The cinematic world of science fiction brings joy and thrills for audiences since its silent era beginnings. It’s an artistic formula that makes the impossible possible. For almost a century, we were witnessing on the silver screen the exploration of space, confrontations with extraterrestrials, rebellions of intelligent machines, and a sometimes optimistic and sometimes nihilistic view of the future world.
It’s practically impossible not to know or having heard about movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Blade Runner” or “The Matrix.” In the list, you can find lesser known or forgotten sci-fi films, which are worth watching for reasons described in their mini-reviews below. Here’s the 10 must-see obscure sci-fi movies.
1. O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization
After nuclear annihilation, what’s left of humanity remains in a gigantic underground bunker. To give any hope to the people, bunker authorities perpetrates a religious myth of an “Ark” vessel, which will rescue everyone from the mournful underground reality. Soft (Jerzy Stuhr) receives a task to find Engineer (Jan Nowicki), who’s responsible for the construction of bunker, because its construction is on the brink of collapse.
“O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization” is a post-apocalyptic film like no other and has the bleakest and most pessimistic vision of the future. The underground facility is plagued with overwhelming poverty and most of tenants are demented maniacs – a grim effect of years and years of isolation.
Along with the protagonist, who’s one of the last standing voices of reason, the audience is discovering step by step the frightening secrets of this place. This experience is far from being pleasant and guarantees to stay with the viewers long after the movie’s end.
Just like other sci-fi films directed by Piotr Szulkin, it’s an intelligent parallel of the comparable gloomy life and politics in the time of the communistic Polish People’s Republic. The only Polish sci-fi films that are worthy of recommendation are the ones made by Szulkin and, if you want to discover his fascinating filmography, start with “O-Bi, O-Ba.”
2. Split Second
London of the future (2008) is not a nice place to live. It’s partially submerged due to the greenhouse effect and the streets are filled with poverty, contamination, and bloodthirsty mutated rats. What’s even worse, a psychopathic part-human, part-beast serial killer, who has an urge to eat hearts, is on the loose. The police department sent their best detective – Harley Stone (Rutger Hauer), a man who’s addicted to coffee and sweets – to track him down.
“Split Second” is not a masterpiece of any kind. It’s a visibly cheap knock-off of specific elements from better sci-fi movies like “Blade Runner,” “Alien” and the buddy-action classic “Lethal Weapon.” Other than that, it’s a very watchable and simply fun, obscure sci-fi action film.
Rutger Hauer is wonderfully over the top as the cartoonish protagonist, who acts like he was taken straight from pulpy noir novels from the 1940s. The plot doesn’t always make perfect sense, but the whole movie generates a fascinating grim atmosphere by presenting a devastated cyber-punk London.
It’s a perfectly tailored movie to watch with bunch of friends while drinking beers and discussing what’s happening on screen. The worse quality VHS copy you could get, the better for a séance.
The space shuttle Churchill is sent to explore Halley’s Comet. In its coma, they find an alien spaceship with three seemingly human bodies – one female and two males in a hibernation state, and many corpses of bat-like critters.
The crew of Churchill decides to take these three bodies onto the ship, not knowing that the hibernated entities they discovered are ancient space vampires. They settle the course back to Earth, which will lead to the beginning of apocalyptic events that will destroy London.
Sounds cheesy? Well, because it is cheesy as hell! “Lifeforce” is definitely not a good movie according to the definition of what is a good film. It’s a self-conscious B-movie, in the style of Roger Corman’s sci-fi horrors from the 1950s, which were made for drive-in audiences. It delivers a lot of escapist fun and cheap thrills. The practical and makeup effects are kind of awesome because of their 1980’s nostalgic charm.
The movie is never boring due to the dynamic pacing and multiples absurdities of the script, such as the constantly naked vampire lady terrorizing London, or a possessed Patrick Stewart talking with a woman’s voice in one of the most memorable sequences.
Tobe Hooper’s carrier had its ups and downs (maybe even more downs, if you believe the rumors that Steven Spielberg – not Hooper – directed “Poltergeist”), but “Lifeforce” definitely needs to be rediscovered for its entertaining values.
4. God Told Me To
Larry Cohen had a pretty weird career as a director. He was responsible for such B-class oddities as the blaxploitation classic, “Black Caesar”(1973); the cult horror movie about a mutated baby, “It’s Alive” (1974) and its sequel “It’s Alive II: It Lives Again” (1978); the giant monster film, “Q” (1982); and the horror satire on capitalism, “The Stuff” (1985). His most mainstream achievement was the script for popular film “Phone Booth” (2002), directed by Joel Schumacher.
However, the most gripping and interesting movie is Cohen’s sci-fi thriller “God Told Me To” (1976). The film tells a story of a police detective, Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco), who investigates killing sprees perpetrated by random people who claim that God told them to do it. It’s all somewhat connected to the mysterious Bernard Philips (Richard Lynch), a leader of a bizarre religious cult and, which is revealed later, a hermaphrodite extraterrestrial.
“God Told Me To” is part police procedural thriller, part science fiction. Under the veneer of a B-movie there is a social commentary regarding the once extremely popular New Age cults and absurdities of the religion in general. Unfortunately, history knows a lot of maniacs who committed various atrocities in the name of God.
While the production and acting values leave a lot to be desired, the movie is definitely worth watching because of the craziness, fascinating concepts, and gritty atmosphere of New York in the 1970s. Don’t miss the cameo by legendary comedian Andy Kaufman, who plays the role of a mad policeman shooting people during the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
After three years of absence, Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) returns to his wife, Rachel (Bernice Stegers) and son, Tony (Simon Nash), who witnessed his disappearance in sinister lights. They don’t know that Sam was kidnapped by aliens and is now genetically modified. Soon, he bites Tony, which endows his son with telepathic powers. Tony uses his new abilities to make his toys alive in order to harass his unfriendly neighbor.
“XTRO” is a truly horrifying and surreal British sci-fi body horror that was strongly criticized in the time of its release, but after years managed to achieve the status of a cult movie. Perhaps it’s the strangest film that deals with extraterrestrial infestation, as “XTRO” is full of bizarre and therefore very memorable scenes.
One of the first sequences shows the attack of a creepy alien creature impregnating woman, who later gives birth to a fully grown man, who strongly resembles the worst nightmares human could have as well as equally messed up films by David Cronenberg and Takashi Miike. Not to mention the gigantic toy soldiers sent to kill, or the wicked midget clowns with rubber hammers.
Despite its low budget, “XTRO” has impressive special effects and animatronics, which contribute to the demented and disturbing vision of the director, Harry Bromley Davenport.