Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Top 21 Horror Scifi Films of All Time! Part 2

Time for part 2! Films 14-8!
We are well underway to listing, what I think is, the top 21 Horror Scifi movies of all time! In part 2 of 3, we will continue our trend of bouncing from camp to creepy. Though I will admit the genre is heavy on the camp. But in all honesty, that is why I love it so much. I enjoy horror, but when science fiction elements are added to the mix it goes from "meh" to a'meh'zing (sorry that was terrible).
So without more delays and introduction, let's get on with part 2!

#14 - Re-Animator
At number 15 we had the great combination of director Stuart Gordon and actor Jeffrey Combs in the
adaptation of Lovecraft's From Beyond. Reasonably to follow is Gordon and Combs' adaptation of the stories of Lovecraft's Herbert West. Though Gordon departs much further from the source in this series of ridiculous gore-fest films, they are none-the-less brilliant. They are not for the squeamish, but if not for this severed-tongue in cheek horror comedy we would have other horror comedy greats like Frankenhooker or even Shaun of the Dead.
Janet Maslin, of the New York Times, wrote, "Re-Animator has a fast pace and a good deal of grisly vitality. It even has a sense of humor, albeit one that would be lost on 99.9 percent of any ordinary moviegoing crowd." While I think the humor in Re-Animator is much more accessible than that, you do have to be in a pretty twisted and dark frame of mind to get some of the jokes that fly well below the slapstick radar. Re-Animator, and it's sequels are clever. They don't just present over-the-top gore, and slapstick style comedy to get it's laughs. While those are commendable features, and Re-Animator does feature some of it, it certainly goes much deeper.
This film is not only one of the top 20 scifi horror films of all time, this would be in my top 10 list of best horror comedies of all time.

#13 - They Live
Next, we have another great horror comedy film, with a distinctly more science fiction bent. They Live is a hilariously campy and satirical piece of the 80s. Directed by the legendary John Carpenter and starring
professional wrestler Roddy Piper, They Live is a total gem.
The no-named protagonist, a homeless drifter, discovers that a sinister race of aliens has secretly taken over the world and is controlling the actions of humans through advertising and mass media culture. When Piper's character comes across a sophisticated pair of sunglasses that allows him to see through the disguises of the aliens, he sets out to wipe out the alien menace.
Many disagree with whether or not this film was intended as a comedy. Some claim it was an attempt at a subversive horror-scifi commentary on the growing commercialist culture of the 80s. But for me, intentional or not, this film is hilarious and gave us one of the most iconic lines in action film history: "I've come here to do two things, kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I'm all out of bubble gum." Between that line and the fight between the two main characters that just seems to go on for ever like a girl fight in Manos, it is hard for me to deny that Carpenter intended this to be humorous.
But even if the humor falls flat on you and the film comes off as cheesy and horribly dated, its central message can still be felt. This maybe pure camp, but you can't say it hasn't influenced people. Artist, Shepard Fairey, creator of the iconic Barack Obama posters, claims that the subliminal messages of the aliens was the true source of his inspiration. And, Jonathan Lethem, author of one my favorite novels Gun, with Occasional Music, so loved this film that he wrote a full length non-fiction book about it.
Whether you have an itch for horror, 80s cheese, action, or really strange scifi social commentary, I am pretty sure They Live will be able to scratch it for you.

#12 - Lifeforce

From 1988's They Live, we go back 3 years to Tobe Hooper, director of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and his foray into the science fiction field with a tale of space vampires. In fact, Lifeforce is based on the 1976 novel with that title: Space Vampires.
Lifeforce is a bit dated now, but it is quite a good film. Unlike the previous two entries, this film does its best to steer clear of camp. This film also succeeds far better than Hooper's project right after this, Invaders from Mars, which could not make this list if it tried.
After finding three astronauts stuck in suspended animation and brought back to earth, and evil energy sucking alien is unleashed on the world. This film defined the sexy killer alien trope long before Species, as one woman, and two men are possessed by the aliens and go on a killing rampage, sucking the very lifeforce out of their victims. And if that doesn't sound cool enough, there is even an appearance by Patrick Stewart! Hah! Now I have your attention. This film has had mixed reviews from critics and viewers. But it is really a hard one to quantify. What works for some, might not work for others. The film didn't fair well in the box-office, losing against the other scifi film of the day Cocoon. That might just say something right there. But in my opinion, I find the film quite fun. It has cheesy effects and a decent amount of atmosphere, and succeeds in bringing the vampire genre into a more contemporary and refreshing light. I have always found the vampire trope more interesting when aliens were behind the vampirism and not supernatural humans.

#11 - Bad Taste
Okay, this is where we all might depart on what really belongs on this list. Bad Taste is a bizarre and albeit terrible cult film. But it is its cheesy terribleness that make it such a gem. Long before Peter Jackson would create the ultimate splatter comedy, and perhaps goriest film of all time Braindead (Dead Alive) and even longer before he would pioneer epic filmmaking with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he made some of the strangest films in New Zealand history. However, without this film, there would be no Peter Jackson and the other films just would never have come into existence.
In far off New Zealand, a small village is invaded by a race of aliens, seeking to harvest all human life and use them as fodder for a new intergalactic fast food restaurant. The aliens think taking the small town will be a piece of cake, until they come across a rag-tag group of men hell bent on stopping them.
With almost no budget, Jackson cast himself and his friends in the starring roles, and he even developed the effects and makeup on screen (this was obviously well before the founding of Weta). The fact that Jackson makes so much with so little and was able to put his foot in the door of the giant film industry, should be inspiration to anyone seeking to take on the major executive run creative industries. 
This film is beyond absurd, over the top, and bizarre. Jackson doesn't hold back on anything. And if you can get a hold of the director's cut of this strange film, you can see, he planned to put everything he could into this low budget disasterpiece.
If you have seen Peter Jackson's epic masterpieces of recent years, you will be shocked to see where he got his start. But if you love splatter comedy, or if you have enjoyed his other early films like Braindead or the wonderfully twisted Meet the Feebles, this is a must see.

#10 - Slither
If it isn't completely apparent by now, I have a love of old campy splattery films. I am not into sadistic torture horror, or into slow atmospheric ghost stories. In all honesty, those films bore me to tears. I want the
ridiculous and over the top. When I was younger and getting into the genre of camp, I, of course, discovered Troma Films. I was soon renting every Troma VHS my video store could get in, from Toxie to Cannibal the Musical. It was through these low budget classics that I became familiar with the work of James Gunn.
Slither is James Gunn's directorial debut, and is the modern equivalent of all the old campfests that came before. With fantastically humorous acting from Nathan Fillion and others, this movie doesn't hold back for a modern audience. It delivers all the slapstick, gore and cheesy dialogue that a viewer can handle. This movie had me crying with laughter in the theater. It was as if someone made a film just for my bizarre tastes.
A disgusting alien parasite has come to earth to feed, as all great films start out, but the hapless residents of a small town will do anything to stop them.
Slither is the ultimate homage to the horror and scifi B movies of the 70s and the 80s. It is equal parts Shivers (1975), The Brood (1979) and Night of the Creeps, while managing to surpass all of them. This is the kind of film I wish was made more often. Taking one of my favorite genres and instead of updating or poorly remaking an old classic, the filmmakers choose to make a new film in exactly the same vein, for the exact same audience.
Though the film was buried beneath a heap of zombie films in the surrounding years, Slither certainly tried to stand out, but never gained the mainstream audience attention that it needed to truly succeed. But if we looked at financial success as a marker for the success of a film, we wouldn't have had all the films that inspired this great movie in the first place.

#9 - Cube
Alright, so we have focused a lot on camp and comedy here so far. The last two entries in this list, while low budget, are not so campy. At number 9 is one of my favorite scifi films of the 21st century. This small
budgeted brilliant piece of filmmaking comes from Canada. While I love Canada, it has always felt like home to me, I have never been hugely impressed by its film industry. Well until this film that is.
Cube is a darkly atmospheric psychological thriller. It is wonderfully haunting and filled with a dreaded sense of kafkaesque paranoia. The film is about as mysterious as it gets, and until the lesser sequels, most of the questions about what is truly going on, go unanswered. Six people find themselves in a series of strange cube-like rooms, a labrynth of traps and dangers. The prisoners do their best to survive, outsmart the Cube, and try to wrap their heads around just what the hell is going on.
At its center, Cube is about the characters and their interaction in a strange and horrifying experience. It feels like Kafka writing Stephen King, or vice versa. Made for only $350,000, this film is absolutely stunning. An equal blend of psychological scifi horror and art house cinema. Though some of the acting in the film weakens it and the frustration of so many unanswered questions pushes it down the list slightly. However, this will remain one of my favorite works of scifi horror and perhaps the best scifi to come out of Canada outside of Stargate.

#8 - Altered States
In high school, I got really into the idea of altered states of consciousness. The research of John C Lilly inspired a lot of my own investigations and artworks. I wasn't the only one either. Lilly's work with sensory deprivation inspired playwright Paddy Chayefsky's only novel, a book later adapted into the 1980 SF/H film Altered States.
The film features William Hurt in his big screen debut as a scientist obsessed with unlocking the secrets of the ancient human mind through depriving it of sensory input. What he finds is much darker and more primal than anything he could have imagined.
Altered States is a product of its time and the growing underground culture of the post-hippy movement. The freedom embracing drug-culture of the late-sixties had given way to a much darker world. Addicts and spiritualists alike were seeking a narcotic fueled enlightenment in a blend of Timothy Leary and Carlos Castaneda. It is out of this experimental drug use and exploratory psychology that Altered States emerges.
The film became a huge success with critics and viewers alike, and was even praised by John C Lilly. It has influenced hundreds of films and musical acts, and set a precedent for psychedelic psychological horror. Appearing on the American Film Institute's Top 10 SF films list, it is a shoe-in for my list of the top SF/H films. Though it can feel a bit dated, and perhaps now, too confined by its specific period of science and culture. With the right background into the world in which it is playing out, this film is filled with dark atmosphere and chemically-fueled terror.

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