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.

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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

Frankenstein Still Resonates Today

 

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Frankenstein’s monster is an iconic horror figure that has terrified and fascinated audiences for generations and has done so in several different formats.  The reasons for this are varied and include the ideas that were present in the original novel written by Mary Shelley in 1818 titled Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.  It tells the story of a scientist named Victor Frankenstein who creates a human being from the body parts of corpses. His reason for doing this is to bring life to a dead body, thus transcending death itself.

henry frankensteinThis brings to mind the idea of zombies that are so popular right now in society as well as the idea of playing God. All of the fears that come with modern technology that can potentially cause chaos (such as the fears of cloning, or bio-engineered diseases) are all present in this story. Frankenstein’s creation is a hideous creature that wipes out his creator’s family, but is also portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic character. Someone who was brought into this world recklessly and thrown away by his father. The monster’s attempts to integrate himself into human society fail miserably and his subsequent rampage further increases the terror and misery caused by irresponsible scientific actions.

This is reminiscent of the ideas presented in the Jurassic Park movies where bringing extinct creatures to life cause death and destruction. Even if the motives were possibly noble to begin with, who doesn’t dream of seeing majestic dinosaurs live again, the end results are always catastrophic.

The many different movies in subsequent decades about Frankenstein’s monster show the lasting power of this story. The most famous is obviously the classic 1931 film Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff.  His great performance as the menacing creature is still remembered today and is the benchmark for any Frankenstein movie.  The look and sound of the monster is what everyone thinks of now whenever the name Frankenstein is said. Halloween costumes, and TV shows like The Munsters all show how iconic that original design is.

curse of frankenstein

The story of Frankenstein’s doomed creature has been retold many times since the ’30s. The Hammer film studio in Great Britain produced an excellent version in 1957 starring Christopher Lee as the monster and Peter Cushing as the mad scientist titled The Curse of Frankenstein.  More recently in 1994, Kenneth Branagh deniro frankensteindirected and starred in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Robert De Niro as the monster. While it received mixed reviews I think this is a great version of the story and is very faithful to the original novel. De Niro’s performance is both frightening and tragic and the film touches on all of the important ideas that Mary Shelley presented almost two hundred years ago. The idea of the all-too human desire to cheat death at almost any cost still resonates with us. Another theme it explored was that science is seen at first as the way to salvation and a better life, but the characters realize that these visions of ours don’t always come true and sometimes make things much worse.

mary shelleyThe fact that Shelley was only 18 years old when she wrote this classic novel is impressive and the fact that almost two centuries have passed since its publication show that great ideas that touch on fundamental themes always stand the test of time, and still have relevance regardless of the genre and the times. In addition, while the novel and movies are seen as firmly in the horror camp for obvious reasons, it can also be said that they are in the realm of science fiction as well with its previously mentioned emphasis on science and research into both biology and questioning what it means to be human. Frankenstein is definitely a story that asks these questions and will continue to both scare and thrill audiences, this Halloween and for years to come.

 

C.S. Link

Top 10 Sci-Fi Movie Monsters

 

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When it comes to monsters, the science fiction genre has many worthy contributions. Whether they’re from outer space, developed in a lab or a byproduct of our amok science, sci-fi monsters have thrilled audiences for decades and will continue to do so. Here’s the ten best sci-fi monsters on film.

10. Giant Ants (Them!): Sure they look hokey by anyone’s standards, but that spooky noise the behemoth ants created is memorable and the film (about efforts to destroy deadly gigantic ants created by nuclear radiation) is one of the best examples of giant animal monster movies from the ’50s.

9. The Judas Breed (Mimic): Guillermo del Toro directed this underrated monster movie about a genetically engineered insect (a cross of a praying mantis and termite) that evolves to feed on humans in subways and alleys. The creepy insects do this by appearing somewhat humanoid in the dark to lure their prey. Vicious, deadly and hard to kill, the Breed are a classic.

8. Ymir (20 Million Miles To Earth): An alien egg is brought back by a space expedition to Venus and hatches in Italy. The hatchling soon grows to humongous proportions and goes on a rampage in Rome in this Ray Harryhausen masterpiece.

7. The Creatures from The Mist (The Mist): Yeah the ending was too bleak but the film’s extra-dimensional creatures that plague the trapped shoppers in the supermarket are truly terrifying. An army experiment breaks the seal between dimensions unleashing a mist filled with assorted deadly carnivorous life forms that spit out corrosive webbing, lay eggs on human hosts and are just outright nightmare inducing.

6. Godzilla (Godzilla, King of the Monsters): The ultimate statement of nuclear radiation being bad for the environment as atomic bombs awaken and mutate a gargantuan dinosaur that destroys Tokyo with its atomic breath and destructive might. The original is still the best and most dire film of this genre. Let’s not talk about that abomination put out in 1998 which starred that Ferris Bueller guy.

5. Brundlefly (The Fly): David Cronenberg’s AIDS allegory cleverly updates and amps up the horror in this remake of the ’50s film. Jeff Goldblum’s scientist Seth Brundle has his genes accidently spliced with a fly when he teleports himself, and the result is a hideous amalgamation of the two.

4. T-Rex and Raptors (Jurassic Park trilogy): Let the extinct stay extinct! That message comes across in this Steven Spielberg classic about cloned dinosaurs that break loose and eat people in a soon-to-be-opened island theme park. The effects were groundbreaking then and are still impressive as the T-Rex is shown to be the badass that it was and the velociraptors nearly upstage the tyrant king with their cunning and agility.

3. Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein): Boris Karloff’s quiet and eerie portrayal of the creature created out of dead human body parts by Dr. Frankenstein is still unsettling. Some thanks should go to Jack Pierce’s makeup and the atmospheric directing by James Whale in this classic statement of humanity’s folly in trying to control nature through science.

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2. The Thing (The Thing): John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of Howard Harwks’ film from the ’50s set a standard in moody paranoia and gross creature makeup effects. Not having a defined shape, the chameleon-like alien found by a doomed Antarctic research teams mimicked any life form it encountered. Including humans. But when the movie shows the Thing in-between transformations as its body disgustingly twists and contorts, it strained any viewer’s fortitude.

1. Alien Xenomorph (Alien films): The uber-space monster. Designed by H.R. Giger, this creature truly looked alien with its elongated skull, double mouth, exoskeletal structure and acidic blood. It’s a unique iconic look that few monsters have been able to match. Add to the mix, the fact that it can blend into its surroundings and it’s just plaine frightening.  Of course, what brought the movie houses down was the bloody debut of the serpentine infant alien that literally burst out of poor John Hurt’s chest.

Honorable Mentions: The Cloverfield Monster (Cloverfield),  the alien Predator (the Predator films), Hulk (the Hulk films), the Mutant Bear (Prophecy), the Bugs (Starship Troopers), the Mutant Baby (It’s Alive), Rhedosaurus (The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms), and the Gill Man (Creature From The Black Lagoon).

José Soto