Only One Good Thing Can Come Out Of Space Force: A List Of Science Fiction Horror Movies
So, apparently America is getting its very own Space Force, which, although probably unnecessary and colossally expensive, does ignite my inner nerd a bit, and finally gives Americans the opportunity to be soldiers in space. In preparation for Space Force, here are some sci-fi horror movies that highlight the excitement and wonder that the Space Force might encounter when they cross the threshold into the great beyond. In the horror world, this is also known as “inevitably meeting an alien species intent on killing you and picking you off one by one.” Hopefully future Space Force recruits decide to watch some of these films and learn some lessons, namely, don’t ever answer distress signals, (like, really, just don’t), and should you find alien life, leave it the hell alone, get in your Space Force transport, and LEAVE.
The first Ridley Scott movie in his Alien series set the bar high for sci-fi horror and continues to influence filmmakers to this day. After receiving a distress signal, (you are warned, future Space Force soldiers), a crew travels to an abandoned spaceship only to find alien eggs. Soon, a crew member finds himself infested with a life form, which, in one of the most well known and gleefully gory scenes in sci-fi cinema, hatches from its host and soon puts all the crew members in danger. Although it feels a lot like a haunted house film, featuring a spaceship, (rather than a house), and an alien, (rather than a ghost), who can possesses and pick off the inhabitants, this is also a genre definitive science-fiction film, featuring a star making turn from Sigourney Weaver, and one of the most unique alien/creature designs (by now legendary H.R. Giger) ever put to film.
This recent outing starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds was clearly influenced by Alien, and although certainly not as classic as that film, it’s still an entertaining ride with gorgeous Gravity-influenced cinematography and excellent acting. Life follows the crew of an international space station as they discover a single-celled life form from Mars that they dub “Calvin.” When one of the scientists decides to jumpstart Calvin out of his stasis, the crew realizes the life form is not only intelligent and capable, but out to kill them all. Life is a good film, but it’s not perfect. The story is familiar, we don’t get to spend much time with the characters before the alien life form is introduced, and at one point the ever-increasing action disappears enough that a portion of the movie drags a bit. But, with excellent CGI that gives us a simple but formidable alien capable of hunting the humans in unique ways, we get a new spin on body horror in a zero gravity environment. The editing is sharp and tense and propels the film along with effectively dreadful suspense. The film plays well with ever-increasing worst case scenarios, and Gyllenhaal gives his character’s nihilism just enough hopefulness that you may not expect the ending.
One of director Danny Boyle’s (28 Days Later) lesser known films, this sci-fi outing features Boyle fave Cillian Murphy as one of a crew of scientists that sets out with a gigantic nuclear bomb to reignite a dying sun. When they answer a distress call, (I’m telling you Space Force soldiers, just don’t do it), from the first ship that was sent out for the mission, things get a bit, well, complicated, and the action and horror aspects of the film ramp up. There’s plenty of ethical and philosophical discussion here, and as the crew understands their lives aren’t as important as the mission, there’s a whole new spin to how they view each other. Boyle, as always, gives us striking visuals, and there’s a lot to work with here, including the vastness of space contrasted with the sharp closed angles of some of the ship’s quarters, plus a deck on the ship where the crew can view the sun. Sunshine falters a bit in the last act, but it’s still a film full of eye-candy, action and suspense, a terrific acting ensemble, and clever and thoughtful dialogue.
A sci-fi horror entry from director David Twohy, Pitch Black is the story of a group of passengers whose transport ship crash lands on an unfamiliar planet. They soon discover that an impending solar eclipse will bring on not only darkness, but the awakening of a hibernating pack of nocturnal, hungry, flesh-eating aliens. This movie was the introduction of Vin Diesel as Riddick, a violent convict also onboard the ship, who can see in the dark and could be the savior of the passengers who need to escape. Don't write this off as a substandard Vin Diesel vessel. The pacing is effectively scary, the cinematography is lush, the dialogue is non-cheesy, and Radha Mitchell is terrific as the pilot who feels responsible for getting the crew to safety. The aliens are insect-like and disturbing, and it’s also one of those movies that doesn’t have a typical ending. Pitch Black did set the stage for the Riddick films, but it stands perfectly well on its own.
Attack the Block
Although not set in space, I just had to include this clever and monstrously fun (pun intended) sci-fi horror film from writer-director Joe Cornish, which focuses on a gang of teens and a nurse who defend their neighborhood when aliens invade an underprivileged area in London. This is the movie that bolstered lead John Boyega to his Star Wars success and it’s easy to see why. Boyega is endlessly watchable and charismatic and he makes fine use of the clever dialogue and his chemistry with fellow lead Jodie Whittaker, (soon to be the first female Dr. Who - suck it chauvinist fan-boys). It’s also full of characters you root for, empathize with, and laugh at, and features a truly unique creature design. Cornish gives us a movie that is the perfect mix of sci-fi, horror, comedy, action, and social commentary, and although it makes its share of political statements, Attack the Block is the perfect zone-out-eat-popcorn-forget-about-the-state-of-the-country movie. (Side note, the teens in this film have strong and specific accents and use a unique gang-speak, so no judgement if you turn on the subtitles).
I think I’m going to start pairing my lists, should you decide to binge them at once, (or even hold a binging party), with food and/or drink options. (My last list, featuring Western horror, included Lone Star beer and Chicken Fried Steak). So, in the hopes of starting an actual thing, here goes:
Beer: Blue Moon.
Wine: 7 Moons Red Blend.
Non-alcoholic option (shout out to all my sober friends!): Tang. Combine it with Sprite or 7-Up for a sparkling option and call it Atomic Juice if you’re into naming things.
Food options: freeze-dried ice cream, moon pies, Mars/Milky Way bars, Starburst candies, Sun Chips, Swiss cheese (‘cause it totally looks like the moon).
And remember, and I just can’t emphasize this enough, if you should join Space Force and get a distress signal - ignore it. Just ignore it.