When people think of horror movies they probably first consider movies like The Exorcist or Psycho but science fiction has given birth to some of the best horror movies of all time. From invasions of Earth to claustrophobic alien encounters on distant starships, SF has the power to shock and terrify.
Here are the five best examples…
5. The War of the Worlds (2005, Paramount Pictures)
The thought of an alien invasion of Earth is a chilling one. Movies like Independence Day depict this as an action adventure, while Mars Attacks took the comedy routes. But Steven Spielberg’s The War of the Worlds is one of few science fiction movies that truly gives a glimpse of the horror of what could happen.
Of course, it helps that this is based on one of the greatest SF works of all time and one which has its own share of scares, but Spielberg’s adaptation equally portrays the invading alien menace as one that can’t be stopped by mankind’s weapons. The tripods are frightening creations here, both visually and aurally, and the stand-out sequence is probably during the race to escape on a ferry across the Hudson River.
But it’s perhaps the realisation that the red weed that’s slowly covering the Earth is the product of human fertilisation that’s the most shocking and the image of Tom Cruise’s character standing looking across the red landscape is one that stays with you long after The War of the Worlds ends.
4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, Paramount Pictures)
Remade in 1978 and the inspiration for many other science fiction movies, this 1956 classic starring Kevin McCarthy remains by far the best and is the most faithful adaptation of Jack Finney’s original novel.
There’s plenty of theories out there that suggest Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an allegory for things like McCarthyism or a loss of individual identity. But whether true or not this remains a chilling movie that slowly builds the tension and doesn’t rely on special effects.
But beware! Seeing this movie could make you check what’s growing in your back garden and question whether your friends have changed recently.
3. The Thing (1982, Universal Pictures)
The 1951 original is a great movie in its own right but John Carpenter’s The Thing ramps up the horror to a new level. Never a hit when first released, the 1982 remake has gone on to become a cult classic and has recently spawned a prequel.
Another movie featuring people who aren’t who they seem, The Thing is unbearably tense at times (especially during the blood test sequence) and leaves things on a great cliffhanger.
But it’s the amazing special effects from Rob Bottin and Stan Winston that make this movie so memorable. Who could ever forget the spiderhead? The Thing uses its effects smartly and, Antarctic setting aside, is very chilling.
2. Aliens (1986, 20th Century Fox)
Many fans of Aliens may consider it more of an action movie than its predecessor but there’s no denying that James Cameron’s amazing follow-up remains a science fiction horror classic in its own right. Aliens has more than its fair share of frights and tension, including when the Marines are first investigating the colony and later when they’re attacked in the atmosphere processing station.
The creatures themselves remain terrifying creations and the sight of them jumping out of the shadows or cocooning human survivors hasn’t lost its shock value.
1. Alien (1979, 20th Century Fox)
Could there be any other movie at number one in this list?
Ridley Scott’s classic was a stark contrast to other late 70s SF movies like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and has been imitated many times but never bettered. Well, perhaps until Prometheus is released anyway. More even than in James Cameron’s follow-up, the creature is terrifying and perhaps even more so because it is so frequently only seen in shadows.
The chestburster scene is naturally the most famous but for real shock value, the scene with Dallas hunting the creature and Ripley’s escape from the Nostromo are without equal.
Even more than 30 years on, Alien remains a movie that’s difficult to watch with the lights out and remains a supreme example of how SF can equal the best in horror.