There is something so captivating about looking at the night sky and wandering what hides behind the stars. It provides an endless trove of unbeknownst delights for filmmakers to mine; resulting in some of the most imaginative and scary movie monsters to ever grace the screen.
Heavy on body-horror and light on peace, love and understanding, the following extra-terrestrials and their respective movies penetrate our fears and invade our consciousness, with themes that are still prevalent today.
It did take until 1979 before shit got serious, though. My first introduction to the wonderful genre known as Sci-Fi/Horror was as a young kid witnessing Alien. The now 38-year old film is a landmark cultural phenomenon whose extra-terrestrial beastie stands tall as the genre’s defining icon. The phallus-headed creature is of course the nightmare of Swiss-surrealist H.R Giger, brought to life by a 7-ft Nigerian actor named Bolaji Badejo. Even though the art of the man-in-a-rubber-suit has been lost somewhat in today’s mainstream Sci-Fi films, nothing comes close to terrifying as much as Ridley Scott’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shots of Bolaji stalking the sets of the Nostromo.
John Carpenter’s The Thing followed a few years later in 1982, featuring a shape-shifting monster rampaging through an isolated Antarctic outpost. Just like Alien is so “alien”, The Thing is the very definition of “thing”. It’s an indescribable menace taking more than one form throughout the course of the movie, including that of a spider-head thing which is still legitimately jaw dropping to this day. Easily one of the finest Sci-Fi/Horror films ever made, alien movie monsters were in fine shape heading into my next choice.
Next up is James Cameron’s Aliens from 1986. Cameron had the unenviable task of replicating the claustrophobic chills of Ridley Scott’s ’79 masterpiece, but instead, he changed the template and made an action thriller. The Giger beastie returned with a domeless ribbed head which doesn’t quite strike the same note for me, but Cameron did introduce the Queen Alien who more than makes up for it. Legendary special-effects artist Stan Winston created the Queen from Cameron’s sketches, building miniature and full-scale puppets. Sequels tend to have a habit of going bigger and not quite pulling it off; Aliens is one of the exceptions.
Stan Winston was in a rich vein of form at this point concerning monsters from beyond the stars and this one he was fully responsible for, from conceptions to the screen (even asking for James Cameron’s critique). Predator, released in 1987, features an extra-terrestrial as nasty as any other movie monster we’d seen before; but in a unique twist, the Predator of Predator is technologically advanced and has a moral code (“he didn’t kill you because you weren’t armed – no sport”). The sadistic Alien killer boasts kickass dreadlocks and a mask – pushing him near-the-top of the coolest looking movie monsters ever.
Fire In The Sky (1993) hones its chills closer to home more than any other mentioned on this list so far; based on a “true story”, the film centres on Travis Walton’s mysterious disappearance in Arizona across five days in 1975. I would consider Fire In The Sky something of an overlooked gem, if only for the harrowing abduction sequence featuring some bulbous-headed Aliens styled after your classic “Grey Aliens”. Like Alien, Fire In The Sky taps into our fear of forced bodily intrusion in a manner that’ll make you wince and squirm.
Species arrived in 1995 starring Natasha Henstridge as Sil, a seductive Alien woman hellbent on being impregnated before she’s taken down by a crack team of cockblocks. It’s all as ridiculous as it sounds really – though the H.R Giger designed Sil may give you a nightmare or two. 1996 saw Independence Day really thrust killer space Aliens into the mainstream – the Will Smith/Jeff Goldblum-starrer was the biggest film of the year and features an Alien threat to match – a bipedal, exoskeleton-wearing space invader.
Perhaps partly spurred on by the phenomenal success of Independence Day, Sony released Starship Troopers in 1997. Criminally underrated – Starship Troopers is unashamedly over-the-top and gory as hell – and director Paul Verhoeven realises intergalactic space-bug war like no one has since. 20 years on and if you want to see mass-scale arachnids vs human carnage this is still the definitive jewel in the crown. The Brain Bug by Studio ADI is still a gnarly animatronic!
In Part Deux I’ll be discussing some of the monsters from outer-space the ‘noughties have brought us – do any of them join the pantheon of greats alongside Alien and Predator? Or should they be shovelled into a space capsule and fired into the Sun? Find out next time!