I admit to having plenty of guilty pleasures when it comes to film, and I’ve already blogged about disaster movies, ghosts stories, and vampires flicks. Now I’m ready to move on to ten of my favorite films 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?