Space is an endless landscape for humanity to explore. The idea of colonizing the vast unknown and taking humanity to the stars has been a dream of humanity for centuries. This dream has led to a vast array of fictional voyages into space.
Still, there’s something inherently terrifying about the idea of space travel and the isolation that goes with it. The same unknown that inspires humanity also has the power to ignite our morbid sides. Take a group of humans, put them in a confined space millions of miles from other humans, and horrific monsters won’t be far behind.
The horror genre has seen plenty of movies head to the stars with varying degrees of success. Today I am going to take a handful of examples and let you guys know what kind of horror awaits us in vacuum of space.
Disclaimer: I know that this list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the “horror in space” subgenre. These are just movies I’ve seen this month (or recently). Some don’t necessarily fall under the label of “Shocktober movie.” But horror is horror. If you have any suggestions or comments share them below and follow me around the internet.
Chapter 1: Alien (1979)
I am going in chronological order but even if I wasn’t, there is no question that Alien would be at the top of the list. This is the quintessential “horror in space“ movie. My friend Mike (who contributes to the blog and is a co-host on the podcast) likes to refer to Alien as “Halloween in space.” I don’t see it. Alien, to me, is a masterpiece of horror cinema.
Alien tells the story of the Nostromo, a ship with a crew on its way back to Earth. They’re essentially “truckers in space” who are prematurely woken from cryo-sleep, due to a distress call the ship intercepts. From there, all hell eventually breaks loose as they find themselves the prey of a malevolent monster that bleeds acid.
Alien is an intense movie that tells a story with such perfectly escalating tension that every viewing seems just as rewarding as the last. The iconic visual effects leave a lasting feeling of unease as the movie makes you question every bit of heartburn you will ever experience.
I reviewed the Alien Anthology blu-ray collection back in March. It’s the most comprehensive and densely packed blu-ray collection I’ve ever seen. Alien is very much deserving of that treatment (subpar sequels and all).
Speaking of the sequels, I didn’t include them on this list for a couple reasons. For one, Alien is the best of the franchise and I felt it would represent the other movies well. Secondly, anyone disputing that Alien is the best would undoubtedly choose Aliens as the better movie. In which case, I would feel more inclined to categorize that as an action movie instead of horror. But to each their own.
Chapter 2: Event Horizon (1997)
Event Horizon took me by surprise when I saw it earlier this year for the first time ever. In fact, it was my honorable mention for the best first viewing of March for me.
What I went into the movie expecting was a cheesy space horror movie with outdated special effects and forgettable characters.
Instead the movie is a (somewhat hokey at times) fright fest in space. The movie follows Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) as he accompanies a crew on a rescue mission for a lost ship he created to travel to the farthest reaches of space.
The special effects are shockingly good and the story takes some thematic turns that are actually surprising. There are good performances, particularly by Sam Neill (and Laurence Fishburne as the Captain of rescue crew). The gore and turmoil that befalls the rescue team holds the audience’s attention through the 90 or so minutes the movie takes to tell its story.
If Alien is “Halloween in Space”, then Event Horizon strives to be “The Shining in Space.” This is definitely a misstep for the movie as it only serves to remind the view of the Kubrick classic.
Chapter 3: Jason X (2001)
What did I just watch?
I tried to find some good in this movie, I really did. It’s the tenth movie in the Friday the 13th franchise and it’s only the second or third movie in the franchise that I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been a big fan of Jason Voorhees (I’m more a Freddy and Michael guy) and putting him in space doesn’t have me anxious to go through the character’s back catalog of carnage.
Right from the start, I could tell Jason X was a mess of horrendous pacing and shoddy acting. The movie takes far too long to set up the circumstances that lead Jason to outer space. If they want to put a slasher villain in space for the franchise’s tenth installment, they should know they’ve already jumped the shark and should just embrace the campiness.
The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor should it. The dialogue is atrocious and the acting is a stark reminder of what the horror genre is widely and unfairly known for.
The horrid pacing results in Jason not starting his murder spree for a good 30 minutes. In the meantime we get introduced to one dimensional machete fodder, most of which are killed off quickly with little imagination.
Uh, SPOILERS below, I guess.
The movie goes from laughably bad to hysterically horrible when Jason is defeated by a cheesy action heroine-like android. The two do battle and she (almost too quickly) rips him to shreds. What happens next is miles beyond silly. Jason is reanimated by the space ship’s onboard medical station thing, He’s transformed into a cyborg version of Jason called Uber-Jason.
Uber-Jason vaguely reminds me vaguely of a mix between Shredder from Ninja Turtles and Lord Zedd from Power Rangers. They were two villains from my childhood who didn’t scare me as a kid; so the amalgam of them in this iteration of Jason Voorhees does less than nothing for adult me.
Overall, the movie was pretty abysmal. Maybe if I had suffered through the previous 9 installments beforehand, I would take to Jason’s space quest a little better. But thankfully I now know never to make that mistake.
Chapter 4: Sunshine (2007)
Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, about a group of astronauts on a mission to re-ignite the dying sun, is one of my favorite movies. It’s a terrific and underrated sci-fi movie that plays out its themes of God vs. science in a satisfying way. But one of the most common criticisms the movie faces is in its third act transition.
The third act of the movie introduces an almost superhuman villain. The rest of the movie has the villain picking off the remaining survivors of the mission one by one before being defeated. It’s a jarring transition away from the standard space story told in acts 1 and 2.
But I like it. It may be due to my being a slight slasher fanboy or it could be due the strength of the first 2 acts, but I think the slasher element really helps bring the movie to a logical conclusion. Pinbacker (the evil-doer) provides a physical representation of the God vs. science debate that acted as the undercurrent for the entire movie to that point.
It’s not for everyone and I recognize how polarizing it is. But it worked for me and gave a nice horror twist to the movie.
Chapter 5: Europa Report (2013)
Europa Report has much less horror elements to it than the other movies on this list. I included it because of some notable scenes that I won’t spoil. I want to use it as an example of a straightforward science fiction movie that ties the unknown danger of space exploration to the plot without sacrificing the sci-fi label.
The movie is about a manned mission to Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) to run tests to see if the moon has life under its ice. The movie is very realistic in its depiction of the science and the astronauts on the mission. This realism plays out alongside some issues that arise and give the film a slight horror feel.
The horror elements compliment the sci-fi story well. The movie plays on the mysteries of uncharted space exploration and the fear and uncertainty that it can instill by showing us the crew and then jumping ahead to after the crew has lost one of its members. The story jumps between the full crew scenes early in the mission and the post-incident scenes while keeping what happened concealed. It creates a distortion in the narrative that gives the viewer a sense of unease that sustains itself throughout the run of the movie.
Chapter 6: Gravity (2013)
Gravity is one of the most intense and beautifully shot movies I have ever seen. I don’t know if I should count it as a “Shocktober” movie, per se, but it’s more terrifying than many of the horror genre’s offerings. What makes it so terrifying to me is the realism presented on the screen.
Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are on a spacewalk when space debris destroys their shuttle. From there, they face the horrific space environment as the pair works to survive and get home.
What separates Gravity from every movie on this list, is that the horror presented in this movie is the same danger that real life astronauts face everyday they spend in orbit. Seeing the horror play out on the screen is like watching the worst fear of humanity’s greatest triumphs being realized and the tension never ceases.
That’s it for this edition of my “4 Days of Blood” Shocktober series. The timeline got a bit screwed up so expect Part III soon. You can find all of my other Shocktober posts as well as Mike and Tiny’s contributions to the season on the Shocktober page.
Also, if you’re a fan of horror, you should really check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast’s interview with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s John Dugan.