In our latest podcast we reveal our Sci-Guys Top Five Sci-fi/Horror Movies. The Sci-Guys voted and the top is revealed below. Listen to podcast 011 for more details, memories, and yuks.
5) “The Black Hole”
If The Black Hole isn’t scary today, it was scary in 1979. Remember, this is a Disney movie, and in the 70s Disney was cranking out movies like “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” “Freaky Friday,” “The Apple Dumpling Gang,” and “The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.” Due to influence of “Star Wars,” everybody was doing sci-fi: in the 1979 alone, there was “Buck Rogers,” “Star Trek the Motion Picture,” and “Alien.” “Alien” was the true sci-fi horror movie, but who would believe that Disney would also make a sci-fi horror flick? Maybe they didn’t intend on doing that, and they certainly didn’t market it that way. The preview showed cute robots flying around and laser gun battles. They didn’t show the scary parts. But I’ll bet there were a lot of parents who were pissed when their kids witnessed Maximilian drilling Anthony Perkins in the chest with his spinning razor claw.
Overall, and especially for Disney, “The Black Hole” is dark and gothic. Dr. Reinhart, played by Maximilian Schell, is charismatic, but eventually becomes creepy and evil. He’s the captain of the Cygnus, a massive gravity-defying spaceship, which looks like a huge space castle. His crew is made up of zombie-like figures who wear mirrored face plates, and when one of their masks is ripped off, a pale catatonic human face is revealed. You may recall when Kate, the only female in the movie, cried out in pain as a laser drill pierces her head in an attempt to lobotomize her. But most of all, you’ll remember being frightened by Maximilian, the big, red, floating robot with the glowing eye and a pair of spinning razor claws. He’s a monster! There are also two smaller cute robots: VINCENT and BOB, which are basically floating R2D2s who can talk (voiced by Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens). In the end, as the Cygnus and everybody aboard are caught in the clutches of the Black Hole, the older BOB dies, and that was pretty sad. But when Maximilian and VINCENT square off, it looks like Max is going to make the little guy’s head pop off, until VINCENT drills into Max’s gut, sending him screaming and spiraling away towards the Black Hole.
And that’s not all! Dr. Reinhart, while floating in space, comes across Maximilian, who somehow envelops the evil Dr. All you see are the Doctor’s terrified eyes peering out of Max; the camera pans out to reveal him standing on a rock above massive hellfire, complete with what looks like a long line of hooded figures wandering along a rocky bridge over pools of flames. It may be metaphoric, but it clearly sends the message that if you are a mean person, you’re likely to be doomed to be trapped for eternity in Hell.
If you watch The Black Hole today, you may not be scared, but you will remember why you were when you first saw it 30 years ago. Nice going, Disney. SG-Scott
4) “The Fly”
What started as a legitimately extended and dark sci-fi Twilight Zone-ish horror movie in 1958 was revisited in a way few truly horrific stories are in master David Cronenburg’s take on “The Fly” in 1986. As what lends to our list, the post black-and-white and pre-CG era is prime toiling grounds for some great sci-fi horror, and icky comes with the sticky and hairy in this very modern update to what may be one of the most original of sci-fi and horror couplings. The “scientific advancements” seen in “The Fly” story is something we don’t often see in non -alien or non-zombie tales, making “The Fly” a truly original sci-fi horror tale that hasn’t been told as well as it has been told twice.
Make no mistake, the 1958 and 1986 versions are very different movies. However the fundamental tale is the same, and the warning it gives has permeated our culture’s scientific visions of “transportation.” Thanks to “The Fly,” airlines are still in business, as no one know what really would happen if a human were transported (digitally, electronically, however you want to call it) with an insect.
Our winner is really David Cronenberg’s 1986 version. The stage is set as classic boy-meets-girl-as-boy-makes-huge-scientific-discovery, and in the traditions of great horror doesn’t seem like a horror movie at all. Where the movie succeeds is in making the characters rich enough in the first 35 minutes (and really, there are only three characters in all), to make the transformation of Goldblum’s Seth not only believable, but complex and sympathetic. Geena Davis as Veronica and her douche-bag former boyfriend/present-boss also give multi-faceted performances, even if we don’t like all the decisions they make.
But the showcase of the movie is Goldblum’s transformation. From the initial wire hairs on his back to the…well, we don’t want to spoil everything… The Fly gives creeps and chills that put it safely in the Top Five of Sci-Fi Horror. SG-John
3) “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”
During the McCarthy era of the 50’s there were a lot of films, especially sci-fi films, that have since been dubbed “red scare films”. Through allegory these movies warn (or perhaps re-assure) the audience that a “communist menace” is brewing in America
Like most people, I have always put “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” squarely in this category. In many ways, it fits the bill. An invasion of pods from space secretly infiltrate and convert regular folks into emotionless, faithless, automatons bent only on furthering the conversion process. A pretty clear anti-communist message, right?
But wait! Take a closer look, Our hero stands against the mob to do what he thinks is right. As a result his world is systematically ripped away from him because he won’t bend. You see, this film is ALSO a condemnation of the McCarthy “witch hunts” and black lists that were devastating Hollywood at the time.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is expertly scripted, acted, and directed. But the apparent dichotomy of its theme is a big reason that the film is still one of the most frequently dissected, studied, and re-made of all time. But what is the “correct” interpretation?
The horror in the film is derived from the mob’s loss of compassion. A mob where one person’s beliefs and values were not just disliked, but disallowed. This behavior could be attributed to BOTH Cold War era communist regimes and the McCarthy witch hunts. Additionally, the mechanization of America, the growth of the suburbs, and fear of the bomb were all conspiring to drive people away from each other. At the end of the day, the film is a reflection of the dehumanization that was occurring across all fronts.
Of course the filmmakers themselves denied any of this subtext. In his autobiography “I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History” producer Walter Mirisch wrote; “From personal knowledge, neither Walter Wanger nor Don Siegel, who directed it, nor Dan Mainwaring, who wrote the script nor the original author Jack Finney, nor myself saw it as anything other than a thriller, pure and simple”
A thriller for sure. Nothing other than a thriller? Hardly.
A wonderful blend of scares, paranoia, and sci-fi, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” isn’t just a thought provoking look at at a troubled by-gone era, but also a lot of fun, and a damn fine movie in its own right. SG-Jim
2) “The Thing”
This movie is considered a box office dud, but I never get tired of watching it. Kurt Russell? Yep. Guns and flamethrowers? Yep. Nasty, shape-changing aliens? Oh Yeah! I think this movie deserves to be one of the top Sci-fi/Horror movies of all time.
This movie is exactly what I think Sci-fi/Horror should be… a movie that takes a sci-fi scenario and makes it a nightmare. A nightmare that is all the more terrifying because if the premise of the film were true… the resulting chaos would be exactly like what you are watching! “The Thing” introduces a group of men stuck in an Antarctic research post who are suddenly under attack by a shape-changing alien. Do they rely upon clever technology? Nope. Are they ever in control of things? Nope. Do they win in the end? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie and decide that for yourself.
I still remember how freaked-out I was while watching the alien transform from one creature to another. The effects are comical, now. But 27 years ago they kicked butt. And the scene when Kurt Russell’s character hatches a plan to identify the hidden alien(s?) among them is a perfect example of simple suspense leading to amazing fright. (Check it out on YouTube!) SG-Mike
Simply because I would love to see it for the first time again.
The lore of the “Alien” franchise is common knowledge to almost everyone. The excellent sequel “Aliens”, and the increasingly sucky followups are so well known that they have Direct TV ads with them. Tell your mom “In space no one can hear you scream” and she will know what you are talking about. Alien has been a phenomenon for 30 years.
But just imagine sitting in a dimming theater in 1979, and not knowing what was about to be unleashed on you. Knowing nothing about the facehugger, the dinner scene, or what the alien would turn in to? I don’t even feel I need to put a spoiler warning on that sentence. EVERYONE KNOWS. Even when I first saw the movie in the ’80s all of these things were part of the public conscious. The secrets were revealed to me years before I even knew about the spoiler machine that is the Internet. A cinema classic in every sense, re-watching “Alien” is still a great experience, but how amazing would it be to watch this film knowing nothing about it?
That truly is a testament to how great the movie is. How does an R-rated fringe-genre piece become a cultural touchstone? On paper, it looks pedestrian; Sci-fi/Horror, pretty much just a haunted house in outer space. Maybe sort of an homage to “The Thing From Another World”. Not the sort of thing that you would expect to light the world on fire. But “Alien” is operating on another level, and everybody took notice.
“Alien” is a such a tight mixture of Sci-fi and Horror, that for this movie to work, both elements need to really hit home. Lucky for us director Ridley Scott delivered on both fronts. The visuals and cinematography are perfect for a horror movie, and the sci-fi elements never devolve into “hey look at me! I’m a neat special effect!”. Taking cues from some of the best movies ever, Scott lifts this film up from what could be run of the mill material; Like “Jaws,” the monster is largely kept off screen, Like “Star Wars” the technology looks realistically “lived-in”, Like “2001” the tone is dead serious.
But where Scott really shines is in the pacing. He takes his time, the film moves slowly. He isn’t afraid to let you get a feel for the characters and the world they operate in. Even the “scare” scenes slowly ratchet up the tension before the big shock. Combined with the absolutely stellar cast and tight script, Scott takes “Alien” to a level that no one could have predicted.
The final product is not just the the quintessential Sci-fi/Horror movie, but one of the greatest films of all time. Hope we didn’t just spoil it for anyone. SG-Jim