Our theaters will soon be filled with the space-spookiness that is Pandorum, which features mutants rampaging across a spaceship. Rumor has it the movie has the scent of Aliens, the robustness of Pitch Black and a touch of 30 Days of Night. Starring Dennis Quaid (Inner Space) and Ben Foster (30 Days of Night), Pandorum is designed to continue the genre-movie box office assault started by The Final Destination 3D and Halloween II.
The darkness and isolation of deep space has always appealed to Hollywood, which knows a made-for-horror setting when it sees it. And while many grand flicks have been back-dropped by the great void, does Pandorum stand a chance of joining them? Let’s start by taking a look at the competition, courtesy of my incredibly accurate and inarguable list of the Top Seven Cosmic Creepshows. Why seven? Well, Pandorum is a made-up word, so I just made up a number for my top movie list (take that, smart-ass Pandorum!).
7. Jason X (2002)
OK, this isn’t the greatest vision ever committed to celluloid immortality. But you know what it’s got? The ultimate icon of horror, Jason Voorhees, and the depths of space. Add ’em together and what do you get? Space-horror. The math is simple, kids, so stick with me or Jason will reduce you to the square root of nothing but a bloody streak across the floor.
6. Starship Troopers (1997)
Paul Verhoeven’s insane puny humans vs. BEMs may blur the line between horror and action, but there’s no questioning the space part. And come on, let’s be honest: Since when are giant, man-eating bugs anything but horror? The battle scenes in this bad boy are sensational, so prepare to choose your grisly demise: Death by big pincers, flaming spit, brain-sucking spikes or nuclear bug-butt juice. Yeah, they’re all bad, but no one said life was fair. Throw in hostile alien planets, miserable isolation and buddies dying one by one (or in groups of four or five, ’cause we are talking flaming spit here) and you get the picture. Sure, they’re soldiers rather than stupid high school students, but this is pure, unadulterated horror from start to finish.
5. Pitch Black (2000)
It starts by shamelessly appropriating the Aliens formula — spooky critters taking people out one by one — and then combines it with a pretty clever good cop/prisoner drama to create its own unique feel. And maybe by the end of the 20th century, we’ll have had our fill of “final girls” and want to mix it up with “final huge bad-ass dude who shaves his head with grease and a honking big knife.” The movie launched Vin Diesel’s career (come on, Vin, is that your real last name, or is it “Edsel,” as has it?). To bad that career kind of, seemed to end with the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, because in space, no one can hear your money-grubbing follow ups scream.
4. Event Horizon (1997)
A crazy mish-mash of horror influences, Event Horizon didn’t fare well at the box office, but has developed a solid cult following. Granted, the premise is a blank slate for whatever horrors that cross the screenwriter’s mind, starting with a “gravity drive” that opens a door to another dimension. What kind of dimension? An eeeeevil one, of course. With gouged-out eyes, ghosts, icky lesions, explosive decompression, guns, fire trucks and chicks (OK, the last two are from Bachelor Party, but still), there’s plenty of make-it-up-as-you-go-along horror to be had — we’re talking supernatural storytelling scary stuff in science clothing, along with Laurence Fishburne and an eeeevil Sam Neill. Can you dig it? I know that you can!
3. Aliens (1986)
True, this one seems to make just about every list I compile; I even thought about adding it to the Sorority Slasher list, but picturing the alien in a slumber-party ready teddy just wasn’t doing it for me. That said, Aliens took the Alien template — space creature kills a group of people (spaceship crew, mining colony staff, whatever) — and ramps it up: Space creatures kill a platoon of futuristic marines one by one. Toss in the answer to a key question raised but not answered in Alien — “Who’s laying all those eggs?” — and you have one of horror’s all-time greats.
2. Alien (1979)
For pure extraterrestrial horror, this one is hard to beat. Alien wasn’t just a movie: It was the beginning of a new horror sub-genre of horror. Only the slasher flick is more imitated than Alien‘s “space creature picks of an increasingly terrified crew one by one” formula. Pitched to studios as “Jaws in space,” Alien lived up to the high-concept hucksterism… and then some. While the franchise extended to four movies, installments three and four really aren’t worth mentioning in any “best of” context. Unless it’s “Best of How Could You Possibly Screw Up Such a Fan-Favorite Money Maker?” in which case installments three and four would be near the top.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
OK, this will ruffle some feathers. Alien is badass and genre-defining movie, but you know what? Alien is 2001: a Space Odyssey with a ruthlessly nimble, inhuman killer. Other than that, same movie. You have the total isolation in space. You have a crew being eliminated one by one. You have the hero/heroine struggling against an apparently unbeatable threat, fighting desperately to stay alive and escape back to Earth. And you probably have some metaphorical crap in there that academic types will harp on to validate their tenure, but in this blog, my friend, we deal in cold, hard movie reality. This movie made the idea of the killer computer a scifi/horror mainstay, and the voice of HAL became more iconic than any other part of the flick. When a voice — a soothing, well-modulated voice at that — can scare the pants off you, that’s some hallowed ground right there. For all its intellectual, arty pretensions, 2001 really opened the door for fantastic space horror, and for that, it gets number one slot.
All right, then. We all know lists are supposed be the top ten, but I couldn’t find another three I felt I just had to include. So what do you think, Dear Reader? Use the comments field below to list and discuss your favorite space-horror movies.
New York Times best-selling author Scott Sigler writes tales of hard-science horror, then gives them away as free audiobooks at www.scottsigler.com. His novel INFECTED was named as Border’s #1 mystery, thriller and horror novel for 2008. His next major hardcover horror/thriller ANCESTOR will be out on May 4, 2010.
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