While my experiences with The Thing are probably the most easy to talk about, they are not the first of its kind. I remember as a child sitting down, it was the end of some old show they were showing a repeat of. Two people, a white haired man dressed in a magicians cloak and a younger looking woman were being chased by armed gunmen, in charge seemed to be a clearly evil man with a goatee. He activated a device and out of the ocean came a horrifying monster, some mix of fish and reptile; it slowly advanced on the two. I stayed away from the beach for awhile after that.
For those that didn’t know that was my first experience with Dr Who. Maybe for people 16 or younger, they cannot perceive of a time that Dr Who wasn’t on TV but I was born in that long Who-less time so random snippets for some of my earlier years was all I had. What those showed was a prime example of what the combination of Science Fiction and Horror can bring.
The two genera have been tied since the very start. Is not Frankenstein the tale of the dangers of morality being superseded by technological advancement? I often had arguments with my friend if it should be considered Science Fiction. For indeed the doctor was so elated in what he could do he didn’t considered the morality of what he does do. I enjoyed seeing the Hammer version that went even further with the doctor out right killing people for parts; we watched that one as part of our Halloween viewings.
Some of the best Dr Who monsters of the past drew on fears of the age, to create monsters that last to this day. The cybermen, drawing on fear of the advancement of plastic surgery and prosthetics, at what point do you stop being human? And of course the daleks being an almost parody of the extremes of fascist racial ideal, all caught up in a machine, trapping the mutated husk inside. But then there were times that it delved into more classic horror. Always loved the Daemons. Horror of Fang Rock which sees a small group of people, unable to run away as they are picked off one by one by an unseen threat.
From old TV science fiction I came to look at the movies of the past and I fell in love with the B movies, or at least old horror/monster movies, films where the fear of the atomic age brought forth horrors, many in some way a retelling of Frankenstein in a sense only now unwilling, Man’s desire for more power unleashing that which it cannot control. I always looked back and thought, wow even in the bad B movies the monsters were far more inventive than they are now. I always enjoyed seeing the monster brought to life despite the limitations of technology, the strings hidden by clever camera work or film trickery making it looked like the monster was in the shot with the people, rather than just putting in some CGI shark or snake, it’s almost always sharks or snakes now.
One of the most common horrors used in Sci Fi Horror is the fear of the unknown. This is heavily used in both movies and television Sci Fi. The idea that as we venture out into space, we encounter nightmares we are completely unprepared for. Shows like the first season of Space 1999 make great use of this, I highly recommend the episode Dragons Domain, but another more widely known example is the first part of the film Alien.
I first encountered this franchise at a very young age; they were selling toys, rather inventive toys under the idea of ‘what if’ the xenomorph’s face hugger attached itself to something else, something that many of the comics have run with. Alien is the quintessential example of what people think of when they think of Sci Fi horror, the fear of the unknown, the haunting visage of the strange alien craft that clearly had its own tale to tell and turning what was once safe into a nightmare. It is a tale so well told the sequel Aliens didn’t try to copy it and instead made its own path which it handled so well it’s considered one of the best sequels made.
Whether the original or its sequel (not the other ones), so much of the xenomorph terrified me, but I believe the face hugger was what affected me most. The xenomorph was the perfect killing machine but the face huggers were always what scared me the most. The idea of while I slept one slipping onto me, was a fear that woke me up often after seeing the films and always trying to think of a way to prevent one getting on.
As I explored the Sci Fi horror genera I inevitably came to the works of Nigel Kneale writer of Quatermass. Long ago I saw about these tales from many sources, they made special mention of the 3rd tale, The Pit. Eventually finding the film what I saw was a master piece. Here we have an example of taking a ghost story, a far more classic horror and re-imagining it into a Sci Fi tale. I will one day review that, been meaning to but as you see it’s very much a horror tale, maybe next year.
Indeed one of the other elements of Horror Sci Fi is taking something that was a more classical horror tale and reinventing it into a Sci Fi premise, I’ve seen this fail a lot… usually its ‘the devil in space’ concept that fails but those times it worked always shone for me. While Nigel Kneale is definitely the definitive writer of these it doesn’t take long to find other prime examples. Alien as mentioned before, the second half is almost a haunted house movie in space, Event Horizon, though with its flaws too falls into this kind of film.
I have always found even in its more duller recent years Sci Fi horror to be some of the most inventive. Heck even the made for TV movies that I loathe tend to be rather inventive when making some of these. Video games with the Dead Space series took a new take on zombies that then delved into lovecraftian cosmic horror… which didn’t get resolved because of EA.
Sci Fi horror is always going to be the part of horror that will first draw my eye, wondering how fears of tomorrow may be made manifest or what new spin on an old spine chiller will be brought up. Or maybe I’ll have a good laugh at a silly monster suit. But then again, The Thing is Sci Fi horror and we know how long that’s lasted with me.