It should come as no surprise that we at Black Ship Books are big fans of horror. With our 12 Days of Halloween Webcomic Miasma underway and Jeremy writing some awesome reviews of the entire Halloween series, there’s no shortage of love for the genre. I wanted to take some time and give a little attention to my favorite horror sub-genre: sci-fi horror.
Science fiction and horror are natural complements. Most often, science fiction explores new ideas and technologies with an integral sense of anxiety and apprehension. The horror comes in when this is pushed to its logical extreme. Being trapped in the void of space or being stalked by some alien monstrosity outside of our understanding play on our most primal fears. Below are the three films I think best exemplify the genre:
- Alien (1979)While certainly not the first movie in the genre, Alien is perhaps one of the most highly regarded. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film has been heralded as “Jaws in Space”. The film is entirely focused on building tension. In fact the alien Xenomorph, terrifying in its own right, is hardly seen in the movie. Instead, you feel the presence of the creature as it stalks the crew from the shadows. Later movies would have the Xenomorphs examined from all angles, but in doing so it loses a lot of the scariness of this first film.H.R. Giger’s design work on the film deserves special mention. Despite the effectiveness of keeping the creature in the shadows, there’s no denying that the Xenomorph is one of the most horrifying alien designs in cinema. Based on a print Giger created in 1976, the creature design was picked for its brutality as well as its sexual undertones. Giger was brought on to design the xenomorph but eventually was utilized in designing the alien homeworld and the iconic ‘space jockey’. The film is also famous for introducing the world to Sigourney Weaver, a relative unknown at the time who gave the world one of the greatest movie protagonists of all time: Ellen Ripley.
- The Thing (1982)
As terrifying as the Xenomorph is, if one alien creature can overshadow it it’s the one from John Carpenter’s The Thing. More gruesome than bestial, the shape-shifting parasite is most terrifying because it could be anyone in the room. Set in Antarctica, almost as isolating as space, the film follows a group of researchers that have been infiltrated by the creature. As the body count grows, the paranoia increases for the scientists and the viewers.The tension peaks with the realization the creature is attempting to make its way back to civilization. If it reaches a populated area, the creature will disappear forever and humanity will slowly be wiped out by the camouflaged threat. The brilliance of the film is that the tension doesn’t wear off as the movie draws to a close. After all, how can you ever be sure the creature isn’t among the survivors? The film is also notable as it is a part of John Carpenter’s ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’, three films where he explores potential endings of the human race.
- Event Horizon (1997)No fan in their right mind is going to argue with the first two entries on this list. However, this entry lacks the universal appeal of the others. The movie is about a ship that has accidentally opened a wormhole to Hell. An experimental gravity drive allowed humanity to finally leave the solar system, but something goes wrong and the ship disappears. Seven years later it returns without its crew. It turns out that the ship has been possessed by a demon and manipulates the rescue crew into mutilating and murdering each other.Event Horizon is definitely more horror than science fiction, despite the space travel.I enjoy this movie, despite its obvious flaws. The writing is a little too focused on delivering one-liners. For some reason, the film is shot like a 3-D movie (though it was never released in 3-D). This leads to CG objects flying toward the screen for no reason. Still, there are some genuinely disturbing moments in the movie. The possessions are creepy and the implication that there’s nothing but suffering outside of our small part of the universe sits heavy with the viewer. The film turns to more traditional horror as those possessed become slashers in their own right.The mutilations are intense and might be a little too much for anyone averse to heavy violence.
There probably won’t be much debate about this list (outside of Event Horizon), but there are a ton of other movies in this genre that haven’t been mentioned. As I mentioned at the beginning, most science fiction stories can be interpreted as horror stories. This is a list of my personal favorites. Let me know some of yours in the comments below.