Remember When Sci-Fi & Horror Were the Same?

      6 Comments on Remember When Sci-Fi & Horror Were the Same?

“It’s 1984 and you’re seated in a dark theater. A beautiful woman … is on the run from an unstoppable killing machine, a marginally human force focused only on death. Her death. Shoot it, light it on fire, blow it up … it just won’t stop. Merciless and unrelenting, its sole goal is to kill this particular woman, preferably in some unspeakably horrible way.

“Now answer me this: Are you watching The Terminator or one of the Friday the 13th flicks?”

Such is the premise of an interesting post by Todd Brown over at AMC’s SciFi Scanner. It’s a great point, and he traces it all the way back to the granddaddy of all genre-bending classics, Frankenstein — a “horror” monster created through scientific means. So where do you draw the line … and why are we even drawing lines to begin with? Give it a read, and let me know what you think.

6 thoughts on “Remember When Sci-Fi & Horror Were the Same?

  1. Tara

    Right. I just reat the post, and it is indeed quite the evoker of the deep thoughts.

    Hmmm, where to begin? Well, I’m a sci-fi lover. Always have been, ever since I first watched the original Star Trek episodes on Saturday mornings when I was a kid, after all the cartoons were over. (And the funny thing is that when I watch them now I can’t help but notice how cheesy they were, and what a God awful actor Shatner was, but I digress)

    And yet, for the most part, I have a real problem with horror. I just can’t watch it, it gives me hives, it makes me gag, I have nightmares. I completely realize how strange it can be that I find the chest-bursting scene of Alien “cool”, but something like “Saw” or “Hostel” downright nasty.

    What’s the difference, right? I think Todd hit the nail on the head when he says that modern horror roots the terror in a person rather than in a “thing”. I can’t really explain it any other way. It’s just more creepy when it’s a person responsible for all the gratuitous violence.

    Having said that, even though I see his point that aliens and gadgets are today’s magic and faeries, I still can’t make the leap that fantasy and sci-fi and horror are all one and the same, but for a few terminologies.

    So yeah, food for thought, definitely.

    Oh, and I cringe at the mere mention of Event Horizon. Gad, that movie was awful.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. GeekBoy

    That’s actually a valid distinction, and I was thinking about that as I was reading Tara’s response. What I used to think of as horror when I was a kid and what’s horror now are two different things. Because I used to love horror movies, but now it’s all “torture porn” like Saw, and I find that I have no interest in it. I’m not even sure it’s so much the “person VS thing” argument that Todd makes as it is the implied and sometimes explicit sadism that underlies some of those movies.

    In 1984, Jason and the Terminator were similar because for the most part, they were both “things” — human-like, but not truly human, with inflexible agendas. But somebody who orchestrates a series of sadistic life-or-death puzzles? That’s not horror … that’s just real people being sick bastards. It’s the difference between being fascinated by Freddy Kruger and being fascinated by a real life serial killer who preys on children.

    What intrigues me are the differing ways that “horror” and “sci-fi” seem to digest social angst. Because most horror these days, in particular the torture porn, seems to me a reflection of a shared social disgust with things like war, terrorism, and Guantanamo Bay. And over on the sci-fi side, we see an overwhelming preponderance of clones, human-looking robots, shapeshifters, and people hiding secret powers — which seems to be a reflection of a shared angst about who we can and can’t trust. Is that person a terrorist? Or worse, a Republican?! (Or a Democrat, for those of you on the other side of the aisle.) Is my government hiding something from me? These issues create stress for us, and so for some reason it helps to see similar dynamics played out on the TV and in movies.

  3. Tara

    You’re right, horror and slasher aren’t the same thing anymore.

    My first “horror” movie was some B-movie where the evil thing was manifested by a disembodied hand that sort of scurries after big-busted blond 20-something year olds screaming their heads off. No idea what it was called. Pretty pathetic really, but I was absolutely TERRIFIED.

    2 huge differences in scifi and horror that really change the way I experience the films. 1- the soundtrack. Terminator is all DUNH-DUNH-dun-da-DUNH and Jason is just plain creepy (not Halloween creepy, but still). 2- the reactions of the main characters. Yeah, Sarah Connor is scared, but she’s not as “helpless” as the counselors of Crystal Lake. The victims are proactive. Does that make ANY kind of sense?

  4. GeekBoy

    Yeah, I’d say there’s some sense to that, in particular where the role of women in these movies is concerned. Although it is worth noting that the girl does kill Jason (actually Mrs. Voorhees) at the end of “Friday the 13th”, just as Sarah delivers the killing blow to Arnold in “Terminator”. But I think you’re right that there’s an attitude difference. Likewise if you look at Jamie Lee Curtis in the first “Halloween” movie, or the girl in “Nightmare on Elm Street”, and compare them to, say, the character of Ripley in the first “Alien” movie. They all get the job done in the end, but there’s something about the women in the sci-fi movies that are more empowered.

    That’s one of the reasons I really enjoyed the 1990 remake of “Night of the Living Dead”. I’m a hardcore fan of the original, but I enjoyed the spin of making the female character more empowered … which was of course a direct result of the bad-ass version of Ripley that we saw in the second “Aliens” movie, and which we’d see again in 1991 when Sarah Connor went super-bad in the second “Terminator” movie.

    But am I right in thinking that more recent horror movies have gone backward in that respect? Not so much in making women weak again, but in making EVERYBODY weak again? For instance, there’s been a trend of remaking Japanese horror films, in which the antagonist is some deadly, mysterious, unknowable, and unbeatable force. Movies like “The Grudge” and “The Ring” come to mind. Or there’s “Saw” in which some manipulative figure plays God and tortures people. So the message ends up being that everybody is a victim, and if you’re lucky and resourceful enough, you might walk away alive. Whereas sci-fi seems to deal either with basic good-vs-evil plot lines or existential stories in which the good and evil are vague but humanity is at issue.

  5. Tara

    DUDE!!! That’s some mighty fine reflection for a Monday morning 🙂

    Since I’m more sci-fi and less horror (my husband is the horror fan), I can’t really speak to the collective weakening of the horror gang. But my limited experiences of the genre just make me feel like there’s no rhyme or reason to the violence behind most horror (excuse me, I meant the recent slasher flicks). It’s exactly what you said, it’s horror porn, evil for evil’s sake.

    Sort of like the bad guys in old Disney movies, come to think of it. I’m talking Maleficent, or the Evil Queen in Snow White. They’re evil “just because”.

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