14. Screamers (1995)
Set in 2078 on the mining colony ‘Sirius 6B’, an energy substance that will solve Earth’s issues has been discovered. Unfortunately, the substance is radioactive and can be deadly to the miners resulting in an end to its extraction.
The story lands us 10 years into the resulting war between the alliance of miners and the energy company, Peter Weller as ‘Col. Hendricksson’ leads the alliance and knowing they are far from Earth’s concerns he answers a suspect message from the energy company proposing a peace alliance.
To answer this he must travel across the wasted planet to their HQ, the biggest threat to the success of this journey are the ‘Screamers’ of the title, autonomous robots with weaponry which were originally invented by the alliance but which now have evolved to kill anything living.
If any of this sounds familiar, then that is understandable, there are elements here from “Aliens”, “Blade Runner” and “Terminator 2” – the screenplay was penned by Dan O’Bannon from the source material; a short Philip K Dick story ‘Second Variety’, which is also recognised as a source of inspiration for “T2”.
The low budget is reflected in the effects; which are poor by today’s standards, but the story is intriguing, if a bit bleak, and contains some good twists including an unexpected and quite chilling level of evolution on the part of the ‘Screamers’. It has great dialogue, sets are well designed and Weller’s central performance as the worn down soldier is excellent.
15. Virtuosity (1995)
Twelve years before Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington faced off in “American Gangster”, they made “Virtuosity” together. Denzel plays ‘Parker Barnes’ an ex-cop now in prison, Russell Crowe is cast as the sadistic, intelligent and dangerous ‘SID 6.7’ a creation within a virtual reality program used to train police officers in dealing with dangerous bad guys, and this guy is very dangerous. ‘SID 6.7’ is an amalgam of infamous serial killers, his virtual mind is made up of killers such as: Manson, Bundy, Gacy and even Gilles De Rais.
‘Barnes’ is brought out of prison to deal with ‘SID 6.7’ when he escapes the programs confines and becomes a self-evolving, regenerating reality. “Virtuosity” needs to be viewed in the context of its age; clearly the virtual reality graphics are nowhere close to the standard of today, they still make for some cool scenes though, particularly the use of glass to regenerate ‘SID 6.7’ and a good opening scene which plays out as a kind of precursor to a scene from ‘The Matrix’.
Washington is great as ‘Parker Barnes’, but Crowe really steals the show with his madcap performance as the evil ‘SID 6.7’; wreaking havoc and showing some of the intensity he showed in the earlier “Romper Stomper” and would show in the later “LA Confidential”.
16. Event Horizon (1997)
“Event Horizon” has been unfairly ignored over the years since its release and this may be down to the fact that Paul WS Anderson’s later movies have been criticised quite widely. It tells the story of the search for the ship ‘Event Horizon’ and the mystery of what befell its crew.
Central to the movie and the rescue crew of the ‘Lewis and Clark’ is Sam Neill’s ‘Dr Weir’; ‘Weir’ developed the ‘Event Horizon’s’ gravity drive, which can create a black hole allowing the ship to travel vast distances in a matter of seconds, very similar to the technology and science at the heart of the more recent ‘Interstellar’.
The fate of the crew is gradually revealed as the film descends further into chaotic horror territory, use of found footage and hallucinations create some genuinely scary moments and ‘Weir’s’ transformation into pure evil is a highlight of the movie.
“Event Horizon” was wonderfully effective and surprisingly gory for a mainstream production, the original cut of the movie was rumoured to run to 130 minutes and is said to have upped the ante even further in the gore stakes. Hopes hold high that this cut will one day see the light of day; but it may take Anderson returning to this sort of form in order to raise his stock high enough to make that happen.
17. Retroactive (1997)
“Retroactive” is a straight to video indie road movie with added time travel, it stars Kylie Travis as ‘Karen’ a psychologist returning to Texas after failing a hostage negotiation on behalf of the Chicago PD. She runs into car trouble and flags a ride from James Belushi’s ‘Frank’ and his wife ‘Rayanne’ (Shannon Whirry).
From the start, this film is mad chaos, ‘Frank’ is a barely contained psychopath and it just takes some minor disruption here for him start killing people. After the initial trail of bodies, ‘Karen’ escapes to a research complex where she discovers scientist ‘Brian’, played by the always-dependable Frank Whalley.
‘Brian’ has discovered the secret of time travel, his industrial sized machine is interestingly limited to short rewinds in time and ‘Karen’ is inadvertently sent back 20 minutes, landing her back in ‘Frank’s’ car, with enough time to prevent the trail of destruction re-occurring. She manages to make matters so much worse though and then we get into ‘Groundhog Day’ territory, with ‘Karen’ attempting to right the situation several times.
“Retroactive” is a true surprise, it’s an energetic and original take on the time travel story with a number of good minor twists and some genuinely great comic moments. Belushi has great fun hamming it up and losing it repeatedly. Travis is a little unconvincing at times and the script throws up a couple of wooden moments but none of that detracts from this constantly engaging minor classic.
18. The Faculty (1998)
“The Faculty” comes across as “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” mixed with the movies of John Hughes; a mismatched group of high school kids band together to stop the spread of alien parasites across their town. The setting and the entertaining, somewhat comic approach, refreshed the 50s vibe for the millennium generation. There’s a great cast of up and coming young stars from the time including Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett and Clea DuVall and all are pretty likeable.
But, the real joy comes from seeing the adult cast becoming stern faced, water obsessed clones – Robert Patrick, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie and Christopher McDonald all really work in this movie. The targeting of adults, particularly the school faculty, by the parasites creates an immediate feeling of mistrust against authority and this works incredibly well in the high school setting.
The adults are incredibly hard to identify as aliens and this creates a sense of mistrust amongst the band of students trying to survive, leading to a great scene, reminiscent of “The Thing”, as each student must prove they have not been turned. Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Robert Rodriguez, ‘The Faculty’ is a tight, fun movie and although it may not have done for sci-fi what ‘Scream’ did for the slasher genre it’s still a fantastic watch.
19. In Time (2011)
A blistering sci-fi thriller which plays out as a “Logan’s Run” mixed with “Robin Hood” for the Internet generation. Starring Justin Timberlake in a role which further builds his case as a credible actor, we learn everyone in this future stops ageing at 25. At that point you have a year to live unless you work for extra time.
Just like in much of our own world the film portrays the lowest social classes as mostly stuck in the loop of working for that bit of extra time needed to continue being able to work for more, they beg and borrow minutes and hours from each other to literally stay alive. At the other end of the spectrum there are time tycoons who have so much time they are almost immortal.
When Timberlake’s character is given 100 years by a suicidal stranger his life goes into overdrive; leading to some excellent scenes, particularly one very high stakes poker game. Yes, it has some plot holes and areas that could have been developed more, Cillian Murphy’s character was worth further development, but you won’t notice any of this as it’s such an interesting premise and the movie is so fast paced.
20. Snowpiercer (2013)
“Snowpiercer” may not actually be an underrated movie, given the strong critical reaction on release, but it just hasn’t had the audience it deserves. A victim of wrangling between the director and Harvey Weinstein over the running time – it was given a very limited release in cinemas and on DVD/Blu-Ray.
It’s a real crime against the filmmaking as ‘Snowpiercer’ is a visually stunning movie that deserves to be seen. Directed by Joon Bong-Ho (who also directed ‘The Host’, a movie that could also have made this list), it’s a post-apocalyptic tale based on a French graphic novel.
A climate change experiment gone wrong has wiped out life on Earth and caused a new Ice Age; the exception to this are the last remnants of humanity who live on a perpetually moving train – ‘Snowpiercer’. The train is an ‘Orwellian’ representation of a class system with the proletariat underclasses living in poverty at the rear, their only sustenance being a foodstuff of suspicious origin known as ‘Protein Blocks’. The front is populated with a higher class of people whose lifestyle and comforts are a world away from the rear.
The casting is inspired; Chris Evans, Jamie Bell and the legendary John Hurt representing the lower class – Hurt is a failed revolutionist named Gilliam (a fitting moniker given the visual style of the movie) and Evans plays the new hope taking on the mantle of revolutionary with a plan to take control of the front carriages.
The main representative of the upper classes is an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as ‘Mason’, the ‘Minister of the Train’ and spokesperson for ‘Wilford’ (more great casting); the mysterious engineer of ‘Snowpiercer’. Swinton shines here in a brilliant but bizarre performance (think of a demented ‘Deidre Barlow’ dressed in fur). The film is filled with excellent action sequences and is gripping throughout; most impressive of all are the moments of emotion and beauty amongst the chaos. Shame it just wasn’t seen enough.
Author Bio: Paul Steventon is a Project Manager from North East England, he is a self confessed film addict and loves cult cinema, horror and standing up for underappreciated b-movies. His main hobbies are buying films and vinyl; trying to convince his wife Emma to watch all the weird cinema he loves and proving to his kids that the 80s were great.