Haunted Houses In Space

Alien, Event Horizon, Ship of Fools, Pandorum, Hull Zero Three, Life, Nightflyers, Dead Space, the list goes on. The basic premise of these stories are the same and boils down to a haunted house in space. It may sound like an odd combination, the haunted house in space, but when executed, this meshing of two genres usually produces some imaginative and scary sci-fi horror stories, films, TV shows, games, etc.

Why is this so? It all goes back to the concept that both genres when blended deal with the fear of the unknown. We don’t know what lies out in space, what we’ll encounter. But a core aspect of the classic haunted house story is the location itself. In such stories the protagonist is stuck in an old house and has to confront ghostly or demonic forces. Many of them are very terrifying and what makes them even more unsettling are their alleged basis on real events like The Conjuring films.

With sci-fi horror films the premise is moved out of rickety old houses and into a sci-fi setting, usually a spaceship or space station or a planet itself. Obvious examples include the mentioned films and games. Let’s focus on Alien. On a side note, its premise wasn’t new when the film came out in 1979 as a similar film It! The Terror from Beyond Space hit theaters way back in 1958.  Anyway, the crew of the space freighter Nostromo are hunted in their own spaceship by a murderous extra-terrestrial or xenomorph. Here you have the Nostromo, a spaceship, taking the place of the haunted house while the xenomorph is a perfect stand-in for a demonic entity or a ghost that is difficult to track. Adding to the horror element of Alien is the claustrophobic feel the spaceship emits. Corridors are dark and foreboding, hiding unexpected perils.

This type of setting highlighted the cult classic Event Horizon, a film that its director actually envisioned as a haunted house story in space. The spaceship design of the title ship is Gothic, cold, and even a bit Lovecraftian. Meanwhile, the non corporeal forces the rescue crew face are perfect updates on demonic forces and spirits as the film infers the spaceship Event Horizon actually traveled to hell and back.

What made the concept of Alien and others even more chilling is that unlike the traditional haunted house story, the characters don’t have anywhere else to go. They’re genuinely trapped. They cannot exactly just step outside the spaceship, it’s they’re life-giving oasis in the inhospitable environment of outer space. A common complaint about haunted house stories is that if a house is haunted why not just leave it and move someplace else? This doesn’t take into account poltergeists and demons that follow a victim everywhere, or the financial burden with suddenly leaving a home, but the question does have merit. The alien or other threat is on a spaceship deep in the cosmos? You’re stuck, my friend. Unless you want to take your chances with a lifepod in the middle of space, which ironically is how many of these sci-fi horror stories conclude. It’s that or take your chances and confront the threat head on.

Thinking about the characters’ limitations and the somewhat plausible nature of the threat then it’s easy to see why this type of sci-fi horror story is superior to a traditional haunted house tale.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

frankenstien and gril

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.

The Fly brundlemonster

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