Deja Viscera: Sci-Fi Horror
Timecrimes (2007) d. Nacho Vigalondo
Nacho Vigalondo's Spanish language horror-comedy may let its time travel plot get out of hand by the end, but that doesn't mean it's not a fun ride. Héctor (Karra Elejalde) is at his countryside home alone one day and spots a naked woman in the woods. He decides to investigate only to he attacked by a man whose face is obscured with pink bandages. Héctor flees into a nearby building where another man convinces him to jump into a tank of water to hide from the masked man. When he emerges from the water, he discovers he has gone back in time one hour. To say any more of the plot would spoil the fun of watching the story unravel. The film's twists are its greatest asset and weakness. It is a time travel movie after all.
Circle (2015) d. Aaron Hann, Mario Miscione
Fifty people wake up in an empty jet black room positioned perfectly on platforms surrounding a mysterious ball in the center of the room. Every few minutes, or if they attempt to move, one of them is killed by a quick burst of energy coming from the ball, their bodies dragged into the darkness. Those living catch on that they have a vote on who the ball takes next. Each hoping to be the last one standing, the fifty people debate and play mind games to throw each under the bus.
Circle may have a simple premise and shoestring budget, but it by no means plays it safe. The diverse indie directly takes on issues of racism, sexism, inequality, and xenophobia with its human surrogates. Nearly every person in the large cast gives an impressive performance, even more impressive considering no one person is a main character. The film offers no hints as to who will be left standing, making it an intriguing blind guessing game throughout.
Cube (1997) d. Vincenzo Natali
My current favorite subgenre of horror cinema is ordinary people being put into an impossible situation and having to use their minds and bodies to game their way out. The possible origin, and certain popularization of that hard-to-define yet often repeated genre is the Canadian horror film Cube. A group of strangers awake in a medium-sized perfect cube with an exit on each side. They quickly learn that the brightly colored rooms are booby trapped and they must proceed with caution to escape the maze of seemingly infinite cubes.
Being at the forefront of the genre, elements of the film do feel dated now. The script and performances are nearly unbearable and the death traps are uninspired, but the intimidating, unnatural design of the cube and its fresh premise make up for its dated shortcomings.
- Marcus Irving
Fire in the Sky (1993) d. Robert Lieberman
I swear to you, it’s all worth it. Based on the 1975 claims of Travis Walton, Fire in the Sky is an examination of five loggers who come across something extraterrestrial in the woods. When only four return, they stick to their story: a beam of light enveloped their friend, Travis, and threw him into the air; fearing for their lives, they fled. When they returned, Travis was nowhere to be found. Their personal lives crumble as the investigation into the alleged abduction continues. These aspects of the film go from vaguely interesting to dramatically lacking and, eventually, exasperatingly melodramatic. It wants to craft a boiling pot of human drama amidst an inhuman tragedy, akin to the small town paranoia infused throughout the stories of Stephen King, but can’t seem to find its footing. This, unfortunately, composes a majority of the first two acts. Now, before I lose you: the alien abduction presented here is some of the most visually arresting and terrifying extraterrestrial imagery I’ve seen put to film. It is a veritable horrorscape and so foreign to the human drama you may think you started watching a completely different movie. In many ways, you have and this contrast allows the decadence of the alien ship to really shine through. This sequence alone elevates Fire in the Sky to a whole new level. If you have ever found yourself curious about extraterrestrial sightings, you can’t miss this.
Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) d. Panos Cosmatos
Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow is an anomaly. The camera drags itself through the halls of Aboria Institute at a trance-like pace. It’s awash in red and impossibly infatuated with a nihilistic kind of '80s nostalgia where fantasy meets the mundane and the surreal facilitates uncertainty. The deliberately labored pace is almost maddening as the film lingers on seemingly unimportant moments for longer than anyone could desire. Refusing a standard narrative, Cosmatos relies on a haze-like atmosphere to cradle the story. This hypnotic visual pallet is an invitation to join the filmmaker on a slow motion crawl through where an unhinged shadow of a man experiments on a young girl with psychic abilities. It’s an imaginative piece of cinema that dares to drown its audience in a mundane, neo-infused, dread; at times, it’s like walking with a rock in your shoe. With echoes of Kubrick, Lynch, Carpenter, and Malick, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a psychedelic ode to the unsettling.
Altered (2006) d. Eduardo Sánchez
Altered is the exact opposite of Fire in the Sky. In Eduardo Sánchez's take on the extraterrestrial, three men and an accomplice seek revenge on the aliens that abducted them fifteen years prior. They are able to capture one and take it to a warehouse in the woods where everything goes bonkers. It’s a shame that, coming from the co-director of The Blair Witch Project, few in the horror community seem to talk about this film. It’s a decidedly entertaining piece of Raimi-inspired B-horror that has no qualms with getting a little silly but always reels it back in with some disgusting practical effects and a sense of mythology. Sánchez isn’t too concerned with developing his characters. It starts fast and never stops to catch you up. It’ll throw bits of information at you throughout and hint at underlying histories but nothing substantial enough to make them important to you. Where Altered stands out is in its tight and claustrophobic atmosphere that can almost only end in one of two ways: laughter or gore (sometimes a little bit of both). This is a fast paced extraterrestrial horror that subverts the typical abduction story and never forgets to have a good time.