7. Bad Taste (1987) – Peter Jackson
In Peter Jackson’s directorial debut, four members of the Astro Investigation and Defence Service (AIDS) are sent to the small New Zealand town of Kaihoro to stop a potential alien invasion.
They soon discover the town’s inhabitants have all been turned into food and will soon become part of the menu at the alien leader Lord Crumb’s intergalactic fast food franchise. If his customers like what they taste, then the rest of earth’s population could soon end up as burger meat also.
The constraints imposed by the film’s low budget make the already surreal plot seem all the weirder. Instead of laser guns, Jackson’s aliens carry submachine guns and instead of spacesuits they wear identical blue shirts. They’re also not above using colourful language with Lord Crumb referring to the members of AID’s as ‘real arseholes.’
Throw in a good dose of splatstick and some assured direction from Jackson, and you have a thoroughly funny and bizarre film that still holds its own against many bigger-budget alien invasion movies.
8. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) – Nicholas Roeg
One of the first things Jerome Newton sees as he enters the town of Haneyville is a bouncy castle in the process of being inflated. As it rises and falls, he hesitates, just for a second, yet it’s all that’s needed to convince us that he’s not from this world. The Man Who Fell to Earth is filled with beautiful moments such as these.
Nicholas Roeg’s fourth film is adapted from a 1963 novel by Walter Tevis. It tells the story of Newton (David Bowie) as he visits Earth with the hope of finding a way to save his own planet from drought. As cover, he sets himself up as an entrepreneur and, after filing patents for several brilliant inventions, he soon becomes the head of a huge corporation.
Bowie is perfectly cast as Newton. He cultivates an aloofness and detachment that suits the role very well. As Newton falls into depression and addiction, he also brings a pathos to the character that is moving without being overdone.
The film’s surreal elements – of which there are many – are only compounded by the non-linear editing – a Roeg trademark. This non-linearity could be said to reflect Newton’s own very different sense of time. At points in the film, he seems to experience different timelines simultaneously, as when he sees a group of early pioneers who become agitated at the sight of his limousine.
For those who like their sci-fi a little weird, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a must-watch.
9. Attack the Block (2011) – Joe Cornish
A council estate in South London is probably not the first location that comes to mind when one hears the words ‘alien invasion;’ a small American town maybe, but Brixton?
Well in Joe Cornish’s directorial debut this is precisely where he chooses to set it.
The film’s beginning sees nurse Samantha Adams (Jodie Whitaker) being mugged by a gang of teenagers as she is walking home. She is given the chance to escape, however, when what appears to be a meteorite crashes nearby. The gang investigate and are attacked by a small but vicious creature which emerges from the crashed object – apparently its cocoon.
The gang manage to kill it but are soon faced with a problem when even more objects crash nearby. Hoping for more easy kills, they investigate only to find themselves up against creatures that are far larger and scarier than the one they previously faced.
As the night goes on, they are forced to team up with Samantha in order to find a way of defeating the creatures.
The majority of the weirdness in Attack the Block, of course, comes from its inner-city setting. It is this setting that also enables it to engage in a level of social commentary not often seen in sci-fi horror. In this sense it has a lot in common with alien invasion movies of the 50’s such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which were not afraid to comment on the political and social events of the time.
With their coal black fur and luminous fangs, the extraterrestrials in the film also make a refreshing change from the more humanoid beings seen in other movies.
10. Night of the Creeps (1986) – Fred Dekker
A black white opening sequence set in the 50’s, references to Plan 9 from Outer Space, characters with the surnames Carpenter, Raimi, and Romero: yes we’re in self-aware B-movie territory again – which, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Night of the Creeps begins on a spaceship. Yet it isn’t the three bug-like things chasing each other around with laser guns that are the source of the extraterrestrial threat within the film, rather it’s the parasitic slugs they’ve been creating. After a pod carrying these slugs crash lands near a college campus, a young student becomes their first victim.
27 years later in 1986 and the body of the student is discovered in a lab by two freshmen. They remove it from its cryogenic storage as part of a fraternity initiation and, as you can guess, havoc ensues.
Part of the film’s weirdness comes from its combination of various genre tropes: zombie movie, slasher film, and college flick, all get a look in here. There’s also some memorably strange moments including a dream sequence in which a lady in a dress rises from the sea and another involving a small, parasite-infected dog on a rampage.
The film’s narrative may be quite incoherent at times but this only helps make the whole thing more surreal. Its refusal to take itself seriously is also a plus as is Tom Atkin’s performance as troubled Detective Ray Cameron, who gets all the best and most quotable lines: ‘I’ve got good news and bad news girls.
11. TerrorVision (1986) – Ted Nicolaou
On the planet Pluton, an ugly alien mutant called the Hungry Beast is converted into energy and beamed into space as a form of waste disposal. After bouncing around several planets, the beast eventually winds up on earth, where it takes up residence in the home of a suburban American family.
This family is, ahem, a pretty interesting bunch: the daughter’s a metal head and has a boyfriend called ‘O.D.’, the grandfather’s a survivalist who sleeps in a bunker, and the parents are swingers. The most ordinary of them, in fact, seems to be the son, Sherman, and even he apparently has weird bouts of sleepwalking and has to take ‘.’
When the Hungry Beast begins to make its presence felt by gruesomely materialising out of the TV’s in the home, it is Sherman who has to stop it.
Even for an 80’s B-movie, TerrorVision is pretty bizarre stuff. The ridiculousness level is cranked way up throughout and thus we are treated to some truly golden moments, such as when O. D. manages to ‘tame’ the beast by showing it his studs.
All of this is, of course, played for laughs. And for the most part it works. If you want your extraterrestrials mixed with a bit of 80’s cheese, then TerrorVision might just be your thing.
12. District 9 (2009) – Neill Blomkamp
Do you remember that crazy time in 1982 when that huge alien ship just appeared over the South African city of Johannesburg? No? Oh, well maybe I’m getting my universes mixed up.
Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 directorial debut takes place in an alternate reality where such a world-changing event did take place. After authorities board the alien ship in question, they find it home to a large number of sick and confused extraterrestrials.
The South African government then confines these beings – who are derogatorily referred to as ‘prawns’ because of their appearance – to a shanty town outside Johannesburg called ‘District 9.’
Twenty-eight years later, after a great deal of civil unrest, the government hires private military contractor Multinational United (MNU) to oversee the aliens relocation to a new settlement further away from the human population.
The thing that captures your attention as soon as you begin watching District 9 is its style. It’s intentionally shot to look like a documentary complete with interviews, archive news stories, and fly-on-the-wall footage from the MNU clearout. This lends it a rawness and grittiness we’re more used to seeing in ‘found footage’ horror films, thus making the action sequences and (spoiler alert)…mutations, feel even more visceral.
The film’s documentary style also enables Blomkamp to construct a universe around it without requiring the characters to deliver huge amounts of exposition. In effect, the opening few minutes serve the same purpose as the opening crawl in a Star Wars film.
The film’s central idea also means it can be seen both as a commentary on attitudes towards immigration and an evocative exploration of the segregation and racism that has blighted South Africa’s past.
If you want evidence that science fiction can tackle big issues, look no further than District 9.
Honourable Mentions: Monsters (2010), Mars Attacks (1996), Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
Author Bio: Joshua is a Film Studies graduate residing in Cambridge, England. He dabbles in screenwriting and regularly writes review of recent releases for his blog: http://thatsyouropinionman.blogspot.co.uk/.