The best science-fiction scary movies for halloween, according to an expert in horror

“David Cronenberg’s penchant for body horror has never been put to better use” … Jeff Goldblum in The Fly

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I’m a horror nerd by trade. I completed a PhD on the subject and now I am the creator of Talking Scared, a podcast of conversations with the biggest names in the field. To settle on a concise list of science fiction horror films for spooky season, I had to winnow down the cross-pollinating history of the two genres. After all, horror and science fiction have had their tentacles entwined since Frankenstein’s monster first opened his yellowed eyes. My solution is to focus on films in which science and technology are the most substantial source of terror. That excludes a lot of amazing movies – there is no Alien, The Thing or Nope on this list – but here, in reverse order, are my choices for the greatest science fiction horror movies of recent decades.

Science may seek answers, but this adaption of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel is more interested in ambiguity. The film follows an all-female group of scientists on an expedition into the “Shimmer”, a zone of high strangeness colonising Florida after a meteorite impact. The interior of the Shimmer is far more alien than any simple extraterrestrial encounter: there are fungal humanoids, mutated animals and a final confrontation that will leave viewers bewildered and bouncing between awe and despair. Alex Garland’s film aims for the psychedelia of Kubrick’s 2001, but it also contains a bear attack that will scare you in far more earthly ways.

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Natalie Portman and Gina Rodriguez in Annihilation

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As mentioned above, sci-fi horror began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the character of the mad professor has been a staple of the genre ever since. In this schlocky, technicolour adaptation of a H. P. Lovecraft story, the sinister Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is busy perfecting his technique for reinvigorating the dead. However, they come back wrong, leading to both violence and a squirmy, oh-so-80s sleaze. Everything about the film is lurid, from the Day-Glo colours of the chemicals to the copious glistening innards, but Re-Animator is not a film that could ever be accused of taking itself too seriously.

If Re-Animator is a fun offspring of Frankenstein, Splice is the truly monstrous progeny. Vincenzo Natali’s film is another take on laboratory hubris, but what begins as a cautionary tale about genetic engineering becomes something wholly more disturbing. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play a pair of scientists in love, whose attempt to splice animal and human DNA births the humanoid Dren. She’s cute to begin with, but we all know this act of godlike creation isn’t going to have a happy ending. Dren’s development provides some quite stunning creature design, as well as a shocking series of events that may constitute the most violent puberty of all time.

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“Monstrous progeny” … Splice

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It’s hard to say too much about The Endless without spoiling the intricacies that make it tick so perfectly. Let’s just say that time travel is an under-exploited source of terror in sci-fi horror and directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are perhaps the first to plumb the sheer existential dread of temporal displacement. The film begins with two brothers paying a visit to the cult they were members of as children. That set-up is creepy enough, but the truth they discover is frightening in that 3am way, when thoughts of eternal torment rise to your mind. (Or is that just me?)

Leigh Whannel transmuted the familiar Invisible Man into a tech-driven tale of domestic torment. Elisabeth Moss plays Cee, wife of wealthy “optics engineer” Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who is abusing her. When Griffin appears to die, it seems that Cee is finally free, but soon she comes to realise her husband is very much alive and is using his own tech to remain invisible. It’s a kind of technological haunting, a genuine white-knuckle piece of cinema, in which every dark corner contains potential menace. The Invisible Man was released on the cusp of the pandemic, meaning most people saw this at home. If anything, that makes the viewing all the more effective. You think your living room is empty… but is it?


Japanese film-makers were well ahead of the techno-horror curve around the turn of the millennium. From the cursed videotape in Ring (1998) to the, erm, cursed mobile phone in One Missed Call (2003), J-horror captured the anxieties of our newly digital culture. Pulse, however, offers the scariest proposition of all: the internet is sending ghosts to kill us! In the decades since, the web has become a more commonplace site of torment (see 2020’s pandemic-defining Zoom horror Host), but Pulse was the first to really tap into the way that online spaces can make humanity disappear, both literally and figuratively.

In good hands, the social sciences can be every bit as frightening as the most malign technology. The Spanish-language thought-experiment, The Platform, is set in an absurdist many-tiered prison, through which a descending platform carries a daily feast. There is enough for everyone if the prisoners take only what they need. If they don’t, those at the bottom starve. Cue an astonishingly vicious satire of personal greed versus community good. It may be my favourite film of recent years and I only wish more people could see it. The Platform could change the way we think about our consumption and our responsibilities, but it also has an awesome swordfight.

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“An astonishingly vicious satire of personal greed versus community good” … The Platform

Brandon Cronenberg is the son of body horror maestro David Cronenberg. In Possessor, the inheritance is clear. This is a gnarly movie, full of blood splatter, eye trauma and gore of the highest calibre. The technological premise is ripe for nightmares: Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, an assassin able to commandeer the bodies of others to carry out her hits. When Vos ports herself into Colin (Christopher Abbott), he won’t submit easily, leading to most brutal identity crisis ever seen on screen. Possessor resembles a Black Mirror episode on amphetamines: not for the faint-stomached, but brimming with ideas.

What the son can do so well, the father can do even better. The Fly is a B-movie elevated to tragedy, when Jeff Goldblum’s handsomely mad scientist inadvertently mingles his DNA with that of a common housefly. His slow, transformative deterioration into “Brundlefly” is chronicled in hideous detail, but it’s his loss of inner self that hurts. David Cronenberg’s penchant for body horror has never been put to better use, but by injecting some warmth into his typically frigid film-making, he created a masterpiece of mad science.

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“A haunted-house-in-space movie” … Event Horizon

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After nine movies, we finally get off our planet with a true cult classic. Maligned on release, Event Horizon rivals Alien as the best film ever set on a terrifyingly Gothic spaceship. Science is more central to Paul W. S. Anderson’s movie, though, with wormholes, hyperdrives and “folded space” playing their part in the titular ship’s mysterious reappearance. The question is: where has the Event Horizon been? And what has it brought back with it? This is a haunted-house-in-space movie, in which a rag-tag rescue crew is killed and/or psychologically unravelled by the demonic spaceship, but it is the few seconds of video footage revealing the horrific fate of the original crew that will really stay with you beyond Halloween.


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