Science fiction is an awesome genre for film. It can actively redefine the imaginations of entire generations of people, tell us things about our own world and the times in which we live, and give storytellers the massive grandeur of infinity as the canvas to tell many different kinds of stories.
It can also scare you sh*tless.
There’s no getting around it: when you really think on it, space is terrifying. Not only is it the single most unforgiving and inhospitable environment that mankind can expose itself to, but it’s also an infinitely spanning darkness that’s filled with…who knows what? It’s so incomprehensively massive, dark, and full of possibility that there is absolutely no way that modern man can definitively know what’s out there. Naturally, this can make for great horror material. It can play with our notions about our own effectiveness as life forms, while also playing on practically every major phobia that we can have: fear of the dark, fear of enclosed spaces (you need to wear an enclosed space if you want to survive in space), and fear of the unknown chief among them.
Weirdly enough, though, there aren’t a whole lot of Hollywood feature films that have actually tried to make space into something scary. Still, these 5 represent some weird, quirky, and awesome ideas if you’re looking for something a little edgier in your sci-fi to get into the Halloween spirit.
5) Jason X (2001)
While this is by far the goofiest entry on this list, the tenth entry in the long-running Friday the 13th film series has to be given at least partial credit for abandoning the typical earthbound locations of the previous film and moving to the stars. It would be a stretch to call Jason X a “good” film, but as far as Halloween movies go, it’s certainly a fun film. There are all of the typical features of a Friday the 13th film, including a pretty funny scene involving a “holodeck” and a sleeping bag, and it even turns Jason into this souped up “Uber Jason,” fully equipped with cybernetic enhancements which is just as ridiculous as it sounds.
There are some jump scares, though, and the production design is surprisingly imaginative considering the relatively modest budget with which the film was created. Jason X is far from the highest point in the Friday the 13th series, but if you’re looking for space-flavored sci-fi fare with your slasher of choice this evening, then it’s hard to go wrong with this one.
4) Event Horizon (1997)
Paul W.S. Anderson’s sci-fi horror film about a returning dimension-hopping spaceship represented the first concerted effort to create a new space-faring horror story in years. While the end result ended up being less than a critical darling as well as a failure at the box office, placing some distance between now and its original release date makes it clear that the movie can be appreciated. Although it teases you with the idea that this might be more of a psychological horror movie, Event Horizon instead goes for the visceral: it’s gory, dimly lit, and in its best parts also manages to be unsettling and even, surprisingly, a creative use of the oldest evil figure in religious and mythological history.
Beyond that, the film doesn’t often get the credit it likely deserves for assembling a top-notch cast to tell its story: Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne get inside the material of the movie and successfully represent the archetypes of madness and heroism, respectively, that would come to define their eventual conflict in the climax of the final act, and the overall playground that the actors embody is really interesting. Sci-fi horror seems to be a hybrid franchise that doesn’t have a lot of “pure” examples, but for better or worse, Event Horizon stands as one of them.
3) Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
While, admittedly, this might be the least traditionally “scary” movie of the bunch, the eighth Star Trek film is certainly the best outing for the crew of “The Next Generation,” and may actually be the most suspenseful film in the entire 12-movie (and counting) franchise. First Contact seemingly gets everything right by expanding on events that happened in the highly-regarded second “Star Trek” TV series, while also tweaking the production design of the primary antagonists to fit the requirements of the silver screen. When they were first introduced on the TV series in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Borg were already terrifying since it seemed like they couldn’t really be stopped. First Contact upped the ante considerably by telling a resonant character-driven story for Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard, while also making the Borg genuinely frightening cinematic foes.
It’s also just a solidly good movie, with really interesting formative Star Trek mythology being both established and put at risk, and the stakes are appropriately very high. Director and co-star Jonathan Frakes truly outdid himself in creating a palpable sense of suspense and helped to reimagine the Borg as some pretty scary movie monsters. It also stands as one of the most fundamentally accessible Star Trek movies ever, so if you’ve never watched this film before, today gives you no better excuse to give it a try.
2) Solaris (2002)
Director Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris is, admittedly, not terribly scary from a visual perspective, but this likely stands as one of the most unsettling space-faring movies you can watch. Although it, as a film, isn’t overly concerned with visual effects or the fascinating technological peak that humanity has reached that permits them to travel into space, that’s kind of the strength of the drama at play here. George Clooney, who plays Dr. Chris Kelvin in the film, has called the part his “hardest” role to date, even over ten years after the fact, and that’s because it calls for him to wrestle with the sudden reappearance of his dead wife, confronting the deaths of friends and other people on the movie’s station setting, and exploring why Solaris itself is doing the things that it is.
Compared with every other movie on this list, Solaris has the slowest pace, but is also likely the most dramatically potent. The scary parts of it don’t necessarily lie in which body will turn up next or in death, but in placing yourself in Kelvin’s shoes: would you be able to keep your own sanity if you were experiencing something similar? Is our grasp of what’s real and what’s not really so tenuous? Will we truly be willing to live if something that had left our lives returned, even if that means living a lie? These are the kinds of questions that Solaris confronts you with, and if you have the time and want something with a bit more narrative substance this Halloween, then this is your movie.
1) Alien (1979)
There’s just no denying it: Alien is still the undisputed champion of sci-fi and horror’s successful unification. In addition to brilliant production and creature design, the fusion of the erotic with the unsettling, and good old-fashioned haunted house scare tactics, the progenitor of the Alien film franchise is still the scariest film out of the entire bunch, and would help to single-handedly revolutionize what science fiction itself can offer. By using classic tension-building elements like increasing paranoia, misdirection of sound, swallowing darkness, and a stark contrast between elements of the sets, Alien also has one of the most classic examples of a truly scary gore scene. Most horror movies can overuse gore to an almost cartoonish effect, but the chestburster scene still stands both as the trademark scare of Alien, and one of the most unsettling horror scenes of the last 35 years.
That’s before, of course, the creature itself is even lurking in the bowels of the Nostromo. Director Ridley Scott never oversteps the brilliant pacing of fear that the movie follows, giving more screentime to the creature than you might think, while also muting it in darkness for maximum creepiness. While any Alien movie would be appropriate to watch on Halloween, as we’ve stated recently in both our game review of Alien: Isolation as well as our Alien Movie Games article, the original still stands as the scariest of the bunch when compared to the outright action of Aliens, the grossness of Alien 3, and the weirdness of Alien: Resurrection. Halloween is the perfect day to take this classic in once again, and to be reminded that “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.”
What do you think of this list? Would you have added anything to it? Be sure to let us know in the comments below, and have a fun, safe, and happy Halloween!
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