Science Fiction & Horror: The Perfect Combination

Science fiction and horror have blended well together like peanut butter and chocolate for a long time. One of the earliest examples is Mary Shelley’s classic literary work Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus and the melding continues to this day with assorted books, films, comic books, games and other media. Some of the standouts include the Alien films, I Am Legend, The Tommyknockers, the Predator films, Resident Evil, Event Horizon, The Fly, Dead Space, 28 Days Later, A Quiet Place, The Thing (and its source novel Who Goes There?), etc.

Why have the two genres been able to be combine so perfectly? That is to be debated since there are so many reasons and it may not be clear to many. But it can arguably be due for one factor and that is that the genre combo zeroes in to the fear of the unknown. Think about it, what makes horror so tantalizing is that it addresses what we’re afraid of, and that is ultimately death because it is the great unknown. What lies beyond death? Is it truly the end or the pathway to something truly horrific? Science fiction works have dealt with the nature of death and what it entails. As mentioned before, Frankenstein was all about defeating death and the horror of achieving this as Dr. Frankenstein found a way to bring the dead back to life through scientific means rather than using the supernatural.

Obviously it is the use of science or its grounded setting that sets science fiction horror separate from regular horror. And it is why it can be more unsettling…

With the regular horror genre, anyone experiencing it can take some small comfort with the idea in the back of the head that the horror story is implausible. There isn’t any way that a dead corpse will come back to life and start eating you, and despite all the so-called reality ghost hunting TV shows, the existence of spiritual entities still has not been scientifically proven. With films like The Thing, Alien or A Quiet Place, what makes them so terrifying is that we can encounter extra-terrestrial life that means us harm. Science experiments, research and discoveries that should benefit humanity can lead to disastrous results as seen in The Fly, Nightflyers, Event Horizon, Demon Seed, Blindsight, and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Then there is the sub-genre in science fiction and horror of humanity grappling with devastating diseases that falls into horror. Some like The Andromeda Strain are clear cut stories where diseases outright decimates us, but other works uses diseases to bring about body horror tales or create tenuously plausible zombie yarns. Examples include The Fireman, Black Hole, 28 Days Later, Cross, I Am Legend, and the Resident Evil franchise. Of course, saying that the events shown in these works are plausible is stretching things and as with any fictional work requires suspension of belief. But when the stories work and terrify us, they work quite well to the point that our rational brains stop questioning and start reacting to the horror of these stories.

Another thing to consider about how well the two genres blend so well is that the stories are often contemporary or take place in the future. These settings also lend to the feeling that what happens in them are possible. We don’t know that the first alien life we will encounter in the future will try to eat us or that using FTL will open a gateway to a hellish dimension. We cannot say for certain that these horrific events will happen.

What is even more unsettling is that what will actually occur in the future or just a few minutes from now can be far worse than what our puny minds can imagine. It all feeds into fear of the unknown and is why science fiction and horror are the perfect combination for storytelling.

 

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All Hail Godzilla: King Of The Monsters

Despite what many critics are blaring, the latest American Godzilla film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is quite enjoyable. There are issues with the film, which is part of Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse cinematic universe, and I was hoping we would have gotten the definitive Godzilla film from Hollywood. That goal still evades us, but this film is a solid B, which is kind of appropriate given this can be considered a B-film even though Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a blockbuster event film.

The film’s plot is not complicated. A bunch of giant monsters are awakened from their prehistoric slumber; these include the famous kaijus Rodan, Mothra and the big baddie himself Ghidorah. These monsters start vying for the top spot as the apex Titan and joining this conflict is humanity’s most unexpected hope: the king himself, Godzilla.

To be clear, this film is a continuation of the Garth Edwards Godzilla released in 2014. The events from that film are mentioned here with a couple of characters returning, though this film focuses on a largely new cast. Godzilla was an enjoyable reboot of the Hollywood version of Godzilla and comparing the two, I’d have to say I prefer Godzilla: King of the Monsters because of all the epic kaiju battles. The monster scenes are the film’s best parts, they’re just amazing and beautifully choreographed. Their scale is simply jawdropping. The special effects are topnotch and the super powerful fight scenes are meant to be seen on the big screen!  Even compared to the Japanese versions, this film has the best Godzilla fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Godzilla: King of the Monsters also does an interesting job of showing the monsters’ place in world history and expands upon the mythology shown in the previous two films of the Monsterverse, Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island.

Believe it or not, the scenes with the humans are well done for the most part except for a flaw I’ll get to. The actors like Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown turn in fine performances that are not one-note like in Godzilla. The first Monsterverse film was hobbled with forgettable actors except for Bryan Cranston and he was not around too long in Godzilla. The big issue with the humans in this sequel, which bogs the film is that the humor falls flat most of the time. It feels forced and annoying. We came to see the film for giant monsters not bad attempts at comedy. Another problem with the film is that it lacks a suspension of disbelief. There a many scenes where the characters are right in the middle of intense monster action or are interacting directly with the kaiju and nothing happens to them, even though there is debris flying all around them. In previous kaiju films, the humans were always far away from the action and it was believable that they did not get hurt. But here, they’re right in the middle of the action and nothing happens to them. Sorry, but this is unbelievable and took me out of the film.

Putting the gripes about the film aside, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an enjoyable blockbuster. It has its issues and deserved to be better but it is what it is, a big romp of a kaiju movie. While not as great as other cinematic universes, the Monsterverse is delivering consistently entertaining films and hopefully next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong will up the ante and be an improvement.

Walter L. Stevenson

Alien: In Space No One Can Hear You Scream 40 Years Later

This month marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most influential sci-fi/horror films, Alien. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon from a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the film shocked and thrilled unsuspecting audiences in theaters and continues to scare us to this day.

Alien is still regarded as a landmark film that successfully merged two of the best genres in cinema, science fiction and horror. Its success is evident in the way that it showcases a universe that seems real and almost used up in a way and draws us in with its terrifying premise. The movie starts with a crew of interesting characters that are in basically an outer space version of a tug ship called the Nostromo carrying ore back to Earth. Their journey is interrupted by a signal from a planet along their path that gets them to stop at a desolate world that houses what turns out to be a parasitic alien life form that impregnates one of their crew and then kills him as it bursts out of his chest in one of the most iconic and horrifying scenes in movie history.

The claustrophobic atmosphere of the ship gives off the vibe of a haunted house in outer space that builds tension as the crew is killed off one by one until only Lt. Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) is left to fend off the creature. The death of Captain Dallas (played by Tom Skerritt) earlier in the film was shocking and let audiences know that no one was safe and ratcheted up the tension even more.

The setting of the movie is also interesting from a sci-fi standpoint. It is very different from previous films that came before it such as 2001, which had a very clean, almost sterile look to it. Alien basically features a group of truckers in space flying what looks like an oil rig, trying to make a living hauling fuel for a faceless corporation that ultimately sees them as expendable.

Alien is set in the near future (early 22nd century), but still has a somewhat familiar feel with the bridge and living quarters having a lived-in look. The tension and mistrust between the crew members, caused by things like pay disputes and later on the threat of the alien, is also realistic and puts the characters in a relatable light. This universe would be expanded in subsequent sequels, some more successful than others, that further explored this unique take on our future that featured colonial marines and prison planets that always had humans facing off against the insidious aliens trying to wipe them out.

Another landmark of Alien is the design of the creature itself. Designed by H.R. Giger, it is both hideous and beautiful at the same time as well as incredibly original. Its dual mouth and razor sharp teeth and skeletal appearance is the stuff of nightmares and stands with any other horror icon.

The slow but methodical way in which the alien kills off the crew of the Nostromo builds the suspense of the film until the very end. The design of the crab-like creature that plants the alien xenomorph in unfortunate crew member Kane is also something that is instinctively unnerving to the audience, as well its brutal way of giving birth to its offspring. Later movies would add some wrinkles to the xenomorph design but the basic look of the creature is still based on Giger’s incredibly unique design.

All of these unique qualities resulted in a new genre of film, sci-fi/horror, which led to such films like Event Horizon, and Life and even influenced other mediums like video games such as popular fare like Doom and Dead Space that also feature humans in space facing off against similar alien threats. Alien’s success also inevitable led to a veritable industry of cheaper knockoffs that has the same basic plot of space crew finding an alien that wipes them out. Obviously none of them could match the seemingly perfect combination of chills, mystery and monsters in space that makes the original Alien still a classic film four decades after its release.

Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley is iconic as well and served as the blueprint for subsequent strong female leads in movies such as Linda Hamilton’s role of Sarah Connor in the Terminator series, Katniss Everdeen, Kira Nerys, Furiosa, and most recently the film version of Alita.

Needless to say, Ripley is one of the many influential aspects of Alien and among the greatest on-screen heroines that re-shaped the role of the female protagonist in cinema.

The franchise spawned by this movie is still ongoing as well, all these years later. The first sequel Aliens is a classic sci-fi action movie. Subsequent entries and spinoffs such as Alien 3, Alien: Covenant, Prometheus, and Alien vs. Predator were not as well received, but I have enjoyed all of them and look forward to more movies that take us back to this rich universe populated by arguably the scariest creatures in space ever imagined.

C.S. Link

Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes From The 1980s

The Twilight Zone has been in the public eye lately with the new version streaming on CBS All Access and the fact that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the original TV show. As many focus on Rod Serling’s masterpiece or Jordan Peele’s new take on the sci-fi, fantasy, horror anthology series, the first Twilight Zone revival from the 1980s often gets overlooked. That is a shame because in its own right The Twilight Zone from the 1980s was high caliber.

Many episodes were well done and ranged in quality from solid to so outstanding that it would be easy to imagine Rod Serling himself approving of the episodes to be included with his version. Respected and revered talents such as Wes Craven, William Friedkin, Joe Dante, Harlan Ellison, George R.R. Martin and J. Michael Straczynski worked behind the scenes to bring forth thought provoking or imaginative episodes that challenged viewers.

What made this revival stand out is that the showrunners allowed the stories to run as long as they should. Several stories only lasted about ten minutes and were the better for it. The most important thing in this version, like the original, is that the story was the most important element with fascinating morality plays, twist endings and allegories.

While respecting the original by mostly adhering to its high standards in terms of storytelling, not every episode was memorable, especially in its third and final season. Nonetheless, The Twilight Zone from the 1980s deserves a close examination since so many episodes are worthy of the Twilight Zone name.

Submitted for your approval are the top 10 Twilight Zone episodes from the 1980s:

10. “The Cold Equations”

A space pilot (Terence Knox) delivering critical medical supplies in his small spaceship discovers a stowaway (Christianne Hirt) which upsets the ship’s fuel ratio and endangers the mission. This adaptation of Tom Godwin’s short story effectively conveys a message about human emotion vs the cold, hard physics of space travel.

9. “Many, Many Monkeys”

This episode was originally written for the original show back in 1964 but was never used. In it a blindness epidemic sweeps the world and a nurse (Karen Valentine) struggles to treat her suddenly blind patients. It doesn’t take long to find out that their condition is related to their callous and selfish demeanor.

8. “Shelter Skelter”

Joe Mantegna plays a paranoid survivalist whose nightmare comes true. An apparent nuclear attack strands him in his fallout shelter as he prepares to deal with the outside world that will never intrude his home. This was a great look into a paranoid mind of the survivalist as he descends into madness and the ending was a true and ironic twist.

7. “The Last Defender of Camelot”

George R.R. Martin wrote this imaginative episode that adapts Roger Zelazny’s short story about Sir Lancelot (Richard Kiley) who is still alive but elderly in modern times. He reunites with Merlin (Norman Lloyd) and Morgan Le Fay (Jenny Agutter). Lancelot is soon caught up in a power struggle between the two as Merlin reveals his plans to take over the world for the betterment of humankind and Lancelot has to stop him.

6. “Cold Reading”

Several radio actors in the 1930s perform a live radio play and quickly learn to their horror that their script actually comes to life when spoken. For instance, when someone mentions that it’s raining in the story, the studio is quenched in an indoor rainstorm. Quite humorous and inventive, it’s fun to watch the actors and writers hastily rewriting the script in order to prevent dangerous things from appearing. The episode’s ending is very cute.

5. “I of Newton”

Perhaps the funniest and coolest Twilight Zone episode is also one of its shortest. Sherman Hemsley is a frustrated math professor who offhandedly wishes to sell his soul to solve a math problem. Enter a demon (played with fiendish aplomb by Ron Glass), who shows up to collect. The professor then desperately tries to talk his way out of the unwanted bargain. The lines and their delivery, particularly from Glass, were sparkling and full of vigor. When watching “I of Newton” take time to check out the demon’s always-changing t-shirts (ex: “Hell is a city much like Newark”)!

4. “A Small Talent for War”

It can be said that this short episode is a worthy companion to the classic “To Serve Man” from the original Twilight Zone. Giant aliens arrive on Earth and announce that they seeded humanity eons ago. They also intend to wipe out the human race because of its “small talent for war”. The UN Security Council then frantically tries to negotiate world peace to demonstrate to the aliens that humanity is worth sparing. What happens next is one of the most ironic endings in Twilight Zone history.

3, “The Toys of Caliban”

A rather touching and wrenching story co-written by George R.R. Martin about a young mentally challenged man (David Greenlee) with unusual powers. He is capable of conjuring to life whatever he sees or imagines, which could be disastrous. This forces his parents (Richard Mulligan and Anne Haney) to keep him sheltered to avoid unfortunate incidents. This only works for so long as exposure to the outside world disrupts their lives and forces the father to take extreme steps to ensure the safety of the world.

2. “Profile in Silver”

The tired time travel trope of someone trying to change history is given a jolt with this unexpectedly inventive episode. Lane Smith is a professor from the 22nd century who time travels to Dallas in 1963 to witness the assassination of his ancestor John F. Kennedy (Andrew Robinson). He decides to stop the incident and unlike other time travel stories, he succeeds and the result is unsettling. Soon the world is on the brink of World War III and the professor has to find a way to undo his actions. The ending is not only genuinely surprising but very stirring and a statement about the nobility of humankind.

1. “To See the Invisible Man”

The Twilight Zone is famed for presenting allegorical yarns, morality plays and statements about our society. This episode is a perfect example. Like in the original Twilight Zone, this story takes place in an imaginary society where Mitchell Chaplin (Cotter Smith) is punished for his unfriendly behavior. He is sentenced to a year of invisibility and has a mark placed on his forehead. At that point, he is ignored by everyone around him, which he finds liberating. Over time, Chaplin comes to disdain his nonexistence and yearns for human interaction. “To See the Invisible Man” represents the very best of The Twilight Zone as it examines the morality of the punishment and an astute character study. It also is a damning look at a society that imposes certain behaviors which deny free will. With so much to offer this is the best episode of The Twilight Zone from the 1980s.

Honorable Mentions:

“Act Break”, “The Elevator”, “Examination Day”, “Gramma”,  “Her Pilgrim Soul”,  “A  Matter of Minutes”, “Need to Know”,  “Nightcrawlers”, “The Once and Future King”, “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, “The Star”, “Still Life”, “Wordplay”

Have any of you seen this version of The Twilight Zone? What are your thoughts on the show and the episodes on this list? Take a moment to leave your comments below.

José Soto

 

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films Of 2019

Geekdom continues to rule at the box office in 2019. Superheroes, aliens, robots and more await us with 2019’s film offerings. Listed here are the most anticipated films for 2019, though everyone will have their own preference.  Naturally, some films on this list will turn out to be hot garbage, while others will be talked about for years to come. Who can say how they will turn out? Be aware that the release dates will most likely change for many of these films. In fact, three of the films on this list are holdovers from 2018, starting with…

10. Dark Phoenix (June 7):

There is a lot of animosity towards the final Fox X-Men film for various reasons—the film is pointless now with the Disney/Fox merger; a first-time director (Simon Kinberg) associated with the unpopular X-Men: The Last Stand is helming this film. But this is the last proper X-Men film before Marvel Studios reboots the franchise, so it will be interesting to see how the nearly 20-year franchise comes to an end.

9. Captive State (March 29):

Rupert Wyatt directs this sci-fi film that was held over from last summer. The film chronicles the lives of Chicago residents after aliens have occupied our world. As the aliens indoctrinate humanity, a rebellion emerges, and the film will show both sides of the struggle. The impressive cast includes John Goodman and Vera Farmiga.

ad astra Brad Pitt

8. Ad Astra (May 24):

Twenty years after his father (Tommy Lee Jones) disappears on a mission to find alien life near Neptune, a man (Brad Pitt) travels our solar system to find out why his father’s mission failed and to possibly locate him. According to director James Gray, the sci-fi drama will be very grounded and will the dangers of space flight, while echoing Heart of Darkness.

7. Alita: Battle Angel (February 14):

This film was delayed from last December and is a live-action adaptation of the popular manga about a futuristic cyborg warrior. James Cameron produced this pet project with Robert Rodriguez directing. The visuals from the trailer look astounding, but the question is if Alita: Battle Angel can escape the dismal fate of previous attempts to bring manga and anime classics to Hollywood like Ghost in the Shell.

6. Star Wars: Episode IX (December 20):

The Star Wars franchise is at a crossroads now with fandom bitterly divided. The fallout from Star Wars: The Last Jedi is still being felt by Star Wars, hence the failure of last year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. It is not an exaggeration to state that a lot is riding on how the latest Star Wars film is received.

After director Rian Johnson alienated many fans with The Last Jedi, Lucasfilm handed Episode IX to J.J. Abrams to direct it. Will Abrams bring back the fans and successfully conclude the Skywalker Saga? We’ll find out later this year.

5. It: Chapter Two (September 6):

The first It film was an unexpectedly chilling horror film that was acclaimed by audiences and critics. It adapted Stephen King’s mammoth novel of several children in a Maine town haunted by the supernatural entity Pennywise, who took various forms, but favored a frightful clown.

The second film takes place years later when the children are adults and have to reunite to confront Pennywise again. Most know that It had been adapted before as a mini-series that faltered when it shifted to the adults’ storylines. Hopefully, It: Chapter Two will deliver a satisfying finale.

4. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31):

The sequel to 2014’s Godzilla, this film returns the most famous kaiju and introduces other popular kaijus like Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. More importantly, Godzilla: King of the Monsters firmly establishes Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse cinematic universe that includes King Kong (last seen in Kong: Skull Island).

Putting that aside, this film looks absolutely epic! With shots that seem taken from a frightful opera or a baroque painting, and the promise of some serious giant monster action, it’s easy to see why Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a highly anticipated film for 2019.

glass trio

3. Glass (January 18):

M. Night Shyamalan completes his grounded superhuman trilogy with Glass. It all started with 2000’s Unbreakable and the director shocked audiences in 2016’s Split when it was revealed that the film took place in the Unbreakable universe.

Taking center stage, Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role of Mr. Glass, the villainous mastermind who seeks to prove the existing of superhumans to an unbelieving world. Co-starring Bruce Willis (returning from his reluctant hero role in Unbreakable) and James McAvoy as the demented Horde, Glass looks like it will re-establish Shyamalan as a top-tier director.

spider-man far from home black suit

2. Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 5):

Marvel’s most popular superhero returns (apparently from Thanos’ snap) in this followup to Spider-Man: Homecoming. This time out, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) goes to Europe on a school trip and tangles with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a special effects stuntman turned supervillain.

Most of the cast and crew from the enjoyable Spider-Man: Homecoming return, so the new film should be in competent hands, which ensures a winning film. Of course, there is the question if it can compare favorably to last year’s instant classic Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But Spider-Man: Far From Home should be another great MCU entry.

1. Avengers: Endgame (April 26):

As the most anticipated film of 2019, all eyes will be on this film. It is much more than the fourth Avengers film. Or the conclusion to the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War. We’ve followed the saga of the MCU for over ten years. Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of over 20 diverse films.

Very little is known about the concluding Avengers film, only that it takes place after Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) victory and will feature the original core Avengers and allies trying to undo Thanos’ universal genocide.

Being that it’s the final Phase Three film and the possible swan song for many popular characters like Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans, it is important that Avengers: Endgame sticks the landing. It is not as easy as it sounds, many concluding films of famous film sagas wound up disappointing fans, but with the talent behind it, Avengers: Endgame should rise to the challenge.

Other Films:

As always, these films that did not quite make the list are definitely worth our attention and as before, it’s a guarantee that the following films will wound up being among this year’s best offerings. Others will probably be delayed until 2020 and beyond. Here are other films that warrant keeping an eye on:

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (February 8), the first Lego film was so much fun and inventive, let’s hope the sequel is at least as good;  How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (February 22), the final film in Dreamworks’ Dragon trilogy looks awe-inspiring and heartfelt: Chaos Walking (March 1), Doug Liman directs Tom Holland in a sci fi yarn about a colony world where all thoughts are readable; Captain Marvel (March 8), the 21st and next MCU film about the title hero coming to Earth and rediscovering her lost past hops to continue Marvel Studios’ winning streak;

Shazam! (April 5), speaking of winning streak, after the humongous success of Aquaman, DC and Warner Bros. hopes to keep up the much-needed good will with their superhero films with their next film; Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (April 10), the CG/live-action hybrid brings the uber popular Pikachu to the real world,

Brightburn (May 24), is a James Gunn project which is a dark retelling of the Superman alien origin story;  Toy Story 4 (June 21), Pixar’s crown jewel franchise returns in what may be its most heartbreaking entry, which is rumored to be its last; The Lion King (July 19), director Jon Favreau turns in another CG remake of a Disney classic; Joker (October 4), Todd Phillips directs a dark prequel film that chronicles the creation of the demented Clown Prince of Crime; Zombieland Too (October 11), it’s been ten years since the original Zombieland delighted audiences with its comical world overrun by zombies, but better late than never;

Terminator 6 (November 1), let’s see if James Cameron can resurrect the floundering Terminator franchise now that he is producing the latest film;  Sonic the Hedgehog (November 8), the other well publicized CG/live-action film brings to life the popular video game character.