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By Nguyen Le · March 20, 2014
Movies like to answer the ultimate question ‘is there life out in space’ in many ways – undeniably cute (E.T.), maybe quirky (Evolution) or just downright scary… as this list will show. Come and see the ten films that prove aliens have fright, and not peace, to give to Earthlings.
10. Attack the Block (2011)
This underrated and trust-me-subtitles-are-required British gem is not horror but does contain a very terrifying kind of alien. It’s intimidating – looking like a gorilla, “invisible” because it has jet-black fur, made-to-hurt claws and has razor-sharp glowing-in-the-dark rows of teeth. Attack the Block is a great watch but, again, since its main focus is not to scare you with those aliens (or scare you, in fact), I just can’t place it higher.
9. Dark Skies (2013)
The latest entry on this list was released in cinema’s dumping month of February but guess what: it does scare. With restraint, Scott Stewart, director of mediocre CGI-laden fests Legion and Priest, has made a rather spooky alien film. Although there are certain elements that hurt Dark Skies – a walking expository device aka J.K. Simmons’s character, moments of obvious CGI work and a rather overdone ending – Stewart’s approach in making these visitors like the boogeyman earns this a spot on the list… but as you can see the number before the title, it’s far from being the scariest.
8. Predator (1987)
True, it’s a testosterone-fueled action feature with an alien in tow, but the true star turns out to be the latter instead of The Governator. Like another film on the list, Predator knows the feeling of being stalked is more terrifying than knowing who’s stalking you and the alien in here can be invisible, has high-tech weapons and, oh dear god, those sleepless nights-inducing mandibles. Thank you, Stan Winston, for creating an alien we won’t soon forget.
7. The Blob (1988)
Yes, it’s pink and, uh-huh, you can say that it looks like phlegm. Also don’t forget: it’s the deadliest thing the townsfolk of Arborville will get to know. I do admit it looks silly but to think how this alien has no shape, gradually gets bigger after every person consumed and said person is being decomposed/suffocated, this jelly is a product of the nightmare machine. Although made in 1988, the effects are far from dated – the film’s many kills and sewer chase can still make you cringe.
6. The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
Maybe a controversial choice because Mothman isn’t officially an alien – but there are theories he is one so I’ll count that. Based on the novel from John Keel, this psychological thriller/horror film, while on the whole seems like unclear about its destination, does creep under your skin because of masterful direction from Mark Pellington (Arlington Road), unexpectedly haunting score from tomandandy (The Strangers) and solid pacing that provides a thick sense of mystery. It’s truly the unknown that fears us the most.
5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Maybe if you go out today, showing no emotion equal people giving strange looks and a whole lot of questions. But what if this becomes the factor deciding whether you live or die? The film scares you in a different way – the creature is another human being like you, your neighbors and friends. If there’s a good time to be a recluse, it’s after seeing this film or, to be more specific, its final moments. You should know too there are 4 versions of The Body Snatchers, all are inspired by Jack Finney’s novel, and the one with Donald Sutherland comes highly recommended.
4. Signs (2002)
When Shyamalan still understands ‘good filmmaking’, this family drama/crisis of faith/atmospheric alien horror proudly stands among what I consider as his best film Unbreakable. Unlike Independence Day, for its setting Signs move further inland – avoiding a tired cliché of a notable city turning into rubble and making our fear of aliens more tangible. The scares are effective because there’s a build-up and the antagonist is out of sight for most of the time. Watch out for the birthday party scene – and you’re welcome for the warning.
3. Fire in the Sky (1993)
The shocking thing about Fire in the Sky is not because it features Paul Rudd acting serious but in the way it approaches the alien sub-genre. Based on the book and supposedly true story of alien abductee Travis Walton, the film generates scares because of how mysterious everything is and the fact that the movie doesn’t care to explain them. While the latter may, pun intended, alienate most viewers, by placing the audience on the same level of understanding/perspective of the main characters, Fire in the Sky rattles your core first instead of your skin. Challenge of the day: try not to be shocked at the abduction scenes.
2. The Thing (1982)
Less muscle-bound than Predator, but with no less display of macho-ism. Has an alien like Predator, but to me is ten times more terrifying. The alien here: (1) has no distinct shape and when it does it looks exactly like someone you know, (2) does gross things to the body it inhabits you and (3) will badly haunt your dreams. Possibly one of the best horror films ever made, but undoubtedly one of the scariest aliens of the silver screen. Note: when someone asks about the high-on-CGI remake, reply with “what remake?”
1. Alien (1979)
Perhaps straightforward is the order of the day – the title, the execution and the titular creature that roams the Nostromo. Although renowned directors like James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet all have the Xenomorph in their filmographies, seems to me only the one helmed by Sir Ridley Scott truly knows how to scare. There’s no computer work involved for the alien (just a really tall and slender actor) and that’s why don’t be surprised at how easy meeting it in your nightmares (this I know). To end the list on a more cheerful note, here’s a (bad) joke: the Xenomorph in Alien is worrisome because it’s tall and dark but not very handsome.