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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Top 10 Sci-Fi Horror Films

It’s that time of year when we dread the things that go bump in the night…or in deep space or in a mad scientists’ lab. Science fiction and horror have gone together hand in hand for ages. Ever since the dawn of film, these two combined genres presented some of the most memorable genre films for fans. Here for your examination are the top 10 sci-fi horror films.

10. Pandorum (2009):

Colonists onboard a generational starship wake up early during their voyage. They soon learn that their ship is crawling with savage mutants that endanger them and the ship. Full of jump scares, tension and thrills, Pandorum is an underrated gem that continually surprises you until its end.

invasion of body snatchers

9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956):

Echoing the 1950s paranoia about communism, this adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel about aliens taking over humans from within is unsettling. It may make you afraid to go to sleep after watching it! The loss of identity, emotional bonds, and one’s humanity are the central themes in this sci-fi classic. Its 1978 remake is also noteworthy for the same reasons.

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8. Frankenstein (1931):

One of the first sci-fi horror films is the legendary James Whale-directed version of Mary Shelley’s literary classic. Featuring Boris Karloff as the resurrected Creature, Frankenstein is still atmospheric and creepy, while evoking sympathy for the Creature.

7. A Quiet Place (2018):

The most recent member of this list is one of the most frightening. Earth has been overrun by vicious alien creatures that hunt by sound, forcing humanity into hiding. A Quiet Place overflows with tension and fear as a family struggles to survive against the alien predators by not making noise.

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6. The Fly (1986):

David Cronenberg’s classic body-horror classic outdoes the cheesy original version it is based on and is an apt AIDS allegory for its time. Quirky and likeable scientist, Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), experiments on himself with his teleporting machine not realizing he is genetically fused with a fly. Tragically, he begins a hideous body transformation into a human-insect hybrid that will disturb viewers as the completed metamorphosis is revealed in The Fly’s final scenes.

5. The Mist (2007):

The third Frank Darabont adaptation of Stephen King’s literary works is genuinely disturbing and frightening. Residents of a Maine town take refuge in a supermarket after a military experiment accidently opens a dimensional passage that allows monsters into our world. More than a monster movie, The Mist explores the theme that we are our own worst monsters. It also features one of the most unsettling endings in film history. It’s a true gut punch.

4. Event Horizon (1997):

Think of this film as a haunted house in space story. The crew of a rescue spaceship board a lost spaceship that suddenly re-appears on the edge of our solar system. The crew discovers that the lost ship’s experiment with FTL opened a doorway to a hellish dimension and they become the ship’s latest victims. Event Horizon is a chilling cautionary tale with disturbing imagery about how we should be careful about pushing the boundaries of science.

3. 28 Days Later (2002):

This film helped jumpstart the recent zombie craze even though it is not technically about zombies. A man-made virus is accidently released and decimates the UK, rapidly turning its victims into mindless, bloodthirsty killers.

Enhanced with a pounding score, expert direction and a harrowing sense of dread, this film set new standards for sci-fi horror films. 28 Days Later is kinetically terrifying with scenes of the fast-moving killers chasing the film’s characters, while offering a sobering humanist drama about survival and holding onto your humanity.

2. The Thing (1982):

The remake of the 1950s film The Thing From Another World outshone the original while being more faithful to its literary roots. Much more than an alien invasion thriller taking place in an Antarctic outpost, John Carpenter’s The Thing is a claustrophobic and disgusting horror film with ghastly physical effects that still hold up to this day.

However, what made The Thing so memorable was the way Carpenter injected deep paranoia into the film as the isolated characters turned against each other. What is even more remarkable, is that even though the film was remade in 2011 with “modern” CG effects, it pales to the practical effects and makeup of the Carpenter classic, which was also more moody and blood curdling.

alien and ripley1. Alien (1979):

The crew of an interstellar mining ship bring onboard an alien life form that proceeds to kill them off one by one. As simple as that sounds, Alien is much more than its plot implies. It is one of the most influential sci-fi horror films of all time and set standards for gore, character development, thrills, pacing and atmosphere. Let’s not forget that the visual design of the alien xenomoph is disgustingly unique and has never been topped in terms of showing a distinctly inhuman look.

The starship itself functions as its own haunted house with foreboding shadows and corners, which gives the xenomorph perfect hiding places, while entrapping the crew themselves. Then there is the infamous chestburster scene, which is still horrifying to watch today. That scene alone set Alien above all other sci-fi horror films and is one of many reasons why this film is at the top of this list of top 10 sci-fi horror films.

Do any of these films make your own top 10 list of sci-fi horror films? Leave a comment below.

José Soto

Zombies Impossible

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Ever since George Romero popularized flesh-eating zombies in his masterpiece Night Of The Living Dead, the creatures’ popularity have grown. Undoubtedly, zombies are the most popular monsters today, beating out the ubiquitous vampires.

The thought of a deceased loved one, reanimating into a decaying ghoul that only wants to consume you is a terrifying idea. It cuts down to our primal fears of being eaten alive by predators. Zombies have also come to symbolizes the supposed coming apocalyptic breakdown of civilization. As dreadful as all that sounds, we have to ask ourselves how likely is it that the dead will rise up and eat us?

From a scientific standpoint, there isn’t any way that will happen. Let’s think about the concept and go into the logistics.

When a person dies, all their bodily functions cease to function. No blood is being pumped, the brain doesn’t send any signals via nerves to tell the body what to do and so on. Now when zombies are reanimated in these films and other media, a point is made that the zombies are immune to bodily harm. Shoot them, stab them,more brains they keep on coming. Remember that scene in Day Of The Dead when that loony scientist was reporting that the organs in a zombie weren’t working, yet the creatures were animated and hungry. Along the way in these stories, it’s stated that something in the brain is keeping the dead body going, which is why you have to shoot or bludgeon the undead in the head. This was seen in The Walking Dead episode “TS-19” where CDC scientist Dr. Edwin Jenner reported this fact to the show’s main characters.

On the surface it makes sense. Something, a virus, radiation, chemicals, nanobots, and or something else have taken over a dead person’s brain and are sending signals to the body to move and consume flesh. Cut off or destroy the brain and the problem is solved.

The problem is that taking over the brain isn’t enough. The mind needs a system to send out messages, hence the nervous system. A zombie’s brain has to be able to send signals throughout the body, via the spinal cord. Once a message is received, the body still needs energy and the means to move. That is where muscles and blood come in. The heart is the organ that pumps blood throughout the body and the blood transports nutrients and oxygen to mobilize the muscles enabling movement. So a zombie needs a functioning circulatory and nervous system. Therefore, humans should be able to shoot zombies in the heart and elsewhere to kill them.

28 weeks laterA more realistic look at zombies are the creatures seen in films like I Am Legend and 28 Days Later. Deadly viruses are to blame for people being transformed into deadly killers, yet they never actually die, but instead mutate. And they can be killed through normal means. That would explain why the infected are able to run after their victims, unlike the lumbering undead in Night Of The Living Dead. In fact, in 28 Weeks Later (the sequel to 28 Days Later) humanity just waited for the infected humans in Great Britain to starve to death before attempting to resettle the decimated country.

But one thing that doesn’t ring true in those films is how fast the virus mutates a person. Anyone who was infected in 28 Days Later would transform in seconds. This was also seen to varying degree with the walkers in The Walking Dead, the film version of World War Z and other zombie stories. Viruses can’t work that fast. It takes time for the invading viruses to replicate, travel throughout the body and infect the brain. Depending on where a victim was bitten, that person would have a few hours before transforming into a monster.

bicycle-woman[1]Now let’s look at their diets. Why would a zombie eat? To get energy that is needed by the body. This suggests that a zombie would need a working digestive system to break down and process the meat. We go back to the zombie’s body needing circulating blood to help in the process. Yet in these stories, people point out that the zombies aren’t processing the consumed flesh. If that is so, where does the flesh go? If they’re not processed the meat would just collect in the stomach until that organ would burst. We never see any zombies with bloated bellies, do we?

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Of course, the conclusion is that zombies are something that belong strictly in the fantasy/horror realm. George Romero’s films and other works like Dark Horse Comics’ Zombie World speculate or flat out state that the dead are reanimating due to supernatural means. In other words,  magic spells, curses, demonic possessions, pick your poison. Based on how our reality works, zombies can’t exist except in the fervent imaginations of creators and fans. So anyone watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead or playing Resident Evil can relax…for now.

Lewis T. Grove