When people speak of aliens visiting the earth in movies, they often refer to E. T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Independence Day or – if they’re more into the cult side of things – films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing.
In all of these films, the agendas of the extraterrestrial visitors are fairly clear-cut: either they bring peace or love or they want to destroy humanity; there’s simply not a lot of grey area.
These types of films also tend to have very similar ‘heroes’ – white, middle-class, Americans – and narratives that follow arcs we’ve seen time and time again
The films in this list do not conform to these patterns –though some play on certain elements. These films are the ‘weird’ ones, the ones that might be considered bizarre, strange, and idiosyncratic by mainstream audiences.
In these, the storylines are more surreal, the settings more varied, and the intentions of the extraterrestrial visitors more ambiguous, or at least unusual. The human protagonists – if there are any – also tend to be complex characters that fall outside of recognised stereotypes.
So from trashy gems to avant-garde works to films that fall somewhere in-between, here are the weirdest films about visitors from the stars. Please note that the films are not listed in any particular order.
1. Xtro (1983) – Harry Bromley Davenport
‘Some extraterrestrials aren’t friendly,’ was the tagline to this movie which came out in 1983, the year after E. T. And writer/director/composer Harry Bromley Davenport wastes no time in keeping the promise implicit in this. In the film’s opening scene, a flying saucer sweeps a man called Sam away in a beam of light as he is playing outside with his son Tony.
Skip forward three years and a UFO crash lands in the English countryside, leaving a nasty reptilian creature to emerge from the wreckage. Said creature then proceeds to kill a young couple (to be fair they do hit it with a car) and then break into a home where it impregnates the woman living there with a rather suggestive tube which emerges from its nether regions and attaches itself to her mouth.
Okay, so far pretty standard stuff. Where does the weird bit start you ask?
Well, about five minutes later when the same woman gives very gory birth to a fully grown man. As he shrugs the entrails of himself, we realise this man is Sam from the opening scene.
The rest of the film sees an obviously ‘altered’ Sam trying to re-connect with his son Tony and his wife Rachel, who’s remarried to an American called Joe. All of this might make for a great heartfelt melodrama were it not for the murderous toy soldiers, the panther that’s running around for some reason, and Sam’s new appetite for snake eggs.
In Xtro, the weirdness just builds and builds and, if nothing else, the film provides a good exercise for seeing how many times you have to pick your jaw from the floor.
2. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) – Stephen Chiodo
The title alone should be enough to convince anyone of the weirdness of this 1988 cult classic from the Chiodo Brothers.
The plot sees a group of clown-like extraterrestrials land on earth – in a spaceship that looks like a circus tent – and go a rampage in the town of Crescent Grove, California. Their main weapon: a gun that encases its victims in candy floss, preserving them until the clowns can use them for food later on.
Aside from the bizarre narrative and the self-aware B-movie humour, Killer Klowns also features some genuinely creepy moments, such as when one of the beings tries to lure a small girl from a restaurant.
3. The Visitor (1979) – Giulio Paradisi
Italian director Giulio Paradisi’s (credited as Michael J. Paradise) biggest and most well-known film is probably also his strangest. It’s filled with imagery that could be taken from a drug trip.
The opening scene sees John Houston’s titular ‘visitor’ – also known in the film as Jerzy – walking the sands of a desert planet. He is then confronted by the eerie image of a human child called Katy. Later we see Jerzy visiting a Christ-like figure (played by Franco Nero) to tell him about Katy.
This girl, it seems, is possessed of incredible telekinetic powers. She also forms an important part of a plot to bring Sateen, an evil extraterrestrial force back to earth. It is Jerzy who visits the planet with the intent of stopping this.
The film’s hybridisation of sci-fi and the ‘bad seed’ sub-genre of horror films – think The Omen, The Exorcist, and Rosemary’s Baby – make it especially unusual and unique; the closest thing it could be compared to would probably be the 1977 film Demon Seed.
Another thing that sets it apart is its striking imagery, with sequences involving Jerzy standing on a rooftop to summon an army of birds and another where is pursued by an enraged Katy through a mirror maze being especially memorable.
All this, plus its religious undertones and pervading adherence to dream-logic, ensure The Visitor is a stand-out oddity among 70’s sci-fi films.
4. Prey (1977) – Norman J. Warren
An alien scout called Kator lands on earth, assumes human form, and is taken in by a lesbian couple living in the English countryside. No this isn’t a sitcom, this is the fourth feature film from director Norman J. Warren, whose best-known work prior to this was an erotic horror called ‘Satan’s Slave.’
Since it was released two years before Alien, Prey is happily free of some of the tropes that dog later low-budget productions involving hostile extraterrestrials. There are no slimy impregnations or gory ‘birth’ scenes, but it’s this lack (though not complete absence) of balls to the wall violence and gore that makes Prey all the weirder.
Rather than being about aliens rampaging across the earth, Prey comes across more as a melodrama, with the weirdness in it coming from Kator’s – who goes by the name Anders – and the couple’s attempts to adapt to each other’s company.
In one bizarre scene, the three of them have a dinner party to celebrate the death of a fox that’s being killing the couple’s chickens – why else would you have a dinner party? The couple then proceeds to dress Anders up as a woman, much to his horror.
Aside from the hokey special effects, Prey is a rather enjoyable little oddity. It’s also a product of a time when the silliest ideas could be still approached with the utmost seriousness.
5. Contamination (1980) – Luigi Cozzi
Contamination is the only film on this list that was part of the original 72 films deemed ‘video nasties’ in the UK. Watching it today, however, it seems quite tame and could probably be more accurately described as a ‘spy thriller’ rather than a horror.
The film begins with a seemingly abandoned ship drifting into New York harbour. When the police board it, they find the horribly mutilated remains of the crew and some glowing egg-like objects in the hold. As they soon discover, these objects are filled with a green fluid which causes those it touches to violently explode.
A connection between the eggs and an ill-fated mission to Mars, which left one of its crew member’s insane, is soon established. The source of the eggs is then traced to a South American coffee plantation which the film’s heroes – the last surviving crew member of the Mars mission, a police detective, and an army colonel – go to investigate.
Contamination is everything you’d expect to be it: it’s full of plot holes, has dollops of casual misogyny, and has a script where people say things like, ‘put emergency plan 7 into action.’ If there’s something to recommend it, though, it’s the sheer bizarreness of its central idea and its unwavering dedication to seeing it through to the end.
The film probably also has the only instance in cinematic history of someone banging fearfully on a bathroom door and shouting: ‘Help, get me out of here…there’s an egg.’
6. Under the Skin (2013) – Jonathan Glazer
An alien being visits earth and adopts the form of a beautiful young woman in order to seduce men and harvest their bodies. Hearing this brief synopsis, you might think we’re in B-movie territory again. You’d be wrong though.
In a style that is sometimes psychedelic and sometimes cinema verite, Under the Skin shows us Scarlett Johansson’s ‘the female’ – as she is credited – driving around the streets of Glasgow and luring men into her van, before taking them to a run-down house to meet a very grim fate.
As this is going on, she is trailed by a mysterious motorcyclist – credited as ‘the bad man’ – who is seemingly responsible for cleaning up after her.
It’s very difficult to pinpoint an exact part of Under the Skin that is weirder than others, mainly because the whole thing is so consistently strange. The mesmerising opening sequence and the deaths of Johansson’s male victims, however, provide some pleasantly disconcerting moments.
There’s also the weirdness that comes from seeing Scarlett Johansson – in scenes that were shot using hidden cameras – walking anonymously through crowds of Glasgow shoppers. Seeing a lesser-known actress doing the same scene would simply not have the same jarring effect that seeing Johansson has. Indeed, watching a well-known face in such mundane surroundings makes her seem all the more alien.