Monday, June 29, 2015


As I mentioned in Part I last week, after my anthology was released late last year from McFarland & Company (James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy, 2014), I spent the next few months weighing several ideas and completing cursory research on my shortlist of ideas that I felt had the most promise for a second book. By the beginning of this year, there was one idea that sifted to the top of my list and that was space horror, in part because I was preparing a presentation on a comic book series, Caliban, by Garth Ennis (Avatar Press), which was a space horror story about the human crew aboard the Caliban and the events that unfold after their ship literally crashed into an alien spacecraft. I presented that paper at Wondercon in early April. Afterwards, I spent another month preparing my pitch.

I pitched my proposal for a collection of essays exploring space horror in films last month. By that time, I had probably watched about 20 – 25 films. Some films I had seen before such as Alien (1979), Event Horizon (1997) and Pitch Black  (2000), but there were some I had not seen before, such as Pandorum (2009), Planet of the Vampires (1965) and The Last Days on Mars (2013). From my viewings, I noticed certain recurring settings, alien manifestations and interactions, and tropes that were repeated often enough that they are worth mentioning.

Event Horizon


I found four central settings or mise-en-scenes that became visible from my research and the settings were used either separately or in combination with each other. The labels I use are based on scientific (astronomy) terms and are bolded below. The first setting takes place entirely or almost exclusively in outer space on a spacecraft or on a space station. Examples would include Event Horizon and Dracula 3000 (2004) because in both of these films, the action takes place entirely on a spacecraft(s). To me, these are ‘pure outer space’ space horror films. The second setting for a space horror story takes place on a planet or moon outside of our solar system. This setting is categorized as Extrasolar and would include Alien and Pandorum. The third setting refers to a story set within our solar system, but not on Earth. These would be known as Extraterrestrial and would include Apollo 18 (2011) and Europa Report (2013) for example. The last setting refers to stories set on Earth and are known as Terrestrial. They are often called “invasion films” and would include Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and The Blob (1958).

As mentioned at the start of this section, I found there was crossover between each film’s setting such as Alien, which took place on a planet outside of our solar system (Extrasolar) briefly, but was for the most of the film, set on a spacecraft. What was interesting is that a majority of the earliest identified space horror films that started appearing in the 1950s - The Thing from Another World (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Blob, and believe it or not, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) – were terrestrial. However, over the intervening decades since these movies premiered, space horror films have diversified from its roots, expanding to all four settings.

The Blob


Every good story has an antagonist. Of space horror films I have watched, most often the nemesis is an alien life form and will usually represent one of three broad categories. The first type of alien is a physical entity unto itself and does not need to inhabit a host. Examples include the alien hunter in the Predator franchise, the alien creatures or bioraptors in Pitch Black, and the watery tentacle creature in Europa Report. 

The second type of alien uses a human as a host, physically or psychologically, and morphs the host so that it is readily apparent to others and at other times, the change is subtle enough to fool the people around them. These aliens are typically some sort of organism or parasite that penetrates the host in a violent way. Doom (2005), The Last Days on Mars (2013) and The Thing (1982) are good examples here. A psychological ‘parasite’ is more difficult to uncover. Solaris (1972) and Sunshine (2007) had apparitions that took up physical space and multiple people could see and interact with them. In each film, individuals were changed psychologically.

The last type of alien transcends the physical plane and is considered paranormal, usually appearing as apparitions or occasionally seeming to take up physical space. In Event Horizon, each crewmember of the Lewis and Clark experience apparitions of individuals from their pasts that only they can see. In the case of Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), he becomes possessed by the spirit aboard the ship and he self-inflicts bodily harm to himself, physically changing his appearance to match the horror and chaos of the alternate dimension the prior crew encountered during their gravity drive experiment. This category also includes the occult oriented aliens, so here’s where those interplanetary vampires and the Cenobites that astronauts sometimes encounter would fit.

There is one other aspect of the alien that needs to be considered: to be or not be a sentient alien. There are aliens that are interpreted as hostile, but in fact, are only driven by the instinct to survive. The bioraptors in Pitch Black are not sentient beings but are an alien species led by their instinct for survival. They are led by the most fundamental need to exist – hence, they have not evolved. On the other hand, one sentient alien being would include the hunter from the Predator franchise. The hunter’s actions are thoughtful and with intent. They have advanced themselves through the development of clothing, armor and technology for example, which they use for the purpose of hunting others. In the former example, the horrifying nature of the film’s aliens boil down to a “survival of the fittest” mentality, while for the latter film, the motivation is more devious and intentional.

Bioraptor from Pitch Black


Below, I have identified a number of recurring tropes during my film watching. I am starting out with the stereotypes that had the strongest validity within the space horror genre, then I will follow up with the remaining tropes that I feel will need more time and analysis. However, I felt they still have importance in this dialogue. 

Sense of Isolation
A sea of black with twinkling stars and glowing planets may provide wonder and awe, but after traveling in space – days, weeks, months, years – isolation sets in and takes a physical and emotional toll on each person. We have seen this countless times – Event Horizon and Europa Report – where bodily fatigue, depression, and an anxiousness to get home to Earth are prevalent. Additionally, space represents danger to humans because there are deadly hazards to space travel: the threat to the air supply if the ship is damaged and the adverse impact of gravity and radiation to the human body.
If a crew finds themselves in trouble, they know they are alone. And if any space horror has taught us, any help will be too far away (months or even years) to be of any assistance because the alien or aliens are faster at annihilation.

Elite squad from Doom

Military and/or Corporate Presence
In many of the space horror films, there is either a military component such as the special elite squad in Doom or the marines in Aliens (1986) for example – or a corporation presence such as Weyland-Yutani throughout the Alien franchise. Eventually, the crew discovers they are expendable in the eyes of the corporation, or alternatively, the military. The crew, or the remains of it, may also identify there is a “turncoat” in the group. An individual will turn, either intentionally or not, against their fellow crewmembers because they are following their corporation’s directive and/or trying save their own skin. This person is a walking dead man.

Returning to Aliens as an example, Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) is a company man and he creates a situation, which Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Newt (Carrie Henn) should be impregnated by an alien. He does this with the intention of smuggling an alien embryo back through intergalactic customs. However, that tactic was foiled. Later, when the aliens are storming the base, Burke becomes scared and tries to save himself, to the detriment of the others. He uses the intended escape route and locks the door so the remaining survivors cannot use that route, but he comes face to face with an alien and his own demise.

High Fatality
In many of the films set in space, there is a limited number of crew, usually ranging between 7 or 8, which is probably the tipping point for the film to have just enough time to introduce and develop each character for the audience to identify with and keep track of during the movie. Alien had seven crewmembers as did Dracula 3000, while Sunshine, Event Horizon, Last Days on Mars, and Doom (the marines) had eight. Some of the outliers included Europa Report with 6, Pandorum with 5, Stranded (2013) with 4, and Apollo 18 with 3, while Pitch Black, Aliens and The Thing had over 8. As a trope device, it is about the right count of deaths for the purpose of pacing tension and suspense.  Ultimately though, the presence of aliens are seriously bad for a human’s longevity and with crews typically averaging around 7 or 8, it doesn’t take long for an alien to get to…..

Ripley from Alien

Sole Survivor
….the sole survivor: This person defies Darwin’s law and either defeats the alien in a climatic battle or is able to escape, until the sequel – think, Ripley from the Alien franchise. In some stories, the last survivor has to complete their task, which will cause their death yet will be for the greater good, such as in Sunshine, Last Days on Mars and Europa Report. We often see this trope utilized in the slasher films where the last survivor is the ‘final girl’ and while that is the case in a few of the space horror films I have watched so far, I think it is the exception rather than the norm. More often, either the entire crew dies or there will be a small number of survivors, usually two or three, such as in Event Horizon, Pitch Black and Pandorum.

‘Uncanny Valley’ or the Evil Android
I noticed that if there is an android or a central computer present in the story, then they usually turn out to have questionable intentions that may or may not lead to the termination of human life. Such is the case with Ash (Ian Holm) in Alien, David (Michael Fassbender) in Prometheus (2012), and Bishop (Lance Henriksen) in Aliens, which were androids made to pass as human and do so for a time during their respective films. Occasionally, instead of an android, there may be a central computer, often referred to as ‘Mother’ and controlled by the military and/or corporate entity within the film. Two examples of this can be found with Alien and with the Japanese anime Lily C.A.T. (1987), which was directly influenced by Alien. I think it is a fascinating concept that I would like to spend more time researching and expanding on in a future blog, especially in light of Isaac Asimov’s laws regarding robotics – robots should not injure humans – and the concept of ‘uncanny valley’ whereas there is an adverse reaction and/or discomfort in humans. 
Example of foreshadowing

Foreshadowing Events via the Ship’s Name
Foreshadowing, the use of a clue in the narrative that eludes to or predicts an event later in the film, is an intriguing concept that has not had much discussion from what I have found thus far. In particular, I think there is a need to mediate the literature, mythology, and real events to their filmic references. For example, Joseph Conrad’s novel Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard (1904) for the Nostromo ship in Alien and the fictional town Sulaco lends its name to the ship in Aliens, while William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1610-11) is referenced in Forbidden Planet (1956). The Icarus I and Icarus II  ships in Sunshine reference Greek mythology, while the Lewis and Clark is the rescue ship in Event Horizon and references the early American explorers.

"Icarus" by Cosmonaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov

Below, I have briefly described a handful of tropes that I am still conceptualizing and will be explored in future blog posts. However, initially I think they are valid points that are worth pointing out, with their significance pending further investigation.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis
The Metamorphosis (1915) written by Franz Kafka is a novella about Gregor Samsa, who wakes up to find himself mysteriously transformed into a large beetle-like insect. Kafka explores Gregor’s adjustment and his family’s response to his transformation. Many of the space horror films involve a transformation of one or more individuals who have been invested with an alien being. The majority of the time in these films, the point of view is from the uninfected humans, but sometimes there are breakout performances: Dr. Weir in Event Horizon, Goat (Ben Daniels) in Doom and Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) in District 9 (2009).

Symbolism & Semiotics
The religious references in Event Horizon, the concept of mother/motherhood in Aliens and the copulating facehuggers of the Alien franchise are just a few of the many examples that could use some semiotic analysis. 

I noted several instances of humor, particularly in the first and second films of the Alien franchise. Humor provides a break in the tension of fear and can result some fantastic memorable lines in the heat of the action.

Dinner table scene from Alien

Gather Around the Table
This is an interesting one because it employs tradition of family and friends breaking bread together. In the films, it becomes a vehicle to gather all of the characters for the purpose of introducing them, revealing the group’s dynamics and relationships, and setting up the story that will unfold. There are meal scenes in the Alien franchise, with the first film having the most famous, but I noticed there are similar scenes in Sunshine, Event Horizon and Europa Report.

Element of Romance
Although one would think that the crew is too busy trying to stay alive in a space horror, there are references to either an established relationship between two of the crewmembers such as Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) in Prometheus, or the potential for a relationship to be hinted at, such as Ripley and Hicks (Michael Biehn) in Aliens and Carolyn (Radha Mitchell) and Riddick (Vin Diesel) in Pitch Black. In Doom, an interracial relationship is brewing between Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike) and Duke (Razaaq Adoti) and Aurora Ash (Erika Eleniak) and Humvee (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister) explore a human and android romance in Dracula 3000. However, I have yet to come across same sex relationships, except in the comic book series, Caliban.

Check back next week where I will begin exploring the themes I listed on my call for papers.

© Copyright. Michele Brittany. 2015. All rights reserved. All text, graphics, and photos are protected by US and International Copyright Laws, and may not be copied, reprinted, published, translated, hosted, or otherwise distributed by any means without written permission.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


After finishing up my first book, James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (2014, McFarland & Company), I spent some months trying to decide the next subject I wanted to explore in an anthology format. I mulled over several ideas, but finally narrowed my scope to two themes and then proposed one, the space horror genre in films. While the theme came quickly, writing the proposal took some time because I needed to revisit some of the seminal films such as Alien (1979) and Event Horizon (1997) as well as several newer films that I hadn’t seen, for example Sunshine (2007) and Pandorum (2009). Since the beginning of the year I have watched approximately 20 – 25 films, which is a drop in the bucket for the number of space horror films made, but they revealed a number of commonalities between them regarding setting, aliens, and tropes of the genre, which I will discuss in Part II. Below, I begin by talking about the beginnings of the genre as well as provide my data set. 


According to an IMDB search of the Sci-Fi horror list, some of the earliest identifiable space horror films that could be identified as a trend in films offered to audience-goers were in the 1950s. Movies like The Thing From Another World (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Blob (1958), and believe it or not, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) introduced fears of invasion and hostile aliens and were allegories of the real threat of nuclear bombs, Communism, and the rising Cold War threat that pervaded society, such as the Civil Defense Films that used Bert the Turtle to teach Americans to duck and cover in case a nuclear bomb was dropped.

The seeds of the genre were planted decades earlier, around the turn of the 20th century, in literature. H.G. Wells and Jules Verne stories of alien invasion inspired the roots of the spy/espionage genre, but it also inspired horror from space. When the concept of moving pictures gained traction within the public psyche and filmmakers were looking for subjects to explore in their films, two films stand out. The first, A Trip to the Moon (1902), by Georges Melies is the story of a group of men that visit the moon via a rocket ship and Melies’ slight of camera lens. Audiences that saw the film were astounded and amazed because the stories up to that point had centered on portraying real life events. Melies’ film sparked imitators. However, it was Ashley Miller’s A Trip to Mars (1910) in which a scientist discovers a powder that causes reversed gravity. The scientist floats to Mars and explores the red planet, which is inhabited by a strange and frightening alien race that look an awfully lot like evil clowns. 

After a brief cinematic foray into space exploration and the potential horrors glimpsed in 1910, it appears that the filmmakers moved onto other topics of interest, but that is unverifiable because the majority of early films have been lost or have decayed beyond restoration. To examine how the genre developed and evolved would require referencing back into the literary output. H.P. Lovecraft’s The Color of Outer Space (1927) followed later by writers Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury with stories like The Martian Chronicles (1950) for example added breath and depth to the genre.

As the 1950s began, so too did the interest in science and space, in a post-World War environment that had been rocked by the development and use of atomic warfare. The Cold War was warming up and the spirit of competition in all arenas became of importance to the USSR and US. It should come as no surprise that cinema, established as a influencing media conduit to society, perpetuated the tension and fears of the decade as mentioned at the beginning of this section. The decade provided space horror in the guise of alien invasions, either out in the open as in War of the Worlds or more covert and sinister, as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Blog. While small town America was being inundated with little green men, interest in what life was like on other planets were being conceptualized, such as Altair IV in Forbidden Planet (1956) and Metaluna in This Island Earth (1955), but were minimal in comparison to the multitude of invasions that ravaged Earth.

The 1950s were the heyday of the invasion films, but interest waned in the 1960s for spies and cowboys and to the crime/vengeance and slasher films of the 1970s. However, the space in ‘space horror’ would be resoundingly added into the term with Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien, which follows the story of the Nostromo crew as they explore the mysterious abandoned ship on LV-426 and encounter a new and hostile alien species. The idea of being in space, far from home with limited precious resources (eg. oxygen) struck fear into the crew and the audience. Scott’s film was one of the first movies to successfully combine science fiction and horror in an interstellar setting and spawned several inferior imitations in the 1980s.

As the Alien franchise continued to churn out sequels further exploring Ripley’s relationship with the Xenomorphs, by the mid 1990s, formerly successful earth-bound franchises were turning to space in an effort to revitalize their films, such as Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) and Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997). It was with Event Horizon (1997), which embodied a complex story of religious symbolism and paranormal within the familiar slasher and haunted house tropes that rejuvenated the genre and further defined it.

In the 21st century, space horror films are still finding an audience, but not necessarily the financial backing of mainstream dramas, superheroes and romantic comedies. That said, in the last few years, there have been some fascinating films that has continued to explore and jeopardize our existence: Sunshine in 2007, Moon and Pandorum in 2009, and Europa Report in 2013.

There are outliers, as in any genre. One is the psychological space horror that began with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Andre Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), which was recently remade in 2002. Another group are the alien abduction films – Communion (1989), Fire In the Sky (1993) – and the concept of the “uncanny valley” were explored between Ripley and Bishop in the Alien franchise and with David in Prometheus (2012). There are others and those will be discussed further in the section on space horror tropes.


As mentioned earlier, I watched and revisited some of the space horror genre films I have in my collection already or was able to stream on Netflix in alphabetical order. I included their year of release and director details:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)
Dead Space: Downfall (2008, Chuck Patton)
Doom (2005, Andrzej Bartkowiak)
Dracula 3000 (2004, Darrell Roodt)
Europa Report (2013, Sebastian Cordero)
Event Horizon (1997, Paul W.S. Anderson)
Extraterrestrial (2014, Colin Minihan)
Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter)
Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996, Kevin Yagher & Joe Chappelle)
Lily C.A.T. (1987, Hisayuki Toriumi)
Pandorum (2009, Christian Alvart)
Pitch Black (2000, David Twohy)
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959, Ed Wood)
Planet of the Vampires (1965, Mario Bava)
Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott)
Slither (2006, James Gunn)
Snow Devils (1967, Antonio Margheriti)
Solaris (1972, Andrei Tarkovsky)
Stranded (2013, Roger Christian)
Sunshine (2007, Danny Boyle)
The Blob (1958, Irvin Yeahworth)
The Last Days on Mars (2013, Ruairi Robinson)
The Monolith Monsters (1957, John Sherwood)
This Island Earth (1955, Joseph M. Newman & Jack Arnold)

And here is a short list of additional films that I have watched, although not recently:

Beware! The Blob (1972, Larry Hagman)
Communion (1989 Philippe Mora)
Fire in the Sky (1993 Robert Lieberman)
Forbidden Planet (1956, Fred M. Wilcox)
Invaders from Mars (1953, Cameron Menzies)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, Don Siegel)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Philip Kaufman)
Night of the Creeps (1986, Fred Dekker)
Species (1995, Roger Donaldson)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, Robert Wise)
The Quatermass Experiment (1953, Val Guest)
The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)
They Live (1988, John Carpenter)
War of the Worlds (1953, Bryon Haskin)

Check back next week for the second part of this introduction where I will discuss space horror settings, aliens and tropes.

© Copyright. Michele Brittany. 2015. All rights reserved. All text, graphics, and photos are protected by US and International Copyright Laws, and may not be copied, reprinted, published, translated, hosted, or otherwise distributed by any means without written permission.

Poster art from Francesco Francavilla

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Call for Papers: Essays on Space Horror in Film, 1950s - 2000s

Call for Papers
Essays on Space Horror in Film, 1950s – 2000s
Abstract Submission Deadline: August 25, 2015

In 1979, the word A L I E N was spelled out across the top of an ominous movie poster, conveying a sense of foreboding of something unknown. An eerie yellow light seeped out of the egg-shaped space pod with the tagline: In space no one hears you scream. Audiences were drawn along with the Nostromo crew as they explored the mysterious abandoned ship on LV-426 and encountered a new and hostile alien species. It was one of the first movies to successfully combine science fiction and horror in an interstellar setting, spawning several inferior imitations in the 1980s while also inspiring standout films that furthered the genre, such as Event Horizon (1997), Pitch Black (2000), Sunshine (2007), and Europa Report (2013). While it may have seemed like space horror was a new genre after the release of Ridley Scott’s film, the genre has a rich history that took hold of movie audience-goers almost thirty years prior with the space horror films that could best be classified as invasion films. With a plethora of films, much has been written about science fiction, horror or on individual films (mostly the Alien franchise), yet surprisingly, little analysis can be found on space horror as its own genre in cinema. Essays for this anthology will seek to deconstruct and analyze the genre via the films from 1950s through the present offerings with the goal of exploring and bridging the gap of critical analysis that currently exists between science fiction and the horror genres. The intended audience is expected to include individuals studying and/or curious to increase their understanding of science fiction, horror and of course, space horror. 
There are several themes worth exploring when analyzing space horror, utilizing any number of theoretical framework of your choosing. Here is a brief list of ideas, which is by no means exhaustive:

  • Claustrophobia, Outer Space fears (Pandorum, Dark Star, Europa Report, The Black Hole)
  • The influence of slasher films (Alien, Event Horizon, Jason X, Sunshine, Leprechaun 4: In Space)
  • Psychological (2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Sunshine, Moon)
  • Body Horror and/or transformation (Supernova, Event Horizon, Hellraiser: Bloodline, Slither)
  • Final girl (Alien, Prometheus, Dead Space: Downfall)
  • Paranormal/Occult (Event Horizon, Hellraiser: Bloodline, Dracula 3000, Ghosts of Mars)
  • Cold War fears (most invasion films of the 1950s – 1970s)
  • Doppelganger (Event Horizon, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, Moon)
  • Compare/Contrast maleficent vs. animal “aliens” (Xenomorphs in Alien franchise vs. alien species encountered in Pitch Black, Apollo 18, Europa Report for example)
  • Alien abduction (Communion, Fire In The Sky, Extraterrestrial)
  • Found footage (Europa Report, Apollo 18)
  • Sacrifice of self and/or self-destruct sequence (Alien franchise, Event Horizon, Critters 4, The Last Days on Mars)
  • Role of AI, robotics and/or the concept of “uncanny valley” (Alien franchise, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Prometheus, Dracula 3000)
  • Bram Stoker and Space Vampires (Dracula 3000, Planet of the Vampires, Lifeforce)
  • Exploring Literary roots such as H.P. Lovecraft, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, etc.
I am accepting up to two abstracts in order to assemble the most cohesive arrangement of essays that will provide a well-rounded exploration and representation of this little discussed genre. The deadlines are as follows:

  • August 25, 2015: Abstract of 300-500 words, 1 page CV, preliminary draft bibliography
  • September 1, 2015: Notification of acceptance/rejection (editor will send comprehensive style sheet)
  • January 31, 2016: Essays due of 5,000-8,000 words in length (earlier submissions welcomed and encouraged)
  • February 1 - April 20, 2016: Essays will be edited and returned to the author for review and revision. The final version of the essay, author’s release and a brief contributor’s bio is due to the editor by April 20, 2016
  • June 1, 2016: Manuscript is received by the publisher
Accepted essays received on or before January 31st will continue through the editing process. The editor will utilize Microsoft Word’s tracking function to record all edits and return the edited version back to the author for final correction.

The final manuscript will be delivered to the publisher June 1, 2016. Contributors will receive a complimentary book copy when published, which is anticipated for late 2016. 

Please direct all correspondence to:
Michele Brittany, Editor

Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar residing in Southern California and is the editor of James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (2014, McFarland & Company). She is the James Bond, Espionage and Eurospy Area Chair for the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association’s annual conference. She is a West Coast Correspondent for Bleeding Cool and writes daily on all things spy related at her blog, Spy-Fi & Superspies. She annually presents at the SWPACA and has presented at Wondercon Anaheim as part of the Comic Arts Conference series. She is also an academic member of the Horror Writer’s Association in Los Angeles.