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Alert! Alert! SciFi and Horror Were Once One and the Same Thing

Here’s a scenario for you: It’s 1984 and you’re seated in a dark theater. A beautiful woman has just appeared naked on screen for no particular reason other than that people enjoy seeing beautiful women naked, and now that same woman — alas, fully clothed — is on the run from an unstoppable killing machine, a marginally human force focused only on death. Her death. Shoot it, light it on fire, blow it up… it just won’t stop. Merciless and unrelenting, its sole goal is to kill this particular woman, preferably in some unspeakably horrible way.

Now answer me this: Are you watching The Terminator or one of the Friday the 13th flicks?

Here’s another one: There is a pregnant woman, the life inside her not exactly the source of great joy. But while she may not be entirely enthusiastic about her circumstances, there’s another female on the scene and that would-be-mother wants the baby. As in she wants that baby so badly, she is more than willing to carve away the husk mommy to get at the life within. Inside or Alien 3 ? Could be either.

Last one: A small group of hardy people are living in isolation in a hostile environment. Survival is already tough enough, but before too long an alien arrives in their midst. An alien that can mask its true appearance. An alien that uses its special abilities to carve a path of death through the group, killing off our heroes one by one before final being faced directly in a final, climactic battle. Is it Predator or is it The Thing ?

No doubt, you’ve already figured out basically where this is going. Science fiction and horror: Pretty much the same thing. And, honestly, they always have been. Go back to the B-films of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s and what do you find? Stacks upon stacks of science-run-amok horror titles, Cold War cautionary tales filled with radioactive beasts and bizarre mutations. Go back even farther — to the very roots of horror — and you end up with Frankenstein . What could be a clearer example of the shared origins of science fiction and horror than a creature stitched together from harvested body parts and brought to life by a mad scientist?

I’d even go a step farther and say it’s not just science fiction and horror that come out of the same pool, but that fantasy deserves to be thrown into the mix, too. Could Dracula have ever happened without stacks of folklore laying down the groundwork? What are The Exorcist , The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby if not modern legends of magic gone wrong? And is there really any need to point out that aliens and techno gadgets are nothing but monsters and magic moved out of the past and into the future? Sure, science fiction, horror and fantasy all speak slightly different languages to get where they want to go, but ultimately they’re all just wondering “What if? If I change this one thing, what happens?”

So if they all started in the same place… how’d we end up where we are now, with horror, scifi and fantasy fans huddling in their respective corners at fan conventions?

I blame Walt Disney for taking fantasy out of the mix by reducing the Brothers Grimm to little more than Mother Goose. That one move effectively ended fantasy as an acceptable genre for anything other than kids and/or adolescent wish fulfillment. And you can make a good argument that science fiction and horror began to seriously part ways with the arrival of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , a movie that forever changed the game by rooting the horror in people rather than in something unknown and making the genre as much about endurance as about the fear of the unknown.

Mostly, however, I blame the Dewey Decimal System for feeling the need to categorize things in the first place. And then I blame the marketing drones who realized that there’s easy money to be made by convincing people that they like just one specific thing and then selling them more of the same. We’ve been told that science fiction and horror are different and mutually exclusive for long enough now that we’ve started to believe it despite what an obvious lie it is. So screw you, Melvil Dewey and your exhaustive cataloging system. We’re more alike than we are different and while reuniting these separated twins may yield the occasional Species or Event Horizon , bringing them back together also gave us Alien and The Thing and David Cronenberg.

So, to all you scifi geeks out there, wondering how to cope this Halloween when horror has its day — if a scary man in a Jason mask starts lobbing insults your way because you have an opinion on the relative merits of Star Wars versus Star Trek , there’s no need to cower. Just sit Jason down with a copy of The Fly .  He’ll thank you for it.

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