Being a genre junkie when it comes to movies, I love my science fiction and I love my horror flicks. Who doesn’t? These two genres of movies have some of the most devoted followings of any group. While they’re not mainstream, the cult followings do seem to thrill in the various nuances of their preferred movies. While science fiction and horror films both hold a special place among fans, there are those wonderful movies that manage to really blend the two to demand their own sub-genre of sci-fi/horror. Since this is a nebulous term, there will still be some disagreements as to what does and does not count. To me, the “Alien" films count because they are both terrifying, and very much wrapped up in a futuristic science fiction world. “Resident Evil" and “Mimic" do not. Despite the presence of science, these are mainly horror films, one about zombies and one about creatures.
So to let the debate continue, and to even throw gasoline on the flames already there, here’s a list of my top ten science fiction-horror hybrid movies.
This movie is based on a story written by legendary science fiction author Philip K. Dick. In the future berynium is a new element that can be mined to produce massive amounts of power. The downsides are that massive radiation and pollution result, and when a massive alliance gets together to protest the mining and goes violence, attacking the N.E.B. (New Economic Block). The use of nuclear weapons ensues and obviously this doesn’t go over so well. The miners have to protect themselves from the Alliance so they create little machines called “screamers" that ambush their enemies. These machines attack using buzz saws that sound like human screams, and are really creepy. The problem is, these start evolving on their own—choosing to even attack the humans who created the first models, and eventually becoming capable of cloning a model that looks like a human and even bleeds. This film mixes the terror of being hunted with the technology of a future world, with a great shock ending that manages to avoid the trap most shock endings in horror movies have: that of being cheesy.
"The Thing from Another World" (1951)
While Orson Welles’s radio show of “War of the Worlds" may have been one of the earliest entertainment forms of the two genres mixing, “The Thing from Another World," long credited mostly as a horror film, qualifies as both. A great black and white movie directed (informally) by Howard Hawks, an arctic team of scientists and soldiers in an arctic base accidentally discover, then blow up a flying saucer. The “pilot" is frozen, but becomes unthawed and starts attacking everyone else. Though considered a common B movie theme now, this was the good starting movie that spawned all the cheap imposters. Set against a time when the U.S. was in the grips of the Korean War and McCarthyism, the hidden political implications are obvious, but add an extra dimension of interest to a classic movie that still holds up.
"Twelve Monkeys" (1995)
Excellent and amazingly complex film about a post apocalyptic world and desperate, but seemingly futile, attempts to use time travel in an attempt to stop a virus that will destroy most of humanity. Strongly considered a complex science fiction film, this movie also has the elements of a good horror plot: enemies associated with a future “Big Brother" type scenario who send people back to monitor your every move, a deadly super virus that will kill everyone it infects, and the psychological insanity from not knowing what’s real and what’s fake. Bruce Willis stars as the main convict who “volunteers" for these special missions, which culminates with an attempt to find out the cause of the virus, and if possible, to bring back a contained sample for scientists to find a cure. This is a complex movie, demanding that every single second be watched, and that demands even second viewings, but it is well worth the investment.
This movie is even generally referred to as sci-fi/horror and is a Canadian independent film from 1981 and one of David Cronenberg’s best. “Scanner" is slang given to a “mutant" human who has the ability to read and analyze minds—and to even use telekinetic powers to torture, control, or even kill other human beings. A rogue scanner, Revok, has recruited other scanners to make an army prepared to attack and subjugate the rest of humanity. Cameron Vale, a lone scanner, is used by a company in order to try to infiltrate the group. The discovery is made that hundreds of future children, those in pregnant women, are scanners because this anomaly is caused by the company’s drugs, which now Revok wants. There is science, action, and the horror of fighting telepaths, as well as a great scene with enough of a cult following to even be referenced in the first Wayne’s World movie (“Ever see that scene in Scanners when that guy’s head was about to explode?").
"Children of Men" (2006)
It’s the year 2027 and humanity is doomed. This movie is not much on the slow starts. The human race has been stricken infertile, and has less than a century until extinction. The movie starts with the news that the world’s last birth and therefore youngest resident, at eighteen, is murdered. In this world terrorism and anarchy have become such huge problems that virtually all government has to be harsh to keep order. A woman shows up pregnant, and the main character finds himself drawn into a world he wanted no part of, but now feels obligated to be a part of. A story about hope, the miracle of birth, and of human nature, “Children of Men" might be scuffed off a little by horror buffs saying it’s only sci-fi, but the extinction of man seems no small thing…
"Pitch Black" (2000)
This movie starring Vin Diesel did not open to a lot of acclaim early, but like many movies that are stuck in the sci-fi/horror hybrid, it gained a strong cult following. It also helped that this was a strong movie that had the creatures and gore of a great horror film combined with the very alien world and background that science fiction fans crave. Add in great action sequences and blend the three almost seamlessly together, and you get a greatly underrated cult classic that is only beginning to find the recognition it deserves. And, oh, yeah, if you think this is “just another" horror action film—almost all the children die, and there is more than one surprise death (or lack thereof). A great film, just don’t watch the sequel—I implore you, don’t.
"Event Horizon" (1997)
A lot of viewers shelled this movie when it came out—but this one may have been ahead of its time. It is very gory in the tradition of splatter punk horror films, which may have turned off some viewers. A great movie, where the Event Horizon (the name of the ship) goes into a black hole and returns years later after disappearing. A crew is sent to investigate and they find the entire crew missing, but sensors’ readings are so erratic they can’t tell when there are life forms or not. The ship holds a terrible secret, and when the captain, played by Laurence Fishburne, is forced to put his entire crew on the Event Horizon, all hell breaks loose. As videos are cleaned up disturbing images greet the crew, and they see the previous crew as they destroy themselves and talk of seeing the underside of hell. Filled with action, a villain as terrifying as any horror flick has ever offered, and an excellent cast, this movie may very well be one of the most underrated films to come out of the 1990s, and is a delight to horror and science fiction buffs alike.
This is the sequel to “Alien," so if you’re viewing this list from ten on down, you might want to switch the order of two and three. Then again, the movies are so different that maybe it doesn’t matter. Directed by James Cameron, this film gets a lot of “love it or hate it" reaction. Most of the hate it seems to come from fans who are adamant about the first film (which is fantastic) and hate this as a sequel, but if you judge this on its own, then this film stands pretty well. It is more action oriented than horror oriented, as the first one, but you still have the terrifying aliens who are scary no matter what else happens. This movie starts with Ripley being found and brought back from stasis, only to find over fifty years have passed. The moon her original crew found the aliens on is now a colony that has stopped making contact. Ripley is sent back with a group of marines to find a huge colony of the aliens. While not as good as the first, this movie is well done and stands alone well. Think of the series as a group of movies around the same subject, but not necessarily sequels, and they will be easier and more enjoyable to watch.
This Ridley Scott film is already a classic to both genres of film, and it belongs as both a horror film and a science fiction film. What is most amazing is that all of these effects were done before CGI, making the realistic appearance of aliens bursting out of chests and of bloody gory deaths all the more amazing since there is no computer help—and that’s before even contemplating the complexity of the aliens themselves. The plot is excellent, there are several twists and turns, and the aliens are as scary as they get. This movie has one of the most famous tag lines of all time: “In space no one can hear you scream." This film was absolutely revolutionary and is still as scary over 25 years later as it was when it was first released.
"Dark City" (1998)
It’s rare when the top movie on a list is one few people have ever heard of, but I’d be willing to wager less people have even heard of this film than any other on the list. “Dark City" is the perfect combination of science fiction and horror, with a deeply psychological element that pulls all the threads together. This is even more amazing considering the number of awards it won. This film follows John Murdoch, who wakes up in a bathtub trying to remember who he is and why he’s there. A phone call warns him to get out, and he flees, to find he’s wanted as a serial killer, but something is terribly wrong in the world. Everyone lives in the city, every single person knows of the beach where he grew up, but no one knows how to get there. No one can even remember the last time they were awake when the sun was out. The Strangers, a group of mysterious men who are never remembered, but can render people comatose with a word, are pursuing John as he runs for his life. He is the only human awake at midnight, and he watches as the city and people change, the Strangers causing buildings to grow and crash, people to go from rags to riches and vice versa, none of them with any memories of what happened before. The Strangers eventually catch up with John, forcing a confrontation and an amazing climatic conclusion. Renowned film critic Robert Ebert named this as the best movie of 1998, and it is one of his favorites. This film comes together with the Strangers who are both prime horror fodder and are revealed to be of the most frightening science fiction. The direction, acting, and writing is all incredible, making this the best sci-fi/horror hybrid movie of them all, and just a magnificent film all the way around.
If you haven't seen any of these, they are perfect for any Halloween party or event!
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