December 4, 2009

Fave Five: Sci-Fi Horror Movies

If there is a sure-fire way to get me to check out a sci-fi flick, it's by adding the element of horror. It's gotta be done right, though. Jason X is not a good example of how to combine horror and science-fiction. The five movies I list below, however, are what I consider examples of how it's done properly. Funnily enough, all five of these movies deal with either the horrors coming from space to the human race, or the human race going into space to discover the horrors.

Aliens and space travel are only one facet of science-fiction, though. So, I wonder if you have any sci-fi horror movies in mind, after reading my list, that you think are conspicuous by their absence. Maybe there's something that deals with time travel, or an experimental technology, or maybe just an inventive view of the future. Can you think of a film that surpasses any of my fave five?

#5: Predator - While there are fans of Predator that are absolutely gaga over all of the movies featuring the alien creature, this is the only movie from the franchise I consider worth watching. It's not the cool monster that I love so much about the film, though it is a pretty bad-ass alien. It's not Arnold Schwarzenegger's ham-and-cheese performance that puts this movie in my fave five. It's the mash-up of genres that is accomplished so seamlessly that makes this movie so damned enjoyable. I first saw the movie as a kid with no idea what it was really about. For all I knew, it was another jungle war flick, a la Platoon. A bunch of mercenaries sneak through the thick jungle to rescue some hostages, and then it takes a sharp left turn when the Predator starts hunting them down one by one--a bit like From Dusk 'Til Dawn in the mish-mash genre department.

#4: Pitch Black - You may think of Vin Diesel and picture The Fast and the Furious, or The Pacifier if you're a Disney addict, but for me it all goes back to this cult classic that put him on the map in the first place. A space ship crashes, the crew in stasis for what should be a long voyage, and the survivors end up on a desolate planet that has days and nights that stretch for months on end. And they've landed just before sunset. It doesn't take long, after the shadows of the coming night start stretching across the desert sands towards them, for the creatures lurking underground to come out and start looking for something to feed on. This is one of those classic body count type movies where you know from the outset that only one or two are walking away. The great thing about the movie is not just the monsters, but the interplay and tension between characters that would otherwise be bland stereotypes. Most everyone on the cast pulls their own weight well to make this a very entertaining spookfest.

#3: Event Horizon - Lawrence Fishburne and Sam Neil carry this film like nobody's business. I think this movie fizzled at in theaters, but I loved it when I rented one night. I forget if it came out shortly before or shortly after The Matrix, but the two movies combined made Fishburne a cinematic god in my eyes. And Sam Neil's performance was so akin to The Mouth of Madness, I forgave him the Jurassic Park movies. The Event Horizon is an experimental space vessel that disappeared ages ago, thought destroyed, but has returned out of the blue. Fishburne and Neil lead a rescue/salvage mission to bring back the ship, help any crew on board, and figure out just what the hell happened. But when they discover there are no survivors and the ship is basically dead in the water, things only go from bad to worse as the entire rescue crew starts experiencing their worst fears brought to life in the confines of the Event Horizon. Damn, I gotta watch this again some time.

#2: Alien - How many women were kicking ass in the lead role of a major motion picture before Sigourney Weaver came along? None spring to mind for me. If not for taking place in a spaceship, this movie could be straight-up horror. It cranks up the suspense like a slow boil until that infamous scene with John Hurt convulsing on the mess hall table. After that, it's no holds barred terror as the very scary, yet very stylish, alien goes to town on the rest of the crew. The sequels to this movie fall short of the mark for me, though. I did like Joss Whedon's revisiting of the story with Alien Resurrection, but that movie is more of a guilty pleasure than anything. And after being duped into watching the first Alien Vs. Predator movie, the fondness I hold for the Alien mythos has diminished.

#1: Invasion of the Body Snatchers - I think there was a remake of this movie in the late 80s or early 90s, and I think The Puppetmasters was a fairly blatant reimagining of the alien invasion motif, but I'm lauding the original black-and-white classic as my favorite. Actually, this might be my favorite horror movie of the monochrome era. The allegory is so interchangeable over the decades and speaks to that inner paranoia of whatever society is watching it. There's a secret invasion all around us orchestrated by people who look just like us--communism, immigration, radicalism, fascism, you name it. And despite the somewhat dated appearance of the film, I think it's the best of any movie that's attempted it. Or maybe I just love that final scene where Kevin McCarthy screams at the audience that they could be next.


  1. Mine would look very similar to this. Rather than Alien, I would have gone with Aliens, though. And I was not a fan of Pitch Black. I think Deep Star Six would take it's place on my list.

    And DAMN what an awesome movie Predator is! "I aint got time to bleed."

  2. Awesome - when I saw your post title, I hoped Event Horizon would be on this list. Hands down, the scariest sci-fi movie I've seen in a theatre. Uses the isolation element of horror to maximum effect.

  3. Barry - Aliens almost made my list, but the original is just so iconic with some of those scenes involving the alien. I haven't seen Deep Star Six. Who stars in that?

    Shan - Oh, I wasn't going to have a list without Event Horizon. Someone has to sing its praises.