Cinematically speaking, this time of year is ruled by horror films. That’s a no-brainer. It’s fall, the days are shorter, the nights are darker, and then there’s that whole Halloween thing going on. This is the perfect time for the creepys and crawlys and mass murderys to figure into your movie-watching regime. Horror and science fiction, however, have always been close bedfellows. Not only are they largely relegated to the periphery, snubbed by academia, and looked down as “genre” (just ask any writer that has spent any time anywhere near a literature department what the smartypants folks think of sci-fi), but thematically and subject wise there has always been shared DNA. Depending on who you ask, Alien is either a perfect sci-fi movie with horror elements, or a perfect horror movie with sci-fi elements.
Going back to Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938, Halloween has been used to mask sci-fi-based incursions into our world. What better chance do aliens, creatures from beyond our solar system, and monsters of all shapes and sizes have to blend into our world and walk around unnoticed, like nothing is out of the ordinary? In that spirit, here is a list of five science fiction movies that, at least in part, use All Hallow’s Eve as a backdrop.
E.T the Extra-Terrestrial
What better way to hide your cuddly little alien buddy than under a sheet with eyeholes cut out? That’s how Elliot (Henry Thomas) conceals E.T. in order to take the little guy out trick or treating in perhaps the most adorable movie science fiction/Halloween crossover of all time. In a weird nod to a trope more in line with slasher movies than family friendly sci-fi, Steven Spielberg places the viewer under the sheet. You’re even privy to E.T.’s point of view, experiencing the world as he does. What does he possibly make of seeing a zombie shuffle past, or Yoda staring him down? We’d want to phone home, too.
While Tim Burton’s biopic, Ed Wood, isn’t a straight-up sci-fi movie, per say, he and star Johnny Depp give audiences a glimpse behind the curtain at the man who created Plan 9 From Outer Space, one of the most notorious genre films of all time. It is on Halloween, watching Vampira present a forgotten horror classic, that Ed and Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) first create the shared bond that would redefine the lives of both men. When Lugosi, dressed in his iconic Dracula costume, frightens away all but one of a group of trick or treaters, one remains, claiming the teeth don’t frighten him. But when Ed pops out and removes his own false teeth—he lost his originals in the war—that does the trick. It’s fantastic moment that is both funny and sweet.
Halloween has long been respite for weird kids, outsiders, and troubled teens, and the titular Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) embodies all three of these. A dude named Frank dressed in a creepy rabbit costume figures prominently in the time travel heavy plot, and the twisted events of the film come to a grim, surreal climax on the last day of October, with a Halloween house party, an ill-fated robbery (featuring Seth Rogan in his first movie role), and an unfortunate plane crash. The impending holiday provides a sinister air to the proceedings, illustrating how easily childish mischief can transform into something much darker. And it gives an excuse to play some sweet 80s jams as members of the Gyllenhaal family walk through a party in slow motion.
C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D.
A sequel to C.H.U.D, the 1984, mutant homeless creature feature, C.H.U.D. II the monsters, who are originally twisted and misshapen by toxic waste hidden below the streets of Manhattan, are, in this tenuously-connected sequel, little more than blue-painted zombies. Following a similar strategy as E.T., Bud the C.H.U.D. freely roams the streets with impunity provided by the cover of Halloween. This is also more of an ill-advised horror-comedy than straight-up mutants emerging out of the sewers to chow down unsuspecting, or unbelieving, citizens. But what else would a bunch of slacker teenagers do when they stumble across a wayward experimental military super soldier besides befriend him and take him on a bunch of wacky adventures.
This 1990 sci-fi comedy harkens all the way back to Welles and his War of the Worlds hoax. When the wildly incompetent crew of a Martian spaceship mistakes a rebroadcast of the radio show as a call to arms, they don’t want to be left out of the action, and invade a small Illinois town. Things don’t really go their way, however, since it’s Halloween, and almost everyone assumes that these are just kids in inexplicably elaborate costumes. There are shenaningans, a donut of destruction, and the threat of an imminent black hole.
What are your favorite films to watch around Halloween? Do you like to keep it strictly horror, or do you like to throw a little sci-fi mayhem into mix?