I am not much of a horror film person. I don’t like slasher films and there isn’t much about horror that really enthuses me. I don’t like being ‘scared’ or that ‘mind numbing feeling of discomfort.’ I also have a pretty fine-tuned nervous system. I jump, easily. You know that scene in Independence Day where the alien has just taken out the scientists and he flings one of them against the glass of the smoky room. I jump, every, single, time. I know its coming and I still jump. Look boys, if you really want a film where I’m going to cuddle up to you and hide in your lap the entire time, then choose a horror film and you’ll be happy. (Except the Thing or whatever it was, I couldn’t sit and watch it, it bored me so much and then we got to the end and I was all, “Oh, tentacle porn.” That one took ten minutes for the people I was living with to react to as well. Amusement.)
So, it wasn’t really until I was talking with a former roommate (not the ones already mentioned) who also doesn’t like horror films. We were discussing Pitch Black because I liked the film and she didn’t. And she pointed out that she just couldn’t get invested in films where most of the characters die before the end. And I had this “oh damn it,” moment as I realized that Vin Diesel and the science fiction setting had suckered me into watching a survival horror film. The very thing I claimed not to enjoy!
Science fiction and horror go hand in hand. Because what isn’t scary about an alien trying to kill you? Humanity fears the unknown. There is nothing more unknown than a different race with different needs and an all encompassing desire to wipe out humanity. Friendly and cooperative aliens are few and far between to some writers. They are more common in books and television shows rather than movies.
Of course, scifi horror didn’t start out with shiny spaceships and slick aliens, it started with monsters, men who could turn invisible and doctors with multiple personalities. The 1950s is when the concept of space travel and aliens really started to take off. The Thing was actually a remake of “The Thing from Another World” from 1952. Invasion of the Body Snatchers came out in 1956 and coined a new term ‘pod people.’ In the 1960s, the Planet of the Apes was produced. Maybe not quite as horrifying as some of the others, but I find the idea quite terrifying. Alien, The Thing, Predator, Pitch Black (though the concept was abandoned quickly), most of the Starship Troopers franchise (even though survival horror isn’t what Starship Troopers is about), Independence Day and Serenity are all examples of modern day scifi horror movies.
Part of science fiction’s appeal is that to an extent most of it is ‘scare’ fiction. Scare fiction are stories that warn humanity about the consequences of their actions before those actions are even taken so that, hopefully, humanity won’t go about doing whatever it is the writer is trying to warn us about. Whether it is the evils of technology, artificial intelligence, nuclear weapons, or aliens. Scare fiction exists to warn us ‘don’t do that.’ If you create artificial intelligence without limits, the machines will rise up to take over the world! (Asimov, Terminator, the Matrix.) Fear the unknown. Be on the lookout for Aliens! They want to kill you! (Every alien survival horror movie ever.)
With the genre already predisposed to trying to warn humanity, it is just the next step to try and make the watcher uncomfortable, discomforted and sometimes, downright terrified. Horror is about the unnatural played out on a large scale. Frankenstein was unnatural. A mismatched creatures formed of parts from dead men and brought to life through technology. People were terrified, shocked and disgusted that he existed. When watching a survival horror movie, it is just as much about the jumps, the strange ways that they die as for rooting for someone, anyone to live at the end.
Of course, people don’t like to be scared all the time and they have an interesting way of dealing with those fears. They laugh at it. So, eventually, something as terrifying and unnatural as Frankenstein is going to become the butt of the jokes in the Munsters. The Scary Movie franchise was just something that was coming whether we liked it or not.
Science fiction horror is a pretty successful mash up with a long history behind it. One that even suckers me into watching it from time to time. (I’m looking at you Starship Troopers, but that’s a rant for another time.)