Top Ten Scary Sci-Fi Movies to Watch on Halloween
Halloween weekend starts today, and what better time to watch some horror classics (that aren't Halloween)? Here are ten terrifying sci-fi films to marathon over this weekend:
10. The Fly
A classic that combines gore and unexpected pathos, David Cronenberg's 1986 remake of The Fly was surprisingly acclaimed by critics, many of them citing Jeff Goldblum's standout performance and the focus on character and relationship development. Although Cronenberg later claimed this was not intentional, the film also had an added impact in light of its parallels with the contemporary AIDS epidemic.
Tomatometer: 91% "David Cronenberg combines his trademark affinity for gore and horror with strongly developed characters, making The Fly a surprisingly affecting tragedy."
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
A remake of the 1956 film of the same name, which was, in turn, based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, this alien invasion classic has become a part of our collective consciousness and was almost universally praised by critics, with The New Yorker's Pauline Kael, who has been called the "Beatles of film criticism," calling it "the best film of its kind ever made."
Tomatometer: 96% "Employing gritty camerawork and evocative sound effects, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a powerful remake that expands upon themes and ideas only lightly explored in the original."
8. The Descent
This British horror movie, which follows a group of female spelunkers who are trapped underground with mutant humanoids, went mostly unnoticed when it came out in 2007, but it has received almost universal critical acclaim, with critics praising its claustrophobic premise, its originality, and its nightmarish imagery. Bloody Disgusting ranked the film third in their list of the "Top 20 Horror Films of the Decade," saying, "One of the scariest films of this or any decade... Ultimately, The Descent is the purest kind of horror film – ruthless, unforgiving, showing no mercy."
Tomatometer: 85% "Deft direction and strong performances from its all-female cast guide The Descent, a riveting, claustrophobic horror film. In this low-budget import from Scotland, director Neil Marshall has masterfully created a spelunking nightmare, which doubles as a compelling meditation on morality, vengeance, and the depths to which we might go for survival."
7. 28 Days Later
The first zombie movie on this list, but certainly not the last, 28 Days Later is one of the best horror films in recent memory, mixing classical zombie horror, beautifully filmed images of a post-apocalyptic London, and astute observations of the evils of human nature. Although it is a zombie movie (or technically a pandemic movie, as the "zombies" aren't actually dead), it is distinctive for its assertion that the survivors in the film have more to fear from the non-infected than the infected, a theme that has been picked up by many other recent works such as The Walking Dead. It also spawned a sequel, 28 Weeks Later starring Rose Byrne and Jeremy Renner, which was slightly more action-based but similarly acclaimed.
Tomatometer: 87% "Kinetically directed by Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later is both a terrifying zombie movie and a sharp political allegory."
6. John Carpenter's The Thing
If you're not watching John Carpenter's Halloween this weekend, then you should probably watch his other horror classic, The Thing. The original The Thing from Another World, which came out in 1951, is a classic in its own right, but like many 1950's horror movies it was ultimately campy and silly. John Carpenter's version was truly frightening, with an intensely claustrophobic set-up that's a perfect mixture of body horror, extraterrestrial sci-fi, and whodunnit, complete with a famously ambiguous ending. It was remade once again in 2011, but unlike Carpenter's remake, it was unable to expand on or improve on its predecessor.
Tomatometer: 80% "Grimmer and more terrifying than the 1950s take, John Carpenter's The Thing is a tense sci-fi thriller rife with compelling tension and some remarkable make-up effects."
5 & 4. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead
Night of the Living Dead was the subject of significant controversy when it first came out; the MPAA film rating system wasn't in place yet, so many were incensed and concerned that children and young teens were allowed to see it. Critics mostly focused on this controversy, as well as the gory nature of the film, for several years, but over time the groundbreaking nature of this zombie film (which doubles as a metaphor about racism) was lauded, and it became a seminal classic of the genre. The sequel, Dawn of the Dead, was similarly both controversial and acclaimed, with Roger Ebert famously calling it "gruesome, sickening, disgusting, violent, brutal and appalling," but then qualifying that "nobody ever said art had to be in good taste."
Tomatometer: Night of the Living Dead 96% "George A. Romero's debut set the template for the zombie film, and features tight editing, realistic gore, and a sly political undercurrent."
Dawn of the Dead 95% "One of the most compelling and entertaining zombie films ever, Dawn of the Dead perfectly blends pure horror and gore with social commentary on bourgeois society."
3. Bride of Frankenstein
Widely cited as one of the few instances in which a sequel trumps the original, it was both praised and censored at the time of its release for its keen sense of gothic horror, as well as for its homosexual undertones, which scholars continue to debate today. Time said of the film, "Screenwriters Hurlbut & Balderston and director James Whale have given it the macabre intensity proper to all good horror pieces, but have substituted a queer kind of mechanistic pathos for the sheer evil that was Frankenstein."
Tomatometer: 100% "An eccentric, campy, technically impressive, and frightening picture, James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein has aged remarkably well."
2. Evil Dead
All of the films in the Evil Dead series are classics, but the first was the only one to fit the bill of "horror" rather than horror comedy or parody. This low-budget zombie film (technically demon possession, but the cultural consciousness has agreed that they're zombies) revolutionized the genre; it was fairly acclaimed when it came out but has become nothing if not a cult classic, spawning the similarly acclaimed sequels, video games, comic books, and a tepidly successful reboot. It is often cited as the largest cult film of all time, and it jumpstarted the career of mastermind Sam Raimi, who went on to direct the acclaimed Spider-Man series. (But close your eyes for the tree rape scene. Just trust me.)
Tomatometer: 96% "This classic low budget horror film combines just the right amount of gore and black humor, giving The Evil Dead an equal amount of thrills and laughs."
I mean, you knew this was coming, right?
Undoubtedly the defining science fiction horror movie, Alien would have earned a spot on this list for the infamous, stomach-turning chestburster scene alone. But it's at number one because it's a nearly perfect horror movie with a strong female protagonist, a completely elegant premise, and a truly horrifying monster who still doesn't disappoint decades later. Like many horror filmmakers, Ridley Scott used the "Jaws" technique of waiting to show the audience the full monster, only showing glimpses or parts of it for much of the film. But Alien is special because when you see the full monster, you fully expect it to be a letdown after all that anticipation, but it's not. It's just scary.
Tomatometer: 97% "A modern classic, Alien blends science fiction, horror and bleak poetry into a seamless whole."
A Few Recommended Sci-Fi Horror Comedies, Just For Good Measure
Cabin in the Woods
Evil Dead 2
Army of Darkness
Shaun of the Dead