Through the success of countless movies, it is evident there is a magic that occurs when horror and science fiction intertwine with one another. For every yin there is a yang, and terror and sci fi go hand in hand. Both categories tackle many of the same subject matters. Fear of the “other”, isolation, loneliness, loss, grief, and survival are just some of the topics that naturally fit into the sci fi and horror genres. While masterpieces like Carpenter’s The Thing or Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers have become familiar classics amongst movie-goers, it is time to take a look at the lesser-known or unacclaimed sci fi horror films that never reached a mass audience.
Whether they be old or new, set on the deep sea, in the distant future, or even in a person’s own backyard, scares and otherworldly happenings can exist.
Here are some fantastic films combining science fiction and horror that need to be checked out!
1. Flatliners (1990)
Skip the abysmal and disappointing remake that is 2017’s Flatliners, and return to the well-acted, unique, and original film of the 1990’s. In the movie, Chicago medical student, Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) discovers answers to the afterlife. He has found a way to cheat death by dying but resurrecting in the nick of time. Sharing his breakthrough with his other pupils (Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt, and William Baldwin), Nelson and the other students proceed to test out his experiment with horrible consequences.
At the core of this movie is the charisma of the cast. Audiences never feel like they are watching a bunch of actors strictly performing out of obligation. Instead, viewers stay heavily engaged by watching actors who get along so well that their allure and acting talents infiltrate their characters. Their comradery is something that cannot be easily replicated. In particular, the standout performances must go to Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Bacon. Sutherland works well as a morally-fluid lead with a God complex that is both frustrating yet tragic. Kevin Bacon’s performance is also exceptional as he wholeheartedly commits to his character and he brings intense passion to a human being that fascinatingly challenges Nelson’s ethics.
Along with the right cast, credit must be given to the director, Joel Schumacher (Yes, Batman and Robin’s Joel Schumacher). While the director’s filmography has been far from perfect, Schumacher’s film proves he can handle dark and fantastical elements. The distinctive story is combined with a stylized and somewhat strange setting that aesthetically elevates every scene. The use of steam, flashing neon, drastic colors, and shadow all create a neo-gothic or possibly a post-apocalyptic atmosphere that perfectly fits the plot and emphasizes the intensity of the sci-fi horror aspects.
Containing impressive visuals, an interesting story, and Hollywood elite, Flatliners is a wonderful thrill ride worth watching.
2. Color Out of Space (2019)
Based on a H.P Lovecraft short story, Color Out of Space is a brilliant film for any admirer of the legendary author and his own brand of horror. The Color Out of Space follows Nathan Gardner (Nicholas Cage) and his family (Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Julian Hilliard, and Brendan Meyer) as they battle a hostile extraterrestrial that affects their home, brains, and bodies.
It is extremely important to have a hefty amount of imagination when converting Lovecraft into the medium of film. Without it, any Lovecraft adaptation can go terribly wrong. Fortunately, the director, Richard Stanley, has the creativity to bring this Lovecraft creation to life successfully while also inserting his own ideas into the mix. The original text only describes the color of the lifeform as something mankind has never seen before. With this less than helpful guideline, Stanley chooses visuals, special effects, and a score that all fit the celestial quality of the unpredictable creature. The shocking and surrealist nature of the film clearly speaks to Stanley’s own abilities as a filmmaker and his respect for Lovecraft’s words.
In addition to the visual design of the movie, Cage’s own brand of acting fits in quite well with the captivating weirdness that resonates from the film. Instead of making Nathan a calm and overly bland average Joe, Cage’s quirks and acting choices give the character a nice foundation to escalate from. Nathan is already eccentric, and it becomes obvious he has some troubles from the start. As a result, the character does not seem to take a nonsensical turn into madness. Cage uses his chaotic tendencies to complement the story rather than hinder it.
The Color Out of Space deeply respects the work of H.P. Lovecraft and effectively brings viewers into his world of cosmic horror.
3. The Faculty (1998)
Pairing high school hierarchies with a hostile alien invasion, The Faculty delivers astounding suspense with glorious undertones of snarky humor throughout its runtime. To the teens at Harrington High, the teachers and staff have always been irrelevant and a bit odd, but once they become infected by otherworldly invaders, they seem really off. As the parasites try to infect each teen one by one, a group of students decide to fight back. This group includes cheerleader, Delilah (Jordana Brewster), football player, Stan (Shawn Hatosy), geek, Casey (Elijah Wood), goth girl, Stokely (Clea Duvall), drug dealer Zeke (Josh Hartnett) and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris).
While the teens in The Faculty pay a nice homage to the stereotypes that the legendary John Hughes brought together in The Breakfast Club, these kids are not growing up in the 80’s. The Faculty is a sci-fi horror movie that acts as a fun time capsule of distinctive 1990’s teen cynicism and dispirit. Everything screams 90’s from the music to the writing in the best way. Some standout musicians include Oasis, The Offspring, D Generation, Creed, and Class of ’99. The movie even employs pop culture references of the time and rules of engagement with a screenplay from Kevin Williamson, prominent 90’s writer of the Scream films and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Working in harmony with The Faculty’s sense of nostalgia is the film’s cast. Their acting abilities contribute greatly to the witty yet mean tone of the movie. In particular, Harnett and Duvall give standout performances. Harnett’s bad boy portrayal could come off as superficial, but his characterization of Zeke is instead engaging and cool. Duvall is also able to give the goth girl a good amount depth, bite, and likability that could be easily lost in a one-dimensional label.
The Faculty is a blast from the past that succeeds with its high-stake thrills and an infectious sense of anarchy.
4. The Stuff (1985)
The film says it best: “Habit-forming. Mind-controlling. Life-absorbing. You can never get enough of the Stuff.” In the movie, A former FBI agent turned industrial blackmailer, David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), discovers a new consumer dessert that is delicious but deadly to all who eat it.
Reminiscent of 1950’s B-movies of the science fiction genre and the low-budget films of Roger Corman, The Stuff is a bit rough around the edges. However, it lends itself to an exploitative type of charm and surprisingly ambitious ideas. The Stuff ‘s strengths lie in its antics and outlandish satire of reality. The mocking of post-war consumerism and extreme advertising is both funny and horrifying. The amusement originates from the excessiveness and over-the-top nature of stuff’s marketing, but the horror sets in once one realizes how something dangerous can be made to appear appealing with the simple use of a catchy tune. Effectively using the sci fi and horror genres to discuss a familiar topic, The Stuff shows how inhabitants of a nation cooperatively consume products without thinking critically about the harm they may bring.
With the inclusion of the important message, the film also works as a solid and entertaining B-movie. Not all but many of the effects work due to Larry Cohen’s resourcefulness. The Stuff’s occasional surprise attacks along with its gliding movements to flee danger from its host’s overly stretched mouth are especially impressive.
Frenzied, cheap, and ludicrous at times, The Stuff is a wildly relevant movie whose ridicule of toxic consumerism still applies to this day.
5. The Sender (1982)
The Sender is an intelligent and artistic addition to the psychic-powers-gone-wrong subgenre. The film follows an amnesiac man (Zeljko Ivanek) set on killing himself. After his failed suicide attempt, the man, now dubbed Jon Doe #83, is committed to a psych ward. Once in the mental hospital, Doe begins to send his nightmares by thought transference to his psychiatrist, Dr. Gail Farmer (Kathryn Harrold).
The Sender is a fascinating approach to sci fi horror. Instead of relying on constant violence or gore, the director, Roger Christian, uses filmmaking techniques that are more Bergman than Craven.
The fragmented and interpretative imagery of Doe’s dreams are not only imaginative, but they are placed perfectly in the film. As a result of their sequencing, the suspense is tremendously effective and continuously builds at a remarkable pace. Whether it be the terror of a bathroom filling with blood or a surreal electroshock therapy scene, the cinematography by Roger Pratt and the vision from Christian are genius.
The last element that must be discussed is the forward-thinking writing by Thomas Baum. Rather than deeming Farmer crazy for believing in Doe’s telepathy, the doctors and staff of the hospital listen to her theories. Eventually, they even experience Doe’s powers firsthand. Just like the imagery, this also aids in the pacing of the film. Because Farmer is not dismissed immediately, the movie can focus on its compelling themes that are at the heart of the story.
Although it may have bombed upon its release in 1982, The Sender is a film in need of revaluation and acclaim.