VVoices is a free-to-read Vague Visages critics survey.
In April of the year 2021, a professional journalist tweeted that “horror cannot be set in space.” For the fifth Vague Visages’ VVoices survey, various film critics list their favorite space horror films.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG)
The best space horror movie of all time is, undoubtedly, Alien. Essentially a haunted house movie in space, the setup is considerably scarier because there’s no escape, nowhere to run, and very few places to hide. The brilliance of Alien lies in how self-contained it is, which is something the subsequent films — particularly the ghastly recent installments — completely lost track of. The best horror movies present an unknowable evil and refuse to explain it. Often, especially with slashers, which Alien also technically is, the Final Girl emerges bloodied but strengthened after defeating the antagonist. Alien instead leaves us on a purposely devastating note that also eloquently sets up its thrilling, albeit very different, sequel. The film is a masterpiece of both sci-fi and horror, straddling both genres in a way few films manage. The closest modern comparison is the under-seen Life, which also features an unwanted creature aboard a shuttle, high body count and an impressively nasty tone befitting its hopeless premise. Although, understandably, less accomplished than Alien, the film manages to be a sufficiently uncomfortable journey into the dark recesses of the human imagination that captures what’s so scary about space in the first place — it’s completely unknowable, making it fertile ground for horror.
Fedor Tot (@redrightman)
Going through my thoughts, nearly all the most effective space-horror movies I’ve seen (save for Alien) are the ones where something mysterious arrives from the cosmos onto our planet, a recurring trope in the recent trend for cosmic/Lovecraftian horror: The Beach House, Color Out of Space, Luz, The Void. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of something cosmic and unknowable arriving onto our planet in contexts that are otherwise familiar: holiday homes, farms, police stations, hospitals. That’s maybe more just me not having seen that many space-horror films that aren’t Alien rip-offs. Having said all that, the video game No Man’s Sky, one of my all-time favourites, whilst not a horror at all, has a habit of inducing in me something of this great fear of the unknown. Wandering around a complex procedurally-generated universe, dotted with planets, some teeming with life, some frozen over, others heat-blasted hellholes, is a terrifyingly lonely experience at times. There’s something about floating listlessly in your ship, just off the atmosphere of another planet (all fully explorable!), whilst staring at the stars with the ambient soundtrack purring in the background that speaks to a sense of smallness in the universe. And then there’s the abject loneliness you feel when you land on a completely “dead” planet. No atmosphere. No living creatures. Just endless lumps of grey, dark rocks. As far as the eye can see.
Bill Bria (@billbria)
Horror, at its core, is intended to exploit and elicit fear, and one of the most primal fears humanity has is that of the unknown. Outer Space is a literal realm of the unknown, a place all of us have a conception of but most of us will never actually explore, let alone experience, in our lifetimes. Thus, “space horror” might be said to be a pure form of horror, a way of exploring humanity’s Id without the barrier of proof — we might know that certain forms of life don’t exist on planet Earth, but who’s to say it doesn’t exist Out There? While 1979’s Alien is the quintessential space horror film and my personal favorite, one of my other favorites is Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985), based on a novel entitled The Space Vampires. It’s a movie that successfully marries the very old Earthbound mythology of the vampire with science-fiction, positing that such mythological creatures could exist, albeit in a different manner than the traditional concept. Lifeforce is one wacky movie — part alien invasion film, part zombie/plague apocalypse horror, part transgressive (and, in one scene, gender fluid) erotic thriller. Lifeforce is an update of the classic Gothic vampire tale, with a derelict spaceship in place of an abandoned castle. Writers Dan O’Bannon (Alien) and Don Jakoby translate every other expected vampire trope; most prominently, instead of blood, these vampires feed on energy, “sucking” their victims dry of, well, their lifeforce. While only a third of the film is actually set in space, it proves the subgenre’s validity: after all, what could be more classically “horror” than vampires?
Ross McIndoe (@OneBigWiggle)
I went into Life expecting to find a star-studded Alien clone with the brains scooped out and was more than happy to sit back and watch things splatter. What I actually found was a whole different organism — Life is a really well-crafted bit of space horror with a lot of great visual effects. It never relies on star power or pure bloodshed to power it, and features some moments of real reflection about the trouble of trying to bring our moral frameworks to creatures that exist outside the human realm.
Andy Witchger (@andywitchger)
Growing up, my parents never allowed me to watch anything they considered immoral. That basically meant everything. Ironically, my dad’s idea of morality had some massive holes. He sat me down to watch some great movies. As a small child, I certainly didn’t understand the racial humor of Blazing Saddles, and didn’t understand the brilliance of Monty Python and the Holy Grail until far later. Seriously, who sits their small child down in front of that movie if they’re not prepared to talk about sex, violence, death or a host of other problematic issues?
Anyway, my dad pretended to protect me, but showed me some amazing stuff. Importantly, he outlawed horror films. My first experience with horror was Event Horizon. I was in junior high, and trying to fit in. A friend invited me over to watch a movie, and, coincidentally, a cute girl I’d been flirting with (my future wife), was also going. Anyway, we settled in and watched what became one of the most enlightening and traumatic events of my life. She held my hand and cuddled up against me at all the right moments. But, I had never experienced anything so jarring.
I’ve since come to love Sam Neil more than any other actor. Jurassic Park was the first movie I saw in the theaters. Hunt for the Wilderpeople might still be my favorite movie. I loved the Icelandic version of Rams so much that I called friends and told them to watch it… and then did it again when the Australian version came out and it was “more accessible.” Anyway, Event Horizon.
The plot is unnecessary. Suffice it to say, I’ve seen many horror films now, but I’ve never had such a visceral response. After my fake “date night” with my future wife finished, I had to walk home seven or eight blocks in the dark. I was absolutely terrified. Truly, that was the most one of the most courageous nights of my life. Event Horizon reconfigured my brain so significantly that I couldn’t even enjoy the fact that someone I had a crush on wanted to hold my hand. I couldn’t even consider the fact that I was more or less safe. All I could think of was death, hell and monsters in space. That’s how you know I just watched a REAL horror film. I rewatch Event Horizon frequently, and it always elicits the same emotions. It’s one of my favorite films.
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