Phillip's Horror Lists, Part Six: In Space, We All Hear You Scream
For me, there's always been a distinct division between horror and sci-fi. As a rule, I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, although I dearly love "Firefly" (that's more of a Western, though) and "Red Dwarf." Many sci-fi films blur the line, however, adding horror elements in a way that tips the scales and gets me interested. Here, then, are some of my favorite sci-fi/horror combos:
Alien Raiders (2008) – This little indie sleeper came out of nowhere and really blew me away. A group of heavily armed military-types burst into a rural grocery store, late at night, and proceed to take the entire place hostage. They claim to be looking for vicious alien invaders that have disguised themselves as regular humans. Only one of their group can tell if someone is an alien or not, however, and when he’s killed, their job becomes exponentially more difficult. Here’s the kicker: are they actually good guys or dangerously insane vigilantes? Only time will tell. An exceptionally smart sci-fi action/horror film.
Altered States (1980) – Ever wondered what it would be like to devolve, to return to the primordial soup from whence we sprang? If so, head on over to “Altered States” and get a third-eyeful. A scientist, played by our ever-reliable buddy William Hurt, experiments with a hallucinatory drug and sensory deprivation chamber, all in the pursuit of tracing mankind’s ancestral roots. He gets his wish, plus a whole lot more, in Ken Russell’s oddball, tripadelic flick. Many films try to approximate either drug trips or mental breakdowns and fail miserably. “Altered States,” however, is one of the few films to actually give breakdowns the nightmarish intensity they deserve.
Cube (1997) – I didn’t expect to like this film at all when I first saw it, dreading yet another blood-soaked descent into torture-porn (even thought the film pre-dated “Saw” by a good seven years). What I actually got was one of the trippiest, smartest films I’d ever seen. A group of supposedly random strangers are trapped in a series of interconnecting rooms. There are several exits to each room, but many of the rooms are booby-trapped in truly horrific, inventive ways. The people must work together in order to access some of the exits, but some of the people may not be who they seem. Paranoia and desperation set in, but the actual truth behind their situation blows any of their theories out of the water. “Cube” possesses some fascinating philosophical and scientific ideas, along with some truly stomach-churning gore. In the end, I ended up really liking the film and I think that fans of intelligent sci-fi horror might feel the same. I’ve never seen any of the countless sequels, however, preferring the original to stand undiluted.
Event Horizon (1997) – Oh, how I love this flawed little gem! With a couple of tweaks and torks, “Event Horizon” would damn near be a perfect horror film, in my little opinion. A signal is received from a spaceship that was thought lost in a black hole years before. Since this is decidedly odd, a rescue crew (including the original ship’s creator) is sent to investigate. Once there, they find that the ship has been to the very edge of the black hole but survived, sans crew. Unfortunately, it brought something back with it. The best way to describe “Event Horizon” is as a cross between “Hellraiser” and “2001.” The film is genuinely scary, with some truly disturbing visuals. The acting is great and the plotline is outstanding. Towards the end, however, the story begins to take on some water and there are some unfortunate choices that keep this from being the 5-star film it should have been. Still, one of my favorites.
Hardware (1990) – Richard Stanley is one of those filmmakers that really shoulda been a contender. Between this film and “Dust Devil,” he revealed a style that was almost Kubrickian and an ability to bring truly unique stories to the silver screen. As it was, he went on to become a footnote, fired from the ridiculous 1996 production of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and creating mainly shorts, at this point. “Hardware” is a minor masterpiece, a sort of poor man’s version of “The Terminator,” minus the tough-guy element. In a post-apocalyptic future, a desert scavenger comes across a discarded robot head. Since his girlfriend is a collector/sculptor, he brings the head home as a gift. Unfortunately, this particular head belongs to a spectacularly nasty killer bot that possesses the ability to re-assemble itself. Once around the pieces of the sculptor’s exhibit, the robot slowly begins to re-constitute. What follows is a bizarre cross between “Star Wars” and “Friday the 13th,” with a truly frightening monster at its core. This is well worth seeking out, trust me.
Pitch Black (2000) – One of my all-time favorite movies, period. I’ve actually rewatched this several times in the vain effort to bump it up from a 4 to 5-star film in my ratings. It’s not, unfortunately, a perfect film. It is, however, one of the damn finest sci-fi/action/horror films in existence. In the future, a spaceship carrying a dangerous prisoner crash-lands on a seemingly deserted planet, a world orbited by three suns. The passengers and crew find a settlement, although it appears empty, abandoned at a moment’s notice. Conditions are dire, due to the extreme heat and lack of supplies. During their explorations of the base, however, they discover the one area that appears to be in complete darkness: a storage silo. There appears to be something in there, however, something quite terrible that shuns the light. Unfortunately, the shipwrecked travelers also discover that there’s about to be a complete eclipse, plunging the entire world into darkness. They must work together with the prisoner (Vin Diesel in his first, and best, role) to escape the planet before the rampaging terror is released to decimate them entirely. Utterly wonderful, escapist cinema. I love the story and think that it was executed just about perfectly. Minus some cheese and plot contrivances, this could easily be the best of its kind. As it is, I’m damn proud to call this movie “friend.”
Predators (2010) – Very rarely do I give any respect or regard to remakes/reboots but “Predators” earned a place in my dark heart. For one thing, it actually functions as a sequel (of sorts) to the McTiernan original. For another thing, the original film hasn’t aged particularly well: other than the cool creature and some good lines, it’s pretty much a dud. “Predators,” on the other hand, is an absolute gem, featuring pulse-pounding action scenes and some truly jaw-dropping effects. Plus, the new film has former “That ‘70s Show” star Topher Grace in a genuinely surprising role. He’s about 1000 degrees away from Eric Forman and the horror community is all the richer for it.
And now, the crème de la crème of my sci-fi horror picks:
Alien (1979) / Aliens (1986) – “Alien” and “Aliens” are like two of my children: picking one over the other is hard. At gunpoint, I’ll always pick “Alien”: that movie is flawless, after all. James Cameron’s sequel, however, certainly ain’t no slouch. While the original is one of the best horror films ever made, the first sequel is one of the best action films ever made: big difference. I’ll always treasure Scott’s film for being the quintessential space Gothic and Cameron’s movie never ceases to make me feel like a kid. They’re both pretty much perfect (“Alien” absolutely is) and either one would make a more than suitable choice for a Halloween fright fest.
The Thing (1982) – This shatters my commandment that remakes stink. While Hawkes’ original is a decent little sci-fi chiller, Carpenter’s remake is a fucking masterpiece. Come for the effects (this should be ample evidence for any youngsters out there that practical, non-CGI effects can be amazing) but stay for the kickass story, acting and action. Kurt Russell proves why he belongs in the same badass category with Eastwood and I eat crow every time I yammer on about remakes: it’s a win-win. Don’t bother with the contemporary “prequel,” however: it’s less a prequel than a nearly scene-for-scene remake of the Carpenter film. Accept no substitutes!