Horror Planet in the US) was never going to gain the same accolades as the now-classic Alien, but nevertheless, this low-budget shocker won several awards at both the Fantasporto and Fantafestival events in both Portugal and Italy respectively. Fervid horror enthusiasts today have also kept the film alive due to both its strong video sales and reputation as one of the Section 3 titles during the UK’s video nasties panic. Its gruesome special effects work, effortless claustrophobia and novel ‘80s sensibilities belie the film’s extraordinary exploration of female pregnancy, corrupted by masculine perspective, misogynistic sentiment and extraterrestrial violation.
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