From Beyond (1986) : Lightly pulsating beneath the skin of your forehead, Descartes’ third eye, the pineal gland. Properly titillated by sonic vibrations from a machine built by a mad scientist, this seemingly superfluous organ can awaken, offering a glimpse of the ectoplasmic horrors of the world beyond our five senses. Needless to say, once your third eye opens? You start eating brains. And they can make you very sick.
From Beyond is another incredibly gory Stuart Gordon H.P. Lovecraft adaptation that came out in the early 80’s, shortly after the release of Re-Animator. It’s never quite gotten the same love, but it shares many of the timeless qualities of that horror sci-fi classic: Lovecraftian monsters, lots of gore, Jeffery Combs and Barbara Crampton’s exposed breasts. Extra points for casting Dawn of the Dead’s Ken Foree as a character named — I swear I’m not making this up — Bubba Brownlee.
Cube (1997) — The plays of Jean-Paul Sartre are not exactly the sort of thing one expects to see adapted into a successful sci-fi horror film, but Cube is a stealthy little Canadian direct-to-video number that has become an unexpected classic of the genre.
The plot of Cube is simple: a group of complete strangers wake up in a rusting, dilapidated structure with no memory of how they got there, each room cubical and linked on each wall, floor or ceiling with a room seemingly identical except for the color of its lighting. Some rooms are safe havens. Others, seemingly at random, horribly murder or mutilate anyone who enters them. Worse yet, the Cube constantly repositions the rooms within the superstructure, like a automatically reconfiguring Rubik’s Cube. It soon becomes clear that they have all been placed in the Cube because they each have some knowledge or ability that will help them escape.
The first film is largely existential, but the sequels focus a lot more on the people who built the Cube, the reasons why it was built and the logistics of how it operates. The follow-ups are hit and miss, but Cube is a must-see: a taut, gruesome little film that not only predicts the torture horror genre, but also owes more than a passing nod to Sartre’s No Exit, the works of Franz Kafka and a little existential sci-fi television play Jim Henson put together in the late 60’s.
The Fly (1986) — Seth Brundle, a brilliant scientist experimenting with teleportation. He’s made a radical breakthrough in physics: the ability to instantly teleport any object between two metallic pods. There’s only one problem: teleporting organic matter turns the subject inside out. And when Seth figures that problem out, there’s another: the ancient Tandy he’s using to program his teleporters is clearly incapable of handling a simple housefly-filtering subroutine. Without the money to work the bugs out of his program (wokka) or upgrade to a Cray, Seth puts himself through his teleporters and becomes the rapidly decomposing Brundlefly.
David Cronenberg’s remake of the 1958 Vincent Price movie is still one of the most disturbing and emotionally moving sci-fi horror films ever made. The film is the perfect vehicle for Cronenberg’s peculiar cinematic obsessions: body disfiguration and a gradual loss of humanity through obsession. It is a strange film, one with a poignant emotional beauty to it that strangely juxtaposes two bodily different sensations in the viewer: it’ll move you to tears even while you throw up all over your lap.
Event Horizon (1997) — The year is 2047, and the Event Horizon — a decaying starship that went missing a decade before when testing an experimental stardrive that can create an artificial wormhole between any two points in the galaxy — has suddenly been rediscovered in a decaying orbit around Neptune. The crew is missing, but video footage of the first activation of the star drive is found: a hellish transcript of the murder, rape, insanity and cannibalism that gripped the crew moments after they jumped. As it turns out, the stardrive works: it does open a worm hole between any two points in the galaxy. Unfortunately, what exists in the ether between is hell.
Taking its inspiration from films as disparate as Solaris, 2001, Aliens, The Black Hole and The Shining, Event Horizon somehow manages to tie all of its inspirations together in the finest and most horrific haunted spaceship movie ever made… a fact made all-the-more surprising by the fact that it was helmed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Aliens Versus Predator and Soldier), king of the disposable and sometimes embarassing popcorn flick.
The Thing (1982) — The 80’s was a great decade for gooey remakes of innocuous 50’s sci-fi movies and no film proves the point better than John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror classic, The Thing.
Based upon a rather standard Howard Hawks’ monster movie, The Thing From Another World, The Thing tells the story of an American Antarctic research station that is invaded by an alien creature with the ability to imitate any organic life form it comes into physical contact with.
Although the film’s isolated paranoia is the quality that truly makes it a classic, The Thing is most well-known for the incredible special effects by Rob Bottin, which saw decapitated heads sprouting spider’s legs and scurrying across the floor as well as flabby chest cavities suddenly metamorphosing into bellies full of arm-severing teeth.
Re-Animator (1985) — Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is widely, if erroneously, acknowledged as the first science fiction novel… which makes it all more the pity that our square-headed, lead-shoed, bolt-necked friend has been so egregiously purloined as an icon by the horror community (not least of which by our bastard AMC brethren over at Monsterfest, who already get all of the best monsters).
We won’t try to steal Frankenstein back. He’s dead to us now. But we will claim Herbert West, Re-Animator as our own. A young medical doctor at Miskatonic University’s Medical School, Dr. West has invented a day-glo green serum that allows him to resurrect the recently dead. Predictably, these re-animated corpses then become murderous zombies… or sometimes just psychic decapitated heads with a penchant for cunnilingus.
Re-Animator is the best H.P. Lovecraft adaptation ever made, which is all the more surprising, since it’s based off a series of short stories parodying Frankenstein that Lovecraft absolutely hated. The sequel, Bride of Re-Animator, is equally good and hammers the Frankenstein pastiche home with a pitch-perfect but far gorier adaptation of the plot of Bride of Frankenstein.
We may be stretching the definition of sci-fi on this one (hey, doctors are scientists!), but it’s worth it: alongside Return of the Living Dead, Re-Animator is my favorite horror movie of the 80’s.
Alien (1979) — We’re saving the most obvious for last: no list of sci-fi horror movies would be complete with Ridley Scott’s genre-shattering classic, Alien.
In fact, the pick is so obvious we’re not sure what to write about it: if you’re reading this blog, you’ve seen Alien countless times. The only thing we can do is urge you to try to watch it fresh this Halloween, because it’s a sad fact that so many classic movies have their power diluted over time by familiarity.
Take the classic chest-bursting scene in Ridley Scott’s Alien: from the moment John Hurt is carried back on-board from the Narcissus with the jellyfish-like face-hugger latched onto his mouth, everyone knows what is coming. Yet when the movie was originally released, the scene was a horrifying moment of surprise. What had been a scene of relief as crew members sit down for a friendly last meal before hypersleep suddenly becoming a chaos of horror as the ascetic white dining room becomes filled with screams, blood and a larval parasite chittering across the table while gnashing its metallic teeth.
Similarly, H.R. Giger’s Xenomorph design — pieced together from actual animal carcasses — has lost much of its impact through the overexposure of 3 sequels, two spin-off films and countless comic books and video games. Yet it’s still the only alien design in science fiction that doesn’t immediately look like a guy in a monster suit.
Even the hero of the film is unexpected. Sigourney Weaver, a nobody as an actress and for the first half of the movie a background character in the film, suddenly becomes the center of attention in the third act. Tom Skerritt’s death, three-fourths of the way through the film, was a shocking surprise to the audience: the main star in a movie isnt suppose to die.
If you can numb your brain of what you know and come to Alien as a fresh viewer, the film is still as effective today as it was almost 30 years ago. There’s no scarier movie in sci-fi.Read More