Sure, you’ve seen Alien. Maybe you’ve even seen Species or Galaxy of Terror or some of the other imitators that Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic spawned. But chances are you haven’t seen all 13 of these sci-fi horror films that go far beyond outer space—and sometimes much closer to home—to remind you of how scary science can be, especially when it’s literally getting under your skin.
Europa Report (2013)
In space, no one may be able to hear you scream, but how about when you’re broadcasting information from your trip back to earth? Europa Report takes the found footage formula where it has never gone before—on a lengthy voyage to Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon. While the crew has to deal with plenty of mechanical and logistical issues along the way—along with all the expected interpersonal difficulties that come with spending months together inside a big metal can in space—the real horror kicks in when they reach the surface. There, they find something lying in wait unlike anything they expected…
Sea Fever (2019)
A parable about our collective responsibility for global climate change and a tense, taut, claustrophobic thriller in the tradition of John Carpenter’s cult classic The Thing, this Irish flick from director Neasa Hardiman follows a brilliant but antisocial marine biology student. As part of a research project, Siobhan boards a fishing trawler that comes across something strange in the water—and ends up infiltrating their water supply.
Phase IV (1974)
The sole feature-length directing credit of famed graphic designer Saul Bass (perhaps best known for the opening credit sequence of Psycho, along with plenty of other legendary flicks) is this weird movie about ants forming a collective intelligence and going to war against humans. It’s Bass’s take on Them!, only this time the ants are regular-sized. And it’s a whole lot more psychedelic. Love it or loathe it, you’ve probably never seen anything else quite like it.
Shin Godzilla (2016)
While Hollywood was making their 2014 version of Godzilla with director Gareth Edwards (whose 2010 debut, Monsters, could easily be on this list), Toho decided to turn to some members of the creative team behind Neon Genesis Evangelion to update Godzilla for modern Japanese audiences and, in the process, make the creature truly scary for possibly the first time since 1954. A pitch-black satire of bureaucracy in the face of catastrophe, Shin Godzilla won the Japan Academy Film Prize for Best Picture the year it came out, and has probably never felt more resonant than it does right now.
Back when movies were still getting released in movie theaters, Underwater snuck out to a relatively-unheralded January release, which is too bad, because it’s definitely a summer movie in the Alien vein. Kristen Stewart plays one of the survivors of an earthquake that struck a deep-sea drilling operation. The remaining crew must cross a treacherous stretch of sea floor in order to survive. As a disaster movie, Underwater would already be pretty compelling, but it doesn’t end there. It seems that the earthquake also woke something up that dwells on the bottom of the ocean…
The Platform (2019)
This Spanish flick about haves and have-nots garnered plenty of praise at film festivals before finally showing up on Netflix. The premise is simple enough: Inside a vertical prison, with one cell per level and two people per cell, a platform descends through the middle of each cell with food enough for all the prisoners. The catch is, it starts at the top and goes to the bottom, meaning that those in the highest cells have plenty of opportunities to help themselves to the best—or to much more than they need—before it moves on down. Not exactly subtle, but effective, nonetheless.
You’ve seen Aliens and maybe you’ve even seen Event Horizon, but if you’re looking for the exact middle ground between the two, try out this high-concept sci-fi horror feature starring Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster. The creatures in this may be a little more like Firefly’s Reavers than Alien’s xenomorphs, but their origins, when revealed, are pretty freaky, and there’s plenty of heady stuff going on in the dark corridors of the seemingly abandoned ship.
Devil’s Pass (2013)
It may be getting into spoiler territory to even put this low-budget found footage flick from director Renny Harlin on a sci-fi list, but we’ll keep the details vague. Trading in a bunch of different conspiracy theories and urban legends, this British/Russian co-production sees a group of hikers exploring the Dyatlov Pass incident—eventually settling on an out-there conclusion to the real-life mystery.
Await Further Instructions (2018)
Christmas spent with the family can already be awkward—especially when everyone has dramatic differences in political ideology. This is taken to the nth degree in Await Further Instructions, as the Milgram family finds themselves trapped inside their suburban home, forced to follow increasingly dehumanizing instructions from their TV set in this Twilight Zone-esque political fable.
The Vast of Night (2020)
Speaking of Twilight Zone-esque: UFOlogists rejoice; you finally have your own low-fi, mumblecore movie about a radio DJ and a switchboard operator who become caught up in the strange happenings that affect their New Mexico town one seemingly quiet night in the 1950s. While just about everyone in town is at the basketball game, something strange is hovering in the sky overhead in this inventive and astonishing debut thriller from director Andrew Patterson.
Filmed “without a crew and without a script,” Coherence follows eight friends—played by improvisational actors who were given the sketches of their characters but no specific lines—as their world begins to come apart after the passing of a comet. Faced with the mind-bending idea that the world may have fractured into more than one reality, the group finds itself in an increasingly desperate situation.
Seven strangers wake up in a strange, cube-shaped room, with no memory of how they got there. As they start to explore, they find that the room is part of a seemingly endless maze of other, identical rooms. Well, not quite identical: some of the rooms contain deadly traps. Why are they there and, more importantly, how will they survive?
Mimic 3: Sentinel (2003)
What if you wanted to remake Rear Window but you also needed to make a low-budget, direct-to-video sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s big bug movie Mimic? If you were director J. T. Petty, you’d make this weird flick about an environmentally hypersensitive shut-in photographer who begins to suspect that his neighbor is one of the human-sized insects thought to be extinct.
Featured still from "Underwater" via 20th Century Fox