What is it about outer space that makes it the perfect setting for horror films? Is it the solitude? The lack of oxygen? The impenetrable blackness? The technology used to keep you alive failing? The unknown? With so many horror films out there, I find that the ones set in space are some of the most effective of the lot.
Look at Alien for instance. One of the first to introduce us all to white knuckle terror in space. Equally terrifying is the HR Giger designed creature hitching a ride and is still to this day one of the scariest creatures ever thought up. The idea of being trapped on a ship with that thing is enough to want to make you hop in the nearest air-lock and be done with it all. Here is where the solitude of space comes in. You can’t get help, you can’t get away and you HAVE to deal with it or die. Usually, these films are accompanied by a bleakly cold and unfeeling setting which is the inorganic insides of a mining spaceship. Considering the amount of time people are portrayed to be in space for some of these films, you’d think they’d try and make it a little less depressing and a bit more homely. But it’s this very setting which all helps aid the feeling of dread. Alien works because of all the hard steel, dark corners, angular design and the gritty look of it all. This isn’t no Enterprise with gleaming white walls, carpeted floors and colourful jumpsuits, strictly an industrial setting which looks just like how a mining ship probably would.
Event Horizon had very much the same tact, though a completely different premise instead of an alien. Possibly even more horrifying still, is the thought of that film’s idea of Hell. The small snippets you see of Hell and the outcome of having gone there is positively blood curdling. Couple that with being stranded in space with nowhere to run and you have a recipe for one of the best space horrors ever made. Even the videogame Dead Space and it’s sequel, creatively titled Dead Space 2 have some superlative moments of terror directly inspired from such films, Event Horizon specifically with it’s engine room in particular.
Other films set in space and not even based in the horror genre can be just as fear inducing. Apollo 13, when the iconic line “Houston, we have a problem” is uttered, it takes us down a path of terrifying possibilities even though we already know that they survived, being a true story and all, it still has you on edge. The cold black vacuum of space really is no place for a human to dwell in a tin can and deep down in our subconscious, we know it. That is why these films get under my skin so much. I love the concept of travelling through space and wish I was born in a time where humans are freely doing it BUT if something were to go wrong…..I’d be wishing that I were planted firmly on the ground. Suffocation, decompression, Aliens, explosions, whatever the case…I could think of better ways to go.
Space scares me to no end. It’s the unknown, just like the ocean really and I’m not a fan of that either. I do love to watch Sci-Fi films as it can give you that visceral thrill that others can rarely achieve when done right. Heck, even 2001: A Space Odyssey has it’s fair share of frightening possibilities and not just from space itself but from the machines we give intelligence to for protection. Or, like Ash from Alien, have an android secretly working for someone else and then finding out that you’re expendable. A very realistic scenario, when important discoveries are made and mountains of money are involved you can kiss your arse goodbye. Duncan Jones’ Moon did the opposite for once which was refreshing, and although there was nefarious things afoot, the sheer emotion the viewer is put through in that film is incredible and he gives you a few red herrings with the Artificially Intellegent computer.
Danny Boyle’s Sunshine mashed the realism with the slasher genre film to great effect. We had plenty of real problems arise from the complication that is space travel, then the last third throws a curveball and changes the dynamic of the film entirely. Sunshine does a fantastic job of leading you down one path and then finding yourself suddenly on another. Also worthy of mention is the much maligned Pandorum with Dennis Quaid. I didn’t really see the problem with the film and it posed a great story with enough intrigue for the viewer to want to find out exactly what was happening. Sure it isn’t the most original but it did have some original ideas within. The twist with the main character I saw coming a mile off as we have seen it all before many times, but the other one with relation to their location I did not. Seriously, can someone explain why this film is regarded as so bad? I guess I’m in a minority on this one. (I have a bit of a soft spot for Dennis Quaid)
Love Sci-Fi or hate it, you cannot say that it doesn’t provide the perfect backdrop for thrills on the big screen. What are your favourite space based thrillers, or films set in space that provide a visceral experience with a side order of fear? If anyone says Armageddon I’ll slap them.