Cinematical recommends seven classic films that are both science fiction and horror, and I can gleefully attest to having seen six of them. (Found via SFSignal.) Looking at IMDB’s top-rated horror films you’ll see more than a few sci-fi titles. This begs the question: What is the greatest sci-fi/horror film ever made? To no one’s surprise, I’ve got a short list.

First, some ground rules. 1) Science fiction means that has to be at least some tacit scientific basis for the major plot devices, even if it’s just “these aliens are a lot like vampires.” Thus, the various sequels the Friday the 13th, Leprechaun, and Hellraiser that are set in outer space don’t qualify. 2) No zombie movies. Yes, there is often a great deal of mad science in zombie movies, but zombie movies are their own genre these days, outside of horror and sci-fi, with their own conventions and rules. 3) The movie needs to be scary, not just tense or gory. Sure, the Terminator is a pretty scary dude, but nobody would call The Terminator a horror flick, it’s a sci-fi action classic with some suspense thrown in.

So without further ado, here are my Top Five Sci-Fi/Horror Films of All Time.

  1. Alien
    This is the pinnacle: Hard sci-fi (or near as you get from Hollywood), an ensemble cast of well drawn, well acted characters dealing with a literal inconceivable, unreasoning alien “other” which seeks to destroy them all–or worse. (This theme is the basis for almost all monster movies.) Plus, it’s actually really freakin’ scary, and has one of the most memorable screen monsters to plague our celluloid nightmares, made even scarier by Ridley Scott’s better-than-Blade Runner direction. Extra points for taking both horror and sci-fi seriously, and for giving us arguably the first, best female action protagonist ever set to screen, Ellen Ripley. If it’s sequel weren’t more an action film than a horror flick, Aliens would be up here too.
  2. The Fly (1986)
    Director David Cronenberg matches creepy quirkiness with Jeff Goldblum to make not only a comprehensible, but a terrifyingly, revoltingly compelling tale of literal dehumanization by virtue of one man’s own technologically empowered hubris. Dr. Seth Brundle literally uses his homebrew teleporter to play God, and is struck down for his arrogance in gleefully gory fashion worthy of cyberpunk Greek tragedy.
  3. The Thing (1982)
    John Carpenter’s magnum opus, preying upon fear of strangers, fear of darkness, fear of enclosed space, fear of cold, fear of physical violation, and fear of self. An alien shapeshifter stalks men trapped in an antarctic research station, who can’t flee in the harsh conditions, can’t trust each other because any one of them could be a doppelganger, and can’t ever rest easy as at any moment, any living thing could sprout fangs or tentacles and seek to consume them. The ambiguous, almost hopeless ending is great example of how sometimes lack of closure is the scariest dramatic device possible.
  4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
    One of the first major Hollywood films to actually grasp the notion of “science fiction is a metaphor for the present, not the future,” this required-viewing classic wraps up McCarthyist paranoia in a nice, tasty alien-invasion costume and lets the creepiness ensue. Director Don Siegel (yeah, the guy who directed Dirty Harry) laid the groundwork for a lot of serious sci-fi to follow, even though he never really directed in the genre again. It’s a testament to the films understated complexity that there’s no one way to interpret it: Is it anti-Communist, anti-establishment, or simply anti-conformist? Hard to say, and it doesn’t necessarily matter, because it’s all scary.
  5. Frankenstein (1931)
    People forget that this masterpiece is a sci-fi film, even though it almost single-handedly defined both mad science and the public perception of its titular monster, all in one fell swoop. Director James Whale pits Colin Clive as the doc and Boris Karloff as the monster against each other in a surprisingly timeless tragedy, with the aforementioned hubris, hatred, and alien “other” all playing out in one classic tale of loss, self-destruction, and fear. Plus: “It’s alive!”