Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Top 21 Horror Scifi Films of All Time! Part 3

As a big fan of H P Lovecraft, the blending of science fiction with horror elements has always been of great interest to me. This unique subgenre has spawned a great number of works of writing and film, from the outrageously campy to the hauntingly atmospheric. This is the final part of my list of the Top 21 Horror Sci Fi films of all time. So without further padding or introduction, here is number 7 to the number 1 film!

#7 - Frankenstein
When Frankenstein, the novel, was released, it blew the world away. This is not only one of the most influential works of horror or science fiction, it is an amazing work of literature. It could be considered as one of the first truly successful blends of science fiction and horror. Before that, the horrific was mostly defined by eerie supernatural tales.
Fast forward to the advent of the film camera, and as early as 1826, this story was being adapted for the screen. But in 1931, director James Whale, kicked off the entire horror and science fiction genres with his own version of the gothic tale. This film has since become the iconic version of Frankenstein that most people associate with the story. Admit it, anyone even reading the novel now, is somehow, in their mind, picturing Boris Karloff as the monster.
This film has enough interesting history to it, to warrant entire books to be written about it. It is a masterpiece of genre filmmaking near the end of the pre-code era of film. It has been considered controversial by some, and a little silly by others. Okay, I will admit, it is dated. It can easily come off as campy if taken purely at face value and viewed with a 21st century cinematic mentality. But spend enough time understanding its background and the time it came from, dive head first into its wonderfully adapted story, and you will see there is a lot more to this film than just a "rampaging monster movie".

#6 - Videodrome
While Frankenstien's datedness can lend it a sense of humor and cheese, my next pick does the opposite. I have long been a fan of David Chronenberg's work, especially his early surreal horror stuff. This film, Naked Lunch, and Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, were huge influences on my own art and writing.
Videodrome is certainly a product of its age. Its story would significantly change if it were done contemporarily in the digital age, and something would be lost. The film, set in the 80s, depicts the sinister use of short wave television signals and the sort of creepy quality that a fuzzy analogue video feed has. A little UHF station in Toronto gets away with showing the creepiest things on its late-night programming. But when the president of the station gets a hold of, and starts rebroadcasting, a pirated station depicting gruesome murders, strange things start to happen. The film quickly escalates at the main character begins having graphic hallucinations and witnesses scenes of pure graphic surrealism.
Like much of Chronenberg's early work, this film is graphic, horrific and beyond strange. I remember seeing this film late one night so many years ago and fighting exhaustion just to keep my head wrapped around the windingly strange story. In my personal opinions, this the most disturbing film on this list and a must see for any fan of the subgenre. It is a heady mix of biting cultural satire and gruesome effects work. 

#5 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Like Frankenstein, my next pick has been adapted numerous times to film. However, this time, it is much harder for me to point to a particular version for this list. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is based on Jack "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the National Film Registry earning it a place in the National Library of Congress.
Finney's 1954 novel of the same name. Obviously the 1956 version is an amazing choice. The film was considered
This film is probably the quintessential invasion film, a SF subgenre all to itself. But what set's this film apart is that it so brilliantly utilized the fear and paranoia of the day. The invasion subgenre of films came out of the post atomic age. Science fiction films moved away from the horrors of radiation stories from the post war period. With the onset of the Cold War, invasion or outright obliteration by a foreign entity became a very real possibility to most Americans.
As the "Red Scare" progressed, Americans feared that even their own neighbors could be supporters of the enemy. The good guys and bad guys were not so easily identifiable. Gone were the monstrous aliens of films before, the new horror came from aliens who looked just like us.
This film is a classic and considered of the best works of science fiction ever put on the screen. Though its themes still work to this day, many contemporary attempts to rework the film for modern artists have failed (yes, I am looking at you The Invasion(2007)).
I will however concede that the 1978 version is not only well done, but perhaps the best remake of a film ever made. The film, starring Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nemoy, not only captures the eerie atmosphere and paranoia of the original film and novel, but manages to make it current for the time of the film. The invasion of the aliens seems more personal and invasive, than the earlier film, letting the idea get under your skin. It is because of this film that I find it hard to chose which one actually belongs on this list. I'll leave the final choice up to you.

#4 - The Fly
Alright, so here we have the same issue as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There are two versions of The
Fly and they both have their merits. Both films, and their terrible sequels are adapted from the ideas of the same novel, but each attacks the premise in very different manners, with varying results. The classic film buff in me wants to choose the 1958 version, I certainly do love anything with Vincent Price in it. But I will admit it, this film is cheesy and horribly dated. As much as I love the story, I cannot watch this film without laughing. For that reason, and my love of Chronenberg, I will lean towards the 1986 remake. Modernized and taken more seriously, this version certainly better falls into the horror sci fi subgenre.
With its Academy Award winning effects makeup, Chronenberg's film is gruesome, sexy and haunting. It is a strange disturbing tale, though probably the most straight forward story of any of Chronenberg's SF films. Critics have seen it as parallel of the AIDS epidemic of the time, the suffering of the main character's transformation is felt with each worsening symptom. The 80s version is certainly more horrific and gets under your skin, and for that reason makes it the version deserving to be at number 4 on my list.

#3 - The Thing
I tell you, many of the top 7 films seem to suffer from a problem of having remakes that are almost better
than the original. The Thing is perhaps one of the most recognizable films of the horror scifi subgenre. I will tell you flat out that the 1982 John Carpenter classic is the way to go. It follows the source novella more closely and is just a downright creepy film. It combines a lot of the elements that have put films on this list. The effects work is as gruesome as anything listed above, while doing well to refrain from feeling too dated or cheesy. It is dark, atmospheric and its remote Antarctic locale gives it a wonderful claustrophia that propels the paranoia of the plot. At its core is a similar premise of the invasion films, something is taking over people's bodies, and it is growing harder and harder to tell who is truly human. Like a paranoia-filled whodunit, this movie keeps even the audience guessing until the end. This is one of my favorite films and I have even seen many of the still remaining props and set pieces in northern British Colombia where it was filmed. And I am not the only one who enjoys this film so much. It is even an annual event at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station where it is viewed by an audience that understands the cold isolation better than anyone. This film not only makes it to number three on this list, but is high on any list of great science fiction films or horror films. If you are reading this and you haven't seen this...well, I don't know what to tell you.

#2 - The Host
Alright, so most of the choices on this list are fairly common, well known movies. The top part of this list is hardly that original when compared to others. There are just well accepted classics of this subgenre. But I think I have a bit of a surprise here in number 2. It is a film not as many non-genre enthusiasts may have seen. It is actually one of my favorite films, genre or not, the first time I saw this film I was absolutely amazed. Little did I even know that years later I would be actually living for a year not far from where the film takes place. I am talking about The Host. Perhaps my favorite foreign film of all time (though it has to fight hard against a couple French films).
The Host takes place in Seoul, South Korea and at first looks to be a modern take on the rampaging monster film, but it goes so much deeper than that. The Host uses the shell of the monster movie to deliver a hard hitting political commentary of modern Korea. Sadly it has been announced this film will be remade, and I guarantee not with the success of the above films. The possible, upcoming American film will remove the film's location and commentary, thus removing all purpose from it.
The Host touches on issues of the American Military presence in South Korea, showing them as uncaring of the local people or the effects of their actions. This is a common mentality in South Korea, and not entirely unfounded in recent years. The film is certainly not anti-American, but it is very critical of the current political-military situation the country finds itself in. The film takes shots at its own government as well, depicting them as overly-bureaucratic and just as uncaring as the foreign military presence.
The Host's commentary is far from obvious, much of it stretches so far into subtly to almost make it poetic. A  lot of the commentary and satire is hard to understand without being in the culture, and isn't really intended to be understood by foreign audiences. On its surface, The Host is a tight exciting thriller of a killer mutant creature. For that alone it is a great work of science fiction. But its darker message and historical significance as an incredible work in the subgenre coming from outside the Hollywood system earns it a place at number 2 on this list.

#1 - Alien (obviously.)
I almost don't feel I have to say much about this number one pick. It is the number one pick of any list of this subgenre and can even be found in the top ten of lists of other genres. Ridley Scott's Alien is dark,
atmospheric and exciting. It is a perfectly thought out and executed thriller. Despite hundreds of horror and scifi films that came before it, this film defined the genre for an entire generation. For audiences still getting used to the idea of big budget science fiction spectacle on the success level of Star Wars, this film just amazed. It was science fiction like no one had every seen. And I can guarantee that more than half the genre since has this film as its main inspiration.
Writer David McIntee said that the film was the best lovecraftian film ever made about something Lovecraft didn't write. And it is true. Alien has all the pulse-building dread of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. It is a haunting and monumental work. That is probably all that needs to be said about a film that has changed the very genre in which it sits. Alien defines science fiction filmmaking as much as the genre defined the 1978 masterpiece. It is a no-brainer that this film goes right at the top of the list.

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