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SCARES THAT CARE WEEKEND

Jan 31 20

The original charity weekend began in 2014 in Williamsburg, Virginia. All net proceeds of the event go to families and individuals in need – those who are fighting childhood illnesses, burn victims and women who are battling breast cancer.

The goal of this all volunteer organization is to raise $10,000 for each selected family to help them with their financial burdens.

The 7th annual Scares That Care weekend will take place July 31st to August 2nd in Williamsburg, Virginia and will feature celebrities such as Barry Bostwick, Nell Campbell and other Rocky Horror Picture Show alumni, along with many other actors and authors.

There will be a vendor’s room and a film festival, costume contest and a 5k race will be scheduled during the weekend as well.

The host hotel is the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Williamsburg. Click here for full details of the event.

CONGLOMERATION 2020

Dec 31 19

Louisville’s Geek Family Reunion will return in 2020 during Easter weekend, April 10 – 12, at the Crown Plaza Hotel.

Since 2001, ConGlomeration has been the area’s only multimedia sci-fi and fantasy convention run for fans by fans – expect 50 uninterrupted hours of family-friendly fandom.

The 2020 anime guest of honor will be Jennifer Cihi and Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books will be the publishing guest of honor. Activities will start at noon on Friday, April 10, and continue until Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Activities will include gaming, a cosplay masquerade, an art show and a dealers’ room. Click here to find out all the details.

HAVE YOURSELF A SCARY LITTLE CHRISTMAS

Nov 29 19

And once again, the holiday season is upon us. Like many of you who celebrate Christmas, every year when I hear that Andy Williams song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” I always wonder about the lyrics that say, “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.” Christmas isn’t usually a time for horror tales, but there are movies and TV shows that beg to differ. I’ve decided to post an updated list of my favorites.

“And All Through the House” – Tales From the Crypt (British TV Series/1972)

The first time I saw this old episode on late night TV, I couldn’t help but be impressed. Joan Collins stars as a wife without good cheer who murders her husband with a fireplace poker on the night before Christmas. As she’s trying to dispose of the body, an escaped homicidal maniac dressed as Santa tries to break into her house. Alas, she can’t call the police because she’s just committed a dirty deed. Love it!

Black Christmas (Movie/1974)

Directed by Bob Clark and written by A. Roy Moore, this Canadian film is widely believed to be one of the earliest slasher flicks, and supposedly influenced the making of Carpenter’s Halloween.  Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and John Saxon have starring roles. A deranged killer hides out in the attic of a sorority house, stalking and murdering the sisters one by one. I liked this film a lot better than Silent Night, Deadly Night. 

Gremlins (Movie/1984)

Everyone is probably familiar with this flick. A salesman (Hoyt Axton) buys his son Billy (Zach Galligan) a magwai for Christmas. But the cute, furry little creatures have a very dark side, and if you feed them after midnight or get them wet, you will find out how much trouble they can be. Of course, Billy can’t follow the rules, and his town soon suffers the consequences. Phoebe Cates also stars as Billy’s girlfriend. (Her story about her dad’s odd, gruesome death struck me as funny, though it wasn’t meant to be.)

A Christmas Carol (TV Movie/1984)

Yeah, I know. Dickens isn’t scary, really, but there are some spooky moments in the beginning, when Ebenezer Scrooge (played by George C. Scott) is visited by his late business partner, Jacob Marley. I love this movie despite the sentimentality, and this is my favorite version out of all of them. But still, I often ask myself why I let Tiny Tim gut me like a fish every December.

“How The Ghosts Stole Christmas” – The X Files (TV Series/Season 6, Episode 6/1998)

The X Files is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. In this holiday offering, agents Mulder and Scully end up investigating a house on Christmas Eve that’s supposedly haunted by a pair of doomed lovers who killed themselves eighty-odd years before. Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin are wicked and delightful as the ghost couple, Maurice and Lyda. The two string the FBI agents along, while providing insights into Mulder and Scully’s relationship and personalities. This episode is in my top ten favorites.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Movie/2010)

This is a Finnish film, based on the premise that Santa Claus has always been evil. (Think of the early European myth of the horned Yule Goat who demanded gifts on Christmas Eve, and who worked with a sidekick called Krampus – a half-goat, half-demon creature who punished naughty children.) Trouble starts when an archaeologist digs up Santa’s old tomb. Now no one in the Finnish village is safe. This flick is a mix of horror, fantasy and comedy – definitely off-kilter.

Krampus (Movie/2015)

Written and directed by Michael Dougherty, this one seemed like a cross between Gremlins and the Finnish film A Christmas Tale. There was no gore to speak of, due to its PG-13 rating, but I did enjoy its dark humor.  (Especially from “Aunt Dorothy” – played by Conchata Ferrell. Toni Collette and Adam Scott also have leading roles.) When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive. This film isn’t something I’d plan on watching every year, but it’s worth seeing at least once.

And there you have it. Speaking of the supernatural, if you like reading otherworldly tales, please check out my eBook release (a collection of previously published short fiction), available on Amazon and other online stores, called “The White Death and Other Ghastly Ghost Stories.” It definitely isn’t for kids!

Hope all of you have a safe and happy holiday season.

HORROR FILMS OF THE 1970s

Oct 20 19

Needless to say, I watch a lot of different horror films throughout the month of October. I always include a good number of the ghost story and vampire movies that I’ve listed in previous blog posts. But I also watch psychological horror, possession and classic slasher films from the 1970s.

Here are my favorites:

THE EXORCIST (1973) – Directed by William Friedkin; based on the novel by William Peter Blatty; starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller and Mercedes Cambridge (the voice of the demon).

Some people argue that The Exorcist is the greatest horror movie ever made, and I’m not going to disagree with that assertion. The possessed twelve-year-old, Regan, scared and repulsed me more than any other character on the big screen. (Thank heavens I first saw it on a TV screen.) I can’t recall any other movie causing me to have such traumatic nightmares. It’s worth watching for the special effects alone.

When young Regan begins acting strangely and numerous doctors can’t find anything physically wrong with her, her worried mother reaches out to a priest for help. Father Damien soon becomes convinced that the only way to help Regan is by sanctioning an exorcism. Soon, Father Merrin arrives to do battle with the demon.

And, oh, what a battle it is…

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) – Directed by Tobe Hooper; starring Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Paul A. Partain

Sally and her paraplegic brother, Franklin, are worried when they hear a rumor that their grandfather’s grave has been desecrated. They head out on a road trip with three of their friends to investigate. But when they reach their family’s Texas homestead, they come to realize that Grandpa’s neighbors are insane cannibals – led by Leatherface, who wears a mask of human skin. The monsters are determined to include them all in their feast’s  main course.

Yeah…I’m wondering if I can actually claim to have watched this movie, since throughout most of its runtime I had my hands covering my face. I have to admit that extreme gore isn’t my thing, but I liked the IDEA of watching a movie this disturbing. (Seriously doubt it was based on “true events” – but you never know…)

THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (1975) – Directed by J. Lee Thompson; starring Michael Sarrazin, Jennifer O’Neill, Margot Kidder

When California college professor Peter Proud starts having dreams and flashbacks about people and places he’s never known, he begins to suspect he once lived before. He tracks down that other past from the 1940s and is led to a town in Massachusetts – and the lake where his previous self was murdered.

This movie haunted me for a while after I first saw it. I would say more, but I don’t want to give away the ending.

THE OMEN (1976) – Directed by Richard Donner; starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Spencer Stephens

Robert, an American diplomat, ends up “unofficially” adopting Damien when his wife gives birth to a stillborn infant. He keeps this secret to spare Katherine the pain. For the first few years everything is hunky-dory for the couple – they lead an idyllic life in England. But then strange, awful things begin to happen, and gradually Robert comes to realize that his son may be the Anti-Christ.

A stellar cast lured more people into cinemas to view it than were probably expected – you don’t often see lead actors like Peck doing a horror film. I love the story and the special effects are awesome.

(The creepiest kid ever… I wonder what Harvey Spencer Stephens is doing today.)

BURNT OFFERINGS (1976) – Directed by Dan Curtis; starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, Burgess Meredith

Ben and Marian Rolf decide to move into a grand Victorian summer home, where they hope to rekindle their marriage. They can’t help but wonder why the rent is so reasonable, and they soon find out that the house has a life of its own.

This is a strange movie in many ways, and I found the casting and acting to both be superb.

THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976) – Directed by Nicolas Gessner (Initial Release in Sweden); starring Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Scott Jacoby

Thirteen-year-old Rynn Jacobs lives a quiet, reclusive life in a coastal New England town. Whenever the landlady comes calling, asking to see her father, Rynn tells the nosy woman that he’s away on business. But when the landlady’s creepy son begins to pry into her life, refusing to leave her alone, Rynn enlists the aid of her teenage neighbor, Mario, to help hide her dark secret.

Even when Jodie was a kid, she always gave an excellent performance. And Martin Sheen is fantastic in his role as the highly disturbed Frank.

AUDREY ROSE (1977) – Directed by Robert Wise; starring Anthony Hopkins, Marsha Mason, John Beck, Susan Swift

Bill and Janice Templeton lead a contented life in Manhattan with their young daughter, Ivy. But things get complicated for them when a man named Elliot Hoover shows up on their doorstep. He’s just returned from a trip to India, and he tries to convince them that Ivy is the reincarnation of his own daughter, Audrey Rose, who died several years before. Hoover’s arrival causes supernatural events to wreak havoc in their lives.

I was quite young when I first saw this movie on late-night TV, and it bothered me a great deal. I don’t think another horror movie has ever made me feel that sad.

HALLOWEEN (1978) – Directed by John Carpenter; starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, P.J. Soles, Nancy Kyes, Nick Castle, Tony Moran

On Halloween night in 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers stabs his teenage sister, Judith, to death. He is committed to an institution, and fifteen years later, on Halloween Eve, he escapes and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois to unleash some fresh hell. I love the soundtrack, composed by director John Carpenter.

This is the movie I always save until last – it’s a tradition for me to watch it every Halloween night and recite the dialogue (“Totally…”) while I hand out candy. And no, I haven’t seen the latest reboot. I’m sure I will before long, though.

I need to add that I quite often include “Friday the 13th” (1980), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “Jaws” (1975), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) and “Halloween II” (1981) to my October movie marathon.

Hope everyone has a spooktacular Halloween!

STOKERCON 2020

Sep 29 19

The Horror Writers Association presents “StokerCon UK” – for the first time the convention will take place in Great Britain in the city of Scarborough from April 16 through 19.

“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”

The two historic venues are situated close to each other and overlook the sea: The Royal and Grand Hotels. The Royal will be the main convention venue.

The weekend will be packed with book launches, discussion panels, interviews, workshops, readings and Kaffeeklatches. The convention will also host the annual Bram Stoker Awards Banquet. To see a list of special guests, click here.

Click here for more information and to register. If you are a seasoned author, an aspiring writer, or simply a fan of the horror genre, this is an event you won’t want to miss.

The Horror Writers Association (HWA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting horror and those who write it. With nearly 1,500 members and two dozen chapters, the HWA is truly an international group that celebrates diversity in all forms.

WORLD FANTASY CONVENTION 2019

Aug 30 19

World Fantasy Convention 2019 will take place in Los Angeles, California from October 31st to November 3rd.

It is being hosted by the Southern California Institute for Fan Interests (SCIFI), Inc., a non-profit corporation that was established for the promotion and conduct of conferences, conventions and congresses relating to the fields of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

2019’s venue will be the Marriott Los Angeles Airport Hotel – only a block east of LAX. Programming’s central theme will be Fantasy Noir, but will also cover a wide variety of sub-genres.

Special guests include Tad Williams and Reiko Murakami, along with several others. Artists who wish to display and sell their work in the art show must be approved by a jury. The Dealer’s Room will be devoted almost entirely to books and art.

The World Fantasy Awards for works published in 2018 will also be presented during the convention.

Click here to learn more details and to register.

IMAGINARIUM CONVENTION 2019

Jul 31 19

Debuting in 2014, this Louisville-based convention caters to creative writers and artists and provides them with educational, professional, networking and mentoring opportunities.

In 2019, The Writer Magazine named Imaginarium the best writing conference in Kentucky and the second best convention in the southeastern USA for writers.

Imaginarium Convention welcomes authors and other creatives of all genres and levels of experience, and takes place over three days, offering 130 panels and workshops.

Besides the Imadjinn Book Fair and Expo, top talent is recognized at the juried Imadjinn Literary Awards, presented during the annual awards banquet.

Imaginarium also embraces game development and film/TV production, and the weekend event includes an independent film festival with juried awards.

Click here to see details regarding programming, special guests, and info about the host venue.

NETFLIX HORROR MOVIE REVIEW – RAVENOUS (LES AFFAMES)

Jun 29 19

Whenever I come across a zombie movie on Netflix these days, I usually pass it by. I don’t expect to be entertained by this done-to-death genre. But then Ravenous caught my eye. This subtitled French-Canadian film (Les Affamés), written and directed by Robin Aubert, captured my attention because I could tell right away that it would be unique.

The locals of a remote village in Quebec begin to realize that something is very wrong with their friends and loved ones. A strange virus is spreading, its origin unknown. People are turning into ravenous animals that crave human flesh. But they aren’t typical shuffling zombies. They communicate by screaming (bloodcurdling, goosebump-inducing wails) and though they don’t speak, they have retained a good deal of intelligence and normal agility – they can run after their prey. And they prove to be cunning predators.

When the village is overrun, a small band of survivors – all of whom have suffered terrible losses – decide their only chance of staying alive is to travel on foot to the nearest city. Self-professed failure Bonin (Marc-André Grondin) becomes their leader. Tania (Monia Chokri) is rescued by Bonin and in turn, she rescues a young girl named Zoé (Charlotte St.-Martin) who has been orphaned. An elderly couple, Thérèse and Pauline, befriend a traumatized mother, and finally the group stumbles across a teenage boy and the injured old man he has rescued.

The odds are stacked against them. They must travel through dense forests and fog-shrouded fields while being hunted. (Those misty meadow scenes were nerve-wracking.) And what’s most unique about the zombies in this film is that they haven’t completely lost their humanity. They congregate in fields, collecting and stacking together objects that meant something to them when they were normal men and women. They almost seem to worship these “monuments.”

Philosophical moments present in conversations between characters in desperate situations and off-beat humor when you least expect it provides some respite from the suspense. Though I wouldn’t call it extreme, there are more than enough gory moments to satisfy a rabid zombie movie fan.    

In some ways, Ravenous reminds me of the Australian zombie movie Cargo, which I reviewed last year. It’s easy to connect emotionally with these characters, and their quiet reflections can make viewers think. What would you do if you knew you only had hours to live? Is surviving an apocalypse after you’ve lost everything and everyone actually worth it?

The actors are exceptional in their roles, including Charlotte St.-Martin, who plays stoic little Zoé. I feel comfortable giving Les Affamés four out of five goblins.  

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BOOK REVIEW: Joe Hill’s N0S4A2

May 25 19

When Joe Hill’s N0S4A2 was first published back in the spring of 2013, I snapped it up and read it immediately. I loved the supernatural thriller so much that I wanted to do a book review, but I simply didn’t have the time to write one. Now the novel has been adapted into a TV series for AMC and will premiere on June 2nd, so I think it’s a good time to revisit the story.

Joseph Hillstrom King managed to have a writing career for ten years before people found out he was Stephen’s son. I think his style encompasses all the good characteristics of his father’s writing, without the tics and flaws that Stephen’s critics love to pounce on. In particular, Joe has a leaner writing style that doesn’t hinder his skill at creating complex, realistic characters.

N0S4A2 is his third novel, and, at around 700 pages, it’s longer than the books I usually prefer to read. But I quickly devoured it.

The story spans decades and interweaves the lives of a psychic vampire, a female “slayer,” and an innocent boy who ends up being caught in the middle of their struggle. After a brief scene set in 2008, where the villain of the tale wakes from a coma, it flashes back to 1986, detailing the dysfunctional childhood of Victoria McQueen. The young girl has mysteriously been blessed with the ability to find objects and people by riding her bike through the Shorter Way Bridge. The covered bridge leads her to the location of whoever or whatever she is looking for. However, using this gift takes a mental and physical toll on Vic.  

On one of these trips, Vic finds a new friend named Maggie, a librarian who has the gift of divination. Maggie warns her about an evil man she calls “The Wraith” – a nickname derived from the Rolls Royce she always sees him driving. His real name is Charlie Manx, and he kidnaps children to drain their life force, using his unique car to escape into a different world. His dimwitted accomplice, Bing, believes he is taking the children to a place called Christmasland, where they can live happily ever after. But their true fate is more than grim…once Manx is finished with them, they become soulless, ageless vampires who exist to do his bidding.

Seventeen-year-old Vic survives a harrowing encounter with Manx that puts him in a coma. She goes on with her life, thinking that her special childhood ability was simply a delusion. Vic writes a successful series of children’s books and indulges her passion for motorcycles by restoring them. She ends up getting married to biker Lou Carmody and they have a son together.

And then one day Charlie Manx finds a way to return – and shows up on her doorstep looking for revenge.

One wouldn’t think there would be much room for humor in a story like this, but Joe blends it in with the suspenseful horror and fantasy elements pretty flawlessly. I almost never think a book or a movie is worthy of five stars, but in my humble opinion, this novel is a fine example of masterful storytelling.

I can’t wait to see it brought to life on the small screen.

GUILTY PLEASURES – PART III: MONSTERS & ALIENS

Apr 28 19

And now to conclude my Guilty Pleasures confessions, I’ve moved on to ten of my favorite movies about monsters and aliens.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) – Directed by Jack Arnold; starring Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Ben Chapman (Creature on Land), Ricou Browning (Creature Underwater)

This classic black and white 3D film launched quite a successful horror franchise and influenced a good many directors and writers. (Proof: Guillermo del Torro won an Oscar recently for his take on a Gill-Man falling in love with a human – The Shape of Water).

Eerie and oddly romantic, this tale begins with a group of scientists in the Amazon jungle who are studying fossils when they discover something infinitely more interesting: an amphibious humanoid creature. They manage to capture the Gill-Man but he escapes, only to return soon afterwards to kidnap his obsession – Kay, the beautiful fiancée (Julia Adams) of one of the scientists.

All of the underwater scenes are impressive, sometimes even enthralling. And as is the case with these types of movies, I’m always on the side of the creature…but they usually don’t survive.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) – Directed by Philip Kaufman; starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright

After alien seeds from deep space find their to Earth, pods began to grow in and around San Francisco, replicating the citizens one by one – and eradicating their human emotions.

“Sleep…sleep and be born again into a world without fear and hate.” (Looking around at this planet’s happenings lately, I’m not sure I’d turn that offer down. Or…I’d at least have to think about it for a minute.)

This is a remake of the 1956 film (same title), which is based on the book by Jack Finney, titled The Body Snatchers. Okay, so the special effects are better in the 1978 version, but the main reason I end up watching this again on various weekends at midnight is because I love all the actors involved.

And now I have to mention The Invasion (2007), since it was originally meant to be another sequel to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but the writers changed the story in significant ways. It stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig and is set Washington D.C. I think this sci-fi film has been terribly underrated. If you’re a fan of the Snatchers movies, you will probably be entertained by this suspenseful version as well.   

SWAMP THING (1982) – Directed by Wes Craven; starring Ray Wise, Adrienne Barbeau, Louis Jourdan, Reggie Batts

Based on the Vertigo/DC Comics character, Swamp Thing tells the story of a brother and sister scientist team, Drs. Alec (Wise) and Linda Holland and their discovery of a plant-based serum and a hybrid plant and animal cell. After another scientist on their team is killed, government agent Alice Cable (Barbeau) arrives to investigate. She discovers a paramilitary leader, Anton Arcane (Jourdan), is out to steal the discoveries for nefarious reasons.

During an attack, Alec is covered by the explosive plant-based serum and cells and becomes a hybrid creature. Alice sets out to help Alec with the aid of a young gas station attendant named Jude (Reggie Batts – who steals the show on more than one occasion).

What a campy delight. Lots of giggles for me, but the film has heart, too.

STARMAN (1984) – Directed by John Carpenter; starring Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith

So…you never knew that horror icon John Carpenter had directed a sci-fi romance? I was surprised, too. And I love pretty much everything about this movie – the cast and their stellar acting (pun intended), and the oddly touching storyline. (Original screenplay by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon.)

It begins in Wisconsin with the crash of a UFO (caused by the military). Jenny, a young, grieving widow (Allen), is terrified when an alien life form invades her home and uses her late husband Scott’s DNA to create a human body – identical to his – in order to survive.

It turns out the Starman (Bridges) traveled to Earth after finding the gold record on board the Voyager 2 space probe, no doubt thinking it was an invitation. But of course, the government just wants to kill him (after studying and torturing him first). So he forces Jenny to set out on a road trip to Arizona, where he expects to be rescued at the Barringer Crater. Along the way, Jenny is amazed at the magical things the alien can do. She lets go of her fear, especially when she realizes that his human body is already dying. Thanks to an understanding SETI scientist (Smith), they have help in evading government officials and the U.S. military.

Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of an alien life form stuck inside a human body. No matter how many times I watch the film, I’m always impressed by his performance. (It was even sexy in a strange kind of way.) I admit the special effects don’t hold up well, but that’s the least important thing about this story.       

TREMORS (1990) – Directed by Ron Underwood; starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire

How can you resist Tremors? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this movie. Humor and horror can go together quite well. Although the film spawned a bunch of sequels, I’ve pretty much remained faithful to the first one.

It’s just another boring day in Perfection, Nevada – an isolated desert town east of the Sierras. Handymen Val (Bacon) and Earl (Ward) decide to move on to greener pastures, but as they are leaving Perfection, they come across another resident, perched atop an electrical tower. They discover he died of dehydration. When they find the head of a sheep farmer buried in the sand, they decide a serial killer must be on the loose and they head back to town to warn the remaining citizens. Too bad the construction crew they passed didn’t heed their warnings. When Val and Earl attempt to leave again, they find the road blocked by an avalanche of boulders. And the phone lines are down.

Now the fun really begins. With the help of a seismologist named Rhonda (Carter), the pair learn that at least three giant underground snake-like creatures (later named “Graboids”) have invaded the area and are responsible for all the killings. Any movement a person makes gives away their location, making escape highly difficult. And of course this makes the film more interesting to watch – how will they outwit the monsters? I particularly enjoyed any scene featuring the survivalist couple, Burt and Heather Gummer (played admirably by Gross and McEntire), who think they are prepared for any type of danger until a Graboid crashes through their basement wall.    

Even though movie critics were kind from the beginning, Tremors barely grossed more than its $11 million budget. But it has gained a strong cult following through the years, earning an 85% “fresh” rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes.     

SPECIES (1995) – Directed by Roger Donaldson; starring Natasha Henstridge, Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker, Alfred Molina, Marg Helgenberger

This sci-fi/horror flick was met with mixed and negative reviews, but it was still a box office success, spawning three sequels.

When SETI scientists begin receiving alien transmissions sharing knowledge of how to create an endless supply of fuel, they assume the species is peaceful. They carry out instructions on how to splice alien DNA with human DNA to create a female hybrid. (Why does anyone ever think this is a good idea?)

Sil (Henstridge) looks human, but she begins to age much more rapidly than expected. She also begins to have violent fits that scare the doctors so badly they decide to destroy her with cyanide gas. But Sil is stronger and more intelligent than they imagined and she breaks out of her containment cell and escapes. She matures rapidly and finds her way to Los Angeles, where she is driven to find a mate and create more of her own kind.     

The government assembles a team to track Sil down and kill her. It’s not as easy as they expect. I appreciate a lot of the dark humor and special effects in this film, and I think Henstridge (in her debut role) does a fabulous job of playing an alien nymphomaniac.

SLITHER (2006) – Directed by James Gunn; starring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker

Another sci-fi/horror film, and even though Slither received positive reviews, it was basically a box office bomb. But, much like Tremors, it has grown a strong cult following over the years.

A meteorite hiding an exceedingly unfriendly alien life form lands near a small town in South Carolina, and soon the parasite causes chaos by infecting the citizens, turning them into zombie-like creatures. It’s up to police chief Bill Pardy (Fillion) to come up with a plan to save humanity.  

I love Nathan Fillion in any role – especially if there’s humor involved. This felt like a tongue-in-cheek homage to several horror films of the 80s. (Although some people objected to its plot being way too similar to the 1986 film Night of the Creeps.)

COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011) – Directed by Jon Favreau; starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Abigail Spencer; based on the 2006 graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg

I think this might be the only sci-fi/western movie I’ve ever seen. I was drawn to the unusual premise, and the leading men involved.

The setting is the New Mexico territory in 1873. The town of Absolution falls under attack from alien spacecraft – and an unlikely band of citizens must join forces to rescue the kidnapped townsfolk: amnesiac outlaw Jake Lonergan (Craig), wealthy cattleman Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford) and a mysterious traveler named Ella (Wilde). 

The film received mixed reviews and was a financial disappointment at the box office. I remember some of my friends complaining that the plot and premise were too ridiculous and they didn’t like the genre mash-up, but I enjoyed the movie a great deal. I always find Daniel Craig quite appealing, and I’m still a fan of Harrison Ford. The cast and special effects are superb. I won’t give any other details away, in case any skeptics who haven’t seen it decide to check it out.      

SUPER 8 (2011) – Directed by J.J. Abrams (who also wrote the screenplay); starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Riley Griffiths, Jack Mills, Ryan Lee

What makes me love this film enough to include it in my list of top five sci-fi/horror films of all time? Nostalgia – the warm, fuzzy kind of feeling I used to get watching a Stephen Spielberg film from the 80s, mixed with the suspense of a Stephen King novel like IT. I’m not saying it’s a flawless movie, but I was enthralled by this story from beginning to end. Many people agreed with me – the film was a box office success and was praised by critics for the acting performances, plot and special effects.  (The detractors complained that it was merely a sentimental homage to blockbusters of the past, but that’s one reason I liked it so much.)

The opening scene takes place in February of 1979 in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. Teenager Joe Lamb is mourning the loss of his mother. His father, Jack, a deputy sheriff, blames his wife’s alcoholic co-worker for the industrial accident that took her life. Neither Jack nor Joe know how to deal with their grief, which makes things uneasy between them.

That summer, Joe decides to help his friends make a Super 8 zombie movie to enter into a competition. Joe has a crush on the only female in their group, Alice – who happens to be the daughter of the co-worker his father hates. While they’re filming a pivotal scene by the railroad tracks, a truck deliberately crashes into a train, causing a derailment. Narrowly escaping with their lives, the teens flee the scene and swear not to talk about the experience with anyone else. But Joe realizes he’s seen something he can’t explain – a strange creature that may have escaped into the night. And it might have a connection to one of the unusual objects he stole from the accident site.

It’s not long before weird occurrences begin to happen all over town. The monster is revealed at a gradual, suspenseful pace. And then all hell breaks loose on the town of Lillian.

PAUL (2011) – Directed by Greg Mottola; starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogan, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Wiig, Blythe Danner

This irreverent sci-fi comedy tickled all my funny bones. And I probably would have ignored the movie if I hadn’t noticed that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were its stars as well as its writers. (Because Shaun of the Dead is my favorite horror-comedy film.) The movie got mixed reviews and was moderately successful in the U.S. Some critics thought it was simply a parody of other famous science fiction films. I thought it had a clever script and the cast and acting were topnotch.

British geeks Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) travel to America to attend the annual San Diego Comic Con International. After the convention, the two hit the road in a rented RV to visit the most famous UFO hot spots in the western states. While driving one night on a lonely desert highway, they witness a car crash and stop to help. That’s how they meet Paul (Seth Rogan’s sarcastic voice), an extraterrestrial on the run from the FBI.   

For the past sixty years, Paul has been held prisoner inside the top secret Area 51 military compound. Now that he’s escaped, he needs the Brits’ help in finding a mother-ship to take him home. What follows is pure craziness as the trio (who accidentally abduct a young fundamentalist woman) try to keep ahead of several determined federal agents and the fanatical father of their kidnap victim.

Who’s up for a close encounter?