Science-fiction and horror seem to go hand in hand. Sci-fi usually involves futuristic foreboding or fear of the unknown, and this works well with the frightening realisation of the darkest depths of the human mind that define the horror genre. Science-fiction horror is also notable for producing some of the best examples of science-fiction regardless of sub-context, as well as some of the worst. And yet, when films such as Norman J. Warren’s awful “Inseminoid”, or the Alien/Aliens clones “Split Second” and “The Dark Side Of The Moon” hit our television screens during late-night repeats, we’re still sucked in to these strange but wonderful fantasies no matter how poor the execution. Indeed, while I can’t claim “Inseminoid” has any redeeming features, Tony Maylam and Ian Sharp’s violent, post-apocalyptic murder-mystery that sees a chiselled Rutger Hauer tracking an extraterrestrial killer across a water-soaked London, is one of the highlights of the genre. And while “The Dark Side Of The Moon” only tries to copy the best bits from “Alien” and “Aliens”, it’s still an enjoyable space-romp with bloody undertones.
However, it’s only when you start talking about the real successes within the sub-genre that science-fiction and horror proves it’s more than just passing, straight-to-video fodder. Ridley Scott’s “Alien” isn’t just the finest science-fiction horror film (topping every poll that points its gaze at sci-fi/horror), it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. You can also point to such classics as John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” as works of cinema not just destined for obscure film polls. These movies would come high in any rundown of genre film.
In compiling our Top 10 Science-Fiction Horror we learned that you cannot underestimate the sub-genre for the quality of the films it produces, and that writer-director David Cronenberg is the Grand Master at this type of cinema.
1. Alien (Scott, 1979)
Director Ridley Scott brought “Alien” to the screen from a script by Dan O’Bannon and the brilliant concept design of H.R. Giger. It is, without doubt, a masterpiece of suspense cinema.
Conceived as a haunted house film set in space, Scott creates a unique platform for his futuristic space-horror to play out. Indeed, the film is hardly futuristic at all – certainly not in the same vein as Kubrick’s “2001” or the Star Trek series. There aren’t any gleaming white walls and perfectly tailored space suits. This is a future that is down-and-dirty, with characters less interested with space battles, warp-drives, and communing with friendly ET’s, and more interested in a good meal back home and bonus pay. Scott routes the film in a sense of reality – the spaceship is not much removed from a cargo ship on the open sea, its crew suffering from the same home sickness and sense of isolation. He goes further to make the spaceship look and feel old and used, perhaps it’s past its best and is beginning to break down. When this reality is breached by the unseen and unstoppable monster, the frightening plight of the crew is seamlessly imparted on the audience too. Please read our full review HERE
2. The Thing (Carpenter, 1982)
Generally speaking, it’s this or “Halloween” vying for that position as John Carpenter’s best film. Here he depicts isolation in much the same way as Ridley Scott in “Alien”, only we never leave planet earth. Although a remake of “The Thing From Another World”, Carpenter’s film makes for more enthralling viewing. Kurt Russell is great in a more restrained role than he usually finds himself in alongside director Carpenter, and features one of the most sheer entertaining horror movie sequences ever put to film when the Arctic scientists have to perform a blood test to see which of them is the alien.
I dunno what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is. – The Thing
3. The Fly (Cronenberg, 1986)
Another best film contender in the career of body-horror fetishist David Cronenberg, “The Fly” finds itself at number 3 in our Top 10 sci-fi horror films. Another remake, and example of improvement over the original, Cronenberg’s “The Fly” is his most easily accessible film. It’s as violent as his others yet, largely thanks to a superb performance from Jeff Goldblum, and an appealing and affectionate love-story with Geena Davis, “The Fly” has a resonance that goes beyond the science.
4. The Terminator (Cameron, 1984)
Not thought of as a horror movie as much as it is an action-thriller, James Cameron’s masterpiece “The Terminator” finds itself at number 4 on our list. For me, this film is a much more frightening proposition than the sequel. Yes, it is an action movie, but if Arnold Schwarzenegger had teeth and went around eating people, it would be an out and out horror film. As it is, he plays a robot sent to kill the mother of future leader John Connor, exacting his killing with an assortment of guns, knives, and his own metallic fists. James Cameron, who wrote and directed the film, conceived of it from a nightmare he once had. It’s a terrific thrill-ride of fast-paced suspense and special-effects, benefiting from the gritty realism of its low-budget origins.
5. The Brood (Cronenberg, 1979)
Another Cronenberg, and another brilliant example of science-fiction and horror mixing perfectly. Here we see psychotherapist Oliver Reed testing a new form of therapy he calls “Psychoplasmics” which causes the patient to physically manifest on their bodies the inner turmoil they are suffering from. For Nola Carveth, that manifestation takes the form of mutated children that she parthenogenetically births and has telepathic control of via her negative emotions. It’s a well-paced mystery-thriller with science-fiction connotations. Cronenberg maintains a bleak, cold undertone to the film, and is ably supported by the quietly sadistic Oliver Reed.
6. Videodrome (Cronenberg, 1983)
Infuriating, surreal, weird, scary: just a few words to describe Cronenberg’s much-loved, and frequently debated “Videodrome”. It’s very forward-thinking in its portrayal of an over-powering media, and Cronenberg uses disturbingly strange imagery to depict one man’s deconstruction. James Woods is superbly cast, and has rarely been better than he is here.
7. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Siegel, 1956)
The only example of the original film and not the remake making it on to our top 10, the “Invasion of the Body Snatches” remains the best 50s science-fiction film, born out of America’s fear of communism and atomic war.
Buy the Classic Sci-Fi Collection : Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers / Thing From Another World / Incredible Shrinking Man / This Island Earth / Creature From The Black Lagoon / It Came From Outer Space on DVD from Amazon.co.uk
8. Altered States (Russell, 1980)
Ken Russell’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s novel is a hallucinatory depiction of one man’s obsession with the meaning of existence and his consequent physical and emotional regression. It’s a powerful film with strong central performances, especially from William Hurt.
9. Scanners (Cronenberg, 1981)
One of the most iconic scenes from both the horror and science-fiction genres appears in Cronenberg’s “Scanners” when, at a press conference held to show the power of telekinesis, renegade ‘Scanner’ and fellow telekinesis-empowered individual Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) violently murders the conference’s host. The head exploding with slow-motion guts and glory is easily the most memorable scene in the movie. “Scanners” isn’t as refined as Cronenberg’s other films on this list but no less deserving. Its depiction of horror within scientific exploration and the monstrous side of man has rarely been bettered.
10. Alien 3 (Producer’s Cut) (Fincher, 1992)
“Alien 3” was met with a muted critical reception when it was first released in 1992. Since then director David Fincher has gone on to bigger and better things with “Seven” and “Fight Club” but I have found myself returning to his first feature-length movie willing it to be better than I remembered. Of course, the first time anybody saw “Alien 3” was in anticipation of Ripley’s continuing battle with the alien. This in itself caused an immediate problem – how can Fincher live up to the quality of the first two movies. The answer was: he could not, and the film went down as a poor addition to the franchise. However, in retrospect, having seen a fourth film appear, and then the Alien Versus Predator movies come and go, I find myself looking at “Alien 3” as some kind of minor masterpiece. And, when Fincher’s intended film appeared in the form of a Producer’s Cut on the Alien Quadrilogy DVD, we finally got to see “Alien 3” in all its glory. Read our full review HERE